Tuesday, September 23, 2014

September Racing

I ran two races in the last ten days; the Pepsi 10K on September 13 and the UVA Club Cross Country Cavalier Invitational 8K on September 21. These two races could not have gone more differently, and yet, as I write that, maybe they didn't.

The Pepsi 10K was at Merriweather Lewis Elementary School. RMR had a presence at the race, with Charlie, Dave, Rachel, and Melissa lining up with me, along with a whole slew of other people that we knew. Far different from when I ran the race two years ago and I only knew three people there. I went into the race pretty tired and excited for a rust buster, but also hoping to run fast. None of this "using the race as a workout" crap, I was there to run hard. The course is an out-and-back x two, where we leave the parking lot of the school and go right down Owensville Road towards Ivy for a mile, then turn around and run back past the school and towards Garth Road until about 4 miles, and then turn around to come back to the school. There were a lot of UVA wrestling and lacrosse players there, so two wrestlers jumped out to the lead ahead of me and Charlie at the gun. I stayed behind Charlie, as I knew that he always raced well even if he wasn't working out well, and it would be foolish to run ahead of him. I wasn't quite ready to concede the race to him at the starting line. Once the wrestlers fell off, Charlie and I made our way down hill towards mile 1 in a quick 5:09 (for me, he was 4 seconds up). It was faster than I would have liked to have gone out, but it was still within reason and nothing crazy. But I was trying to race and not just run a pace, so that's what you do! Turning around the cone, I didn't pay too much attention to what was going on behind me and just focused on the hill. I gained a little bit of ground on Charlie, but made sure not to work too hard as it was very early and there were hills on the other side too. The 2nd mile was a very reasonable 5:22, and again I was about 4-5 seconds behind Charlie. I felt good but could feel him starting to pull away from me despite my effort to move up to him.

So I started running alone. He wasn't too far away but I decided that I wasn't going to burn out trying to catch him because I was happy with the way that I was running. So much for racing. As I went through mile three in 5:15, I could hear them calling splits for the next person behind me and they were very close! I didn't look back, but about a half mile later, I could hear the heavy breathing so I knew that it was Dave. He'd done a 10-mile warm up before the race in his marathon training, and I was pretty disappointed that he was moving so fast and I wasn't. He encouraged me to come with him, but I just wasn't able to respond. Meanwhile, Charlie continued to pull away from both of us, and I didn't think that Dave was going to catch him. Going around the cone, I saw 4th place and Rachel some distance behind me, and began running scared. I thought she was going to get me. I tried to use the energy of the crowd coming back towards me to keep going after Dave. Later he told me that he thought I was going to get him, because when he looked back at me at mile 5, I was still right there. Funny the difference in perspective: he thought I was right there and I thought he was so far away. It's kind of like the camera angles when you're watching a marathon on TV. They look so close on the camera from the front, but when they show from the chaser behind, it looks insurmountable. I should keep that in mind.

I ran the second half of the race very even, 5:22-5:24 with a 62 second close. I felt like I managed to kick, despite not having anyone that I was going to catch. Mark said that I looked very controlled, and despite feeling like I fell asleep a little bit in the last mile, I would agree with him. I ran 33:03 and got 3rd behind Charlie (32:35?) and Dave (32:52). It's the 3rd fastest I've run for a 10k, and not a bad rust buster. I left the race feeling happy and encouraged about running 5:19 pace for 10K three weeks before my half marathon.
Ragged Mountain Rachel Team
Fast forward a week to the Cavalier Invite. The race took place at the William & Mary owned Ash-Lawn Highland. I wasn't even sure I was going to get to run this race because there was some controversy with the Club team about me not being on the team, despite the race information just requiring that I be a student in good academic standing who hasn't competed in a varsity sport this semester. So I arrived and paid my $15 and was ready to go. I warmed up a pretty good amount before, running the entire women's 6K course. It was very challenging. I probably shouldn't have warmed up so much because by the time the race started at 10:25 or something, it was in the mid 70s. I felt very much alone at the beginning of this race-- similar to the way that KC must have felt at the Women's 4 Miler, but on a much smaller scale. There were about 7 teams and they were all talking to each other and doing strides and team huddles and signing fight songs and stuff (the UVA team even sang the Good Ol' Song afterwards). I was just out there. The starter talked to me, so that was nice (and sad.)

I positioned myself in the back of some team, I don't know which. I don't know why I decided to be in the back. It's not like I could have gotten a spot on the line if I'd wanted to anyway, but this was a mistake. Once the race finally started, I was engulfed by these college kids. It has been a LONG time since I've been in a crowd like that at the beginning of a race. I didn't freak out or anything, but I had to do some pushing to give myself some breathing room and get out of the box I was living in. I could see the people in the front so I wasn't concerned with how far back I'd gone out, but that quickly changed as these kids got tired 300 meters in. I had to fight my way out and start moving up. I'd say that at the half mile (which I'm guessing) I was probably behind 50 guys, I passed 20 going up a hill in the middle of the first mile, and then by the time I got to the mile in 5:30 (I asked a kid who looked at his watch) I was behind 15 guys. This was stupid. In hindsight I should have just gotten on the starting line in front of someone like I do in road races and just gone out with the leaders. They probably only ran a 5:20, but it was a much easier and even 5:20 than my 5:30 scratching and clawing.

I continued to move up until I was with the chase pack. There was a Princeton guy out in front, with a Maryland guy 10 meters back. Then there was the pack I was with, running in 6th place. I was content to stay with them as it was still early in the race, but these guys seemed to be running much more comfortably than all of the other kids I'd been passing. Not a lot of heavy breathing yet. Me, on the other hand, I'd wasted a lot of energy moving up to this group when I probably should have just started with them in the first place. We started to separate a little bit, and I worked on dropping the George Washington kid while UVA and Princeton started to pull away. I was doing very well on the uphills, but they were better at the downhills than I was and the gap started to form by mile 3. I got passed by another UVA runner as we ran the start of the course in reverse.

Shortly after 5k, we crossed the street and went to the back half of the course. This side was brutal.
Aside from there being zero shade, there was a net uphill on the course, lots of slanted surfaces to run on,  and one hill that was kind of like running up a wall (On the warm up, I slowed to 10:30 pace going up it.) I started going backwards. Kids were passing me and there was nothing that I could do about it. This course was seriously hard. I tried not to give up completely. When someone passed me I tried to stay with them, and I think I started to do a better job of running on the downhills (which there were a lot of) as I became more sure of my footing, but it was like running in hot quicksand. My legs felt ok, but I just wasn't using oxygen anymore. There was a sign that said 800 meters to the finish. This was at the bottom of two very large hills. I still pushed, and managed to catch two kids who'd passed me earlier. When I felt like I was closer to 200 meters to the line and the hills were over, I started to kick hard. I caught another guy as we rounded the last turn 50 meters before the line, but he had another gear and ran away from me at the line.

I got through in an abysmal 28:51 in 12th place. The winner only ran 27:35 or something. Not a fast time on a slow course. But I think that Greg Jantzen ran in the 26 minute range last year, so it's not impossible. I am embarrassed with how slow I ran. I went through 5 miles over 2 minutes faster the week before in the 10K, and I've run 3 full minutes faster in an 8k cross country race at Panorama Farms, which is also not an easy course. But I'm a lot older now, so I guess I can pretend that is a valid excuse. I also haven't run a cross country race in over 4 years. Despite how poorly it went, it was a lot of fun. There is another race on November 1 and I'd like to be there and run faster.

Now I begin my tapering. I have a half marathon on October 5. This cross country race wasn't quite the confidence booster I was looking for, but the Pepsi 10k went well and my workouts have been OK. I have to remember that I took a very long layoff due to injury and I haven't been running much in the last two years. Being healthy and racing right now should be considered a success.

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Race Photos