Race Report: NYRR Club Championships

Well, fuck. This was a bad race. A five miler I’d really been looking forward to, for a variety of reasons:

  • It was my first club championships race, since I’ve only just joined a team a couple of months ago.
  • The work I’ve been doing lately has set me up for some faster shorter races.
  • We were gifted with ideal summer racing conditions: low-70s and relatively dry.
  • I’d more or less tapered since Tuesday, so felt ready from that standpoint.

All I needed to do was better than 34:45 for a PR today at the 5M distance. I felt it was well within the realm of possibility. I ended up with 36:24. So what happened?

As often happens the day before a race, I had a new little niggle to deal with, in this case a weird issue with my right hip that came on quite suddenly in the evening. If I put weight on it while standing at a certain angle, such as when twisting to load the dishwasher, it hurt a lot. But I had been fine on a run in the morning. As long as I didn’t make dishwasher-loading movements, it was under control. I decided to ignore it.

This morning I got up and the issue was still there, although it had eased in intensity slightly. But when I set off to do my warmup and strides near the race start, I had a new issue: a sore right hamstring (which has been giving me trouble for the last 10 days, although it comes and goes). This was worrisome. I briefly thought of bailing on the race altogether, but hated the idea of doing that. So I set a goal of 7:00 pace (down from the original 6:50 goal) for the first mile and figured I’d see if I could loosen up the hamstring over the course of the race.

I hit the first split in 6:58, which was good, as it’s one of the harder miles, and I was more or less on plan. The hamstring hurt and, worse, had obviously limited mobility. I could extend my right leg about 80% compared to my left one. I kept at it, albeit with a slight limp.

Mile two was a 7:00 split. I was doing okay, but nothing was improving and I was having trouble maintaining my lopsided stride. So I shortened my left leg’s stride to reduce the stress on the right side. I had to slow down too, as it was really beginning to hurt, especially on the downhills and flats. The last three miles averaged around 7:28. It was the best I could do on an increasingly gimpy leg.

I thought of dropping out, but figured there was an outside chance that I could score points for the Harriers master’s team. Had I not had this issue, I’m sure I could have, as teammate Addy and I kept passing each other (she while walking up hills, me while slowing on the downhills so as not to further strain the problem hamstring). I also decided against dropping out as I was afraid that if I stopped running I wouldn’t be able to start up again. This turned out to be a good call, although I wouldn’t realize it until hours later.

Yes, the worst was yet to come. After I stopped running, new problems emerged. Now the pain’s geographical coverage migrated to include my right hip. Between the hamstring and hip, putting any weight on the leg was really becoming quite painful and I was limping all the way back to the car. Once seated, I felt fine. But we got stuck in bad traffic, and I could feel the hip tightening up over the course of the hour or so it took it get home. Once in the driveway, I discovered that I could no longer walk. At all.

Crutches got me into an ice bath. Percocet got me out of the ice bath. Now I’m lying on the bed, hoping this isn’t serious.

Goddamit. I shouldn’t have run that race.

A few minutes with Lornah Kiplagat

Lornah Kiplagat, 36, has been absent from the racing scene for awhile, but she’s back. She has excelled at distances from the 5K to the marathon, and has continued to race competitively across that distance spectrum throughout her career. She holds four world records for road racing: 5K, 10M, 20K and half marathon. Originally from Kenya, she has been a Dutch citizen since 2003. The Mini 10K was one in a series of post-surgery “comeback” races for Kiplagat. A four-time winner of that event, she’d hoped for a fifth title and was leading for the first half of the race before being overtaken by the eventual winner, Linet Masai. Kiplagat would finish fourth.

You’ve been running fast forever. How have you managed to have such a consistent career?
I think it’s just good planning. Good support, the right people around you. And a lot of running. So if I can also do that as a career, then you like to do that extra.

After setting the world record for the half in Udine, Italy, 2007.

What’s it like to have a tulip named after you?
It’s nice. How did you know about that?

I went to one of your sites and there was a story about that. I thought that was pretty neat.
Yes, it was nice of the Dutch that they did that for me. They mentioned this to me about seven years ago, even more. They thought it was a good idea, and they started preparation for it. Because it takes a long time. But it finally came out. It’s a very funny flower because it’s very strong. We have tulips and home and normally tulips don’t last long. They were lasting like for three weeks!

That’s very appropriate for a marathoner.
Yeah. Tulips normally just wither down.

Do you train in Holland?
Yes. But mostly in Kenya. Because of the altitude. It’s nice in Holland in the summer. I like it. But in the winter, it’s better in Kenya, for sure.

I was reading about your High Altitude Training Centre in Kenya. It seems like the focus has become less on athletics and more on academics.
The focus is really both. But we’re more into giving opportunities to top athletes all over the world. So they are able to train there.

Did you always have it in your head that you wanted to start something like this?
It was with a group of people. We have one guy in Kenya that’s selecting students. And they are staying in my place. They get coaching. They also get to study there. After that, they can come to America. We do it with four people. My part is to coach them — not so much to coach them, but to motivate them. So it works really good. They are boys and girls, top students from high school.

Is your foundation still focused on AIDS prevention and AIDS education?
Yeah. We are growing, actually. We’re starting up a high school for 300 girls. The training camp was so small. We could do only 12-15 girls.

How did you manage to grow it so quickly?
We’ve not yet gotten funding, but we have the plans for doing that.

How do you select who gets into the school?
They have to meet a certain academic level. And they all have to be doing something in sport. Football, hockey, running.

Do they have to maintain a certain level of academic consistency to remain in the school?
Yes. They have to. You know, they come there and they go down…we want them to come there and go even higher. Academically and in sport. This would be a boarding school. Before we didn’t have a school. They would only stay there during holidays. They could go to schools all over Kenya. They’d come to us in August and December, but it was not enough. It was too short to do something. Finally, I said, “I’m doing something, but it’s not enough.” So we needed to put [together] a better structure. We hope the first class will be 2013. It’s nearby the altitude training center. We’re trying to get the funding, but even if we don’t get it, it will still happen with our own money. I’ve got the ground to build the school already. It’s 18 hectares. That was the hardest part — getting the ground.

What made it so difficult? Finding the right place?
That and getting the right ground in such a place is almost impossible anymore. Getting a space that big. I had to move four families.

Was that difficult? Did they not want to leave?
No, it was an opportunity for them. If they give me one acre of land, then I have to buy them two and a half somewhere else. But in a nice place, where they can really farm. And still with some money on top of that. So they saw it as an opportunity to get more land. That was the most difficult part, and now that’s done. So the rest — putting up the buildings — is not a big deal for me. If we get funding, it will go quicker. If we don’t, it will go slower. But still, it will happen.

Do people know that you’re doing this project? Do people at these things ask you about it?
I don’t even talk about it. When I see that you’re interested, I talk about it. But normally I don’t even mention it.

No, I ask because I was surprised. I did some research on you yesterday. I know you as a runner but had no idea you were heading up all these other projects.
I don’t think most people are interested. They just want to see how the running will be. This is for my own good feeling. I don’t want to be just a runner and then pass by. I want to be a runner, but establish my roots. You want to know where you came from and where you end, what you brought to influence society. That’s what we [with husband/coach Pieter Langenhorst] do. Pieter supports me very well with this work. He’s the one making things happen. Sometimes you can be together, but if the other partner doesn’t have the same motivation, it doesn’t work. For us, it works very well.

I came across an interview with you a few years ago in which you were describing your experience of going to one of your first races in Kenya. You slept in a bathroom. There was basically no support. Have things improved in the last 18 years?
Yeah. It’s improved a lot. It’s like day and night.

Yes, it was really shocking.
It’s quite impossible now to have that kind of experience. There are so many athletes now, so many girls. Girls running now is a normal thing.

Is it still one of the biggest professional opportunities there?
Absolutely. In the last 10 years, it’s grown like crazy.

Can I ask you about your running, or are you tired of answering questions about that?
No, it’s okay.

You’ve been coming back with some shorter races. Are you planning on returning to the marathon?
I will build up slowly now, since I am coming back from injury. But end up at the marathon.

Do you have one in mind?
Not yet.

As you’ve moved into your thirties, have you found that you need more recovery between hard workouts?
Yes.

Are you doing two workouts a week now? Or three?
I run, of course, every day. I do speed work three times a week. But not very sharp, though.

What kind of mileage are you doing right now?
70-80 miles a week. Not a lot.

What do you get up to when you’re peaking in your training for the marathon?
If I’m going for the marathon, for sure over 100.

Do you think after you turn 40 that you’ll keep competing?
No, I think I will just go to easy running. But not competing. It depends.

Because a lot of women are running well into their forties.
I’m not far from 40…

That’s why I’m asking.
I will just see how it will go.

If you scale back the running, will you spend more time on these other projects?
Yeah. That’s like my baby.

Do you think doping is widespread in women’s distance running?
No, I don’t believe it. Because I know most of the women in distance running and most of them are really clean.

I know it was bad in the eighties. A lot of the Chinese times, people don’t even really count because it’s assumed they were all on something.
And it is possible [to excel without drugs]. It’s just a matter of training hard. Simple. No shortcuts. Knowing most of the girls in long distance, you can tell that they train hard. Even in competition, you can see somebody who you can say, “Hey, something is wrong.” So it happens, but it’s not common.

Do you train by heart rate?
No.

How do you know how hard to run?
I used a GPS watch. Every kilometer, I know what speed I’m running and I feel. So if I’m running under 4:00 per K, and I’m feeling good.

Do you race with a GPS?
Sometimes [Kiplagat wore her Garmin 310xt at the Mini 10K]. When I’m not sure, I race with a GPS.

A lot of people are funny about it. They think it’s cheating, that you have an advantage over other people in the race. Or they assume that elites never use them.
No. It’s no different with a watch. Every kilometer, you can see [the split]. What’s the difference? There’s no difference.

A few minutes with Adriana Pirtea

Adriana Pirtea, 29, was a surprise showing at the Mini 10K press event. She wasn’t on the roster, so I hadn’t researched her. But I knew three things about her: she’s originally from Romania, she lives and trains in Colorado (Fort Collins), and she was nipped in the last 50 meters by Berhane Adere at the 2007 Chicago Marathon, where Pirtea’s mistake was celebrating her win too early at what, up until that moment, had been a dream debut at the distance. Since dredging up a bad memory is a terrible way to get someone to open up to you, I decided to not mention Chicago (even though I was dying to). Instead, I decided try out some of the more oddball questions I had, to see what I’d get. One piece of exciting news: Pirtea is going to become a US citizen in November, so we’ll have another very fast import soon.

10th, London 2008, with a 2:28.

What do you think about when you’re racing?
Many things. When you’re in a race, you know how you’ve prepared and what kind of speed you want to go. If you’re thinking about the marathon, then it’s a long way. I actually have almost no time to think of anything else but just to keep myself in the rhythm.

So you’re in the moment when you’re running.
Yes. I just watch my competitors. If I struggle a little bit, I try to come back. If I go too fast, just go back in the rhythm so I don’t waste my energy too much. That’s kind of it. It’s almost like you think too much of the race over the moment. People say, “Do you think of everything you’ve done in your life in the marathon?” It’s not like that. It’s just keeping your body motivated and being able to keep the pace up to the end of the race.

Are you breaking the race up into different sections, or are you running mile by mile?
You know, it depends. A couple races were such a tactical race, very slow. Sometimes you feel very fit and trained. This might be a mistake, to stay at a slow pace. It happened to me a couple of times, and I blamed myself. Why didn’t I go faster, to make my own pace? But sometimes a race can be a fartlek, where people try to get rid of the other ones. Most of the time, it’s a good race if — like Magdalena [in Rotterdam] — you can be pretty steady all the time, if possible.

When did you start running in Romania?
I was 17 years old when I started running. I started improving very quickly and I got a chance to get a scholarship to run here [for University of Texas, El Paso] just a few years after I started running.

Did you specialize in a certain distance when you first started?
I kind of jumped from one to another one, because that’s the way the championships were going there. So I’d be running 1500 or 3000 indoor and then a half marathon and then 5000. So all over.

Do you have a favorite?
I have a favorite when I run well.

It’s funny how that happens.
Yes. Because I did my debut a couple years ago in the marathon. It was a great marathon for me. And so I liked it that day. A year later, when I didn’t do too well — don’t ask me, because I was like, “This is not for me.” But everybody’s saying, “This is for you. You have to go for the marathon.” I used to love being on the track sometimes, and right now [I’m] losing the speed. So I have to stick with the marathon and half marathon right now, because that’s probably where I can perform better.

If you couldn’t be a runner, do you have other things you’d like to do?
I think I just love running. Before I started running, I was a dancer. I was dancing for my school. That was a really cool thing. I started running because my teammate had to lose some weight. She was about to get kicked off the team. So I said, “I’m going with you. We’re going to go run, you’re going to lose weight, and you’re going to be back there.” When I took her there, she didn’t want to run. She was embarrassed.

So my dad talked to the coach and he’s like, “Okay, you have to run now.” And so I just glued to the group of guys and stayed with them and I was so relaxed. And they were saying, “Slow down…” and I was like, “No, I feel good.” At the second training session they said, “Uh, we have a cross country race in two weeks. Do you want to run it?” It was a short distance, only 1500 meters. And I was like, “Okay, I’m running.” And I won the race so easily. And they said, “You have to stay in this sport.” And I said, “Okay, I’m staying.”

I think that’s called “destiny.”
Yes, I think so too.

A few minutes with Magdalena Lewy-Boulet

Magdalena Lewy-Boulet, 37, needs no introduction. But here’s one anyway. Originally from Poland, she became a US citizen on September 11, 2001. She is a regular top 10 finisher at the marathon and was this country’s half marathon champion last year. She stood out in the 2008 Women’s Olympic Marathon Trials by immediately rocketing out to a sizable lead that she would hold for 24 miles before being passed by Deena Kastor. She lives and trains in Oakland, California where she is also one of the founders of the Bay Area Track Club. She is coached by Jack Daniels.

After smoking the Rotterdam course.

In your preparations for Rotterdam, a breakthrough race [2:26:22, for second place and making her the fourth fastest American female marathoner] for you earlier this year, it sounds like you were doing a lot of work on your top end speed.
Because the World Cross Country Championships were two weeks before that, we definitely incorporated a little bit more of that work into this preparation. I really enjoyed it. But I still maintained all the other marathon stuff that we’ve done in the past. Not much has changed. I think it was just a little more balanced this time around.

I know you did a lot of training for the 2008 Olympic Marathon on the treadmill. Did you find doing all that running inside difficult to deal with mentally or physically?
Not really. As a marathoner, you’re already doing a lot of repetitive stuff. Long runs, out and backs, loops. I started running on the treadmill when my son was born and I was progressively spending more time on it. But I learned to do workouts on the treadmill, which I’d never done before. I don’t have to run on the treadmill, but I still incorporate it at least once or twice a week now. I do hill repeats, actually. Because I don’t have to run downhill.

Do you think regular runners can benefit from incorporating the treadmill into their training to do those different kinds of workouts?
Yeah, a lot of people have a very limited amount of time and sometimes limited access to do a track workout. Over the last few years I’ve learned that you can take any track workout and convert it to the treadmill. Having a child at home, you might plan to do a track workout, but then something comes up and you have to cancel your plans. But there’s always the treadmill, so that’s a good option to have. It saved my training many times, where I was able to get the work done.

What are you thinking about when you’re racing?
I actually think about a lot of stuff when I race. It kind of goes in and out. Sometimes I reflect on workouts that I’ve done that remind me that I’ve done some workouts that are harder than this race. It keeps you at ease because it’s the feedback that you’re well prepared. My last marathon was the first one where it was marked every kilometer. It was really going by quickly, versus miles — you get all this feedback. I coach, so I started designing workouts [that use kilometers rather than miles] for the athletes that I coach.

I don’t really have a strategy for what I think about. I just try to go with the flow. But I’m never out of touch with what happens in the race. It’s usually not until the second half that my mind fully tunes into the race that’s happening. The first half, it could be anything. I’m thinking about the dinner I’m going to make for my son the next day, or the workouts that I’m going to give to my athletes, or my own workouts. And then the second half is usually all about the race.

Can you tell early in a race whether you’re having a good day or a bad day? And are you ever wrong?
Usually, in the first part of the race you can tell. I’ve had races where I was warming up and feeling awful, just awful. I remember a couple races on the track where I was warming up and thinking, “There’s no way if I keep feeling like this…” but it ends up being a PR day. It happens. When you do feel bad, you always have to give another shot at changing something within the race to make sure that it’s really not happening today. Sometimes, you can change the outcome, hopefully.

After you bashed your knee, before the Olympic marathon [which Lewy Boulet could not run], you seemed really accepting of the situation. You were upset, but you seemed to take it in stride. Do you generally have a positive attitude when you have a setback like that?
You know, my coach is just an unbelievable person. Jack is really positive. It doesn’t just start with just races, when you don’t do well at the Olympics. It’s day in and day out — I’ve learned that I need to take something positive from each workout. He’s gotten me to always learn something from each situation and turn it into something positive. Making the Olympic team — even though it was a horrible outcome — I still learned so much from that experience. Something as simple as the logistics of how things work at that level. When I do make another team, I know what to do.

Is the marathon your favorite distance, or just the one you’re best at?
Usually, they go hand in hand. You always love events that you’re good at. I do love the marathon. More than anything, I love the preparation required for a marathon. It’s very rewarding when you do run well. And you don’t get too many chances. A 5K you can do once a month, or a mile every other week. With the marathon, you only get two shots a year. But I did love cross country. Racing at Worlds this spring was a lot of fun. The fact that it was in Poland, that I made the team and got a medal was pretty super cool.

Poll: What should I do with the Mini 10K interviews?

I spent about two hours in June interviewing quite a few of the elites who ran in the Mini 10K. We’re talking close to six weeks ago. I am assuming no one cares about the Mini 10K at this point. However, a lot of the questions I asked (most, in fact) did not have to do with that particular race. What should I do with this material?

You have one day in which to answer. Tick tock tick tock.

Mini 10K wardrobe plans

For anyone interested, tomorrow I will be racing the Mini 10K sporting black shorts, an Orangina-colored shirt, Asics Hyperspeed 3s and a stern expression. Maybe also sunglasses, although I don’t like wearing them when it’s too hot because my nose gets all sweaty and then irritated by salt (TMI?).

I spent most of the morning talking to the Mini 10K elites. They included:

  • Kara Goucher
  • Paula Radcliffe
  • Lornah Kiplagat
  • Magda Lewy-Boulet
  • Emily Chebet*
  • Benita Willis
  • Kim Smith
  • Adriana Pirtea

Somebody pinch me.

A preview: The highlights for me were Lewy-Boulet, who had a lot to say about fostering post-collegiate talent; Pirtea, a surprise showing who I didn’t research but got some great answers from in response to hastily improvised questions; Kiplagat, who as far as I’m concerned is the reigning Queen of Distance Running (or maybe Co-Queen with Catherine Ndereba) and who I could have spent all day asking questions of if she had let me.

Some news: Irina Mikitenko is out with a “back twinge” according to one of the NYRR media people. Too bad. I really wanted to ask her about compression socks, “good” vs. “bad” running form and other weighty matters.

I have no idea when I’ll get to post about this morning’s chats since tomorrow is a race and Sunday I need to get to work on my third Houston Hopefuls interview. And spend the morning shepharding Jonathan to and from a race in Connecticut. And some freelance work.

Then Monday I go back to my real job. And I have more freelance work starting next week. And then the Vermont Relay all next weekend.

Fucking hell. I have way too much to do.

Good luck to everyone racing tomorrow. I was excited about this race until I spoke to the elites this morning. Now I’m mega-excited. If you’re spectating, you’re in for quite a show. I am amazed at the depth of talent NYRR will have assembled on the starting line this year. Nice video with some history.

There will be a New York Harriers cheering section at Engineer’s Gate (90th and Fifth on the East Side) tomorrow. I don’t know what they have up their sleeves, but this tantalizingly cryptic message was posted to their message board this afternoon by one “tmk030″:

We have a special cheering approach planned for Saturday’s race that you don’t want to miss. While I can’t reveal the details because of the sensitive nature of the subject; this is one spectacle that you don’t want to miss. Meet us at the West 90th street entrance to the park right before 9:00 am on Saturday and participate in an event that will change the way Cheering is done for races in central park forever!

You’re going to like the way we cheer and I guarantee it!

* Who I think is more likely than not going to win, and I can say that because I’m not a real journalist but merely a journeywoman blogger.

Healthy Kidney 10K: Khannouchi’s Comeback

As promised, here’s the second report on my journalistic gatecrashing exercise. In this installment, I share what I learned from talking with Khalid Khannouchi and with his wife, Sandra Inoa, who is also his coach and agent.

I was so involved in yammering with Patrick Smyth about altitude training that I didn’t notice Khannouchi had come in. But I did sense people drifting away from our table and eventually figured out why they were flocking to the other side of the room: the comeback story had arrived. I joined them a few minutes into their session.

If you don’t follow elite running, or your exposure to it has been very recent, you probably have no idea who Khalid Khannouchi is. Khannouchi is a Moroccan-born runner (he became an American citizen in 2000) who got on the radar by winning gold for the 5000m at the World University Games in 1993. But he gradually moved up in distance over subsequent years, establishing himself as a world class marathoner in the late 1990’s.

His marathoning career began with a bang: he ran a 2:07:01 in Chicago (a race he would go on to win three more times) in 1997, which was then the world’s fastest marathon debut time. It was also (again, at the time), the fourth fastest marathon ever run. But, as it turns out, Khannouchi was just getting started. Over the next few years, he managed to lower that time in four out of his next seven marathons. His best was a 2:05:38 in London in 2002, a time that still stands as the American record.*

Then, later in 2002, Khannouchi’s fortunes turned. He began to experience problems in his left foot, which would plague him for years an cut short his training for the 2008 Men’s Olympic Marathon Trials race in Central Park. Despite that, Khannouchi finished fourth, securing a spot as the team’s alternate in Beijing. After that, he ran just one more race, the Steamboat Classic in Peoria, IL, a four miler held in June, in which he would place ninth.

Surgery, followed by rehab
Khannouchi has had several surgeries on his foot and he’s hoping the most recent one, which was performed a little over a year ago, will be the one that solves his problem once and for all. When asked about the details of the surgery, he began to describe it, then leaned down and took off his shoe and sock to show rather than tell. There were his scars: one to remove a bunion and another along the top lateral instep to remove a bone spur. (Khannouchi has very attractive feet for a runner, by the way.)

Completing the rehab package are two custom made orthotics, with the left one being completely different in form and appearance from the right one. He has two sets of orthotics, one for running and one for just walking around. It took three months to arrive at the right structural formula for them. He’d get a pair, try them out, report back and then try a new pair that had been tweaked.

In the meantime, he was cross-training on a stationary bike, doing a lot of pool running and testing the waters with some jogging on the roads. He’s only been running again, after a complete post-surgery layoff from road running, for about six months.

Although he occasionally trains with his brother (I don’t know which one; he has several), Khannouchi usually trains alone, doing his track workouts at Sleepy Hollow High School’s track, trail running in Rockefeller State Park and sometimes doing a run in Central Park, where he is often recognized.

Baby steps, starting in Central Park on Saturday
What Khannouchi wanted to make perfectly clear was that the Healthy Kidney event was not meant to be a competitive race for him. He had no expectations of winning. Instead, this was a trial run to test everything out. Could he run fast and hard on pavement without pain? Could he race up and down hills? Could he push himself? These were the questions he was looking to answer on Saturday. He needed a competitive race for this experiment, and Healthy Kidney seemed like a good place to start: it’s in his backyard, he’d have competition around him and he could count on the full support of NYRR.

When asked about what other plans he had for his burgeoning comeback attempt, Khannouchi said he planned to do two more 10Ks this summer as similar, iterative tests: the Atlanta Peachtree race in July and Maine’s Beach to Beacon race in August. I went over to talk to Inoa about these races, since I figured she was the brains behind the plan. And she was. But first, she rolled her eyes and laughed when I asked about the two races. “He told you about Peachtree and Beach to Beacon?” she asked, looking a little exasperated. (As it turns out, Peachtree was already out there, but I don’t know if he was supposed to mention Beach to Beacon; a note to them post interview to inquire resulted in permission to publish their plans to go to Maine here).

Khannouchi didn’t do any 10K specific training for this race, primarily because he can’t. Because of his foot, he can’t run 200-400m track repeats, but, as he said, “You don’t need those for the marathon.” The 10K is a distance that’s long enough to reveal any lingering issues, but short enough to race frequently. I gathered that it’s also a distance that will allow Khannouchi to return to the races/courses in Georgia and Maine, where he’s done well and gotten organizational support in the past.

Two more tests, then a decision
Inoa has him running around 70 miles per week at this point. The plan is to gradually ramp up the mileage and intensity of training over the summer, using the two 10K road races to similarly test how he’s handling the load. A hard race will accomplish two things: for one, it will provide a “stress test” from which the couple can gather information about how his body is holding up to the ever increasing demands; for another, it will show whether he’s making absolute progress in terms of speed. If he’s going to compete at any distance, he needs to get faster.

Which brings me to another interesting facet of this story. Khannouchi is 38 years old. That’s not young for a male marathoner. Yet he is making a comeback in the open category, not as a masters runner. He wants to compete against everyone, not just his Age Group peers. Making a statement like that will almost certainly open him up to a wave of criticism and naysaying, which makes it all the more compelling that he’s saying it. As a side note, Khannouchi mentioned Meb Keflezighi’s comeback from what many had declared a dead career as an inspiration and galvanizing influence on his own decision to give competitive marathoning another go.

Anyway, the idea is that by the time he runs that third 10K race, he should be in or approaching full marathon training mode, meaning up to 110-120 mile weeks again. Beach to Beacon is going to be Sink or Swim, in a sense. That race should reveal his level of readiness to take on the full marathon at the competitive level he expects of himself. If he’s not ready, they’ll back off from their plans and reevaluate. If he is ready, then it’s full speed ahead.

Learning to be patient
At one point I asked Khannouchi about recovery time. I prefaced the question by saying that, since I’m a few years older than he is, I felt I could ask him this: “As you’ve gotten into your late thirties, do you find you need more recovery time? What about entire recovery weeks?”

His answer was that he did need a lot more recovery time and that it was not unusual to take workouts that he used to cram into one week when he was younger and spread them out over two weeks. But he does not take entire “down weeks.” Inoa just keeps his workload at a reasonable level throughout the training cycle.

Still, now that he’s running well again, Inoa has to rein him in. As she told me, “He’s been frustrated because he wants to jump back in and run fast workouts.” She has to hold him back and remind him that the focus right now is on regaining his fitness while avoiding injury. That means being patient.

Race day success
I spotted Khannouchi well behind the lead pack at mile 1.5 of the race, but holding up well. He was running fast and looked good. There was no sign of pain on his face, hitches in his stride or any other indicators of something being amiss. For a non-competitive effort, he still placed in a respectable 21st place, a little under three minutes off his best for the distance. He looked genuinely happy when he crossed the finish line.

I caught up with him after the race in the media area, where he was getting a massage. We chatted for a few minutes about how the race went. Here’s a transcript of our exchange:

Me: You looked really good at mile 1.5. You looked smooth and relaxed.

KK: I felt good throughout the race.

Me: So how was it?

KK: It was hard. First race in three years. I mean, it’s not going to come easy, but we felt like it was a good effort and it was very exciting to be out there. I feel like I pushed hard and, 30:30 or so — for a first race in three years, that’s a good time. Well, something promising. Not a good time, but something that we can build on.

Me: So you feel it was successful in terms of what you wanted to achieve?

KK: Just by being here it was a success. Like I said [yesterday], we talk about the fear of having injury in my mind. Just by being here it feels like I’m motivated to start all over again. It’s not going to be easy, right? We know that. So at least it was a start, and it was good.

Me: So no twinges?

KK: No, I’m going for a cooldown now, and [pointing to left foot] it feels good.

Me: I was talking with Sandra yesterday about how, if you don’t race for awhile, you can sort of forget how to race, how to pace yourself. Did you feel any of that today?

KK: Yeah, sure. Not only that, but you lose the rhythm, you lose the impact with the ground, you lose a lot of things that we have to work on. We need to improve everything little by little. It’s not going to come in a day or in a race or two. But it’s going to take patience and it’s going to take hard work and it’s going to take also, you know…the people around you have to be people that can motivate you, people that, in a bad time, will come to you and support you. I think all that stuff has to be together in order for us to make a comeback or do better or improve.

Me: And how was the crowd support? Did people recognize you and cheer you on?

KK: There was big support. I was very impressed. I always come down and do my running here when I have to get therapy in the city and people do recognize me. But there was more [of a] crowd today and there was more support. I was thrilled to run in front of them. It wasn’t what I usually run. It was, you know, more than two minutes off my personal best.

Me: Can I check in with you after Peachtree?

KK: Yes, of course! We’ll update you with what’s going on. I’m hoping it will be good news.

Me: Based on today, I think it will be.

*When I asked him which American marathoner he thought had a chance of breaking his record, he diplomatically demurred and went off on a tangent about things needing to go perfectly on race day. The guy certainly knows how to give an interview without getting himself into hot water.

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