Monday, March 6, 2017

Umstead Trail Marathon: The Race That Fights Back

Year of the Woodpecker!
This year was my third time running Umstead Trail Marathon, and the race continues to confound me.  I'll say right now that I'm happy with my result, but it wasn't a pretty process getting there.
For those not familiar with Umstead Trail Marathon (UTM), it's a different atmosphere that attracts something of a cult following each year.  There are no medals or age group awards.  There are only wooden plaques for the top 15 finishers in each gender.  These plaques are in the shape of that particular year's mascot, or "critter." The 15th place plaque is exactly the same as the 1st place plaque, so you're either in the awards, or you're not.  The species of the critter is a closely guarded secret until packet pickup, and all of the past critters have been animals native to Umstead State Park.  This year was the year of the Woodpecker.  My first UTM (year of the Bat) was my second marathon, and I finish just outside the awards with a 3:48.  A couple years later, during the year of the Horned Caterpillar, I ran a 3:36 for a training run-turned-race to finish 13th and took home a plaque.
Having a couple of UTMs under my belt, I considered myself familiar with course and its challenges, and I also believed I was a serious contender, maybe for top 5, but certainly for top 15.  Sam, my training buddy and sometime nemesis, rode up with me.  We both expected he would finish after me, but still within the awards.  Nevertheless, I had to be on my toes; he was my nemesis after all.  My other loose goal was to try and beat my Grandfather Mountain Marathon time of 3:19:15.  Comparing those two races would be like comparing apples to oranges, but both would be significantly harder than an average road marathon, just for different reasons.
The course is built for pain.  Even though the race is a "trail" marathon, there are really only about 6 miles of technical single-track trail on the course, all within the first 8 miles.  The rest of the course consists of wide, groomed bridal trails about the width of a dirt road, but strewn with hills of all shapes, sizes, and grades.  The only flat and smooth part of the course is an out-and-back in the first couple miles before entering the uneven footing of the single-track.  The first couple miles lull you in, then the single-track softens you up, and the long, relentlessly grinding hills finish you off.
The elevation profile for Umstead Trail Marathon.  A little hilly.

The race started at 9:00 sharp, and I settled into a groove right away in about 8th or 9th position.  The first half dozen or so runners formed a lead pack right away and started creating some space within the first mile.  I was not about to chase them.  If any faded back, so be it, but I was falling into a small pace group with a couple other runners anyway.  When we dipped into the single-track, things started to get fun.  The trails were not super-technical, but there were enough roots and rocks to keep you engaged and using up brain energy the whole time.  There were endless opportunities for twisted ankles, stubbed toes, or wipe-outs.  I avoided those this time, but I did have to do some hopping around.  On the switchbacks, I could see that Sam was not far behind me.  This wasn't surprising, given the surface.  While I consider myself a decently fast trail-runner, Sam is far more efficient on the uneven terrain.  Unlike most runners, he doesn't really lose pace when transitioning from smooth to uneven ground.  Where I tend to scamper, he glides.
By the end of the final section of single-track, I had tracked down and passed a couple more runners, but a taller runner with a bushy mustache had passed me and opened up some space.  While I was glad I wouldn't have to worry about my footing anymore, I knew that the rest of the course would be one long, grueling climb after another.  Most of the remainder of the race was one long out-and-back, so every uphill and downhill would be one we would go back down or up on the way back.  The longest of these was "The Easy Way Out" hill, which was over a mile long and led up to the 10th mile marker.  Some roving aid cyclists were about, and one said to me "You're about a third of the way up," after I had been climbing for a few tough minutes already.  "Thanks," I said with just a hint of sarcasm.
Miles and hills went by, and while the nice weather brought many runners, hikers, and cyclists to the park, I was largely alone for my part in the race.  I did a mental self-inventory after the tropical paradise-themed aid station at the halfway point.  I was feeling a bit beat up for this point in the race.  Not the best sign.  It could have been worse though.  As I was struggling at what felt like a shuffle up one of the hills, Mr. Mustache faded back to me and looked much more broken.
As I neared the turnaround at mile 15, I noted that the lead pack had broken up a bit, but I was in sixth place with a large, hard-to-close gap between me and the 5th place runner.  I also noticed that while my gap on Mr. Mustache was growing, Sam was only 2-2.5 minutes behind me, which was not that far with 11+ miles to go and what felt like an early bonk coming on...
As I rolled through the same series of hills I had just traversed--only this time in reverse--I adopted the same mindset as I did at Grandfather Mountain: don't hammer the hills, just get up them.  It was nice to see the rest of the field on their outbound leg, including several runners I had come to know from this race and other regional running events.  I peeked over my shoulder every now and again for pursuers, and I saw no one.  Mr. Mustache had fallen off the edge of the Earth, and I couldn't see Sam, but I knew he was lurking...
Circa mile 16.  I was feeling a bit worse than I look in this pic.

From mile marker 18 to 19.5 was one long, slow climb, not unlike the one leading up to mile 10.  In fact, this climb came to that same aid station, just on the inbound leg.  With GPS being inaccurate in the park, I had been eyeballing my splits and doing the math in my head at each mile marker.  I had been running in the mid-7:30 for most of the race, which was pretty good on this course.  Mile 19 was 8+ minutes, but I told myself, "It's okay.  You have over a mile of downhill now for a nice, fast, 7-minute mile."  That 20th mile was not nice, fast, or 7-minutes.  My turnover was gone, and I knew my last 10k would be all about damage control.  Worse yet, some of the most challenging climbs of the course were still yet to come.  And I kept looking over my shoulder...
I slogged up the "Corkscrew Hill" climb in the 22nd mile, and knew my next aid station would lead to the dreaded Cedar Ridge out-and-back, but I was still going steadily uphill just to even get there.  When I made it to the Cedar Ridge aid station, I left my water bottle there knowing I would pick it up again in about 2.5 miles.  No sense in carrying it for the worst climb of the race.
Me approaching Cedar Ridge aid station.  Don't I look excited?

Even on my third time running this race, it surprised me how long that stupid out-and-back was.  It was especially awful because it was just a means to an end: to get the distance right and add a horrible hill.  Shortly after going down the aptly named "Wheels-Fell-Off Hill," I ran a short way to the turnaround and came back to see Sam finishing his descent just as I was starting my ascent.  Sam was way too close for comfort, and when he would reach the turnaround in after another minute, he would know exactly how close he was.  Not good.  An alarm rang in my head that shouted "Not again!"
The rest of Cedar Ridge was interminable.  I picked up my water bottle at the last aid station and made my way toward "Cemetery Hill" at mile 25.  This S.O.B. of a hill is not only a long grinder, but you can see the entire hill staring back down at you from the bottom.  I low-geared it and chugged towards the top.  At one point, I looked over my shoulder and saw no one chasing, so I allowed myself a 10-second walk break.  However, 5 seconds in, I peeked over my shoulder again to see Sam's bright orange shirt coming around the corner to the bottom of the hill!  F***!  I had to start running again and not let up the rest of the way!
I wouldn't see Sam again for the rest of that last mile, but it seemed like I was looking behind me more than I was looking ahead.  I knew on Cemetery Hill that I would not achieve my goal of beating my GMM time, and there was no way I was catching 5th place, so I just maintained my shuffle to finish solidly in 6th place with a 3:22 flat.  Sam came in 91 seconds later for a secure 7th place finish, but he looked a lot better than I did.  I was absolutely destroyed.

Glad to be done...and to have held off Sam!

I'm sure I'll come back to Umstead Trail Marathon again, but maybe in a couple years, after I've once again forgotten how hard the course is!

7th and 6th place overall!

Monday, February 20, 2017

Charlotte 10-Miler: Great Race, Great Distance

I love to run marathons.  There is a sense of high reward for putting so much time and focus into what is a very challenging feat.  I also love 5k's, even though it's cool for my friends and me to say "Man, I hate 5k's!"  There is a satisfaction about running at a near red-line pace for 3.1 miles.  It's a different kind of hurt.  Half marathons reside comfortably between those two extremes, but there are so many half marathons now that the 13.1 mile distance can get a little familiar.  There is a magic little window that is occupied by the 15k and 10-mile distances that really entices me.  For me, these two distances straddle the one-hour race duration.  In that one-hour +/- race, I am surfing on the intangible edge of the lactate threshold, which means I have to play it just right.  In a half-marathon and above, I want to stay slower than that fast tempo for fear of getting too lactic and bonking.  In a 10k or a 5k, I have to push past that pace and just keep burning.  For a 10-miler, I experience a thrill (and pain) near to that of a 10k, but I have to strategize from start to finish as much as I would a half marathon.  The Charlotte 10-miler is a fantastic race that I have run a couple of times, and its course favors both speed and strategy.
The morning of the race was perfect racing weather: 41 degrees, clear and calm.  Many of the fast runners from the greater Charlotte area showed up for this event, so I lined up near the front and shouldered next to Meg Hovis, with whom I ran most of this race two years ago.  The start of the race was flat to downhill, and an easy, conservative effort still had me going out way too fast.  My watch was showing low 6s to high 5s, and it took a lot of discipline to slow myself down, especially with droves of people out ahead of me.  "We'll see them again," assured Meg.  The steady hill at the end of the first mile brought several runners back to reality, but I continued to gain ground while running with Meg, Sarah Duffy, Jason Philbin, and a few other similarly paced runners.  I played this hill by effort--again, conservative--and hit the first mile mark at 6:24, which was only a couple seconds faster than my first mile split from the two years ago.  Off to a good start.
After turning off Johnston Road and hitting the unpaved section of the greenway, everything felt smooth and fast.  The terrain was flat or steadily descending, the surface was fast but forgiving, and the arboreal surroundings were serene but envigorating.  The next couple of miles clicked off in short order, and I started to break off ahead of the pace group in which I had settled.  The pace felt right, and I had a steady stream of runners ahead of me that I could reel in steadily, one or two at a time.
After a rolling, residencial loop that lollipopped back to the main part of the course, I returned to the greenway and ran over the chip-timed 5-mile split at 31:13.  I was on pace to beat my PR of 1:03:05, but I knew the second half of the course had a big hill leading up to the final mile, so I had to have just the right amount of time in the bank and fuel in the tank before I got there.  The next three miles were all about maintaining that goal pace and checking my effort.  I had to keep hammering, but I had to respect the distance too.  I passed 6.2 miles (according to my watch, with some tree-cover error) at right around 39 minutes, which would be a good stand-alone 10k time for me any day.  After the 7th mile marker, I was having to put out a noticeably bigger effort to maintain the same pace.
I exited the greeway near the mile 8 mark and made a hard, 180-degree turn to angle towards the course's next neighborhood, and the infamous mile 9 hill.  After laying down a respectible pace through the neighborhood, I climbed the "Big Hill' with the same strategy as I would with a couple of the more familiar burners on the local Davidson courses.  I low-geared it, refused to look at the pace on my watch, and reminded myself that the final mile would be a screaming fast downhill, and that I should save my energy for that.  Even pulling back on the reins, the hill sucked.  There was no way around that.
Once I hit the mile 9 mark at the top, I unloaded.  Doing the quick math in my head, I knew that a 6:40 mile would get me to the finish with a PR, but I had every intention of running faster than 6:40.  There was no one within reach ahead of me or behind me, so I just focused on the clock.  When I made the last two turns in the final quarter mile, I knew I had a PR in the bag, but my A goal was 1:02:30 (derived from a planned 6:15 pace).  I crossed the finish line in 1:02:18.  I'm extremely happy with that time, because it's just a representation of everything going right for that race.  Winning my age group was an added bonus.
Picture of my finish, courtesy of Bobby Aswell.

Here is my Strava data for the race.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Salem Lake 50k Relay, by Main Street Milers

After an unprecidented but not unwelcome,  weather-induced reschedule, this year's Salem Lake Frosty 50k/25k/50k Relay was more like a Foggy 50k Relay.  A few early moring running buddies and I decided to enter the Relay lists as a coed open team with the singular purpose of winning that category.  In order of relay segment, we--The Main Street Milers--were Dustin, Ashley, Derek, and me (Chas).  This recap is co-written by my fellow MSM teammates in the order of events as they unfolded.
Main Street Milers
From left: Dustin, Chas, Derek, and Ashley

A brief course description:
Salem Lake Park has a beautiful, seven-mile, hard-packed dirt path the circumnavigates the lake and connects to Salem Creek Greenway (asphalt) on the Northwest corner.  The course started at the trailhead nearest to the park's main entrance and ran the entirety of the trail around the lake, adding a short out-and-back on the asphalt greenway to make each lap 12.5 kilometers, or 7.75 miles.  Four laps would complete the 50k, and relay teams had one runner for each lap.  The course was largely flat, but there were two significant hills at mile 1.25 and 7.25.  Rain had swept through the area in the few days before the park, and while there was no active precipication, the ground was wet, but not overly soft in most places.
Here is how the Main Street Milers' race played out:
First leg: Dustin
First off, my primary goal was not to lose the race within a race.  Here's what I mean.  Derek, Chas, and I had made a little wager: slowest guy buys a round of beers for the others.  Given that Chas was virtually always faster than me, and Derek had recently "turned the screws" (his words) faster than I was able at the Mayberry Half Marathon, I was the clear underdog.  In other words, I needed to put up a strong performance in order to keep up with these two guys. In all honesty, I knew Ashley was going to be a formidable teammate/competitor as well, and she played no small role in motivating me to run my best race.  None of these MSM teammates was going to make things easy.
I lined up on the front.  As the RD gave us the signal, I immediately fell into a pace that felt more like a 5k than 7.75mi.  This landed me in 2nd position, led only by an unknown in a red singlet.  This order persisted for approximately a mile, during which I could hear Chad Crockford and Caleb Masland behind me having a very pleasant and unlabored conversation behind me regarding marathon PRs, which were both in the mid-2:30s.  I quickly realized that I was significantly outclassed and these two could pass me whenever they liked.  They did so shortly thereafter, leaving me in 4th position.  Next to pass were a young, curly-headed unknown, and finally at approximately mile 2, a Charlotte runner wearing a CRC singlet and laboring far more than the first few runners.  I then maintained 6th position for the remainder of my leg, keeping curly-head and Mr. CRC in sight for 6 miles.
Keeping tabs on my watch, I was slowly losing ground on pace.  My first couple of miles were 6:10 and then it slowly crept up to 6:17.  This was my overall average, and I knew it was artificially high due to GPS loss on those curvy lake fingers.  But I kept my eyes on the prize, which wa to put up a strong performance for my team.  My unspoken goal was to average 6:15 min/mi, but I was a little hesitant to tell anyone because I didn't realistically believe I was able to hit that number.
Mile 5 is when things began to get difficult, but grit is grit, so I bore down and knocked my overall pace at mile 6 back down to 6:16.  Small victories.  When I hit the final hill by the dam, I slowed significantly because it was a legit grade.  This felt like an embarrassing, molasses-like pace.  As I neared the apex, I could see all of my DART buddies cheering for me near the finish line.  So I dug deep, took advantage of the downhill, and came in strong as Ashley took the baton.  A few minute of heavy breathing and recovery and I was back to slapping fives and catching up with buds.  What a great day at the races!
Second leg: Ashley
My goal was to keep all of my miles sub-7, which seemed like a reasonable challenge.  As Dustin had set me up well towards the front of the pack but behind the lead 25k runners and the lead men's relay team, I ran alone for a couple of miles.  The second leg of the winning mixed team then cruised by me at sub-6 pace and was out of my sight within a few minutes.  Keeping up with him was out of the question, so I just tried to hang on to my place.
The run was mentally tough due to the unvarying terrain in the first 5+ miles, the fact that I was basically alone for the entire 7.7 miles (but obviously being chased) and the lack of anything resembling crowd support.  I occasionally had to remind myself I was racing as I passed walkers out for a leisurely stroll around the lake.  I took the race a mile at a time, checking my Garmin often (probably too often, since I learned later that it wasn't entirely accurate on the second half of the course) to make sure that I was staying on pace.
I was grateful to turn onto the paved road for the out-and-back at mile 7 even knowing that the infamous big hill was still ahead of me.  The best part of the race was finally arriving at the top of the hill, hearing the DARTers in the distance cheer (and Morgan and Johane ringing cowbells) and cruising to the finish where Derek was waiting.
Ashley finishing her leg and passing the "baton" to Derek.  Dustin looks on from the background, and I'm still bundled up in the exchange zone looking down the trail.

Third leg: Derek
Lesson learned: if you start a 12.5k race at sub-5k pace, you're going to have a bad time.  That is a scientific fact.  Blame it on relay inexperience, blame it on sitting around and watching a race unfold and anticipation build around you for an hour and a half, or blame it on shooting out like a cannon and forgetting to start your GPS for a minute or so and not bothering to check pace.  In the relay chute, I watched the lead team come in about 3 minutes before us and I really wanted to give a strong effort to make some time up.  Plus, there was a friendly intra-team wager to think about.
Either way, a sub-6:00 pace for the first mile and a half is too richfor me.  The course doesn't do you any favors either, since every corner you round in the first 3 miles, the trail looks exactly like the section you just ran and there ar no landmarks for frame of reference.  Add to that the fact that I was only 7 days out from running a marathon (not raced, but still 26.2 miles), and by mile 3 I was ready to be done.  Around mile 2, I had spotted and was using another runner in a bright yellow shirt as my rabbit.  It was clear that he was moving too, so I assumied him to be from one of the fast, college-age all-men teams.  So I spent the next mile or so slowly closing the gap on him.  I caught on and eventually passed him around mile 4, and we traded places back and forth a few times with a few encouraging words, but I was hurting pretty bad.  Right after mile 5, he found another gear and I just needed to let him go.  We weren't directly racing each other anyways, but then without my rabbit, it was survival mode until "The Big Hill" at mile 7.5.  My legs were toast and felt about like mile 25 of a marathon, only at 6:40 pace I was now also breathing (gasping?) at 5k levels.
This was not fun.  Had I not had teammates counting on me (we were still in the medal hunt after all), I probably would have bagged it much sooner.  But I had been asked to be on the team because they thought I could help our chances of placing well, so I gutted it out until "The Big Hill."  I tried to go strong up that sneaky bastard knowing I was almost home, but about halfway up it you round a corner and see that not only are you ONLY halfway up, but it gets steeper.  Not sure what it was, but my breathing at that point was on the verge of hyperventilation, so I walked.  Only the second time ever in a race, but yeah, I did.  10 seconds or so.  Got my breathing back under control, finished the hill, and still managed a decent sprint down the hill to the finish.  Not a proud race performance, but still turned in a sub-50 minute 12.5k, if only barely.  And, after I could see/breathe/think again, I was informed that I had closed the gap with the lead team to under 10 seconds, so that's a win.  We were in decent shape leading into our strong fourth leg runner.  All in all, it was a fun day getting to spend time with friends, interrupted by 45 minutes of hardcore suck.  But due to that aforementioned wager, I was now buying the post-race beers.
Derek striding in to pass me the slap braclet for the final leg.
Fourth leg: Chas
Less than 10 seconds after the leading open coed team from Clemson passed off to their anchor runner, Derek came flying into the exchange zone with the gimace of an all-out effort on his face.  He had made up nearly three-and-a-half minutes of the gap to the lead team!  I shot off after their anchorman (Michael) and slapped the timing bracelet on my wrist.  50 meters down the trail, I heard more than one person from the exchange zone yelling, "hey!"  I turned back to see them holding something up.  Glancing at the slap bracelet on my wrist, I realized it was the timing sensor; it had fallen off!  "F***!" I screamed as I sprinted back, grabbed the sensor, and turned back on course while I still had Michael in sight.
Now the heart rate was up, and I had the pressure of chasing the lead team, as well as trying to match Dustin's impressive sub-48 minute leadoff leg.  After a mile, it was apparent that Michael was out of my league.  He opened up such a huge gap in that time that he was uncatchable unless something extraordinary happened.  I couldn't in good concience slow down though.  When I reached the first hill at mile 1.25, I quickly realized that my effort for the distance was setting me up for a world of hurt later in the race.  The hill was not a bad hill compared to our usual Davidson running routes, but it was enough to induce the burn.
While Michael from the Clemson team was out of reach, I locked in on another college-age runner from one of the open male category teams.  He was keeping up a quick pace and served as a good rabbit.  I took my splits by eyeballing the race time at each of the trail's permanent, certified mile markers. I passed mile 3 at 18:27, nearly on pace for a sub-19 5k.  I didn't know how sustainable that pace would be, but I'd have to keep it up if I wanted to stay on par with Dustin's performance.  After I crossed over the far end of the lake at Linville Road and started running along the north lakeshore, the GPS started going wonky.  I knew I was maintaining a fast pace and the effort was getting more painful, especially since I was only about halfway done.  At any moment, I was expecting the rabbit I had picked to fade back to me, but he remained 5-10 seconds ahead of me throughout the run.
I picked out my 5 mile split at 30:34 (which would crush my official 8k and 5-mile PRs) and my 6 mile split at 36:40ish.  The pace was as fast or faster than any other race I had done at similar distances.  Shortly after I got to the asphalt out-and-back section, I saw Michael coming inboud from that segment, which meant he was more than half a mile ahead of me.  Damn, he was fast!
Being the last runner on my team, I got to hear several DARTers' recounts of the big dam hill in the last quarter mile of the course.  It was as painful as everyone promised.  Still, it was good to know I was just over a minute from the finish once I reached the top.  I opened up my stride down the backside of the dam hill and was determined to finish fast.  I wouldn't match Dustin's lap time, but I would be respectably close, and I wouldn't have to buy the round of beer.  I finished in just over 48 minutes.
Me striding in for the team finish.  All pictures courtesy of  Ashley and Brian Neff.
As a team, The Main Street Milers finished 2nd in the coed mixed category.  The club runners from Clemson clearly outclassed us, but they were extremely polite and sportsmanlike, even referring to us as "sir," and "ma'am," much to our chagrin.
Other DART teams fared even better in their respective categories.  The DARTlings, and all female team, won the ladies' overall category, and Foolish Velocity excitingly edged out the defending masters category champs with a heroic last leg by Joey Noto.
DARTer and Ironman Ashley Ackerman took 3rd place overall for the solo 50k race with a 3:57.  This was doubly impressive because this was his first attempt at 50k!  As per usual, great things happen when a bunch of DARTers get together in one place!
Most of the DART contingency at Salem Lake.  MSM in the back row on the left; back center is Foolish Velocity (Chris Flaherty, Dave Munger, Joey Noto, and not pictured is Mike McCarthy); DARTlings are up front (Katie Rose, Amber Wood, Johane Hirschfield, and Morgan Dethman), and an unknown Marathon Maniac.  Also not pictured is Ashley Ackerman, who was preparing for his first 50k.

Main Street Milers Frosty 50k Relay by the numbers
Dustin: 47:45 (6:10 average pace)
Ashley: 53:10 (6:52 average pace)
Derek: 49:49 (6:26 average pace)
Chas:48:11 (6:13 average pace)
Main Street Milers: 3:18:53 (6:24 average pace)

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Novant Charlotte Marathon: Pacers Do It With Consistency.

This year's Charlotte Marathon (formerly Thunder Road Marathon) was my fourth time running the race and third as an official pacer.  Pacing is something I love to do for my running community and frankly, even though this race is local, its course is challenging enough for me not to want to do it unless it's complimentary.  Does that make me cheap or smart?  Maybe both.  Anyway, I signed up to once again pace the first half of the three hour pace group, meaning I would be pacing a 90-minute half, which seems to be a nice default for me as a pacer.  It's quick enough that it's a worthwhile race experience, but enough over my PR to be reliably attainable.  In the Summer and early Fall, I trained through a very rigorous half marathon program that really boosted my speed for that distance and culminated in me obliterating a 15k PR (my target half was cancelled).  Following that, I focused on some high end speed to likewise crush my 5k PR four weeks later.  In hat time period, I only had about 5-6 weeks of marathon-specific training.  With the usual base I have built up, I knew I would have no problem finishing the race with a decent time after my pacing duties were relieved, but part of me was itching to stick to that three hour pace (6:52 minutes/mile) to see how long I could hang on.

You can find me in the right third of the frame in the obnoxiously pink pacer shirt.  I'm right behind Chad Crockford in the JITFO singlet, who would go on to win the marathon.

I noticed many familiar faces at the starting line, including some really fast folks from all around the Charlotte metro area.  Most of those speedsters would speed ahead at the gun and never be seen again.  A good twenty or so people spotted me with Matt L. (my pacing partner) in our conspicuously pink pacer shirts and huddled around us.  Bryan, one of my local training buddies, met up with us intending to break 1:30 for a half marathon PR and tune-up for his focus marathon in January.
When the go signal went off, dozens of people charged ahead.  Some faded back, but it seemed like there were a lot of runners out there running faster than a 1:30 half/3:00 full pace.  As was always the case, we would see many of them again.  With the tall buildings in uptown Charlotte, my GPS watch was jumping around for pace readings, and out of our large group, no two watches said the same thing, so I largely paced by feel.  It worked out well enough; we came to the first mile marker at 6:51.
Somewhere in the first mile.  At least a score of runners were on the 1:30/3:00 bandwagon.

As with any rolling course, I briefed my tag-alongs that we would shoot for equal effort on the ups and downs and end up with reasonably even splits.  The first half of the Charlotte course--which shares all but the last 500 meters of the half marathon course--is a beautiful, residential route that traverses the Meyers Park, Dilworth, and Southend neighborhoods.  With lots of crowd support and appealing streetscapes, the miles went by with relative ease.  We climbed the infamous Morehead Street hill at mile 8+ and started shedding some followers.  At this point, Lucy, a friend of another running buddy, overtook the first female who faded back to us and became the lead female marathoner.  We had banked a good 20-25 seconds on the race clock before that hill and were perfectly comfortable to give some of it back.  After going up most of the hill, taking a brief loop through Dilworth, and then climbing the rest of Morehead, we had given back about 10 seconds and were a cumulative 13 seconds ahead of pace.
Many of the half marathoners in our group started to fade in Southend with all but the last 5k of their race remaining.  Bryan stayed with us, but he was less talkative.  I positioned myself at the front of the pace group once we turned onto Mint Street at mile 11.8.  The headwind here was palpable, so I figured I would offer drafting services to half marathon finishers and Lucy, who had her eyes on a winning marathon spot.  A little more than half a mile from the half marathon finish, I noticed Bryan lagging behind by a few strides.  With our banked seconds, he was still on pace for a sub-1:30 and big PR, but this was no time to get complacent and fall off.  I drifted back and ran at his shoulder trying to draft him back to the group.  Me made up the gap, and by the time the course split, he was set up for one final quarter-mile push that propelled him to a 1:29:46, which beat his stretch goal.
As we full marathoners veered around the BB&T Ballpark and out of sight of the finish line, our 2nd half pacers, Paul and Ryan, were waiting at the mile 13 mark to relieve us of our  By the time we reached the certified 13.1 mark, we were still 10+ seconds ahead of pace.  Since it was getting warmer (at least at a 6:52 pace), I shed my pacer shirt and was down to a singlet.  I decided to run with the group to offer additional support and maybe benefit from having the fresh Ryan and Paul as pacers.  Miles 14-16 not only were the least scenic of the course, but they had the strongest headwind, so I tucked in behind Paul, who was a good six inches taller than me.  I took my turn running into the wind too, but I allowed myself to work off the new pacers' fresh legs whenever I could.
This is probably mile 14ish.  From left: Ryan M. (second shift pacer), Lucy (lead female), and me (down to my Reckless Running singlet

Again, the conversation and general sense of security in running with a group made the miles go by quickly, and we continued to bank a few more seconds per mile as we carried on.  By mile 18, I accepted that I was going to have to stop at a port-a-potty, so as soon as I bird-dogged one on The Plaza, I surged ahead and took care of the need as quickly as possible.  When I got back on the road, I could see Ryan and Paul's pink pacer shirts a couple hundred meters ahead of me, and it looked like Lucy and a couple other sub-three hopefuls were hanging strong with them.  I settled into a closing pace, but I intended to take my sweet time catching up to the sub-3 group to avoid repeating the stupid mistake I made at Boston.  I had chosen my potty stop well because the next couple of miles were flat enough to pick up the pace a bit and negate the small amount of time I lost in the facilities.
By mile 20, I was back on pace for three hours, but the pace group was still far ahead and not coming back to me.  It was evident that they were going to go under three by a considerable margin, so I abandoned any notion of catching up to them and resolved to run solo for the last 10k.  Here and there, I would pass runners that had fallen off the three hour pace group, and I tried to get them to tag along with me because I technically was still on pace for sub-three, but most of them had hit their wall and were fading.  As each mile went by, I kept on banking a few more seconds, much like I did as a pacer for the first half, but with 2.5+ hours of running on my legs, the idea of a sub-three finish wasn't seeming any more certain.

Circa mile 24.  I'm on my own and tired, but still coherent enough to give an Aswell-style thumbs-up.

Mile markers 23 and 24 came along, both confirming that I was 18-20 seconds ahead of pace.  I had not bonked, but the legs were protesting and my breathing was getting heavy.  Still, with each mile marker, I remember telling myself something like, "You can't run 24 miles of a sub-three marathon and NOT get the sub-three finish!"
The 25th mile was a pleasant departure from the roads and took me on a greenway near the medical center in midtown.  The gun clock at mile 25 read about 2:51:30ish, which was still 20ish seconds ahead of pace, but anyone who has run the Novant/Thunder Road marathon in the last three years knows that mile 26 is one, tough, uphill slog up the length of Stonewall.  This was the reason for all the previously banked time.  Marathoners like to joke that a marathon has two "halves:" the first 20 miles and the last 6.2.  Well for me, this race's two "halves" were the first 25 miles and the last 1.2!  With my banked time, a 7:00 pace mile would still set me up for a sub-three finish, but a 7:10 would be too close for comfort.  I tried to just look ahead and run, but I couldn't resist glancing at my watch here and there.  With the instantaneous pace jumping back and forth between 7:05 and 7:10, I had tragic visions of the finish clock flipping from 2:59:59 to 3:00:00 right in front of me.  Of course, that was just the last mile talking.  The only real thing to do was to HTFU and do the damn thing!  I remember what my onetime nemesis Sam said during a track workout a couple months ago: "Chas always has a little something left."  So I dug in and started running under a 7:00 pace again.
When I got to the top of Stonewall and turned right on Mint (not even noticing the mile 26 marker), I focused on the finish line, which was still so far away!  I knew it was going to be close, so I let it all out.  I crossed the finish line in 2:59:52, fifteen seconds behind Lucy, who held on to the lead to get the overall female win.
Crossing the finish line just under three hours.  For the life of me, I have absolutely no recollection of high-fiving Hugo the Hornet, but here's photographic proof.

This sub-three finish meant at least as much to me as my first sub-three and current PR from last year.  This race, although it was within a minute of my PR, was on a much harder course and thus gave me a sense of validation.  Running a lot of 3:00+ marathons and having one sub-three finish means I could have had a good a good day and gotten lucky once.  Running a second sub-three lets me confidently think of myself as a sub-three marathoner.  Now on to loftier goals yet to be decided...

Here is my Strava data for the race.
The double-Aswell pose!

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Two races, two goals

Since laying down a breakthrough of a 15k PR at the beginning of the month, I've maintained base fitness for the Charlotte Marathon but focused most of my key workouts on running a fast 5k.  I've done two 5k's in October, both with very different goals, different settings, and different race strategies.
October 15: Rescue Me 5k at McAlpine Creek Park:
This race kind of fell into my lap.  My wife and I recently started fostering an adorable Pit Bull rescue through South Of The Bully rescue agency.  Rescue Me 5k was an adoption event and a fund raiser for several Pit Bull rescue agencies in the area.  It was also the first chance I would get to race on the McAlpine Creek cross country course.
Since this race was at the end of a high volume training week and my legs were still sore from a hard tempo run a few days before, I didn't have any concrete time goals.  Besides, in a XC style race, the clock doesn't seem to be as important as does your position.  So I was in it to win it, certainly not to PR.  Although, in the back of my mind, I thought I still had the legs for a sub-19.
The morning was crisp, and the day was clear.  It was good racing weather.  I lined up at the front with a few other fast looking fellas.  At the "go" shout, I strode ahead to an early lead, but only by half a stride.  By the sounds of the footfalls on the dirt path, there was a lead pack of half a dozen or so runners (including one loudly breathing dog) led by me and one other runner whom I'll just call Red Shirt.
Since McAlpine gets used so often for large college and high school XC meets and invitationals, the course has certified metric markings every 200 meters as well as permanent mile markings, which made on-the-go strategic decisions much easier.  At the first mile marker (6:00-6:01 by my clock), Red Shirt and I had pulled away from the rest of the leaders.  We could still hear them--especially the dog--but they were fading.  Red Shirt strode ahead of me, so I tucked in behind him and let him set the pace.  There was plenty of race left after all.  The course's one real hill popped up at about the halfway point, and Red Shirt charged hard up the slope in an effort to break me.  The hill sucked, and he did gain a couple more strides worth of ground, but then I could tell by his thrown back posture that his surge had cost him.  I passed him at the 2500 mark and he tucked in behind me as I motored down the slope on the back side.
Coming out from the tree line with the hill, we ran through what would be the final straightaway after we would do a different loop on the back end of the course.  Red Shirt stayed on my heels through two miles (12:11 at the second mile marker), but I heard his footfalls fade back dramatically in the next quarter mile.  By the 4000 mark, I was alone with at least 100 meters of a lead and the win seemingly locked up.  Every 200 meters, I would do the math to confirm that a sub-19 finish would be awfully close, but once I rounded the pond for the final straightaway once again, I knew I had it.  My finish time was 18:56.  Red Shirt was about 25 seconds behind me, and the third finisher was 10 seconds behind him.  I ran the race I wanted, got a satisfying win, and got some publicity for Barlowe, our foster dog.  My wife and I called that day a success!
Barlowe was my biggest cheerleader at Rescue Me 5k

Please adopt me!

October 29: Charlotte Runway 5k at Douglas Int'l Airport:
The Runway 5k was my focus race for my short but packed 5k training cycle.  My old PR of 18:20 was getting stale, and although it was on a supposedly certified course, the general consensus of that course's shortness brings the street cred of that time into question.  So, following a lead from my buddy Dave, who PR'd at Runway three years ago, I decided to give it a shot.  Not only did I want to PR, but I had lofty aspirations of going sub-18, which all sources indicated would be a bit of a reach for me.
After carpooling with Dave and Rich (who works for American Airlines and got us great parking) and meeting John A., Bryan, M., Mike M., and some other buddies there, we quickly assessed that the weather was about the best one could ask for when running a PR 5k.
With 2000+ people racing, and a start line that was a couple dozen people wide, John and I got into the front row to avoid some of the logjam.  At the start, I settled into my pace--well actually a little faster for the first 30 seconds--and focused my gaze straight ahead.  Some of the appeal to this race, aside from being outrageously fast and flat, is the opportunity to run on a closed taxiway and fairly close to an active runway.  That being said, I did not notice the huge parked aircraft or any of the air traffic around us.  I was focused straight ahead the whole time.
18 minutes for 5k is a 5:47 pace, so my goal was to hit even 5:45 splits to break that barrier.  The first mile maker came up at exactly 5:45 on my clock, but I found myself in a no-man's land, with the other 7-8 runners too far ahead to chase down, and not noticing anyone right on my heels.  I wish I could say I was dueling it out with another racer like at Rescue Me 5k, but honestly, it was just me out there holding on to that 5:45 pace...thinking about how uncomfortable it was.
I passed the second mile marker at 11:31 on my clock, making for practically even splits, but I was starting to feel the acute intensity of the burn.  Those that usually run longer distances know well (and lament) the different kind of hurt that an all-out 5k presents.  Two thoughts bolstered my resolve: (1) I was two-thirds done with what was on pace to be my fastest 5k ever, and (2) I only had to hurt for 6+ more minutes.  With those mantras repeating back-and-forth, I maintained and even quickened the pace a bit.
At 2.5 miles, I was overtaken by Franklin, to whom I finished second place at Spencer Mountain 5k a couple years ago.  Rarely does someone pass me the last mile of a 5k, but I remember Franklin being a great late stage racer, and he was just a touch faster than me.  Franklin's girlfriend Paula, who was the lead female, also strode ahead of me, but she stayed within arm's length.  Having Franklin and Paula there actually helped me accelerate on the last half mile of the course since I, like everyone, run better in a pack.
Once we rounded the hangar complex and came within sight of the finish line (still about 500 meters away), I surged with anticipation.  My watch said 16:51 the last time I looked at it, which was well before the third mile marker (which I never even remember seeing), and I guessed that a hard kick would get me across the line in under 18 minutes.  I passed Paula and bade her to pick it up with me and "do this!"  She cheered me on and tucked in behind me.  From there on out, it was one long, anaerobic sprint to a 17:44 finish (with a chip time later adjusted to 17:43).  I was sure I was going to PR this day, and halfway confident I might break 18, but 17:44 was waaaaay beyond my goal!  John also broke 18 minutes with a one second PR (17:58), and Dave broke 20 minutes with 19:46, heralding a strong post-injury return to form (Dave's recap).  Bryan PR'd with a 19:11, and Richard barely missed his sub-20 goal with a 20:05.  Fast times were had all around, and we were all beaming on our way home from the airport.
Now it's time to switch gears again and run a fast marathon in a couple of weeks...
Two thumbs up means a good day at the airport!

Here is my Strava data for both races:
Rescue Me 5k
Runway 5k

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Novant 15k: Locking In

This is the sixth consecutive year I have done Lungstrong 15k, which is the longest streak I have for any perennial race.  This year, the event was renamed to Novant 15k, but the course and event details remained the same.  For at least four years, I've had a long-standing goal to break 60 minutes for a 15k, and since it's not a common distance, Lungstrong/Novant is really the only course on which I've given it a shot.  One of the big pros to Novant is that it is two miles from my house.  However, it's also a course strewn with rolling hills, and some of the more challenging climbs are on the back end.
To be honest, I wasn't even planning to race Novant this year.  I had spent the last 12 weeks training hard for the single-minded purpose of qualifying for New York Marathon with a 1:23 half marathon.  I was tuned up and locked in, ready to give it my best shot, but the unrest in Charlotte during the week of the race and ensuing declaration of State of Emergency caused my focus race to be cancelled.  I was deflated, but I quickly resolved to use all that peak fitness for something, so Novant 15k found its way into my cross-hairs.
When I describe the Novant 15k course to others, I break it up into three 5k sections.  The first 5k, even though it has a fast start, has some notable and steady climbs out of Jetton Park and on Jetton Road itself, giving it what I would call a medium difficulty.  The second 5k, while not flat, is the most tame and easy part of the course, weaving through residential side streets before depositing onto the Western end of Jetton Road.  The final and most difficult third of the race is made up mostly of the long, rolling terrain of Jetton Road and a couple of more steep climbs off the main road in the 7th and 9th miles.  In past races, if I was feeling spent by the 10k mark, I knew that the final 5k would be a downward spiral.
I got lucky with the weather on race day. It was in the mid-50s, which was paradise compared to the long, hot summer of training.  I knew I would be competitive, so I slipped into a place near the front row, behind a dozen or so other local Charlotte runners who I thought were out of my league.  At the start, once the adrenaline set in, I looked at my watch to see that the low-6ish minute paces were popping off way too easily.  I had spent the last months ingraining a 6:20 pace into my head for my target half, so I worked consciously to dial back to that pace.  It felt surprisingly fresh!  
After the field thinned out, and before a small lead group of elites led by pro miler Matt Elliott vanished, I took a count and reckoned I was in 12th place overall, which was better than I expected for as popular a race as this is.  I swiped a couple more places in the climb coming out of Jetton Park and found myself in a relative no-man's land for most of Jetton Road.  New to this year were mid-race timing mats at each certified 5k split point, so I hit lap on my watch--albeit a couple seconds late--after the first 5k to see that I had run the first third in 19:32.  That was pretty good for my goal, but the first two thirds of the race are only good for offsetting the end...
The ever-thinning field of runners ahead of me continued to drift back and I started picking them off very gradually through the neighborhoods at the Western end of the peninsula.  Billy Shue, who had won last year's race, was still ahead of me but he had stopped gaining ground and was still visible.  After five miles, and having passed everyone between me and Billy, I started to go back over the position count in my head.  Billy was fifth, so I was sixth.  Being a Run For Your Life race, the overall awards were five deep, so if I took one more place, I'd be on the overall podium, not just an age group winner.  The thought seemed fleeting, but then Billy started slowly fading back to me.
I passed Billy Shue right around the 10k mark, which I hit at 38:53.  Not only had I run my second 5k faster than the first (19:21), but I had just run my second fastest 10k...ever.  What was more uplifting was that I still felt locked in and relatively fresh, and was holding my own against Billy.
Around mile 6.5, the course took a brief detour off Jetton Road and down a hill on a side street called Mountainview.  Of course, what goes down must come up.  The detour turned right on North Beatties Ford Drive and headed up a short, steep hill to get back to the main thoroughfare of Jetton.  Jetton kept going up for a few dozen meters after that, so the detour had the potential to really take the wind out of one's sails before slogging it back in on the last 2.5+ miles.  It didn't help that one of the volunteers was yelling "you're almost to the finish!"  While outwardly I remained stoic, my inner voice screamed, "No I'm not!  Shut up with that!"
The inbound leg of Jetton was a series of long, rolling hills.  None of them were steep, but the fatigue of the earlier miles and the morning sun shining in my eyes certainly made me work for the pace.  But I was maintaining that pace and logging sub-6:20 miles.  The hill on the detour only marginally bit into my time.  The first three leaders were nowhere to be seen, and the fourth place runner was a dot that was nearly a quarter mile ahead of me, so I focused on keeping fifth place.  With each passing minute, it was becoming more and more likely that I would get my sub-60 goal.
At mile 8.5, I turned off Jetton onto Charlestowne Drive, which was the last sustained downhill of the race.  While turning, I peeked over my shoulder to see Billy not too far behind me.  He was far enough away that he would have to work extremely hard to catch me before we ran out of real estate, but he was still close enough to make me wary.  After the last downhill, the rest of the course was a widely arcing climb followed by a flat finish into the shopping center where the race started.  I was afforded a couple more 90 degree turns where I could sneak a glance back at Billy.  He was still in view, but he wasn't closing enough to threaten my fifth place.  However, my efforts to keep him at bay had pushed me into a possible sub-59 minute finish, so I couldn't let up.  I used the last, flat 400 meters of the course for an extended kick and clocked a 58:31 official finishing time.  Not only had I placed overall and gotten my sub-60, but I had obliterated my previous PR by 2.5 minutes!  It was the best "pound-for-pound" race I had run since the 2015 Charlotte 10-Miler, and maybe even better than that.  The real confidence booster for me is that I felt locked in for the whole race. Considering all of that, I didn't really care about my cancelled half marathon.  I was more than consoled or content with this result; I was elated!
Me after rounding the final corner and seeing the finish line.  Photo courtesy of Brian Neff.

The stride to the finish with 58:30 on the gun clock.   Photo courtesy of Brian Neff.

Here is my Strava data for the race.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Summit Solstice 12-hour Relay Recap

Summit Coffee, a basecamp of the local Davidson running community, organized a 12-hour team or solo relay race for their solstice themed race this year.  Judging by the success of the event, I'm sure this relay will be the first of many annual Summit Solstice 12-hour Relays.  The format was slightly more complex than most timed ultras or relays.  Rather than accumulating the most distance, each team--8 person, 4-person, or solo runner--tried to rack up the most points based on running loops of three different routes, all starting and ending at the Summit Outpost location on Davidson College's fraternity court.  There were 3-mile and 5-mile routes--respectively worth 1 point and 2 points--on the Davidson College cross country courses, and there was a 9.3 mile route worth 5 points that ran along the infamous Grey Road, looped through Abersham Neighborhood Park, and returned via Grey Road.  Additionally, after 5pm, each team was allowed to have two runners out on the courses at a time running for points (not counting pacers).  The 9.3 mile route had the highest point/mile ratio, but it also contained many of the most challenging hills in the area.  Add summer heat to the equation and you get a lot of hard running for a long day. 
The Main Street Milers:
Back row from left: Tracey, Bobby, me, Matt, and Jeremy.
Front row from left: Julie, Sam, and Ashley.

There were several DARTers forming or joining teams for the relay.  A couple of early morning running partners and I covertly recruited some of our weekly training partners to put together as competitive an 8-person team as we could.  Enter the Main Street Milers.  In running order, I was the leadoff, followed by Ashley N., Tracey D., Julie A., Bobby L., Sam M. (my one-time nemesis), Matt C., and Jeremy A.  Our main competition going into the race came in the form of The Coffee Bean Bombers (a fellow DART group), and The Charlotte Running Company.  Both had some strong runners and I figured that each shared a common strategy with us: bank as many 9.3 mile runs as possible before 5:30, when the courses became limited to the 3-mile and 5-mile options.
The start of the relay.  I'm up front in the Reckless Running singlet.

Since I was the leadoff runner, I was the only one to start at the same time as a packed field of competition (until 5 o'clock when the extra runner rule came into play).  Other teams were putting some fast runners first, trying to grab a few extra minutes of lead on the next team.  Off the bat, I knew that Scott K. (CRC) and Mike R. (CBB) would be direct competition on this leg as far as 8-person teams went.  John A., who ran the first half of Boston with me, was leading off for Summit Coffee's 4-man team, and there were a couple other speedsters whom I did not know.  At the start, nearly all of the teams predictably turned toward the 9.3 mile route.  The first hill, which we in MSM call Rick Flair hill, was less than a quarter mile into the race, which made it difficult to settle into an appropriate race effort.  John, Scott, and I stuck together as a front pack, but a lone runner named Jareth shot out ahead of us.  Jareth was certainly fit, but he looked very tall and broad shouldered to be running such a quick pace.  After two quick miles averaging under 6:40 pace, John backed off saying "Too rich for my blood."  I couldn't blame him; he was on a 4-man team and had done comparatively little running since Boston.  Scott was a faster runner than me, but he was not as familiar with the local roads and hills as I was, so we stayed together for most of the run.  I let him know when each of the seven notable hills were coming up and what to expect out of each of them.
As the miles went by, I maintained an average race pace of 6:40.  My official goal was to finish the leg in 64 minutes, but my semi-secret goal was to be the first overall runner to return from the 9.3 mile leg.  Jareth's considerable lead stopped opening once he got to the second big hill, and I had a feeling Scott and I would reel him in eventually.  We low-geared it up that hill and turned into Abersham for a nice, sustained downhill to get the legs turning again.  I tried to save my breath on the descent because another hill called the MotherF***er was shortly after it.  The MFer was not a long hill, but it was steep and did not leave much recovery before Mishcrest, the next hill.  Scott hammered up the MFer and led me by a few strides, but when he made the right turn to bring Mishcrest into view, he simply blurted "Oh my god..." 
After Mishcrest and the rest of the Abersham loop, we were well over halfway done, and there were only two hills left, but Big Mama and Last Grey were the two biggest hills on the course.  Scott pulled ahead of me coming out of Abersham and opened up a fairly strong cushion between us.  We both overtook Jareth (who we then learned was on a 4-person team) on Big Mama hill, and he faded back after that.  I kept Scott in view, but he had a good 20-30 seconds on me as we climbed up Last Grey and headed back into town.  As we ran through campus toward the exchange zone, Scott slowed a bit to try and find the right path onto the court.  I shouted ahead where to turn, but I kicked into high gear to close the distance too.  By the time we made it to the exchange, I had closed to about 3 seconds behind him.  We both ran the roughly 9.3 mile route in about 61 minutes.  I tagged Ashley and she was off.  Scott had tagged Todd J., and Mike tagged Derek M. a few minutes later.  Both Todd and Derek were fast runners, so it was clear that CRC and CBB were front-loading their legs.  We would have to keep the pressure on all day.
Scott coming in to be the first long leg finisher with me hot on his heels.  We both ran about 61 minutes.

Even though it was already pretty warm when I ran the first leg, the summer day only got hotter.  Ashley made her goal time, but our next four runners struggled with the preordained times by which we had planned.  All of the teams were having similar difficulties.  After their first three runners, Charlotte Running Company moved to doing only 3-mile and 5-mile routes, so we were able to build a steady lead on them.  The Coffee Bean Bombers stuck with the long loop, just like us, so whatever leads we gained on them were tied up whenever their runners came in.
Sam finishing his first leg and passing off to Matt.  This was in the high heat of the day.

I had to leave for a few hours in the middle of the day to run errands and grab my gear for the gig my band was to play at the relay festival later that evening.  When I returned, Matt was out on his leg and Jeremy was preparing to be our last first-time-through runner.  Matt had been worried about the heat and his performance, but nevertheless, he came in under his projected goal time and tagged Jeremy at about 3:30.  At this time, the remaining seven of us had to strategize how the last few hours would play out.  Our lead over the Bombers was tenuous at best, and I figured it would come down to the final, short-mileage run of the day, so we needed to set up enough time on the clock to get in more 3-milers and 5-milers after 5:30 than they could.  This was the rough order of battle:
*Jeremy comes in, hopefully before 4:45 and tags me, and I start a long loop.
*Sam starts another long loop at 5 o'clock with the extra runner rule.
*I come in with as much cushion as possible to tag Matt, who then runs a 5-miler as quickly as he can.
*Sam comes in, hopefully before 6:20, and tags Bobby, who starts a 5-miler (or 3-miler if Sam comes in late).
*Matt comes in with at least 24 minutes left on the clock, and Julie goes out to fit in one more 3-miler before the clock runs out.
Donning the war paint before my second leg!

Our plan hinged greatly upon us meeting specific time goals to ensure our later runners' finishes--not an easy task considering the heat and the fatigue on everybody's legs.  So when Jeremey came in at 4:40, I set out at a purposeful pace and expected to endure 70+ minutes of pain.  After getting to the top of Rick Flair hill, however, I found myself settling into a respectable pace.  There was no way I was going to touch my 61 minutes from the morning, but I thought that 70 minutes (roughly a 7:30 pace) was doable.  That would leave plenty of cushion for Matt and Julie too.  The first half of this leg was much more solitary than the mass start of my earlier run, but I kept reminding myself of the team play to keep motivated.  I knew that another mass start was going to start 20 minutes after me, so I expected I would get an idea of how many points were on the road on my way back into town.  I low-geared the outbound Grey Road hills and the MFer and Mishcrest in Abersham, but I made up the pace on the flats and downhills.  About 6 miles into my run, I spotted the spread-out line of 5 o'clock starters on their outbound part of the Grey Road route.  At the head of the group was Mike from CBB.  Sam was about a minute back, and I affirmed to him that I was going to go sub-70.  No more than 5 minutes behind Sam was Derek, also from CBB, which meant that we were tied for first, and both our teams had 10 points currently on the road.  Hopefully, MSM's lead would give us time for that extra point or two...
I didn't dillydally up Big Mama hill or Last Grey hill, and as I ran back into town, I kept pushing the bar for my goal finish.  Sub-70 became sub-69, and then sub-68.  As I sprinted down Rick Flair hill and around to the finishing area of the exchange zone, I shouted Matt's name to make sure he was ready to bolt out on his 5-miler.  I finished my second 9.3 mile loop in 67 minutes, 41 seconds. 
Mike and Derek both ran pretty respectable times too, with Mike passing on to Young Nate, who easily would have time to run a 5-miler.  Sam came in before Derek and tagged Bobby, leaving him 42 minutes to run 5 miles.  Bobby could do it, but he would have to keep the engine revved the whole time.  By the time Derek came in to tag Lisa B. for the CBB, who only had time for one more complete run, it was assured that The Main Milers would at least tie, and probably win, assuming both Bobby and Julie finished their legs.  Julie had no pressure because Matt gave her over 30 minutes to run 3 miles, and Tracey was out on the course pacing her.  With 20 minutes left on the clock, I shook my legs out, and shuffled out onto the course to pace Bobby in.  On my way out, I saw Young Nate, Julie, and Lisa all coming in for their respective finishes.  That left the score tied at 53 points.  Bobby's leg would be the winning leg.  I intercepted him about a mile from his finish with almost 11 minutes left on the clock.   It was clear that he was hammering out this run and the fatigue was real.  He kept pounding and I kept him updated with the race clock.  He strode into the finish area to rousing applause with the winning two points.  It was close, but we pulled off the win! 
Bobby finishing the final leg for the win.  I'm pacing behind him, and Sam is cheering on the sidelines.

Both MSM and CBB racked up over 100 miles each, which in itself is impressive.  The inaugural Summit Solstice 12 Hour Relay was an awesome event with lots of fun and some great competition.  The Main Street Milers might have to get back together next year to defend the title.
After the race, I wanted nothing more than to dissolve into a hole filled with pizza and beer, but I had to get ready to play the headlining gig with my band in less than an hour...

Here is my Strava record for my first leg.
Here is my Strava record for my second leg.