Checkpoint Race #2 - Back to the Eisbärlauf Half Marathon (Vienna, AT)
How is my winter training progressing? Let's race without a watch, again, and find out!
Last Sunday, I had my second "checkpoint" race of the year by returning to the Eisbärlauf (Polar Bear Run) Half Marathon here in Vienna, Austria. This is the second race in a three race half marathon series, so it's a good way for me to benchmark how the winter training is progressing. And good news…apparently, it is actually progressing!
The last six weeks of base training have gone well, with a focus on getting my swimming and cycling chops back up after an 8-month hiatus. This means a lot of time in the pool, a.k.a. "getting my wings back" (the cobra-like back and shoulder muscles needed for swimming that disappear if I only run), and cycling the virtual worlds of Zwift to "harden my ass" (a certain stiffness required in the nether-regions to stay in the bike saddle for hours). It's a large volume of new variable training (~10-12 hours/week), which usually takes some of the top end out of my running speed temporarily. But I enjoy the process, and find it endlessly intriguing that, even at my age, the body can physically reshape itself with the proper training, rest, and patience.
No surprise, my swim and bike proficiency has declined in the last year, as one would expect. My cycling power output, measured as Functional Threshold Power (FTP) is 236 watts, ~15% lower than last Spring, and ~20% off where I was in 2021. In the pool, I'm still just trying to get through a full hour swim workout without cramping. But one cannot rush the training, particularly as a Masters Athlete...just keep putting in the time, trust the process, and don't let your expectations get ahead of you.
I had a fun interaction at a Vienna bike shop last month that reminded me how important it is to put in the work. I was eyeing a potential new steed, doing that gear junkie high-price-justification-self-talk where I count all the little power and wattage gains I would get with this aero-carbon-titanium beauty. An extremely fit cyclist salesperson came up to me, shaking his head, and said to me with a Schwarzenegger-like gruff, "you don't need a new bike, you just need discipline [MIC DROP]”. Probably not the best sales tactic, but the silent nods around the shop confirmed that he was 100% correct. The real gains only come from doing the work, and the real joy comes from knowing you put in the time and effort to be your best.
At my first running checkpoint race a month ago, I ran a half marathon in 1:32:15 in cold conditions. I was happy to see the fitness is relatively good, but knew I could go faster. My tactic for this race was similar - don't look at the watch, and find a half marathon pace that allows me to close the last few km's with confidence.
The weather on race day was unusually warm for February in Austria (50F/10C), but rain and heavy winds were forecasted. I've now learned that when Vienna predicts "heavy wind", it is no joke…branches be flying! But even as a rain-soaked gale whipped through the starting corral, you could tell everyone here was just happy to be running without the usual February snow drifts. I lined up next to the Croatian Race Walking Team (!), who rocked forward with impressive speed as the start gun went off.
The first of three laps went smoothly, and I tucked in behind a tall runner through the windy sections on the second lap. We didn't talk much (most Germans/Austrians prefer to stay silently focused), so hopefully he didn't mind me singing along to the Allman Brothers playing in my headphones. Perhaps my outwardly American demeanor and choice of music was pushing him faster, just to get away! I swung around him on lap 3 to let him draft off me a bit, but he just surged and picked up the pace with a smile. Apparently, I'm a better rabbit than a wind shield.
With 2km to go, we both dropped the hammer, and my adidas adiZero Pro3 shoes were happy to oblige (this shoe is oddly more stable at top speeds). He gapped me by 15 seconds, crossed the finish, and then he kept going for one more lap! Very impressive. I would later find “Lukas” on Strava, and give him a big thanks and congratulations.
For me, I crossed the line in 1:29:15 (28th, 2nd AG), smiling big to see a sub-1:30 on the clock. I don't know why the brain so enjoys squeezing under a rounded time with a 1:29, 1:59, 2:29, but it always makes me feel like I'm channeling Eliud Kipchoge or Roger Bannister. But I also noted that my top gear was there for the last 2 km's, which had not been the case last month. Progress, slowly but surely, was evident.
Next up, shifting that base training into some speed sessions, and getting the long runs back in rotation to prepare for the Boston Marathon in April. And get a new bike, of course! (ha, ha)
My thanks to LCC Wien and their volunteer crew for another great race! I will see you all again in a month, with hopes to shave off 1-2 minutes more.
I hope all of you are happy, well, and getting outside!
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