I used to joke about "dropping the hammer." It's a funny term. But truth is, I've long admired the ability of athletes to pour it on late in races, testing whether others can respond. I realized that this week watching a video of Lance demolishing the field on the Alpe d'Huez and Prefontaine dropping everyone at the end of races. The ability to up the pace when everyone is tired is pretty cool.
Don't get me wrong, I've many times been on the receiving end of this. And there's nothing more dispiriting than getting dropped. It sucks. On a few occasions, even Stroh left me behind. Of course, I'd argue that many more times he was the one who couldn't keep up. One of my fondest memories of being dropped was when Stroh took off during the last five-mile loop of the Steiner 50k. I like to make the excuse that he made his move while I was slurping chicken soup, but the truth is, I tried to get back to him but couldn't. It was impressive.
This morning's long-training run started off uneventfully. It was sticky out and the NYRR seemed pretty disorganized, with volunteers telling me completely opposite ends of the park to get my number. With the Pfitzinger program in mind, I lined up with the 8:00 pace group. Part of me saw the 7:30s leave and wanted to be with them. The 8s are such a large group, it has to be broken up. Frankly, I looked around and saw runners that are much slower. But I have a bigger goal, and it's their mistake to run the long runs so fast. This hit home during the run, when people were talking of "hoping" to do a 3:30 marathon. OK, why run a 20-mile run, quite early in training, at the same pace you'll race? Needless to say, many of them wouldn't stick around for all 20.
The first six-mile loop is always about getting comfortable. The pace kept yo-yoing, which is always annoying. I got kicked and elbowed a lot from sudden decelerations. It was clear we'd end up going a little faster than 8, fine by me. I stayed near the front without going past the pace leader. Several people didn't, and that pulls the group even faster. The second five-mile loop, I started to feel normal. I stayed back and felt fine in the pack. After 11 miles, I usually run my best. I don't know why. During the third five-mile loop, I started talking with a guy who I ran with during the same run last year. At that time, I was out of shape, about five pounds overweight and trying to get in shape for the Indy Marathon. That time, about four of us broke off the last four-mile loop and ran it at a pace that got down to 7. I was dropped. Chatting about training helped pass the time. He went on to run a 2:58 in Philly last fall. This spring, he ran the Pig, like I did, but blew up and finished 10 minutes off my pace. He cut off at 72nd, and I started running at the front again. I like to run hills somewhat aggressively, if only to get them out of the way. By the time I got a rhythm on Cat Hill, I decided to run the rest of the loop at the faster pace, probably around 7:30. That brought up the final four-mile loop. At this point, we were down to about 10 people, not including most of those that were trying to pull the group faster. A few people broke off and went off before us. After we made the turn on the west side of the park at the start of the final four-mile loop, I assessed how I felt. While I know I should save my energy for the tough mid-week workouts, I put a lot of faith in being able to run hard deep into runs. I'd held back all day. So I did my version of hammer dropping, doing the last four at around marathon pace, somewhere below 7 minutes. Nobody followed. I reeled in everyone who had gone ahead. It felt fine, and I'm glad I did it. My favorite part of distance running is knowing I'll feel strongest after running for a couple hours. I'm a little sore now, but that's to be expected after 20 miles on hard surface with lots of ups and downs.
20 miles, 2:34