Monday, September 30, 2013

"Best Laid Plans..." 2013 Lungstrong 15k Recap

            Lungstrong 15k is one of my favorite local races.  It’s within five minutes of my house, the residential backdrop is nice, and the 15k distance is such a great mix of strategy and speed.  Originally, my goal was to run well and shoot for a PR.  My last 15k PR was at the same race the year before.  However, when my running friend and training buddy Dave Munger messaged me asking if we wanted to team up and pace each other to a sub-60 minute finish, I couldn’t refuse. 
            Sub-60 for 15k was a very ambitious goal.  I’d only twice gone sub-40 for 10k, and the latter of those was 18 months ago.  A sub-60 effort would be a 96+ second PR for me, but I was hoping for a lucky break in the weather and to reproduce previous success Dave and I have had as co-pacers.
            The race as a whole was bittersweet.  For 6 miles, Dave and I stuck to a carefully organized plan of steady pacing on or around 6:20 min/mile pace.  We cut the tangents, communicated splits, and tried to ignore other runners, although it was nice to be greeted by many friends offering support as course volunteers.  We were maintaining my established 10k pace, and the last couple miles of Lungstrong make you pay a hefty vig for whatever pace you try to coax out of them.  Dave ran very methodically, monitoring and targeting the pace on each respective climb and descent.  I’m used to letting the pace come to me on the given terrain, but I found myself locking onto Dave and trying to stay literally within arm’s reach of him.  After 6 miles, I was a liability.  Dave was 10 meters ahead of me.  I remember him shouting something numerical and unintelligible back to me, but I just responded with “break off.”  He was looking so strong, and I had no chance of running his race. 
Here I am chasing Dave before I lost him altogether.

            Shortly after I dropped from Dave’s contact, the course took a turn on what was a new section for the 2013 race.  This half-loop added another significant drop and climb that really caused me to hemorrhage time.  The last two miles of Jetton Road were rolling, and I found it hard to get back into the mid-6s.  The biggest hill didn’t seem to bother me as much because I knew it was coming.  Turning onto Charles Towne with ¾ mile left, I caught my breath (if not my pace) on the last real downhill.  Another running acquaintance, Clayton Venhuizen, passed me here.  We turned left for one more partial loop that trended mainly uphill.  At this point, I passed a masters gentleman in a hoodie and leggings who had been 10 meters ahead of me for the past 9 miles.  Sub-60 had been out of the question ever since I lost contact with Dave, but I still had half a shot at a PR.  As I turned the last corner leading to the finish, I saw 1:01:20-something on the gun clock.  I got my PR, but I had to sprint to get it.  Official time: 61:31.1; a whopping 5 seconds faster than last year. 
            The Bitter: It’s tough to set a goal and miss it by what seemed to be a large margin, even when the goal is a lofty one.  The last 3+ miles were utter crap.  Also, I really felt I could keep up with Dave for at least 8 miles, when we originally planned to break apart and start racing.  He’s just been so damn strong lately!  It seems he’s always peaking when I’m plateauing, and vice versa. 

            The Sweet:  Even though it wasn’t pretty, I did get a PR, and that’s the first PR I’ve gotten in over 7 months, unless you count newly raced distances.  Also, my time was virtually the same as last year, so I’m starting to believe I’m getting my pre-Umstead speed back.  In addition, I ran the first 10k in under 39:40 (even taking into account Garmin/course marking discrepancies), so I think I’ve still got my sub-40 fitness.  To boot, I won 2nd place in my age group, so there’s that.   And sweetest of all, thanks to my loving wife, I had a gluten-free chocolate waffle waiting for me at home after the race!

            In comparing last year’s Lungstrong to this year, I’ve learned a couple of things.  First, I do better when I intentionally plan a negative split.  When I did this last year, I ended up with virtually the same time, but I felt so much stronger at the end of the race.  Similarly, most of my more memorable PRs beyond the 10k distance were slow starts with negative splits built in.  Also, Dave and I concluded in retrospect that distances 15k and up (excluding ultras) really diminish the value of co-pacing.  At longer distances, one has to run one’s own race.  If I had taken the hills in my own stride early on and played to my strengths a little bit more, I might have been able to keep contact with Dave for a little longer. 

            So far, that’s 3 consecutive Lungstrongs for me, which is the longest streak I have of any race.  This might just have to be my annual local must-do.  I’m not setting goals for next year yet, but when I do, this race will be very fresh in my mind!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Run For Green 10K Recap (Thank You Patrick Johnson)

Every year in mid September, the Davidson Lands Conservancy hosts a local 5k, 10k, and Half Marathon that over the years has grown into a quite popular small town race.  This year, there were around 1,000 runners, with 400+ of them doing the Half Marathon.  Like last year, I chose to run the 10K because it presented enough of a challenge while not being a 90-minutes-of-race-effort commitment.  Also, I figured I could be very competitive in the 10k field.

I was hoping for a little bit more runner-friendly weather on race day.  While the temperature was in the high 60s, the humidity was 100%, and most of us never really felt that cool crispness in the air that keeps you charged for a race.  Dozens of running friends were spread among the three race distances: Fam Famiglietti and Stacy Hensley were running the 5K; Smiley Joe Rao, Ron Walters (whom I had only run with once or twice), Gabi Craig, Judy McCarter, Val Wrenholt, Lauren Taylor, Jyl Deering, Dan Keller (along with a bunch of other Omega Nation runners), and I were running the 10K; Chris Lamperski, Claire Naisby, Jessica Delgehaussen, Martin Harrison, Mike Vance, Hope Childress, Dexter Cherry, and a whole bunch of other familiar faces were running the Half.

The Half’ers started 10 minutes before the combined 5K/10K start, so I toed the line right up front next to Smiley Joe, Fam, Ron, and a couple of unknowns who looked pretty fast.  We’ll just refer to them as Mr. Green and Mr. Orange, in reference to their singlets.  With less than two minutes before the start, I darted into the nearest bushes to relieve my bladder, and so I was a little more amped up than usual when I made it back to the start.  I struggled to slow my heart rate, but the adrenaline was kicking in.  Uh oh…

At the start, Fam, Smiley, Mr. Green, and Mr. Orange shot out ahead of me.  Fam opened up a quick lead of Olympic proportions, and Mr. Orange (also running the 5K) settled in for a spaciously comfortable 2nd position.  Ahead of Mr. Orange were Smiley Joe and Mr. Green, respectively, both of whom were racing the 10K.  Not even a quarter mile into the race, I was seeding myself at a distant 3rd in the 10K at best.  The first mile to all the Run For Green races is insanely fast.  There’s a fine line between milking the long downhill on South Street for some banked time, and squeezing a little too hard, leading to an eventually blow-up on the back-loaded course.  My goal for the first mile was 6 minutes flat, and I clocked a 5:58.  So far, so good, but the humidity already had me saturated and breathing more heavily than was desired.

The second mile contained a significant hill on Avinger.  Before this, Ron had caught up to me with long, confident strides.  He continued to open up space between us on the hill, so I made no efforts to retaliate.  After a right turn on Pine, I saw Fam charging back our way, inbound from the 5K turnaround.  He had a lead of minutes over Mr. Orange, but I could tell by his red-faced complexion that he was feeling the humidity as much as all of us.  My goal for mile two was 6:40, and I hit the mile marker with a 6:33 split.  So far, so good.  Now, if only I could get into a comfortable groove…

After turning left on Patrick Johnson, I scampered my way down the steep hill that would make a later appearance, and I slung myself around the pair of sharp turns guiding me onto the greenway.  My running buddies Sam and Stephanie Mishler were there to cheer me on with noisemakers.  Checking my watch on the greenway, I saw a sub-6 pace, which must have come from the momentum left over from the downhill (thank you Patrick Johnson).  As soon as I felt like I was finding a groove, footfalls loomed behind me.  Great.  Sure enough, the first place female—Meg Chieffe, as I later found out her name was—steadily overtook me and settled in a few strides ahead of me.  I wasn’t too worried about being beaten by a girl, but as soon as she suspended her lead within proverbial arm’s reach, I decided I would make a race out of this with her.  Mile three was a 6:21, nearly spot on my goal of 6:20.

By this point, we had passed most of the back-of-the-pack Half’ers, and the last section of greenway out-and-back would be populated solely by 10K’ers.  I kept Meg within reach, and I expected to see Smiley Joe on his inbound leg any moment.  To my surprise, Mr. Green emerged in 1st position with a sizeable lead on Joe.  Joe still cheered me on and proffered a low-5 as we passed by one another.  I hit the turnaround digging into the 180 degree turn so as not to lose any more of an already dropping speed.  Val came towards the turnaround soon after with about a minute of space between her and 1st place Meg.  I figured we likely were out of Val’s reach, but she’s an extremely strong runner who tackles hills like a mountain goat, so I had some incentive to keep charging in order to keep space between us.  It was several moments before I saw the next male runner, so I knew I at least had fourth place locked up.  Now, I just had to contend with this Meg.  I ran mile four in 6:31, falling behind my 6:20 goal for that split.

Mile five is the toughest mile of this course.  While I love running on the South Prong Rocky River Greenway, it starts to get old when you do the entire out-and-back at 10K pace.  Also, the last quarter mile of the greenway trends slightly uphill, which is just an appetizer for what’s to come.  I looked for Sam and Steph at the mouth of the greenway, but they had moved on.  I slung around the two turns shoulder-to-shoulder with Meg until we got to the bottom of Patrick Johnson, the Great Equalizer.  Meg charged ahead up the infamous, short-but-steep hill.  I settled into a trot and let her go, trying to set up a potential rope-a-dope for the back end of the race.  Sure enough, Sam and Steph had moved to the hill in order to watch me suffer up it.  “Embrace the suck,” Sam said, which is my personal mantra for this hill.  I crested the damn thing and tried to make turns for race pace once I turned on Pine for another, longer, more gradual climb.  Mile five clocked in at an abysmal 7:01; my goal was 6:40. 

Each of my mile goals were based on an overall goal time of 40 minutes.  I was behind now, and feeling awfully zapped, but Meg was right there and fading (Thank you Patrick Johnson), and I was still close enough to give sub-40 a shot.  I gritted my teeth up Pine Street, eventually finding my mid-6’s pace.  I caught up to Meg and passed her with some trepidation just before turning left on Lorimer for the last stretch.  Now, I just had to maintain.  I dare not look behind me for fear of seeing Meg close in.  My sixth mile was an undesirable 6:39 (in place of a goal 6:20), but I didn’t even see the split at the time.  Smiley Joe was on the side of the road 200 meters from the finish, shouting and cheering.  I poured on everything I had left, watching 40 minutes come and go before I could make it up the last little hill to the finish.  Final time: 40:18.  I had run the last 0.22 miles in 1:25 for a 5:47 pace in the final kick. 

I nearly lost my meager breakfast, and I fell just short of my two goals of sub-40 minutes and a top 3 finish, but I finished strong and held off Meg, running a very similar time to last year’s race.  I’ll call that a positive since I had been having doubts about my fitness and speed endurance as of late.

Here I am on the Town Green, moments after the race.

Mr. Green finished in a smoking fast 34:02, and Joe took second place with just over 36 minutes.  Ron finished in 39:24, which means he lost some of the quarter-mile lead he had on me before Patrick Johnson.  Val claimed second overall female, but I later learned that she arrived late to the start line.  Her actual running time was closer to 40-and-a-half minutes.  Had she toed the line with us, things might have looked very different for her, Meg, and me. 

In other DART news, Fam won the 5k with a 14:40, Lamperski won the Half with a 1:18 and change, Martin gained second in the Half with 1:21:xx, and Claire took second female in the Half with 1:30:40.  All of these were impressive times given the perpetually rolling course and the 100% humidity, but perhaps the most inspiring finish was Margaret Hagerty, who ran 4:07 for the Half, setting a record for 90-year-old finishers in the process.  Way to go Margaret!  That’s just beautiful!

Margaret Hagerty, the fastest 90-year-old woman I know.