Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Season that Was

This will be long, so grab some coffee and enjoy the ride because I want to get all this down to reflect on this season and learn for the future.  My 2016 January – May season has been unlike any season I have had post college.  I’ve done so much positive it’s hard for me to really be too down about what happened on 1 May.  I honestly feel like the training period from March 1 to May 1 is some of the best training I have ever had in my life and I had so many fantastic memories from this year that even though as I sit back and reflect on the Pittsburgh Half as a whole and realized I missed almost all my goals, I can’t be too upset.  I wrote a while ago it’s about the journey and you can’t forget all that happened along the way, if you get too caught up in what happened in that one race you can turn an entire season into disappointment.

For this cycle, I got some sage council from Graham early on about trying to make my training cycle a little shorter, in the past I spend about 14-16 weeks doing workouts and sometimes feel I peak too soon or don’t make it to the end.  I came up with a plan for 8 weeks of workouts starting beginning of March ending with the race in May.  My first race was early January with the BRRC 5 miler, and I was still waiting for my fitness to come around as I expected by now.  I firmly believe running is this sport where you train and train but you come across barriers.  Mental/Physical all the same, but where you need to push harder than you ever have to overcome them but once you do, you start making all the gains you have been hoping for.  It just requires the determination and confidence to believe you are on the right path.  After this race I once again continued to believe I was on the right path just needed to stay confident and positive and good things would happen.

For all of January and February, I worked on base training.  But not my usual base training, this time  I did do workouts but the goal was just to get in some intensity, fartlek’s, tempo’s, hills, but never pushed into Lactic Acid buildup.  Also a decent amount of mileage and long runs but nothing crazy.  I was confident this was a good strategy, and rolled up to my first race 28 February at Club Challenge with a ton of confidence but knowing that the workouts and gains were still to come.  Club Challenge ended up being a struggle for me, I did run a PR on a hard course but died really bad at 5 miles.  I left the race thinking, it was a good place to start but work begins now.  Tim Kennard the following week might still be the race of my life when I think about it.  My 33:30 in College when I won my only Division 1 race was amazing, but TK 10 miler was something else.  Running by myself only seeing a glimmer of Andy Weaver, while running 5:30 mile after mile was something I did not expect.  Not based on what I had run the week before and where I thought my fitness was at.  I had finally broken through a barrier and it was time to roll.  It was also the first time I ever won money in a race, amid some controversy(The Nick Klastava way)! 

After TK, I started making new goals for Pittsburgh.  I wanted to take the next step in a big way and maybe I got too aggressive.  My original goal was sub 1:13, but I adjusted to 1:10.  I started training at 5:20’s, making them feel as comfortable as possible.  I also started racing a lot more often, I have run 9 races this season (the same number I ran all of last year) and have had so much fun.  I’ve won some money, gift cards, a plant, and a birthday 5k that I wasn’t legally able to drive to.  I ran my first 5k under 17:00 since college, I since did 2 more back to back on the track for a workout.  When I look back at this season I achieved a lot, and had so much fun doing it.  Tim Kennard weekend was a blast with friends out on the Eastern Shore, running National Half with Conrad and his “bib 545” was the most fun I ever had during a race, and Pittsburgh weekend with friends and family was amazing.

In the 8 weeks up to the half I did some serious work, I completed a 6 x 1 mile 60 second recovery at 5:17 pace, I did 2 20 mile LR’s, I did 2 x 5k each in 16:40, 15 mile long run with last 4 at 5:30 pace, and even averaged 4:59 pace for 3 x mile(might be my first legit sub 5:00 mile in 3 years).  Each of these I am not sure I have ever done anything like before and left me feeling really confident.  I made sure to have adequate rest after some of the bigger workouts, and staggered races in there to keep some fast controlled running going but not over reaching myself.  In the weeks leading up to Pittsburgh I felt pretty fresh, I even did a race 1 week out just so I didn't over taper as I have done before.  As I got out to Pittsburgh the only issue I had was a minor quad thing that ended up not being concerning at all race day.  The stage was set and I was ready to go.  Top 10, Top 5 US and sub 1:10 were the goals as I arrived in town.

Met up with Sara, Dan, and Brendan out in Pittsburgh as we were all running the half and looking to do work.  I absolutely love destination races with friends it gives the entire trip more of an epic feel.  Berlin is going to be something special this fall.  We grabbed some dinner together, talked and shared our goals we were all pretty excited.  I even lucked out in having the best wife in the world who went to a Bridal shower Saturday Morning in NJ and drove 5.5 hours to Pittsburgh that afternoon getting to the hotel at 11:30 just to support me.  It was great warming up with and lining up together in the seeded section with friends.  The morning was kind of humid with some rain in the forecast but I can’t blame the weather for my performance, light rain is my dream condition.  At 7:00 am the gun went off and it was go time.

First mile was a little quick but I wanted to be 5:20, I ended up 5:15 and it was weird feeling for me being in a race this big with so many elites and being pretty close to some of them.  I had to shake it off, and focus on the task at hand.  As we approached the second mile things felt off, I was struggling mightily, despite doing many workouts at this pace, it just wasn’t coming naturally, a pack of about 7-8 was forming and they were picking it up after that 5:15, I decided it wouldn’t be wise to run with that pack so I fell off and ended up next to Serena Burla.

After the second mile of 5:23 I knew this pace would not last, so we formed a little pack behind that group.  We rolled through about 16:50 for 5k about 10 seconds back.  We ran by what must have been her coach around 3.5 who told her to get up with the chase pack, so she went and I followed.  At this point I did a quick glance and saw that behind us was 1 person a little ways back and in front was a pack of 7 people and that was it.  This surge did not catch the pack and we moved towards 10k we were 30-40 seconds back and I still came through in 34:08.  At this point we were alone and started working together.  I was very much hurting at this point, I knew today was not my day but I also knew if I fell off from her this could quickly turn into a pretty terrible day.  I would gap her a little bit going uphill but she would surge back every flat portion.  Around 7 we hit another hill I did not expect (the theme of today’s race, more hills than I thought), it hurt a good deal and after the decline we started getting on solid even ground, a pretty long street that allowed us to see ahead, and we were finally able to see some people singled out but still 30-40 seconds ahead.  At this point the pace kept slowing and there was little I had in me to be able to fix it.  I kept trying to pick up the pace to catch them but at this point I was just fighting myself.  Every time I started to feel sorry for myself like I wanted to give up it was nice to look over and have someone to keep the pace moving and keep me from blowing up, just hang tough Nick.  We went through 10 in 56:11, and at this point all cheering from fans consisted of “Go Serena!”, is it that hard to add “And Nick”, I’m trying my dardnest here too people.

The last bridge we went over was around 10.5 and it sucked pretty bad, we hit the worst hill on the course just after 11 and at this point I pulled away a little bit, it was still my worst and only mile over 6:00.  Once I got to the top I knew the last 800 was all downhill and could still see second place woman but never could quite get her.  Rolled down and crossed the line in 1:14:29.  Stopped to congratulate my running partner, doubt I helped her much this day but without her I’m not sure I make it to the line this quickly.  I then waited for Brendan and Sara to finish, where Sara D crushed another PR, while Brendan had a rough day but he’ll be back.  Hung out together post-race and even rung the PR bell before heading home.  1:14:30 officially, 16th overall 7th US finisher.

As I sit here two days later I am still not sure what to think.  I missed every goal I set out pre-race and even ended up missing my initial sub 1:13 goal.  Conventional wisdom would say I got too aggressive with my training, I got too aggressive race day and paid for it all and cost myself a 1:12.  However, as I sit here I am honestly happy I attacked this time, I knew it would take an absolutely perfect day for me to run my goal time and that obviously was not the case.  This is not like Chicago where I went out 30 seconds faster than goal pace to run with someone I was not capable of and paid for it, I tried to put myself in a position to run something I thought I was capable of here in Pittsburgh.  Had I gone out a little slower 15 seconds or so I would have most likely been completely by myself.  I was never passed by another runner or did I pass another runner for the entire race past mile 2.  A part of me feels like maybe I should have latched onto that bigger group and just tried to hang but I feel like I would have just blown up.  I am absolutely grateful as I sit here to realize that on a day when I just didn’t have it, I was able to find a running partner and tough it out together.  I know looking back all the training I did, it will still make me a better runner even if on race day I didn’t perform like I thought.  If I can’t be happy when I run a PR when can I be happy?  So I think the moral of the story for me is, as I look back at this training cycle I think years from now I can point to this period as where I took a giant step forward, and even if I didn’t reach my goal on May 1, toughing out a race when things weren’t going well is a win. 

I am once again grateful to have a season where I was healthy, able to get the training in and continue to do what I love. I’d also be upset if I didn’t pay special attention to all the people I was grateful enough to have in my life to help me through this season.  First off as always my loving wife Kelly, who supports me as I continue to do what I love by letting me go to several key runs during the week to train with my group, who let me race many times on weekends and who drove somewhere around 10 hours on April 30th to NJ then Pittsburgh just to be there for me, carry my stuff and help with some of the burden of race day planning.  She is amazing!  Also Conrad gets a special shout-out as he is an absolutely special one of a kind guy.  From grabbing my bib for me for National Half, and even signing up race day morning (which I didn’t think was allowed) so he could run the entire thing with me, to meeting me in UMBC and running an entire workout with me pulling me along even though it was so slow for him, to taking the time to answer all my questions regarding my training plan and giving me a long honest email with all this thoughts.  He is a truly special friend.  Conrad is one of the most selfless people I know, who would do anything for anyone even if it is not convenient for him, just ask the people of the Flying Pig Marathon about their unofficial 2:59 pace group.  Then there is the TNT crew who gave me so much support as I grinded out workout after workout at Gilman mostly alone, and who even managed to fit their rest just perfectly to give me support in workouts when I needed it.  To the grueling but important/fun NCR runs that helped build my foundation, to just all the amazing members of  Falls Road Racing Team who gave support every step of the way in so many different ways, and lastly to the Falls Road Running Store who helped gear me up with anything I needed this season and supports the entire team.  Without all of you I could not have done what I did this year, you all are truly heroes and I am so grateful. 

To sum it all up, there is a lot of good I accomplished this year:

I race 9 times
Won 3 races
2 2nd place finishes
Set personal or post collegiate bests:
5k 17:08 -> 16:28 (PC)
6k - 20:21 (PR)
5 Miles 28:26 ->27:26 (PR)
10 Miles – 54:58 (PR)
Half – 1:17:48 -> 1:14:30 (PR)

Next up some much needed downtime, some local races in Baltimore area, maybe even my first Ultra before tackling the Berlin Marathon in September.  I hope you all enjoyed reading my long blog entry as much as I enjoyed writing it.  Enjoy some fun pictures below from this season.