Saturday, November 29, 2008

Anatomy of a group training run

This morning my Reebok SunTrust National Half-Marathon Training Group met up at Gotta Run as usual and ran the same hilly 7.5 mile route we reconnoitered two weeks earlier. Only this time, to throw in the element of surprise, we ran it backwards.

Because it was the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, we had a low turnout. The Full Marathon training group wasn't meeting at Georgetown Running Company, so we picked up a runner from it plus another runner who had importuned the Program Director to get into the sold-out Program, and been told to come join our group.

Coaches Jeannie and Ellen mounted up four troops and went to the north on a 6.5 mile run past Memorial Bridge and Roosevelt Bridge to Key Bridge before returning. The area up there was secure and they got back intact.

Eleven of us, with Coach Lauren leading the way with the main group, went west on Army-Navy Drive towards the barrier of the elevated highways penning in Pentagon Row and then south up Ridge Road. Coach John, who had been late in saddling up, joined us on this climb up the ridge line. Coach Matt and J, both dressed lightly in shorts and technical shirts on this chilly morn, the better to move fast, split off on a secondary route on the ridge line and vanished.

The main group pushed on, huffing and puffing from the exertion of running up a tall ridge so early in the run. We were moving swiftly at the onset, to preserve the element of speed and surprise.

Atop the crest, the air was still and afforded a clear view deep into the city of Washington. No unusual activity was noted there on this holiday weekend early morning.

Pressing on, we attained the high point where, two weeks earlier, we had continued straight and came down off ridge to the creek far below it. This time we took a sharp left turn and ran down Restaurant Row, which we had previously come back up on upon the return two weeks ago. This foray into a populated commercial center was uneventful as the businesses were shuttered due to the early hour and nobody was about.

I took advantage of the quiet to find out about the two new members of the squad. The marathon trainee was an experienced runner and was loping along easily. She had glowing things to say about how the Full Marathon program was being run. They had been on several successful runs in the Georgetown area with no mishaps.

I asked her about Coach Katie, whom I had sent over there when the Director had asked me to send some experienced reinforcements over to that location. They loved her over there! The one good thing about losing such a valuable veteran was that I now occasionally pick up some valuable intel from her about how things are going across the river. You learn to pick up information however you can get it.

The other newbie was a raw rookie, new to running and brimming with hope. He was running well but I worried about how he would hold up when we encountered the ridge for a second time after being out for an hour.

Joi, a reliable member of the squad, was listening to headphones, as were several other members. I had run with Joi in other Programs. I sidled up to her and asked her if she was being antisocial today.

"I can hear fine," she said. "I have the volume turned down low."

I whispered, "How was your Thanksgiving?"

She ignored me. I whispered it again, a little louder.

"It's Beyonce, and I don't know the name of the song."

The squad burst out laughing. It's good to keep things loose on a difficult run.

We ducked through the pedestrian tunnel off Crystal Drive and ran over to the underpass under the GW Parkway. The trail looped around a hillock and up to the Mount Vernon Trail but I ran straight up the hillside so I could see how the runners were progressing. The roar of jets waiting for takeoff at nearby National Airport was deafening.

Matt and J were gone, off far ahead scouting somewhere. Matt is my most experienced coach and he had specially picked J to run with him. I was sure they were alright. Lauren was leading the main group, switching the point person at regular intervals, which is good form. The back pack was starting to straggle, however. John was with the far-back runner, subtly exhorting her on to a faster pace. The rookie was between the packs, slowing down a bit. In the secondary pack were three runners, one of whom was starting to struggle.

I dropped back with her and John and his charge swept on by. S was experienced, but she was developing blisters. She had new orthotics and they weren't right. I gently suggested to her that she turn back before her condition became disabling. She knew the terrain we were in, having been with us there several times before. She was a veteran. The route from here would only take her further from our base before we finally turned for home. I was afraid she might become a liability to the run.

She asked for the most direct route back. I outlined it for her, and she understood. The tricky part was going through the pedestrian tunnel, a little-known contrivance, but we had just passed through it. Salvation for her, at Gotta Run, lay a mere three-quarters of a mile away by the most direct route back. "I'll come find you if you're not back by the time we return," I told her. "Walk if you need to."

She turned back. Her being experienced, I trusted her to get back okay.

I caught up with the rest and ran on to the front group, informing the other two coaches of S's departure. Then I fell in with the secondary pack and we settled in for the long haul. Although they were getting ahead of us now, we could still easily see Lauren's group.

Turning inland away from the Potomac, we ran up the trail along Four Mile Run. We ran by the sewage plant, an olefactory landmark that everyone recognizes. Soon we came to the bottom of Ridge Road again, at the base of its steep, long side. Two weeks ago we ran down this part. Now, after six miles, we were running up it.

Everyone did well. I shuttled between the main group and the secondary group, which was starting to really spread out. I was gratified to see that the rookie had started pushing the pace again, and determined that he could join the squad at this late date since he obviously had conditioning and motivation. At the top I doubled back and ran downhill past half the secondary group, who were running well enough up the hill. This was good training, I told them, since our target half marathon in March has its big hill at the seventh mile, although they didn't seem gratified at the moment for this good news. But John and the marathon trainee were AWOL on the big hill.

I found them down around a further corner, toiling slowly upwards. The marathon trainee was injured. She was wearing short shoetop socks and had somehow banged the unprotected inner knobby bones of her ankles together. They were bleeding slightly.

The three of us made it to the top and took a breather. She seemed okay so we proceeded back at a trot to Gotta Run by the most direct route, saving a half-mile by cutting off a serpentine series of cutbacks coming down off Ridge Road. Recovered, the marathon trainee engaged John and I in a footrace down the hill during the last quarter mile. Hmm, she won. We arrived back ahead of everyone else except for Matt and J, who had already returned, and S, who was inside the store getting fitted by Andre for new shoes.

Moments later, Lauren's group returned, wondering how we got past them. The secondary group also arrived back, and then shortly afterwards, Jeannie's group came back from their foray up north past the bridges.

A successful sixty-eight minute outing for the Program.


Lisa Slow-n-Steady said...

Sounds like you had a better turnout for your group run than we did!!

Petraruns said...

Not bad a turnout given the timing - one of these days I'll come over and join you.

Sunshine said...

Interesting reading!!
I have some of those short socks, but don't think I have worn them for running... ouch!

Good job, Coach. What a marvelous mission you have!

PS... That Turkey can just stay in Alaska as far as I am concerned.

ShirleyPerly said...

Interesting to hear about all the group dynamics. I too hope to join you someday for a run if I am ever back in the DC area. Your low turnout is probably much higher than the local group in Orlando.