Tuesday, January 20, 2015

January 2015: "Ain't No Rest For The Wicked."

January was supposed to be a "down month" for me.  After having finished my focus races in the last months of 2014, I was looking forward to an easy month before gearing up for Uwharrie 20 and Ellerbe Marathon this February and March, respectively.  So much for that!  January 1st was the fourth annual Tightwad 5k, which is a tradition of which I love to partake.  The 10th was the Joe Davis Memorial 10k + 5k.  I had been looking to improve my 10k PR for a while, so I figured this might me a good opportunity.  Then, on the 17th was the CRC Trail Race 13-miler, which is a perennial favorite of mine.  So with the month a little more than half over, I had three races on the calendar.  Some down month.
Tightwad 5k:
This event is kind of like a DART family reunion.  A bunch of local friends all show up, tired from the New Years Eve shenanigans, ready to go out for an unsanctioned (but somehow officially timed) race to run in the new year.  I had planned to treat this free race as a workout.  A sub-19 would be fabulous.  However, with talk of some serious competition coming to race--namely my old DURT teammates Dave, Stan, and Bobby A.--I decided I had to bring some heat.  Dave dropped out before the race to play it safe with a dodgy hamstring.  Bobby, though predictably unpredictable, would be running with his daughter Nicole, so I figured I'd be safe from him.  Stan was a threat.  To add to the pot, fellow DARTer Dustin came strolling up to join on race morning and made his intentions quite clear.  Dustin had been following the rivalry between me and Sam.  He clearly wanted in on the action.  Suddenly, I had a feeling that there were cross-hairs on me.  Great.
Having run countless 5k races on this course, I knew how to play to the terrain: bang out the first mile fast to milk as much out of the long downhill on South Street, try not to lose too much time coming back uphill on Avinger, then open it up after the turnaround on Pine for the last uphill-to-flat mile.  With a traditional lack of ceremony, Chad gave us the go, and out I went, shoulder-to-shoulder with Dustin for the length of the South Street descent.  He was going out hard just like I was, but we heard nothing from the field behind us.  I tucked in behind Dustin as we turned onto the greenway and drifted ahead of him about 100 meters later.  He was running in my pocket, literally within arm's reach.  I cautioned about the slickness of the wooden bridge and called out our first mile split (5:51).  He acknowledged both with ragged, single-syllable responses.  As long as he was feeling more winded than me, that was fine.
I grunted my way up the hill on Avinger, and Dustin's footfalls became quieter behind me.  It wasn't until I made my way to the turnaround shortly before the 2-mile mark (or where it would've been if those tightwads had put a mile marker out) that I had an idea of where Dustin, Stan, and the rest of the field were.  Dustin was about 10 seconds behind me, and Stan was maybe 15 seconds behind him.  All I had to do was kick out the last mile fast, and it was likely that I would start 2015 off with a win.  So that's what I did.  I ran up Pine without looking back, and I surged after turning on Lorimer in order to put as much space as possible between Dustin and me before he made the turn.  I was still against the clock though.  If I was to break 19, I had to keep the pressure on for the length of Lorimer.  My last quarter mile or so ended up being just as fast as my first downhill mile.  I broke the (imaginary) tape at 18:54 with an overall win.  Happy New Year!  Dustin came in about 20 seconds later, and Stan followed him by 10 seconds.  Since Dustin was a bandit, Stan was the official 2nd place finisher.  Stan's wife Jinnie was the first (official) female as well...pushing a baby jogger!  Dustin congratulated me, but for some reason, I think he still has me on his hit list.
Happy New Year!  First race = first win of 2015.  Picture courtesy of Chad Randolph

Joe Davis Memorial 10k + 5k:
I rode down to Fort Mill, SC with Bobby and his daughter Nicole.  Nicole was doing the 5k, but Bobby and I planned to do the 10k and the 5k.  Since they started at 8am and 9:15 respectively, racing both was an option.  It was a cold 19 degrees at the start.  The field for the 10k was large and competitive.  Charlotte running friend Mark K. was there, and I expected him to be leading the pack with a 36 minute finish.  Also present were high school twins Jared and Jacob C., who just plain looked fast.  From scanning the crowd, I figured I'd be doing well to finish in the top ten.  The goal, of course, was to PR and go sub-39.
This was be a tough course for the task.  After the race, I later would hear from another Charlotte friend (Rob), that there were 57 turns.  That's significantly more turns than most city marathons have. One section near mile 1 (zoomed in satellite image below) took us off the road, turning sharply down a coarse gravel path,turning even more sharply towards a short tunnel to the other side of the road, then sharply turning a couple more times before coming back up to the other side of the road.  To add insult to injury, we had to do the same section again in reverse during mile 3.  In addition, the course was full of rolling hills and very little flat.  It would prove difficult to find and maintain a rhythm on this course.

Once we got underway, I never really noticed the cold.  A lead pack with Mark, Jared, Jacob, and a couple other contenders broke off and clearly would be out of reach.  I stayed within a strung-out grouping that comprised the rest of the top ten.  There was very little passing throughout the race.  My position in the first mile was pretty close to my finishing order.  There's very little I can recall about this race.  Most of what I remember is: turn, turn, climb, descend, turn, climb, turn, descend, ad nauseum.  I did however find a rhythm.  According to my GPS data, I kept pretty even splits.  So even though the course was twisty and hilly, it was consistently twisty and hilly.  I was running sub-6:15 pace and waiting for my lungs and legs to give out, but they held on.  I crossed the line at 38:40, accomplishing my goal and setting a long overdue 10k PR.  9th overall, second in a 10-year age group.
Somewhere in the first mile of the 10k.  Picture courtesy of Bill Weimer.

The real duty for the day was done, so I had no expectations for the 5k.  I'd still run hard, but I had no time goal.  After shaking out my legs with Nicole before the start, I was feeling surprisingly good; the soreness from the 10k had not had time to set in.  After a quick start and a few dozen people shooting out ahead of me, I felt rather comfortable at a 6:10ish pace, so I figured I've give sub-19 a shot.  I at least wanted to match or beat my pace from the 10k (6:13).  I passed a couple dozen runners in the first mile and continued to pick them off intermittently for the rest of the race.  Since the 5k course was pretty much the last 3 miles of the 10k course, it was still fresh in my mind, and the race seemed to go by quickly. At around 2 miles, I pulled into 7th place before being passed by a lanky 20-something who settled in about 5 seconds ahead of me.  I tied a mental rope around him and let him tow me for the last mile.  He faltered in the last 200 meters, and even though he saw me advancing on him quickly, he made no attempt to keep ahead of me.  I passed him to regain 7th place 50 meters from the finish.  The course was short (2.95 miles by my GPS), but I finished in 18:17, which would have played out to around 19:10 if I had maintained that pace for a true 5k distance.  But I won my age group, so I left the event with some decent swag!
Reckless Running Brand Ambassadors, unite!  Me, Nicole, and Bobby after a fun day of racing.  Nicole won her age group in the 5k too.

CRC Whitewater 13 Mile Trail Race
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I love this race!  Each year, I think I might take a break from it, or opt for the shorter 9-mile or 4-mile options the following year, but like Don Corleone, I always get sucked back in!
Every time I think about not doing the CRC Trail 13-miler...

One of the benefits to having done this race so much is that I remembered all the important parts of the complex trail course.  The first third was hard and fairly technical; the middle was the hardest due to relentless climbs and highly technical switchbacks; and the final third was the most tame--a good place to throw on some speed if you have any energy left.
I decided to run the whole race by feel.  I covered my watch with my arm sleeve and never peeked at it for the duration of the race.  I kept the lead pack within view for the first mile, before we got into the thick of the black diamond trail on the North end of the park.  As was with previous years, the first couple of trail miles were rife with calculated steps and aggressive, opportunistic passes.  It took a lot of brain energy to maintain good footing while trying not to get stuck behind other runners for long stretches of single track, losing precious seconds on the leaders.  I emerged from the North Main in what I thought was a favorable position.  I continued to pass runners here and there.  I resolved to pick my battles for this race; I was willing to use energy to pass people, but if someone tried to pass me, I wouldn't fight it.  As it turned out, no one passed me for the duration of the race, which makes this year unique among all the years I've run it.
About 5 miles in, the 13ers split off from the 9ers for an extra 500 meter loop while before rejoining the main trail (on which the 9ers had continued straight).  This allowed a few of the 9ers who had been behind me to be in front of me, which meant I had to make more passes in order to keep up my intended pace/effort.  I nearly busted my ass trying to get around my training buddy, AB.  He barked out some words of encouragement as I tried to open up some distance.  Hopefully, he and the other 9er with whom he was running would serve as a blocker for any other pursuing 13ers.
Before I knew it, we came upon Goat Hill, the longest sustained climb of the race.  Grunting through the switchbacks, I slowed to what seemed like a crawl.  I might have gone faster by walking, but I just kept picking up the knees and driving.  After three-and-a-half minutes of slogging, I turned at the top and tried to maintain my balance during a twisty descent on rubbery legs.  The climbing wasn't over.  The trail spat us out onto a muddy hill in the open, and I had to make my way back up to the top.  At least I could see some of the racers ahead of me in this exposed section.  Another treacherous descent ensued, and I made my way through the Carpet Trail to the Toilet Bowl.  This technical section was strewn with sharp turns and relentless climbs and descents that were just plain punishing after having exerting myself on Goat Hill.
The refreshingly pleasant Lake Loop made up the final third of the race.  Although I had been running quite hard and was feeling a little beaten up, I resolved to pick up the pace and finally find a rhythm on these last few scenic miles.  In years past, the front of the field had been so strung out that I likely would not see anyone near me on the trails at this point.  This year, I passed a couple of front-runners who were zapped from the 10+ miles of hard trail running already under foot.  At around 12 miles (there were no mile markers, and I had no reference of time), I came upon Cory Sundeen, who usually beats me handily at most local races.  He had looked so strong charging up hills in the beginning of the race, but now he made no retaliation to me passing him.  For the rest of the race, I just focused on keeping the tempo up and creating space.  When I broke out into the open on my way to the finish, I noticed some 9ers ahead of me.  Even though they were not competing with me, they served as a great visual cue to keep me pushing all the way to the finish.
I crossed the finish line at 1:38:25, which I thought was a pretty respectable time after not having checked my watch during the race.  Maybe I was in the top fifteen, or top ten on a good day.  As it turns out, it was a very good day; I was in fourth place!  That was good enough for first in my age group, and it was the best finish yet in the four years I had done this race and distance.  Next year, if they pull me back in, maybe I'll shoot for the podium!
1st age, 4th overall!  And I'm spent.