Monday, February 6, 2012

NYRR Gridiron Classic (and a recap of January training)

PR's seem to come when you least expect them.  How many times have you lined up at the start saying, "I've got this" only to find yourself hobbled by thirst, heat, cramps or some other unexplained ailment along the way.  I have always found the quick, intense pace of the short races challenging and wouldn't consider that to be my forte.

Yesterday, I went out for the NYRR Gridiron Classic, a 4 mile race in Central Park.  I hadn't raced a short race in a long time, and honestly didn't have high hopes for the race.  I haven't been doing as much running as I used to (more on that later), so I naturally expected that my race pace wouldn't be close to previous PR's.

I have been making a VERY gradual transition to more "natural" shoes, latest being the Zero Drop by Altra.  For the uninitiated, "natural" running involves a midfoot strike, under a bent knee, under the body's general center of mass.  Gone are the days of "overstriding", "heel striking", "corrective footwear" etc.  All of the manufacturers are in on the game - you'll see "natural" footwear from Nike (the Free line), Brooks (the Pure line), New Balance (the Minimus line).  Altra happens to be an extremely comfortable shoe, with a wide toebox and a narrow heel, which suits me perfectly.  "Natural Running" still isn't quite natural to me, but I'm slowly getting the hang of it.  Ultimately, I'm told it gets easier as your muscles adapt to the new way of running.

I did race-day pickup (which involves picking up your bib at NYRR headquarters, then going into the park to pick up your tee shirt, don't ask why), so I had plenty of time to kill before the race.  I decided to do a 4 mile warmup, throwing in some strides, focusing on form the entire way.  The upside here was that I was able to acclimate my legs and lungs to the temps (about 32 degrees), the downside being that I put a hell of a strain on my calves (the muscles most affected by the difference between heelstriking and natural running).  I finished my 4 mile loop in just under 40 minutes, meeting a friend and sliding into the coralls.  I didn't have high hopes for the race, and decided to just get out there and do my best.  The horn went off and we were on our way.  The first mile was pretty packed, and I only managed an 8 min pace overall.  Eventually, things spread out a bit, and I managed to pick it up to about 7:42.  I marveled at the fact that I could maintain the pace, but still keep a handle on my breathing.  Rounding the 102nd street transverse, I started heading south, into mile 3 (always my toughest mile).  This mile has 3 distinct hills, and is usually where I lose it during races.  To my utter shock, I found myself ascending the hills with ease, my legs and lungs feeling comfortable (7:53 pace).  Mile 4 was all downhill, and I managed to put the hammer down (7:38), finish strong, and achieve a 20 second PR over my previous personal record for the 4 mile distance.

So, secrets to my success, you ask?

  1. The 4 mile warmup (with strides) seems to have done me really well.  I think that this one is definitely going into my bag of tricks for future short distance races.
  2. A preventative shot of my inhaler.  The cold air seems to wreak havoc on my lungs.  I still felt somewhat wheezy at the finish, but had no issues during the race, even at high intensity.
  3. A newfound feeling of STRENGTH, which I believe is coming from my multisport training (more on that later).
I had a bit of a meltdown with running late last year - after my two back to back marathons (NYCM and Brooklyn) I had lost a bit of my mojo, and took the last week of the year completely off from running.  I asked Coach Jeff about multisport training, and started doing that in January.  In general, my program has two swims, two runs, one bike (spin class) and one strength workout.  I find that the variety of exercises keeps me engaged, and allows me to do higher intensity workouts back to back (i.e. tempo run Wed night, followed by Thurs AM spin class).  I was never able to do that as a runner.  Also, I'm feeling that I'm exercising more of my body (even the difference in leg strength that comes from introducing spinning into my regimen).  All in all, I definitely felt that my body responded differently yesterday than it has when I have raced in the past.

This PR was definitely what I needed to kick off my 2012 training/racing year and I am excited about what the year has in store for me!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Congrats! And nice to see that there is even still room for improvement.

I think last year was about getting back and setting a baseline. I'm sure this year will be about taking it to the next level... Keep it up!