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!

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