Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Recaps: Couple of 5ks and a Marathon.

Since running Marine Corps Marathon, I've been on a bit of a confidence high, and I've been trying to extend my peak fitness window to include just a few more races.  In the past three weekends I raced (in respective order) the Spencer Mountain 5k, the Thunder Road Marathon (for which I was a pacer for the first half), and the Summit Twilight 5k.  I was not looking to break any PRs with these races, although I did plan to put forth serious efforts in each.  Here's how my November races went.
Spencer Mountain 5k
The Spencer Mountain 10 miler is a race I've wanted to do for a long time, and there usually is a cadre from DART that goes to the event as a group.  This year, Chad Randolph, Mark Ippolito, and young Nate McGivern were my company.  All three of them were doing the 10 miler.  Since I was responsible for pacing a fast first half of Thunder Road the following weekend, I elected to do the 5k instead of the 10 miler.  Unlike the 10'er, the 5k course was known to be a relatively flat and fast out-and-back course, with a slight, gradual incline in the first couple kilometers, and a rewarding, fast finish as runners went back into town on the descending direction of the same road.  Finishing time was not a concern for me as my friend Dave Munger ran the course the previous year and found it to be short.  I just wanted to get in a solid, 5k-effort run.  Maybe I had a shot at the win...
It was a cold day, so I did my warm-up run in full sweats.  By the time I was warm, I stripped down to a singlet and gloves with split shorts and felt a bit underdressed among the crowd who mostly wore tights and long sleeves.  I noticed three or four runners who looked like they would challenge me for the front of the pack.  A couple of high-school hotshots who may have been XC athletes stepped up next to me, as well as a wildcard who looked to be in my age group.  Sure enough, at the start, the hotshots flew out in front, with one of them in an honest-to-goodness sprint for the first 20 meters.  A couple of other racers drifted in front of me as well, but not too far.  The fellow thirty-something, who was called Franklin, floated past me in a relaxed and calculated manner.  I could tell he was fast and shrewd, and therefore he was the greatest threat.  Hotshots 1 and 2 already were beginning to fade halfway through the first mile.
After four minutes, everyone was behind me except for Franklin.  Suddenly, he stopped to tie his shoe and I sped past and took position behind the lead police cruiser.  It was a lackluster way to take the lead, but I took it nonetheless.  Now the pressure was on to keep it.  The gradual incline made it a bit more difficult to maintain my 6 minute/mile pace, and I found myself searching behind a couple of blind curves in the road for the turnaround.  Before I could get there, I heard the telltale footfalls of an advancing pursuer.  Sure enough, Franklin caught up to me and regained first place before we hit the turnaround.  That was bit of a blow to the ego considering he had done so after stopping to tie his shoe.  Thanks, buddy.
Upon reaching the turnaround, I realized two things: 1) The course would not be short this year; in fact it was going to be long, and 2) barring a catastrophe, I had second place or better locked up.  When the hotshots died, they really died.  Other runners had taken their places, but none it seemed with the leg speed to close the gap between themselves and me.  I broke into a very comfortable and fast rhythm for the inbound portion of the course.  On the slight downhill, I was maintaining a sub-6 minute pace.  Franklin must have been feeling as good or better than me though, because he just continued to pull away.  With about half a mile left, I conceded that he was well out of my reach, so I just focused on maintaining my respectable pace.  Surely that would give me a nice sub-19 minute finish, right?
A little over a mile from the finish, shooting for a sub-19.

Wrong.  As I suspected, the course was long.  Not just "hey-my-GPS-says-three-hundredths-of-a-mile" long, but nearly (or over) a tenth of a mile long.  Kicking as hard as I could at a 5:45 pace, I saw 19 minutes come and go shortly after passing the mile 3 mark.  I had not even made the last turn into the parking lot and the short dash toward the finish line.  I finished with 19:12, solidly in 2nd place, but for a 3.2+ mile race.  Had the course been accurate, my 5:59 average pace would have put me in the mid-high 18:30s, which is faster than all but a handful of the 5k races I've ever run.  Oh well.  2nd overall is still legit, and Nate, Chad, and Mark all had great 10 mile races, in that respective finishing order.
Spencer Mountain DARTers.  From left: Mark (PR), Chad (PR), Nate (PR, 1st 10-miler), and yours truly.

Thunder Road Marathon
I had a fantastic time pacing at Thunder Road last year, so I had promised to come back and do it again whenever I was given the opportunity.  Apparently, not many pacers (or faster local runners) are keen on pacing a 3:00 marathon group, even for only half of the course, so my job security is pretty strong on that front.  While I paced the back end last year, I wanted to pace the first half this year so I could continue running at my own pace after handing the group off to my reliever and enjoy a nice, full marathon with an honest finishing time.  Sam, my once and future nemesis, was kind enough to offer his vehicle for carpooling, so we got on site early, and he reaped the benefits of being associated with a pacer: admission to the heated, indoor VIP section before the race, which happened to be on an even more frigid day than Spencer Mountain.
After getting the pace team briefing in the VIP section, fellow 3:00 pacer Chris Czech and I politely elbowed our way to the front of the crowd.  Soon enough, we were off, and Chris and I were officially on duty.  Seeing as how the half and full marathon races started in unison, there were many, many people who shot out ahead of us.  I knew there weren't that many sub-3 marathoners in Charlotte, and I doubted there were as many sub-1:30 half marathoners as there were ahead of us.  We knew we would be seeing many of these folks again.
Aside from the 25 degree temperatures, the day was clear and beautiful.  It did not take long to get warmed up and comfortable.  Our first mile clocked in somewhere between 7:05 and 7:10, which Chris and I shrugged off, even though our prescribed pace was 6:52.  By this time, we had developed a sizable following, and all in attendance agreed that a slower, easier start was a better setup for the long race.  Sure enough, the next three miles saw us chipping away at our split times until we had a few seconds in the bank.  Also about this time, Meg Hovis--who was part of our group, but eventually would win the overall women's marathon--dropped us like a bad habit.  From that point on, our pace group was a sausagefest, so we were free to stop sucking in the guts and let the locker room humor fly.
With such a fun group, the first half went by very quickly.  We consistently banked a few more seconds every mile, even on the long climb up Morehead.  Unlike the previous Thunder Road course, the Morehead-Dilworth-Dowd  portion was around miles 8-10, rather than at the end.  The half course now included Southend, and the last mile was a long, straight, fairly boring shot into town on Mint St.  The finish was just beyond the football stadium, but on the wide openness of the thirteenth mile, one could see the destination from too far away.  Since I was only responsible for the first half, I talked up the half racers and urged them on for their last push. We picked up Brandon Lerch (my reliever) at about mile 12.5 and let him know that we had about a 25 second cushion.  As we came within sight of the finish, the half racers jetted on (at least one or two to a significant PR) while we bore left around the new baseball park and toward the starting area.  We passed the 13.1 split mat with a gun time of 1:29:34.  Mission accomplished.  I stayed with the group for another mile or so before I made a bathroom stop and bade them farewell.  Chris eventually would pace the full 26.2 with the group, finishing in 2:59:50ish.  I'd call that pretty spot on.
The rest of the race was a fun run for me.  I still kept a decent pace, spending much of the time in the mid-7's, but this felt fairly relaxed after 14 miles of 6:50.  I gave high-5s to kids, walked through water stops, sang along to curbside bands, and saluted familiar faces.  Despite some serious climbs and difficult sections on the second half, my fast first half still allowed me to coast in with a pretty respectable marathon time of 3:13:30.  And I finished with a smile on my face, which was most important.
High 5'n at Thunder Road.  Photo by Lee Neitzel.
Summit Twilight 5k
Even though this home turf race was in its fourth year, I had yet to race it, either due to injury or other race commitments.  This year, I finally dedicated the date to the Twilight 5k.  One week after Thunder Road, and a month after MCM, I did not have high expectations for this race.  I figured I could see a bunch of friends and get a nice 3+ mile workout in.  This race was more competitive than Spencer Mountain 5k or any of the other local Davidson 5k races due to its being the final race in the Summit Twilight racing series.  I would consider it a good evening if I landed in the top ten.   
Since I was making this my long run day as well, I previewed the course twice in the hour before the start.  I figured that would give me enough pre-mileage so that an abbreviated cool-down after the race would bump me easily into the double digits for the day's distance.  The course was not the hardest, but it had some challenges.  Within the first kilometer, there is a short, sharp descent on Spring Street that lead directly into a steep climb on Woodland.  From there, runners enjoy a good 1.5+ miles of mixed flat and descent before the hard finish.  The last 1000 meters or so is a climb up the length of the South Street hill.  Every runner in the Davidson area knows this hill.
I greeted several familiar faces, including my sometime nemesis, Sam.  Aside: although my score settling with Sam is scheduled for a later date, I kind of hoped to beat him at this race too.  When Brian Helfrich gave us the go, we were off to a quick start.  I don't know how many people shot ahead of me, but it was at least a couple dozen.  Of those that I knew personally, Mike Moran was up with the front runners, Sam was hidden in the crowd, I could make out Enrique well ahead of me, Matt Cline was in my peripheral vision, and I could recognize the often verbose Derek May's voice somewhere behind me.  
The crowd thinned out on the Woodland climb.  Handfuls of runners drifted back to me. Matt charged up the hill on my left, passing me near the summit.  Matt's a pretty fast guy, but I didn't expect him to pass me that quickly and easily.  I caught up to him on the flat stretch of Lorimer, but he stayed nearby...and in my head.  We reeled in Enrique shortly after, and the remaining runners ahead were spread out more sporadically.  Near the 1 mile mark, I peered through the darkness and recognized Sam's gait.  He must have recognized the sound of my stride, because before I even overtook him, he called out: "crunch, crunch, crunch...good job, Chas!"  Okay, I got a little satisfaction from passing Sam, but others were still knocking on my back door.  
A gradual downhill on Pine followed by a more steep downhill on Avinger really allowed me to open up and clock some sub-6 pace stretches en route to the greenway.  I turned onto the greenway shortly before the mile 2 maker.  This 1/2 mile stretch of paved path was lined on both sides with 1,000 luminaries spaced every 10 feet.  In the pitch darkness of the late Fall evening, the luminaries provided a serene beauty to the course.  I heard a runner approaching on my left, and I encouraged Matt as he passed me...wait...Matt?  Again...seriously?  Once more, Matt was looking strong, even more so considering the context of there being less than a mile left in the race.  I didn't try to retaliate, but I did keep him within reach.  
As we reached the end of the greenway, the course angled due North on South Street for the final, long hill.  There were maybe a dozen runners spread out  ahead of me on the hill.  Matt and I made quick work of one or two within the first 100 meters of the hill.  Now Matt was ever so gradually drifting back to me.  I was feeling the burn, but so was he.  Hell, so was everyone!  I decided to let it rip for as long as I could manage.  If I faded somewhere on the hill, so be it, but I wanted to put as much road behind me before then as possible.  I passed Matt about 1/3 of the way up the hill.  He said something encouraging to me, but amid our heavy breathing, it was unintelligible.  "Dig, dig, dig," I thought to myself, "anyone can hurt for just a couple more minutes!"  I resisted the urge to check my watch.  Had I checked, I would have been surprised to see that I was clocking equal splits or better up the hill.  I passed a couple more runners near the top, including Greig Jansen, Tristan's brother who was visiting from Africa.  Grieg didn't want to let me go, and the determination in his footfalls spurred me on in the final 50 meters or so to the finish.  
Final time: 18:42, good enough for 8th place overall, and an age group award for males 30-39.  I had run about equal pace on a much harder course than Spencer Mountain (and gotten the accurate time to show for it).  Grieg finished seconds after me, and Matt came in only seconds after him.  I don't know about Grieg, but I know that was a huge PR for Matt.  Sam came in a minute later in the 19:40s, and Derek and Chris Flaherty each finished with notable PRs, even though Chris had done a 13 mile long run that morning!  mPod (Michelle) finished with a solid enough time to lock down her age group for the series, and Hope finished her first race since having her gallbladder removed a couple months before.  DART made a solid showing for the hometown series, and the Summit Twilight 5k quickly took a seat as my favorite local 5k.  I'll be back next year.

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