The Masterson Uncertainty Principle

“The more precisely the position of some runner is determined, the less precisely his or her momentum can be known, and vice versa.” *

This is to follow up on my earlier post, where I promised “intimate and exclusive details on Kirk’s quantum leap forward” in racing. How I came to know such details is no great secret—I texted Kirk after the standard Sunday Distance Run, inviting him to “tell me a story.” From a volley of twelve replies, squeezed off like illegal ordnance from his iPhone, I felt the notion that maybe, perhaps, our guy had something to say for himself.

So I made plans to call Kirk in the afternoon. We talked shop for almost an hour, reviewed how his streak of successes has come together, and made some predictions about where this might be leading.

Of course you may already know from the WRC Newsletter of Kirk’s 2012 collection of races, for which he was recognized as WRC’s 2012 Male Runner of the year. However, sloppily omitted from that list is the Army Ten Miler, which Kirk cites as the beginning of this current streak. After an autumn’s hiatus, he went 1:05:21 for 10M (Army 10M, October), then 28:46 for 8K (Jingle All the Way, December), then 17:15 for 5K (Bright Beginnings, March) (see his quote in a WRR race report), and a week later zoomed along to 27:24 for 8K.

To what crucial factor might el Prez attribute his progress? In two words: fast shorts. Or maybe: shorts, not-fast? This is because when I asked about what he was wearing on that mild Sunday, he replied, “Of course the WRC singlet, and a pair of green plaid split shorts. I wanted to represent the [Masterson] family name’s Irish roots.” Please see People’s Exhibit ‘A’.

But the pursuit for fast shorts was itself an unexpected journey, involving multiple special orders and inquiries at Pacers, branching beyond the packet pickup for the St. Patrick’s Day 8K. Fortunately, he had a friend in a WRC member, Emily Farrar, who was working a shift at Pacers in Clarendon; she helped put Kirk in touch with his tartan. And, importantly, Emily could also share her own news: that she’d recently been accepted into a new teacher training program, and is working her way back to decent mileage. “Only able to train in low sevens for up to eight miles at a clip” is how Kirk recalled her putting it. (Emily we cannot wait to have you back.)

So with that assistance, Kirk was resplendent when toeing the line, wearing his club electrolime singlet, green plaid shorts, white flats, and a leprechaun’s copper coiffure. All business up top, but a party beneath the shirttails.

Still, having pushed his warm-up later than normal, in order to not cool off in the marble and concrete heat-sink of an un-Occupied Freedom Plaza, Kirk was feeling rushed. He got to the starting line with five minutes until the start, but without spare time to seek out his teammates or contemplate strategy.

Fortunately, Kirk’s dormant racing instincts could wake up with the King. He observed, “When I started, I thought, ‘You know, I need to catch up to Geoff.'” WRC member, Geoff King, is in many ways a more experienced racer. And for this race, Kirk didn’t have a particular goal time in mind; just to set a personal best (sub-28:46) on a certified course. So by Geoff being at the race and identifiable in the Dojo of Pain’s stars-n-bars, Kirk could forget about mile splits, and focus on racing by feel, gauging his relative position within the field.

Goeff’s early leadership was equally important for reminding Kirk to stay accountable when racing, and trying to achieve his potential. “With the club perspective in mind, can I achieve what I want to do within WRC, and also between clubs? With a team depending upon you, it’s a motivator.”

Kirk ran harder than he ever had for the distance because he didn’t want to let his teammates down, and particularly not in plain view of WRC member and Washington Running Report editor, Charlie Ban, who covered the race in efficient prose, accompanied by CAR member Cheryl Youngs’s race photos.

But even with two good races for the year already in the bag, some solid training including consistent endurance work of 13 miles or longer over hill and dale, and a training volume in the neighborhood of 50 miles per week, many questions remain unanswered for Kirk. For example: Can races be used as fast training miles, in lieu of track work? What will it take to give Kirk the endurance that had eluded him at Cherry Blossom last year? Can he make this new-found speed last for 10 miles? Why was the team signup process for Pacers’ St. Patrick’s Day 8K “definitely baffling” as Kirk put it, and ultimately futile for WRC’s purposes? Do big leaps of progress on a personal level make up for the only downside for that day, which for Kirk was the lack of a team score?

Another object of Kirk’s uncertainty is exactly how this preparation will play out at the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler on Sunday morning, April 7th. Kirk plans to abstain from racing for the next couple of weeks, in order to increase his mileage up through the race date. Contemplating that date, he noted that this second good race in a row suggest that he’s on the right track, but that he still harbors some doubts about whether these were “fluke races”. He projects himself as being able to complete the Cherry Blossom in 57:30 (2+ minutes faster than in 2012), and that if he hits that mark, it will confirm this recent string of successes as “a real thing.” A back of the envelope calculation using Daniels’s VDOT tables would indicate that, all things being equal, Kirk ought to indeed be capable of running somewhere in the range of (56:55 – 57:45). Racing well for ten miles at Cherry Blossom will prove to Kirk that “it’s not a fluke, that I really am running these [kinds of] times.”

This Wednesday afternoon, I checked with an old friend, who just happens to be an international expert on road racing affairs, about whether there really is such a thing as a “fluke race.” My friend laughed, and loudly replied “No! The thing about running is your best races are not an accident or the result of some kind of luck. You know exactly what went into them. And when you get one of those, it’s all because of you!”

I therefore respectfully submit to you, dear reader, that while the Masterson Uncertainty Principle might have its merits and virtues, it is not generally employed by others in regards to Kirk, himself.