Friday, July 25, 2014

If You're Gonna Be Dumb...

Over the course of 8 days in the middle of July, I attended three very different events that made up a total of five different race distances.  In order, I'll recap the XTERRA Whitewater Center 7.5 Mile Trail Race, the CRC Track Night Under the Lights (at which I ran three distances), and The Scream! Half Marathon.  Yes, the exclamation point is part of the race's official name.  I like that.
Saturday, 7/12: XTERRA Whitewater Center 7.5 Mile Trail Race
It was hot and humid, but otherwise, the sky was clear and the trails were in good shape.  The event had a 4 mile distance and a 7.5 mile distance.  I had to run the long course to keep my standings up in the Carolina Trail Series, but I ran the 4 mile course as a warm-up so I could get my long mileage in for the weekend.  The field was large and competitive.  I was hoping to get top 10 and maybe grab an age group award.  That would prove difficult.
Much like the CRC Trail Race in January, the course started with about 0.7 miles of open dirt/gravel road before plunging into the sweet single track.  This allowed the field to string out nicely.  I ran hard on this first part, clocking a sub-6 minute/mile pace for the first half mile, but I was barely in the top 12 runners.  The top three were pulling away very quickly, and I was at the rear of a chase pack that was working awfully hard to keep them in sight.  Once we hit the trails, I forgot about chasing and position and focused on a steady, fast-but-flowing pace.  The course was a challenging collection of trails.  There were plenty of climbs and descents throughout, but one could burn out easily in the first couple of miles for want of trying to keep a fast pace.  I was tiptoeing close to that line myself.  I passed one runner at mile 3, and another runner at the top of notorious Goat Hill at mile 6.  I was not trying to pass the latter of the two.  I was just trying to low-gear it up the hill.  His low gear just happened to be even lower than mine.  Another runner passed me shortly thereafter.  Aside from that, there was no place-shifting for the whole race.  We all ran hard, and we all suffered equally.  Having set an arbitrary goal of 55 minutes for this odd distance, I found myself running out of breath during the last mile as that time came and went.  I finished in 55:40 and left it all on the trail.  Chase Eckerd and Chris Lamperski--both of whom usually threaten to win most of their races--finished 3rd and 4th, respectively.  I finished 10th (for which I was totally satisfied) and won 2nd in my age group; Lamperski was 1st AG.  I do not have pictures from the event, but Tim the RD captured and compiled a video on his GoPro.  You can catch me running by at 4:10 and at 7:00 into the video.
Tuesday, 7/15: CRC Track Night Under the Lights
My focus for track night was to run a best effort for the 1500.  It would be a PR since I had never raced the distance before, and it would give me a good idea of what my best mile time would be.  However, I was also there to run the 4x400 relay with fellow DARTers Carl, Dave, and Dustin.  We were racing for fun as it was evident that most of the other teams looked way faster than us, but I was hoping to get a PR for 400 out of it as well.  Every other 400 I had run was part of a speed workout.  Those were the only two events I had planned on running, but we all know about best laid plans.  More on that later.
Carl was our lead-off man.  Tall and broad-shouldered, one might think he would be a better linebacker than a runner, but he's been known to clock some quick times, and he as enough raw strength to bust out a fast lap.  Carl burned out of the gate with a hard 200.  He was visibly hurting on the back 200, and our team was in 6th place as he made the hand-off to Dave for lap 2.  I paid little attention to Dave as I was busy psyching myself up for my lap.  This would be my first race that was technically a sprint.  Dave bored in on the last 100 with the baton outstretched to me.  I took the baton and dug my spikes into the track with as much torque as I could muster.  The first 100 was all about acceleration and finding turnover.  The following 100 meter straightaway was a wide-eyed euphoria of running as fast as I could on adrenaline.  The 3rd 100 was when the anaerobic burn started to set in, and the last straightaway was all about target fixation (on Dustin) and trying to ignore the pain.  I did not catch anyone as teams 1-5 were far ahead, but I did not get passed either.  Dustin continued to maintain our place with and equally fast lap and preserved our pride in not being last.  Our splits per lap were:
Carl: 60 seconds*
Dave: 67*
Chas: 65
*Due to a possible miscue in recording splits, Carl's time may be 1-2 seconds slower and Dave's may be 1-2 seconds faster.
Dave handing the baton to me.  All ahead flank!

DART 4x400 team: Carl, Dave, Me, and Dustin, in lap order.

After changing singlets and jogging around the track to keep warm, I lined up with about 10 other runners for the 1500.  This was my focus event.  My significantly faster friend Mike Moran was racing this event, so I had no realistic aspirations of winning, but I was shooting for a flat 5 minutes for the 3.75 lap race.  At the start, I felt like I slipped right into my goal pace.  I slid in behind Mike while Ryan and Cory Sundeen took positions ahead of me within the first 200 meters.  I came around the first lap in 78 seconds; 2 seconds faster than goal pace (thanks, adrenaline), but not really sustainable.  The second lap is where I found my comfort zone.  I cruised, but I still felt fast.  I came through 800 meters in around 2:41 or 2:42, still feeling more smooth than I thought I would.  Lap 3 is when I really started to get lactic.  The pain was building not only in my legs, but in my arms and core too.  I know my pace faded on this lap.  The only thing that kept me from fading more was the fact that I was reeling Cory back to me.  I kicked the last lap and passed Cory (and lapped the back-of-the-pack runners) with 200 meters to go. I was not going to break 5, but I would be close.  Final time: 5:03.5.  That's just under a 5:26 pace for a mile, which would beat my previous, unofficial time trial PR.  All in all, I was happy with my 1500.
The 1500 field near the start of the race.  I'm in the Cyan blue singlet.

Open 5000
Less than 10 minutes after the 1500, I changed singlets once again and hopped in on the open 5000 meter race.  This was totally unplanned, but I figured I might as well get one more good run in since I was out there.  I had no real expectations, so I just thought I would see how long I could hold a 6 minute pace.  Although the 6 minute pace felt only moderately difficult in the context of having just run a VO2max paced effort, all it took was 2 or 3 laps let me know that those 90 second laps were just not going to hold up.  Ok, maybe I could still salvage sub-19 minutes...that would be 92 second laps...  It was a good effort, but halfway through the race, I knew sub-19 was a no-go as well.  I decided to focus on even effort, even pace, and racing for position.  The first one or two runners were way ahead, but I was in the midst of a dynamic chase pack of 4-5 runners, including Nathan Leehman, an accomplished local ultrarunner.  The final 800 meters were painstakingly awful, but I still managed a decent kick and finished with an 83 second final lap.  Final time: 19:07.  I was not fast enough to beat Nathan, but I was satisfied with my 5th place finish, especially with a bunch of spectating friends keeping me honest.
Saturday, 7/19: The Scream! Half Marathon
This is a race I had been wanting to do for a long time.  Starting at the top of Brown Mountain in Jonas Ridge, NC, the point-to-point course makes use of a 9-mile stretch of service road down the mountain for a screaming descent of over 2000 feet of elevation.  There are a couple of rolling miles to start the race up top, and a couple of miles of flat to test your quad-busted legs at the end.
I set ambitious goals for this race.  I knew it would be my fastest 13.1 (though I will not count it as a legitimate PR), but I was looking for a time in the low 1:20s, perhaps between 1:22 and 1:23.  One of my training buddies, Sam Mishler, was racing on a transferred bib from a mutual friend.  He had no expectations going into the race, especially after a hard run and impressive time at Grandfather Mountain Marathon one week earlier.  However, some smack-talking exchanges--instigated by yours truly--I think lit a bit of a fire under Sam.  I guess that's what I get...
The hot summer had not prepared us for the cold, windy rain at the top of the mountain.  I knew we would warm up within the first 5 minutes of the race, but it still felt more like a Fall race than the middle of July.  At the start, I once again locked into place within the top 10.  Sam caught up to me ran most of the first mile with me.  "I thought you were just chasing today," I said.  He replied with "If you're gonna be dumb, might as well be tough."  These words would resonate with me for the remainder of the race.  I clocked two 6:40 pace miles on the rolling section at the top.  When we hit the downhill, things started to heat up.  I was speeding up.  6:40s became 6:20s, 6:10s, and even sub-6s, but Sam was still pulling away.  Before the mile 6 marker, he was out of sight for good.  I honestly figured he would blow up and I would catch him on the flats at the end.  I ran my ass off down that mountain, passing a couple of totally-shot runners and shattering my leg muscles in the process, all to keep alive the possibility of out-kicking Sam within sight of the finish line.  It was to no avail.  As I kept kicking on the flat, muddy, final couple of miles, maintaining a 6:30ish pace, I never caught Sam.  He finished 4th overall, which earned him 1st overall Masters with a smoking time of 1:24:03.  I dragged my broken body and shattered ego across the finish line at 1:25:45.  I was 5th male (7th overall finisher), and I won my age group, but my real award was the serving of humble pie I was forced to eat.
Oh well.  As Sam knows, this isn't over!
Until next time, if you're gonna be dumb, stay tough, my friends!
DARTers at the Scream! finish, from left to right:
Me, Dave, the Long Baki, Sam, Bobby Aswell, and Sarah Ferris and Katie Hines in front.

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