Sunday, April 29, 2012

Our Boys 10K Recap and Plans for the Future

Our Boys 10K was to be my last "short" race and last hard workout before Long Cane 50K on May 6th.  Originally, I had planned on including this race in my calendar as another chance to go sub-40 minutes for 10K in case I did not do so at the LKN Rotary 10K three weeks prior.  The LKN 10K was a gem of a race though, and I broke 39 (38:59) as well as 40.  So the pressure was off.  I intended to have a good time at Our Boys, and perhaps place in the top 3, and I wanted another sub-40 to validate myself a little more, but as long as I ran a good race, I would be happy.

Chatting with fellow DARTers Steve, Jason, and Tara.  Rodney lurks in the background.  Photo courtesy of Stacy Hensley.
The fickle weather gave way to a cool and overcast morning--good racing weather.  Our Boys was a combined 5K/10K event starting and ending at Harris Road Middle School and weaving throughout the residential streets of the Moss Creek neighborhood in Concord, NC.  10K racers would start with the 5k'rs and complete the 5K course, but instead of turning toward the finishing straightaway, we would do a little loop around the bus lot and head back out for a second course lap, but in reverse.  As is my custom, I showed up early to provide enough time for me to run the course as a warm-up.  Luckily, fellow DARTer and RD Jeff McGonnell already was out touching up the final chalk markings on the asphalt so I would not get lost.  I ran the reverse lap as my warm-up.  I would have to save some energy for a sustained incline on mile 4, but other than that, the course looked to be very merciful.

Since Our Boys was the second race in the ROC series, many familiar faces showed up and signed in.  I found a group of fellow DARTers and chatted for a while before Jeff and fellow DARTer/volunteer David Moore arrayed the crowd into the bus parking lot for the start.  Jeff took special care to keep some of the younger and more eager students from lining up directly in front of some of the adults who likely would trample on them (I think he meant me).  Jeff gave an informal "Go" and we were off.
I'm the one with the bright yellow shoes.  Photo courtesy of Stacy Hensley.

My target race pace of 6:20 minutes/mile came and went pretty easily.  After a couple hundred yards, my Garmin was showing a sub-6 pace, so I backed off.  I was out ahead of the pack with two or three other runners.  One runner, Glenn, was out in front of me.  He had about a three second lead, but I could tell he would not sustain it.  The first half mile went gently uphill, and I stayed a couple seconds slow of my race pace, but I was feeling pretty locked-in for this early in the race.  A right turn on Moss Plantation flattened the course out, and my pace increased without any extra effort.  This part was a short out-and-back.  The first mile was a clockwork 6:20. 

I heard runners approaching from behind.  One runner passed me in short order and was looking strong, but I glanced at his bib, which confirmed he was racing the 5K and not the 10K, so I paid him no nurther mind.  Another set of footfalls settled in behind me and stayed there for what would end up being most of the race.  I found out much about this mystery pursuer from the cheers of everyone calling his name.  He was a high school runner named Mason, and he was determined to draft me.  This always seems to happen to me.  Mason and I caught up to Glenn and dropped him halfway through the second mile.  Mr. 5K never got out of view, but kept chugging on ahead.  Mile two: 6:23.

The first half of the third mile was a downhill glide (which I would climb back up in mile 4), so I easily dipped into a 6:00 pace.  Mason kept with me the whole way.  This final mile of the lap was one long circle that led back to Moss Farm, the road leading to and from the Middle School.  Mr. 5K was making good time, so I focused on him rather than on the tall youngster looming behind me.  The cool breeze was beginning to stagnate, and I was starting to get hot despite the pleasantly cool weather, so I removed my singlet so I could drop it off at the turnaround.  The third mile was a 6:10.
Approaching the 5K turnaround with Mason hot on my heels.  Photo courtesy of Stacy Hensley.

David was at the finish line split to cheer us on and make sure the 10K'rs found their way to the turnaround.  I glanced my watch at the turnaround and estimated my halfway split was 19:45--a pretty good 5K time, and right on pace for a sub-40 10K.  It just didn't leave me a lot of room for breathing.  Mason and I passed the whole field on our way back out in reverse.  Hearing the rest of the pack cheering on the front runners never gets old.  I settled in and tried to maintain pace and conserve energy for the one big incline ahead of me.  When we hit the hill, I felt it right away.  Even though it wasn't that steep, I was so focused on maintain a sub-6:30 pace that equal effort went straight out the window.  I figured I could suck it up for this climb and then just hold on for a relatively easy rest of the race.  My pace did not drop off all that much, but I certainly did use up a lot of energy.  By the top of the hill, I was heaving pretty audibly, but Mason's breathing seemed unchanged.  My fourth mile was a respectable 6:29. 

Mile five was fairly uneventful.  I was hanging on to race pace and Mason kept drafting me.  At mile 4.5, we reached our last water stop.  Mason's classmates cheered him on, and he made his move.  As he passed me, I got my first look at him.  Taller, stronger, and younger than me.  I was glad to have held him off for this long.  At least now I had someone to follow.  In the fifth mile, I was back to a 6:20 pace and I was starting to field pretty good, albeit a little zapped.

Letting it all out.  Photo courtesy of Stacy Hensley
The sixth mile started from the far end of the out-and-back from the beginning of the race.  Once, again, I got to see most of the 10K field as they were coming towards me.  Mason and I had opened up a huge lead.  Glenn, who was the early leader, now was in third place with a gap of minutes.  I tried my best to cheer of my fellow DARTers as  they went by, but I could only manage gutteral grunts.  They cheered much more loudly and clearly for me.  The last half mile was slightly downhill, so I poured on whatever I had left.  As I passed sixth mile marker, I filed in with some of the back-of-the-pack 5Kr's, who were just finishing their race.  I weaved around a few of them as I dug for the finish line.  I wanted to give one last hard kick, but I felt like I was already at 100%, so I just maintained my hard run until I crossed the finish line.  My official finishing time was 39:34, an average pace of 6:23.  It was not a PR, but I certainly did not hold anything back out there, so I am very happy with that time.

Now, having races several 5K, 8K, and 10K races in short order, I can shift my focus entirely on my last week of tapering for Long Cane 50K.  Long Cane will be about as different from a road race as anything I have done.  It will be an experiment in pacing, in-race nutrition, hydration, and problem-solving.  I will take up speed traing again in earnest after Long Cane in order to prepare for the Blue Ridge Relay in September, and the Richmond Marathon in November, but Long Cane will be the first in a series of ultra experiments meant to prepare me for tackling distances of 50 miles, 100K, or who knows...
Photo courtesy of David Moore.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Pawz 2 Run 5K Recap

I had only decided to take part in the Pawz 2 Run 5K 12 hours before the start. The race was the 1st of 9 5K's/10K's that Davidson Timing, LLC was recording as part of their new ROC series. Just participating in the 5K granted me some bonus points, so I figured, what's another 5K? Having just set a major 10K PR the weekend before, and having had an enjoyable week of vacation and running at the beach, I was feeling good, so I hoped to at least record a respectable time, but ever since I got a sub-39 10K, I've kept my mind open to the possibility of a sub-19 minute 5K. Was today the day?

P2R used the same course as many Davidson 5K's: A downhill first mile down South St., a cut onto the South Prong River Greenway, a tough uphill second mile on Avinger, a turnaround and slightly uphill half mile on Pine, and then a rolling last half mile on Lorimer to finish at the Town Green. It was not the easiest course, but I had the benefit of knowing where the fast and slow parts of it were.

After registering on race morning, I did a brief warm-up run with veteren speedster Bobby Aswell--though not as brief as either of us wanted, because we nearly got lost on the way back to the race. Ooops! I lined up next to Jeremy and Julie Alsop, who both were competing in the 10K event, as was Bobby. After a short course description and some re-routing of traffic by our vigilant DART spectator Dave Munger, we were off. Knowing the first mile was the fastest, I pushed the pace straight off the line and moved ahead of the entire pack, trying to stay well below a 6 minute pace to bank some time. It was not until I saw Dave's photo later in the day that I realized exactly how far of a lead I gained in the first few hundred meters.

Front-running is awkward for me. I am used to watching my pace and letting the rest of the field fade back to me in the last third of the race. I had to remind myself that I was playing to the course, not the other runners. As this was going through my head, I heard footfalls advance to directly behind me shortly after veering onto the greenway. Was I fading back to the pack? No, I distinctly heard only one runner, and he (or she) seemed determined to maintain his position on my heels for the time being.  My first mile split was a speedy 5:45.

Coming off the greenway, I started feeling the progressive slope of Avinger. My watch told me I was slowing down, but my breathing was a far more telltale sign. Maybe I went out too quickly. If I did, there is no real room in a 5K race to correct such mistakes, so I had to hang on as best as I could. As I turned off Avinger, I grabbed a little more speed on my way to the turnaround. My pursuer stayed right in my blindspot. Half a mile later, at the turnaround, I was able to sneak my first peak at him and size him up: probably out of my age group, white shirt, black shorts, and a pair of Mizuno Wave Ronins. Most importantly, he did not look out of breath, and I was beginning to heave a little. I motored back up Pine and saw that "Ronin" and I were still far ahead of the rest of the pack. Bobby, Jeremy, Julie, and fellow DARTers Jason Gardener and Tara Owens all cheered me on as they saw me headed back the other direction, still in the lead. My 2nd mile split was 6:23--predictably slower due to the climb on Avinger. Doing some quick math in my head, I reasoned that I still had a shot at sub-19, but I would have to maintain a 6:07ish pace for the rest of the race.

I married myself to my intended pace for the rest of Pine St. Shortly after we made the turn onto Lorimer, Ronin made his move. He clearly had plenty left in the tank, because after passing me, he quickly built up a 5, 10, 15 second lead. There was not enough course left for me to retaliate; he was out of reach. What a superbly run race! Now, knowing there was no one left behind me who was a threat to pass, I could focus solely on keeping my pace. My watch displayed 18:15 just as it beeped off the third mile mark. The last 0.1 mile was uphill, but I knew the finish line was just out of view. I dug into a sprint and saw the gun clock counting up into the 18:40's. As I crossed the finish line, my official time was 18:51. I had broken 19 minutes! That's two major speed milestones in as many weekends. Dave was there to snap my picture at the end.

I congratulated Ronin on his well run race, and he introduced himself as Randy Francis. He had beaten me by 14 seconds.  My fellow DARTers did well at P2R as well. Bobby won the 10K with a 39:56, and Jeremy was a close second with 40:00 (although I think he crossed the line at sub-40). Fellow DARTer Courtney Ellabarger won the female division of the 10K with a 40:39, and Julie took second place with just over 43 minutes. Tara took third place overall for females in the 5K, and Jason and fellow DARTer Belinda West each earned age group awards for the 5K. Whew, way to represent, DART!

Gear used: Inov-8 Bare-X Lite 150. For a brief review of this shoe, see my recap of last month's Leprechaun Loop.

Next on my race calender:

4/28/12 (possibly) Our Boys 10K, Concord, NC

5/6/12: Long Cane 50K, Abbeville, SC

6/1-2/12: 24 hours of Loopy for a Cause, Davidson, NC

9/7-8/12: (possibly) Blue Ridge Relay, Asheville, NC

9/29-30/12:Hinson Lake 24 Hour Classic, Rockingham, NC

11/10/12: Anthem Marathon, Richmond, VA

Sunday, April 8, 2012

A Recap of the Lake Norman Rotary 10K

One of my goals this year has been to race a 10K in under 40 minutes.  Given the effort it takes to maintain a 6:26 minute/mile pace for that period of time, I figured I would need to condition myself for the whole year to do it.  However, I have been peaking in my training lately, and I did maintain a 6:26 pace for 8K during the Leprechaun Loop 3 weeks ago.  Maybe now was the time.  There were four 10K races occuring this month.  Two were likely too expensive or too hard to work around my vacation.  That left Our Boys 10K at the end of the month and the Lake Norman Rotary 10K on the 7th.  The latter was a five minute drive from the house, and an easily accessible course for preview.  Still, the task seemed daunting.  Then, the light bulb went off.  Fellow DARTer Dave Munger also had been keeping his eyes open for a chance at a sub-40 10K.  Of late, Dave and I had been performing fairly comparably at middle distances, so I shot him a message to see if he was interested in the two of us pacing each other to our sub-40 minute goal.  Neither of us had held that pace for that distance before, but I figured working as a team could give each of us that extra push to make it happen.  After previewing the weather forecast, he was in.

Dave and I previewed the course the morning before the race.  It was laden with gently rolling hills but a negative elevation for the first half.  The second half had some long climbing on the 4th mile, a downhill reprieve on the fifth mile, and a steep hill to start out the last mile before a downhill finish.  We agreed upon our race strategy in advance: 1) mantain a 6:20 pace; 2) if either runner could not maintain the goal pace, the other runner would continue on ahead; 3) for the last mile, it was each runner for himself.  It was important to communicate these goals in advance because we likely would be unable to speak coherently while trying to maintain a 6:20 pace.

Fellow DARTer Stephanie with Dave and me before the race.
Race morning was pleasantly chilly--just under 40 degrees, but destined to warm up rapidly.  Dave and I did a brief warm-up jog over the last mile or so of the course to re-familiarize ourselves with the last hill.  In doing so, we noticed that instead of mile markers, the course was marked every kilometer.  While this is strange for an average neighborhood race in the United States, it made math easy for Dave and me.  As long as we were under 4 minutes for each km split, we were golden.  After warming up, we ran into fellow DARTer Stephanie Rodsater.  Her chiropracing practice, which she runs with her husband, was one of the main sponsors for the event.  Stephanie was running the 5K, and she dressed for the occasion in Easter Bunny ears, nose, and a furry tail.

I was sure to grab a spot right on the line so Dave and I didn't have to knock down any children at the starting gun.  At the "go" call, we were off.  Dave and I did our best to ignore everyone else and pay attention only to our watches and each other.  For the first couple of miles, our race worked out as planned.  When one of us would notice a lag in pace, he would push a little harder, and the other would follow the cue and match him.  Racing with Dave was also like wearing two Garmins.  Dave keeps his watch configured to show mile splits, time elapsed for the current mile, and instantaneous pace.  I also have a data field for instantaneous pace, but I keep the total elapsed time on my screen as well.  So Dave could monitor our progress mile by mile, and I could use the kilometer markings against the race clock to tell how far we were ahead of our splits for our 40 minute goal.

During a sustained long hill on mile 3, I asked Dave, "glide or push it?"  "I'll take it easy," was the only reply I needed.  We had banked some time with negative splits thus far, so it was prudent to save energy for the upcoming hills.  Our strategy for the 4th mile was to dig as hard as we could up the series of climbs and endure whatever pain was required to maintain a 6:20 pace, knowing mile 5 would give us a chance to breath on the downhills.  Both Dave and I were breathing audibly heavier during this stretch, but this is where I think we benefited the most from each other's pacing.  Neither of us was willing to take responsibility for slowing the other down, so we dug deep. 

After a turnaround at about mile 4.3, we coasted through a largely downhill stretch.  We were about 50 seconds ahead of an even 40 minute pace, so I focused on maintaining speed and energy rather than trying to steal more seconds.  Dave slowly faded behind me, but I could track his progress by his footfalls for a while.  With only one turn left on the route, he knew the way to the finish line.  I focused on the lead bicyclist and carried on.  Wait, the lead cyclist?  I had been paying so much attention to our pace that I had forgotten Dave and I were in the lead.  Now, I was in 1st place!  At the 8km marker, my split was 31:11, which was 46 second faster than the 8K PR I had set 3 weeks earlier.  I still had one last hill to climb, but as long as I didn't die on it, I was feeling pretty optimistic. 

Me crossing the finish line.
When I saw the hill, I called out to the lead cyclist, "This part is the real b-----!"  He affirmed my assessment but reminded my that it was all downhill after that.  I dug into the hill and focused on my breathing.  I wanted to save a little something for the final push, so I did not want to be wheezing by the time I got to the top of this hill.  Surprisingly, I was maintaining a pace in the 6:20's.  I passed the 9km mark at an elapsed time of 35:04.  I had my sub-40 goal all but locked up.  All I had to do was finish strong.  I coasted down the last hill and veered into the parking area towards the finish line and saw 38:52 on the gun clock ahead.  I settled into a final sprint and finished with an official time of 38:59.  I had beaten 40 minutes...and 39 minutes as well.  Immediately I turned around and cheered on Dave, who had just made the final turn into toward the finish.  Dave finished with a 39:18, also well clear of our goal. 
Dave's strong second place finish.

As icing on the cake, we had taken first and second place!  Go DART!  The third place finisher was a scant 3 seconds behind Dave, close enough to keep Dave on his toes for the last part of the race.

1st and 2nd place!  Go DART!
One of the most sage pieces of racing advice we all hear is to "run your own race."  However, in this case, I think running as a team is what gave Dave and I the edge to crush our goal so decisively.  Having a like minded runner to back you up on your race plan and hold you accountable for pace while you do the same for him takes a lot of the pressure and solitude out of racing for a target time.  I may have broken 40 minutes without Dave, but I surely would not have managed my pace as well, and I would have had a more painful last couple of miles.  This collaboration really ephasized the "Team" in "Davidson Area Running Team," so I found it appropriate that we both wore our DART singlets for this race. 

You can find Dave's recap of the race on his blog.

Gear used:
Inov-8 Road-X 155: Super light racing flats with a 3mm heel-toe drop.  I usually go sockless, but since I wore socks for theis race, I removed the insoles, making these 155 gram shoes even lighter.  You can't beat the bright yellow color!
My Inov-8 Road-X 155's

Next on my race calender:
4/28/12 (possibly) Our Boys 10K, Concord, NC
5/6/12: Long Cane 50K, Abbeville, SC
6/1-2/12: 24 hours of Loopy for a Cause, Davidson, NC
9/7-8/12: (possibly) Blue Ridge Relay, Asheville, NC
9/29-30/12:Hinson Lake 24 Hour Classic, Rockingham, NC
11/10/12: Anthem Marathon, Richmond, VA

Monday, April 2, 2012

"All this for a T-shirt..." MTC Shirt Run

Gasoline for the 160 mile round trip to and from Ellerbe, NC: $20.  Alarm Clock setting for Sunday morning: 3:30am.  Becoming a lifelong “shirt member” of the Mangum Track Club: priceless. 

Sunday, April 1st was a great morning for running.  I know because I was awake for almost all of the AM hours.  While I naturally am an early riser, I had to get up especially early on this day in order to drive 2 hours to Ellerbe, where I would be meeting 50 others for my long run.  The Mangum Track Club started in the late 80s when 5 running friends from Ellerbe, NC decided to do a regular point-to-point run from Mangum to Ellerbe (about 15 miles).  One of them printed 5 navy blue shirts—one for each partner, and the club was born.  Ever since, anyone who joins the Club on one of their scheduled, semi-secret “shirt runs” (which follow the original point-to-point route) gets a free navy blue MTC shirt and becomes a member for life. 

So, it’s not having a new shirt that is important; we runners are overloaded with shirts anyway.  Rather, it’s what the shirt stands for: becoming part of an extended running community that asks for nothing but the love of running. 
Early to rise...

Getting to the rendezvous is a bit of an adventure.  There is no physical address, and the only landmark is a rusty dog pen on the side a forested rural state highway.  This was to be where our run would end, so veteran MTC members packed all of us “newbies” into their vehicles and drove us 15 miles to Mangum (more of a crossroads than a town), where we would begin.  I rode with Mark Long, who appeared to be the closest thing to a director this event had.  Mark embodied the run and the club; he was laid back, friendly, and just happy to be around new and old friends.  The ride to Mangum allowed me to preview the route in reverse.  The scenery and road surfaces were great, but I was in store for some major hill climbing after 10 miles or so.  Oh well, I have to earn that shirt!
MTC Newbies.
The whole crowd.

When we arrived in Mangum, there were a handful of runners waiting on us, all fresh from a run.  These MTC veterans were doing a double shirt run—out and back from Ellerbe to Mangum to Ellerbe—a total of about 30 miles.  Mark gathered all of the newbies for a photo, and then all of the runners in attendance for another shot.  After the photo op, a casual “on-your-mark-get-set-go” signaled for us to start jogging.  I took a spot at the front of the pack and settled in with a couple of MTC members named Tate and Rosemary.  We kept a nice, conversational pace for the 1st 5 miles or so.  I was not tracking pace with my watch because this was meant to be a nice-and-easy fun run.  Based on the elapsed time, Rosemary estimated our pace as just on the fast side of 9-minute miles.  Most of the group was behind us.  Tate eventually pulled ahead but stopped on the shoulder of the road to chat with a few of the MTC support crew (who drove back and forth up the route snapping pictures).  Rosemary and I continued on. 
Tate, Rosemary, and Me
Me and Rosemary

At the second of 3 water drops, Rosemary stopped and said that she was going to take it easy for the rest of the way, but that I should go on.  I was carrying my own water, so I obliged and pulled ahead.  We were just shy of 7 miles, so I figured I would take the rest of the distance at marathon pace (8 minutes/mile) or better.  The chilly Spring morning was warming up nicely, and the open air along the state highway gave way to fragrant tree lines and peaceful road bridges over calm streams.  I had reconfigured my watch to display pace, and I comfortably was keeping a 7:45 pace on the relatively traffic-free highway.  At mile 8, a hill slowed me down, but I kept an easy, even effort, and climbed reached the top without breathing heavily. 

A short descent found my left big toe slamming into the toe box of my shoe—a result of me having reconfigured my laces that morning.  Due to some dorsal pain on my right 1st metatarsal from having tied my laces too tightly last weekend, I was attempting to lace my shoes around the hotspot.  I did this symmetrically, but the fewer crisscrosses allowed my feet to move inside my shoes more freely, hence the pounding on my toenail.  This would make running downhill a little interesting today.

I was feeling great for pace, averaging 7:30 for a couple of miles in a row without really having to step on the gas.  Then, at mile 11, the hill I was anticipating loomed ahead.  I settled in, shorted my stride, and focused on relaxing.  The top of the hill was nowhere in sight, so I chugged along.  When I thought I saw the top, I kicked a little to get there more quickly, only to notice I was kicking towards a false summit.  Crap.  There were 2 or 3 more of these false summits to come.  Veteran MTC members kept driving past me and commending me on my pace for the climb.  I just smiled and waved, not knowing how much breath I should save.  This was practice for keeping equal effort on long climbs and not resorting to walking.  The sun emerged from behind the clouds and began to beat down on me, so I removed my tech shirt to make use of the intermittent breeze.  A couple of MTC members were on the shoulder of the road near Bethel Baptist Church, which was the landmark for the true summit of this mile-long hill.  “This is the top,” they reassured me, smiling.  I rewarded myself with an energy gel and proceeded to glide down the following 500 yards of downhill, slamming my big toe into my shoe with every other step.

At the bottom of the hill, I made the route’s only turn, which would lead us back to where our cars were parked.  This stretch of road had some rolling hills, but the gentle breeze was picking up and fanning me off.  Two miles later, I passed my car on the side of the road and dropped off my water bottle and shirt.  I strode to the stop sign at the highway intersection and tagged it to complete the traditional run.  Mark stood by with a camera to catch me as I strode by.
The finish to a great morning of running.

My first order of business was to get out of my shoes and examine my toe.  Not too bad, but the pounded toenail likely was not going to stay on much longer.  My GPS read just shy of 15 miles, so I hopped up and ran another ¼ mile in bare feet.  Then I collected my coveted MTC shirt and headed to the fold-out table Mark had equipped with snacks and treats.  As I gorged myself on M&Ms, pretzels, Pringles, and homemade cookies, other runners trickled in and collected their shirts.  I spent quite a bit of time getting to know the group and talking shop about training, upcoming races, and common runners we all knew.  I look forward to seeing many of my new friends again at MTC’s Hinson Lake 24 Hour Classic in late September.  If the experience I had at the shirt run is indicative of the friendliness and hospitality of all Mangum Track Club events (I’m sure it is), I look forward to a very rewarding weekend of running!
My member card.

Gear used:

Merrell Bare Access: A great zero drop shoe with some cushion to allow for minimalist running over long distances without too much pounding on the feet.  If only I had not messed with the laces…

Nathan Quick-Draw handheld water bottle: You forget you are carrying it after a while.  Great on a long run where you are not sure where water stops will be.

I dedicated the day’s run to the late Micah True, also known as El Caballo Blanco, a mysterious veteran ultra runner from Colorado who had exiled himself from high-profile civilization to live and run as the Tarahumara of Mexico did.  Caballo had been missing after having gone on a run a few days prior.  I read of the finding of his body that morning before leaving for Ellerbe.  Run free, Caballo, run free.