The answer was a resounding no. Riley's Rumble Half Marathon, in Germantown, was the hardest 13.1 miles I've run on roads...ever. But there was a lot more to the weekend than just this one run, so I'll start at the beginning.
Following the previous weekend/end of July, I needed a few days to get my legs back under me. I ran an easy 4 miles on Monday night, and decided for Tuesday I would warm up and see how my legs felt in the workout on the track. After a half mile (the workout was 6x1600m) I called it a day. Just didn't have the legs for it. I made it a mile and a half total for the day. Wednesday morning I got into the pool for Alyssa's workout of 800 pull, 8x100, 600 pull, 6x100, 400 pull, 4x100. It went much better than when we attempted it two weeks earlier, and it was the first quasi-decent swim workout I've had in a while, so I was happy with it. Took the evening off and then didn't do anything again until an easy 2 hour ride on Thursday night. I started off not feeling great, but by the end I had warmed up and the legs felt pretty good. Just in time for a little three day block of training!
Friday morning, Mike and I headed out for a 3 hour ride to be chased with a 5 mile run off the bike. I tried to keep the ride pretty chill, as the phrase of the weekend was energy management. I've found that, over the years, I have been able to churn out considerable volume, and intensity, during the summer. In my head, I rationalize it as "I'm not really racing, the fall is the season" blah blah blah. But really, triathlon's season IS summer. Sure, we have races as early as April around here and go into October, but summer is the season. The likelihood of really cold weather (a la Rumpass or Columbia, most years) is reduced, and the water is usually warm. In our case, this year, in particular, the water is really warm, as I have not and probably will not wear a wetsuit again until Arizona. The proof is in the proverbial pudding, as IMLP a few weeks ago had a water temp of 77 degrees, meaning suits were allowable for those not interested in AG awards or Kona slots, otherwise no wetsuits. Anyway, I've sidetracked a bit, but what I was getting at is that a typical year for me goes something like this:
Jan-Mar: Goal is to be consistent. Do something every day. Focus is generally more on running (easier to run in bad weather than ride in it!) and efforts are kept more in the middle - so things are never too hard, but never too easy.
Apr-Jun: Goal is to get sharp. Workouts start, and they get progressively harder. Races begin, the earlier ones are used as rustbusters, before the usual Columbia-Eagleman show.
Jun-Aug: Goal is to keep fitness, bring volume up, usually reduce intensity.
Sep-Dec: Goal is to race my final few races and then take some time off.
It's that summer period that I think I've not managed well in the past. Following Eagleman, or any big race in mid-June, I think it's important to take a few weeks of down time as that is the end of the spring season. I did a better job at that this year, but it's a challenge because all of a sudden the weather is good every day (at least good enough to go outside and do something) so you want to go out, and you have great fitness so you want to go crush. Then I get caught up in doing some races in July, which not only cuts into my ability to record higher volume, but it also means I'm spending more energy. Races take energy. Not just to race, but getting there, doing the pre-race stuff, waking up super early weekend after weekend, recovering. It's not easy. And, sometimes unfortunately for me, I love to race.
When I step back, and usually only in retrospect, I realize just how much energy I spend each summer doing these things. Every weekend it's something else, there's never just a chill weekend. This July alone it was a trip to ATL for the Peachtree race, followed by a trip up to NJ for a sprint tri, then it was Rockville 8k (fortunately I was able to force myself to NOT run this one, but I still went down there) and then another trip up to NJ for a tri. The only "free" weekends were the past two, and the bulk of each was focused on getting in some decent volume ahead of Louisville. Now, looking ahead, it's going to be a whole weekend in Luray, followed by maybe one chill weekend, prior to the ironman. Racing, I've concluded, is just social for me. Most of the time I don't care how I do, and, more often than not these days I use the races AS my workouts (see: BRRC meet from two weeks ago).
One thing I know I'm doing better now than I did a few years ago is to realize and understand my limits and capabilities. I can go out and crush, but what effect will that have on tomorrow, the next day, the following week? When I look at my race results from past summers, I see just how tired I must have been. Since the last summer I truly raced before this one was 2008, I looked at those results and workouts from back then. I had lackluster results at both NJ State Tri (did that this year too) and Luray (this weekend, hopefully that goes better!) and I also raced the Church Creek Time Trial (40k) in a disappointing 58:57. I remember going out the day after Luray to Frederick and crushing our ride out there with Dean. I was in great shape and could go hard seemingly every day, but lacked pop when it came to racing, and my patience was non-existent. I definitely was not ready for ironman back then, even if I claimed I was. For sure I was faster, and didn't have a reconstructed knee, but I lacked smarts.
Back to Friday, which could be the name of the 4th installment of the Friday film franchise (Smokey's going to be back! and all I could focus on was my energy expenditure. I felt okay and certainly if I needed to, I could have worked harder on the ride, but what good would have come of that? I knew exactly what I was trying to accomplish over the weekend, and my brain has worked out a really good deal with my body. When I tell my brain how much I'm doing, it tells my body how much energy it's going to require. And I don't get a minute more than that from it, usually. Friday's ride, other than seeing the most insane caterpillar of all time, was fairly uneventful, and the run off the bike was solid. Other than recent races, I can't remember the last time I actually ran off the bike. It was warm, and the sun was strong. We headed out on the Wednesday Night Run loop, so along the water. The pace was honest, and as we turned to come back up Fleet Street and Snake Hill, our speed had increased even more. A solid 5 miles in, it was time for a quick bite to eat and then get in the pool. The pool was gross, due to the high volume of filthy people and the pool temp hovering at or above 90 for most of the summer, there was a considerable film of algae on the bottom of the pool. In order to remedy, they were shocking it with chlorine. I could feel it burning me. But I had a goal in mind, and there was nothing I could do, so I went on with it. I haven't done a long continuous swim in a while, so I went in with the plan of swimming 3000m straight. I felt pretty decent, got it done, 4k for the day, and it was time to rest up for Saturday.
Saturday's objective was the Lineboro ride, our 115 mile odyssey up through Hampstead and into PA, before returning via York Rd. It's a long, hard ride. Starting from the city means the first hour is slow, and really it's a good 2.5 hours before you are no longer going uphill. It was super humid, and in order to avoid a bad day, I stayed really on top of my hydration. 2 bottles an hour, and kept on top of my eating as well. My legs started waking up and I was feeling good by the time we hit Lineboro. As we started to come back around into the wind, heading south, the ride was clearly taking its toll, but I still felt good. I made sure to keep my sugar intake low at our pit stop in Glen Rock PA, so I didn't crash (like I sometimes do), and it was a good move. We turned onto York Rd and the wind was full on now, but I felt great. I was climbing well, and feeling better than I normally would at this point in the ride. Of course, what goes up must come down, eventually, and I began to feel the effects of hours in the saddle by the time we got into Hunt Valley. With 20ish miles remaining, I was just trying to conserve enough legs to run a few miles off the bike again, and was keeping Sunday's run in consideration as well.
Finally home off the bike and it was time for an easy 4 miles, which was definitely slower than yesterday's run, and then time to consume mass quantities. In the few hours that I had between the end of the run and going to sleep, I tried to get in as many calories as I could, because I knew Sunday was another long day.
Long, and early. Originally it was just Ed who was going to go down to do this Riley's Rumble race. Then a few more of us joined the guest list, and all of a sudden it was a Falls Road party. But, with an hour drive and a 7am start, plus the need to register and run a few miles beforehand equated to a 4:55am departure from Zero's. And, because I was so wired and tired from Saturday, I woke up at 3:36am and just stayed up. Bleh. It's one thing to do this for an ironman; a completely other thing to do this for some rinky dink half marathon you're not even "racing."
It was about 80 degrees and 94% humidity, among the grossest conditions I've ever felt, at 6am. We ran 3 miles before and I was soaked. I also felt the past two days pretty significantly in my legs. Mike and I originally talked about running something in the 7:30 range to start the run, and then pick it up throughout the race, then run another 3 afterwards. We went out slow from the gun, but it didn't exactly feel comfortable, and I was a unpleasantly surprised to know that our first mile was 7 minutes then. I'm still without a watch so we went on Mike's, and it seemed like we were holding 7 pretty steady for the first 5 miles, it just never felt super comfortable. The roads were brutal, either going up or down the whole time. I actually felt good on the uphills, just the downhills were killing my knee. We also noticed that the last two miles of the race were going to be mostly uphill.
Somewhere around mile 6 and 7 we must have picked it up a bit, as we clicked a 6:40 or two, and then went into the third out and back section. It wasn't pretty. We saw GRC guys Karl and Sam way out front, killing it (they ran 1:16:30) and then Ed and some other dude were a few minutes back of them. The rest of the race was pretty strung out, except for me, Mike and our running buddy for the day Thaddeus. We were steadily moving up through the field, and aerobically I was cool, I just couldn't move my legs much faster. Around 9 is where my legs dropped out, finally succumbing to the long weekend. With 4 interminably long miles remaining, I went into conserve mode, which was well over 8 minute pace now, and may have even crept up toward 9 as I went uphill. Based on Mike's watch, I thought we were on pace for a 1:31:xx, maybe 1:32, and I finished up at 1:34:41 (7:14/mi). It was the hardest I've ever had to work to run that slow I think. But, it actually went better than last weekend's run in Greenbelt, so I wasn't disappointed. It just hurt. And after the race I only had enough in my legs to do a half mile easy cooldown. I didn't really care, what good was it going to be to shuffle through another 3 miles real slow?
Alas, even after that, the day was far from done. Still had to get into the pool when we got back, and that felt good. It was a little kinder than it was on Friday, and cooler than it's been. I left the pool with fresher legs than I went in with, and that allowed me to run an easy 5 miles on Sunday night with Alyssa and Mike. We probably made Alyssa run a bit harder than she needed to, but she handled it and we ran just over 8 minute pace. I felt way better than I thought I would, and it was cool to be able to get in such a big block over the three days.
Energy Management. That's what it all comes down to. For Louisville, my concern isn't the course, or the distance, it's the conditions, and how I anticipate being affected by them. Right now I could be swimming more, but I don't think it's going to help. If I swam 5 or 6 days a week, I'd be that much more tired. 3 to 4, for now, seems more in line with my capabilities right now. Whatever I swim is what I swim. On the bike, I'm plenty fast, I just need to find a reasonable medium and sit there for 5 hours, eating and drinking plenty along the way. On the run, I've got to stay cool, and run at an effort level I can realistically maintain for the distance.
I also am playing my chances a little bit. I decided to do Louisville because a) it was still open in February and b) Alyssa signed up, and then Mike, I would have gone to watch regardless, and I would have been in shape from the summer anyway so I figured I may as well just do it too. It will be a good chance to see if I can actually figure out how to handle the conditions, and another opportunity to get through the distance. Ultimately, I still have another one down the road a bit at Arizona. So I need to keep enough energy in the tank to get through Louisville, recover, and then make it to November 20th.