I don’t mean to be negative, but this was a pretty crumby race. I knew going in that I wasn’t exactly in peak physical condition. When I set forth my race calendar back in the summer, this was supposed to be my goal race.
Actually, that’s only partly true. I was going to run the half marathon and I was going to do it in 1:25:00, bettering my half marathon PR by a little over 4 minutes. By mid December, I was smart enough to know that I wasn’t going to pull off that particular feat. By mid January, I knew I wasn’t really in shape to run a half marathon at all. I knew I’d be lucky to hold 7 minute miles in a 15K.
The day started out okay. I ran into Drew at the start and said hi to Bret. On the way to the starting line, I was walking behind a group of older runners. After a minute or two, I realized the group contained Olympic gold medalist, Joan Benoit Samuelson and 4 time Boston marathon winner, Bill Rodgers. Joan looked relaxed, though she didn’t have a race number. Someone in her entourage called back to the expo and they had someone run one out to her – must be nice. “Boston Billy” was jumpy. He kept doing a series of “butt kicks” every 2 minutes on the way to the start.
Eventually, I left the celebrities behind and worked my way to the starting corral. I timed things pretty well and got all the way to the gate and the front that separates the wheelchair participants from the actual runners. I found my marathon pacer, Chris from last year. He was pacing the 7:30 min/mile pace group for the 15K, so I just settled in behind him, planning on getting a relaxed start in the first mile of the race and then figuring out what I was going to do from there.
Once we were off, I was quickly ahead of Chris’ group, averaging somewhere between 7 and 7:30 min/mile pace. I crossed the 1 mile mark in 7:10 and didn’t feel great, but I wasn’t exactly hurting either. I maintained that pace through the 2 mile mark, figuring I might just warm up into a more respectable pace. I was through 2 miles in 14:20, but didn’t feel much different. I wasn’t horribly excited to be there. I just couldn’t wait until the turn around.
I had slowed my pace a little when we turned off of Bayshore Blvd. just after the 4 mile mark. I was still running about 7:15 pace, but wasn’t exactly feeling it. I was just going through the motions of racing. Although the field was still pretty crowded, I heard another runner come up on my left shoulder. I glanced over and spotted Bill Rodgers.
Given my slow pace, I figured Boston Billy was probably way ahead of me. The site of the running legend gave me renewed vigor. I let him pass me, then pulled up right behind him and let him pace me. I figured a four time Boston marathon winner would probably have a pretty good sense of pace.
Unfortunately, Boston Billy appeared to have been feeling the effects of the rough northeast winter. He was doing a lot of grunting and spitting. His breathing was surprisingly loud. I stuck with him through 5 miles, then we hit a water station and I accelerated through while he grabbed a cup.
I was feeling pretty good about myself. I wasn’t having a great run, but hell, I was beating Bill Rodgers. Nevermind that he’s 30 years older than me. I had made the turn and was looking at the clogged course on the other side of the road. There were still 6500 people way behind me. It wasn’t so bad.
Around mile 7, I felt a slight twinge in my knee. I’ve been feeling this off and on for the last 2 months. It feels like runner’s knee. Whenever I feel it I exaggerate the bend in my knee on one stride to check things out. Generally, if it really is runner’s knee, that exaggerated stride will hurt pretty bad. It didn’t.
Unfortunately, the twinge kept coming back. That was different. It got more and more painful as I went along. It was runner’s knee. I soldiered on for about a half mile, thinking about how bad this was because it would prevent me from running with the kids at track practice and if I can’t run with them, they can’t run off campus, which means doing long runs on the track.
I stopped so that it wouldn’t get any worse. I pulled over to the sidewalk, debating whether I should rip off my number and walk back to the finish, or try to continue on. Bill Rodgers passed me. Without another thought, I hopped back onto the course and got right behind him again. My brief break had alleviated the pain, but Boston Billy seemed to be feeling a little better now. We were pulling just under 7 minutes per mile and the twinge was coming back rapidly.
Boston Billy veered off to the last water station and I kept running through, allowing me to pass him once again. I slowed my pace a little, but he was now back on me and passed me again. I picked it up to match his pace, but every time I pushed off my left leg, my knee felt like an old rubber band ready to snap. My right leg was fine. I was generating enough power there, but my left leg was little more than a crutch. With only one good leg, I watched Boston Billy pull away.
Shortly, afterward, Chris and his 7:30 pace group passed me. This was a familiar site. I was almost in the exact location on Bayshore Drive where last year, Chris and the 3:20 marathon paced group dropped me while I was stretching out my cramping calves. Mercifully, we soon pulled into the finish chute and the crowd carried me the last quarter mile to the line. I finished in 1:10:16.
I’ve got quite a bit of work to do. I’ve got to rest my knee for a few days and then hit the gym to get my leg strength back up. Since I only ran on the bum knee for about 2 miles, I don’t think I did too much damage to it. It’s just a matter of getting the inflammation back down and then strengthening things so it doesn’t happen again.
Of course, I can’t totally blame my performance on the bad knee. I clearly wasn’t in top form even before my knee started hurting. The irony is that as running has become a bigger part of my life over the last few months with the launch of digitalrunning.com and my new position as assistant track coach, my own training has suffered. I need to figure out a better schedule so that I can train myself in addition to those I’m coaching.