Week 22: Microthon*

There comes a time in the life of every marathoner wanna-be when she has to put up or shut up: she has to get out there and race.

Not a marathon, mind you. Not off the bat. A smaller, more manageable race, just to see what it’s all about.

Coach Scott thoughtfully steered his team of APLA trainees toward such a race—the Brea 8K, also called (by those of us in the know) the Coach Scott Classic.

I don’t like to compete in things I’m not good at, like sports. But I knew this day would come. I would have to put on my game face and lose gracefully.

As Coach Scott told us, the point was not to win, or to even try to win. The point was to get a sense of what a race feels like. To practice.

Coach Scott explained that he chose this race because Brea, which means tar in Spanish, is his home town. Since he schleps 80 miles round-trip to Griffith Park every Saturday to train us, he wanted us to come to his tar pit for once. Also, as he told us, “they have the best post-run food court of any race I’ve seen.”

After the race, local vendors set up shop and offer copious amounts of something edible. The theory being, I imagine, that ravenous runners will become lifelong patrons of whatever establishment is at hand.

On the morning of the race, which was hosted by the local mall, my co-runners and I regressed to deviant high-schooler behavior, trampling the landscaping as we scrambled up a hill to the start line while being scolded through a bullhorn by mall security.

The start line was more of an extended start area, with sections marked “6-minute mile” “7-minute mile” and on down. I led my pace group (there were six of us) to the back. Winning was not the point, right?

Coach Scott had advised us to employ a method he called a “negative split” which meant start slow and speed up gradually. This is counter-intuitive, because the impulse at the start of a race is to bolt. But he warned us that if we did this, even on a five-mile run, we would lose steam quickly and risk crashing before the finish.

That made sense, but once the race started, the block of “runners” in front of us was barely moving at all. It was not for lack of space. We were so far back that we were well removed from the crush of front-runners. Instead we were stuck behind the zombie shufflers.

We began working our way forward and got into a grove. Our regular pace is a 14-minute, 30-second mile. We were running at 13:30, which I thought was a decent clip until we were overtaken by kids, dogs, senior citizens and a man pushing a stroller.

We sped up a bit, to 13:00, made the loop and headed back toward the start line, increasing our speed with each passing mile.

I knew there were lots of people ahead of us, but as we approached the finish line I was surprised to see just how many. The post-race party was in full-swing, with food, giveaways and a live band belting out “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction.”

So many runners had already hit the party that Jamba Juice was out of straws and Peet’s was out of cream and had started serving coffee in lemonade cups from Hot Dog On A Stick. Ralph’s, which had been providing bottled water, was closing up shop.

However, as Coach Scott promised, there was plenty of food: lasagna, spaghetti, tacos, pizza, Cinnabons and Thai chicken salad. There were grapes, oranges, bananas, carrot cakes, cookies and chocolate fondue. All this before 10 a.m.

“This is the most messed up food combination I’ve ever seen,” my co-runner Rachel said, regarding her extremely full plate. “I might have to puke.”

All I really wanted was a slice or three of banana-nut bread home-made by Ray and Pat Bolivar, Coach Scott’s parents. They’d baked it for our 18-mile run and it was the absolute perfect antidote to post-run hunger – carbs, protein, potassium and just sweet enough.

Scott himself was feeling pretty good. He’d persuaded 74 of us to register for the race as a team, and we’d won the Team Spirit trophy.

As for me, my final time was an hour and five seconds. That’s an average of about 12 minutes per mile, a full 2 ½ minutes ahead of my training pace. I came in 1,611th out of 2,304 runners.

I was 734th among 1,245 women, and 103rd among 157 women in my so-called “Master Class” of women, ages 40-44.

Not a winner, but not bad for a non-competitive non-runner.

*See my op-ed in the Sunday LA Times on the wrongheaded thinking that pushed the LA Marathon from early March to late May.

3:32 PM Friday, February 27 2009 • Link •  
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