Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Salem Lake 50k Relay, by Main Street Milers

After an unprecidented but not unwelcome,  weather-induced reschedule, this year's Salem Lake Frosty 50k/25k/50k Relay was more like a Foggy 50k Relay.  A few early moring running buddies and I decided to enter the Relay lists as a coed open team with the singular purpose of winning that category.  In order of relay segment, we--The Main Street Milers--were Dustin, Ashley, Derek, and me (Chas).  This recap is co-written by my fellow MSM teammates in the order of events as they unfolded.
Main Street Milers
From left: Dustin, Chas, Derek, and Ashley

A brief course description:
Salem Lake Park has a beautiful, seven-mile, hard-packed dirt path the circumnavigates the lake and connects to Salem Creek Greenway (asphalt) on the Northwest corner.  The course started at the trailhead nearest to the park's main entrance and ran the entirety of the trail around the lake, adding a short out-and-back on the asphalt greenway to make each lap 12.5 kilometers, or 7.75 miles.  Four laps would complete the 50k, and relay teams had one runner for each lap.  The course was largely flat, but there were two significant hills at mile 1.25 and 7.25.  Rain had swept through the area in the few days before the park, and while there was no active precipication, the ground was wet, but not overly soft in most places.
Here is how the Main Street Milers' race played out:
First leg: Dustin
First off, my primary goal was not to lose the race within a race.  Here's what I mean.  Derek, Chas, and I had made a little wager: slowest guy buys a round of beers for the others.  Given that Chas was virtually always faster than me, and Derek had recently "turned the screws" (his words) faster than I was able at the Mayberry Half Marathon, I was the clear underdog.  In other words, I needed to put up a strong performance in order to keep up with these two guys. In all honesty, I knew Ashley was going to be a formidable teammate/competitor as well, and she played no small role in motivating me to run my best race.  None of these MSM teammates was going to make things easy.
I lined up on the front.  As the RD gave us the signal, I immediately fell into a pace that felt more like a 5k than 7.75mi.  This landed me in 2nd position, led only by an unknown in a red singlet.  This order persisted for approximately a mile, during which I could hear Chad Crockford and Caleb Masland behind me having a very pleasant and unlabored conversation behind me regarding marathon PRs, which were both in the mid-2:30s.  I quickly realized that I was significantly outclassed and these two could pass me whenever they liked.  They did so shortly thereafter, leaving me in 4th position.  Next to pass were a young, curly-headed unknown, and finally at approximately mile 2, a Charlotte runner wearing a CRC singlet and laboring far more than the first few runners.  I then maintained 6th position for the remainder of my leg, keeping curly-head and Mr. CRC in sight for 6 miles.
Keeping tabs on my watch, I was slowly losing ground on pace.  My first couple of miles were 6:10 and then it slowly crept up to 6:17.  This was my overall average, and I knew it was artificially high due to GPS loss on those curvy lake fingers.  But I kept my eyes on the prize, which wa to put up a strong performance for my team.  My unspoken goal was to average 6:15 min/mi, but I was a little hesitant to tell anyone because I didn't realistically believe I was able to hit that number.
Mile 5 is when things began to get difficult, but grit is grit, so I bore down and knocked my overall pace at mile 6 back down to 6:16.  Small victories.  When I hit the final hill by the dam, I slowed significantly because it was a legit grade.  This felt like an embarrassing, molasses-like pace.  As I neared the apex, I could see all of my DART buddies cheering for me near the finish line.  So I dug deep, took advantage of the downhill, and came in strong as Ashley took the baton.  A few minute of heavy breathing and recovery and I was back to slapping fives and catching up with buds.  What a great day at the races!
Second leg: Ashley
My goal was to keep all of my miles sub-7, which seemed like a reasonable challenge.  As Dustin had set me up well towards the front of the pack but behind the lead 25k runners and the lead men's relay team, I ran alone for a couple of miles.  The second leg of the winning mixed team then cruised by me at sub-6 pace and was out of my sight within a few minutes.  Keeping up with him was out of the question, so I just tried to hang on to my place.
The run was mentally tough due to the unvarying terrain in the first 5+ miles, the fact that I was basically alone for the entire 7.7 miles (but obviously being chased) and the lack of anything resembling crowd support.  I occasionally had to remind myself I was racing as I passed walkers out for a leisurely stroll around the lake.  I took the race a mile at a time, checking my Garmin often (probably too often, since I learned later that it wasn't entirely accurate on the second half of the course) to make sure that I was staying on pace.
I was grateful to turn onto the paved road for the out-and-back at mile 7 even knowing that the infamous big hill was still ahead of me.  The best part of the race was finally arriving at the top of the hill, hearing the DARTers in the distance cheer (and Morgan and Johane ringing cowbells) and cruising to the finish where Derek was waiting.
Ashley finishing her leg and passing the "baton" to Derek.  Dustin looks on from the background, and I'm still bundled up in the exchange zone looking down the trail.

Third leg: Derek
Lesson learned: if you start a 12.5k race at sub-5k pace, you're going to have a bad time.  That is a scientific fact.  Blame it on relay inexperience, blame it on sitting around and watching a race unfold and anticipation build around you for an hour and a half, or blame it on shooting out like a cannon and forgetting to start your GPS for a minute or so and not bothering to check pace.  In the relay chute, I watched the lead team come in about 3 minutes before us and I really wanted to give a strong effort to make some time up.  Plus, there was a friendly intra-team wager to think about.
Either way, a sub-6:00 pace for the first mile and a half is too richfor me.  The course doesn't do you any favors either, since every corner you round in the first 3 miles, the trail looks exactly like the section you just ran and there ar no landmarks for frame of reference.  Add to that the fact that I was only 7 days out from running a marathon (not raced, but still 26.2 miles), and by mile 3 I was ready to be done.  Around mile 2, I had spotted and was using another runner in a bright yellow shirt as my rabbit.  It was clear that he was moving too, so I assumied him to be from one of the fast, college-age all-men teams.  So I spent the next mile or so slowly closing the gap on him.  I caught on and eventually passed him around mile 4, and we traded places back and forth a few times with a few encouraging words, but I was hurting pretty bad.  Right after mile 5, he found another gear and I just needed to let him go.  We weren't directly racing each other anyways, but then without my rabbit, it was survival mode until "The Big Hill" at mile 7.5.  My legs were toast and felt about like mile 25 of a marathon, only at 6:40 pace I was now also breathing (gasping?) at 5k levels.
This was not fun.  Had I not had teammates counting on me (we were still in the medal hunt after all), I probably would have bagged it much sooner.  But I had been asked to be on the team because they thought I could help our chances of placing well, so I gutted it out until "The Big Hill."  I tried to go strong up that sneaky bastard knowing I was almost home, but about halfway up it you round a corner and see that not only are you ONLY halfway up, but it gets steeper.  Not sure what it was, but my breathing at that point was on the verge of hyperventilation, so I walked.  Only the second time ever in a race, but yeah, I did.  10 seconds or so.  Got my breathing back under control, finished the hill, and still managed a decent sprint down the hill to the finish.  Not a proud race performance, but still turned in a sub-50 minute 12.5k, if only barely.  And, after I could see/breathe/think again, I was informed that I had closed the gap with the lead team to under 10 seconds, so that's a win.  We were in decent shape leading into our strong fourth leg runner.  All in all, it was a fun day getting to spend time with friends, interrupted by 45 minutes of hardcore suck.  But due to that aforementioned wager, I was now buying the post-race beers.
Derek striding in to pass me the slap braclet for the final leg.
Fourth leg: Chas
Less than 10 seconds after the leading open coed team from Clemson passed off to their anchor runner, Derek came flying into the exchange zone with the gimace of an all-out effort on his face.  He had made up nearly three-and-a-half minutes of the gap to the lead team!  I shot off after their anchorman (Michael) and slapped the timing bracelet on my wrist.  50 meters down the trail, I heard more than one person from the exchange zone yelling, "hey!"  I turned back to see them holding something up.  Glancing at the slap bracelet on my wrist, I realized it was the timing sensor; it had fallen off!  "F***!" I screamed as I sprinted back, grabbed the sensor, and turned back on course while I still had Michael in sight.
Now the heart rate was up, and I had the pressure of chasing the lead team, as well as trying to match Dustin's impressive sub-48 minute leadoff leg.  After a mile, it was apparent that Michael was out of my league.  He opened up such a huge gap in that time that he was uncatchable unless something extraordinary happened.  I couldn't in good concience slow down though.  When I reached the first hill at mile 1.25, I quickly realized that my effort for the distance was setting me up for a world of hurt later in the race.  The hill was not a bad hill compared to our usual Davidson running routes, but it was enough to induce the burn.
While Michael from the Clemson team was out of reach, I locked in on another college-age runner from one of the open male category teams.  He was keeping up a quick pace and served as a good rabbit.  I took my splits by eyeballing the race time at each of the trail's permanent, certified mile markers. I passed mile 3 at 18:27, nearly on pace for a sub-19 5k.  I didn't know how sustainable that pace would be, but I'd have to keep it up if I wanted to stay on par with Dustin's performance.  After I crossed over the far end of the lake at Linville Road and started running along the north lakeshore, the GPS started going wonky.  I knew I was maintaining a fast pace and the effort was getting more painful, especially since I was only about halfway done.  At any moment, I was expecting the rabbit I had picked to fade back to me, but he remained 5-10 seconds ahead of me throughout the run.
I picked out my 5 mile split at 30:34 (which would crush my official 8k and 5-mile PRs) and my 6 mile split at 36:40ish.  The pace was as fast or faster than any other race I had done at similar distances.  Shortly after I got to the asphalt out-and-back section, I saw Michael coming inboud from that segment, which meant he was more than half a mile ahead of me.  Damn, he was fast!
Being the last runner on my team, I got to hear several DARTers' recounts of the big dam hill in the last quarter mile of the course.  It was as painful as everyone promised.  Still, it was good to know I was just over a minute from the finish once I reached the top.  I opened up my stride down the backside of the dam hill and was determined to finish fast.  I wouldn't match Dustin's lap time, but I would be respectably close, and I wouldn't have to buy the round of beer.  I finished in just over 48 minutes.
Me striding in for the team finish.  All pictures courtesy of  Ashley and Brian Neff.
As a team, The Main Street Milers finished 2nd in the coed mixed category.  The club runners from Clemson clearly outclassed us, but they were extremely polite and sportsmanlike, even referring to us as "sir," and "ma'am," much to our chagrin.
Other DART teams fared even better in their respective categories.  The DARTlings, and all female team, won the ladies' overall category, and Foolish Velocity excitingly edged out the defending masters category champs with a heroic last leg by Joey Noto.
DARTer and Ironman Ashley Ackerman took 3rd place overall for the solo 50k race with a 3:57.  This was doubly impressive because this was his first attempt at 50k!  As per usual, great things happen when a bunch of DARTers get together in one place!
Most of the DART contingency at Salem Lake.  MSM in the back row on the left; back center is Foolish Velocity (Chris Flaherty, Dave Munger, Joey Noto, and not pictured is Mike McCarthy); DARTlings are up front (Katie Rose, Amber Wood, Johane Hirschfield, and Morgan Dethman), and an unknown Marathon Maniac.  Also not pictured is Ashley Ackerman, who was preparing for his first 50k.

Main Street Milers Frosty 50k Relay by the numbers
Dustin: 47:45 (6:10 average pace)
Ashley: 53:10 (6:52 average pace)
Derek: 49:49 (6:26 average pace)
Chas:48:11 (6:13 average pace)
Main Street Milers: 3:18:53 (6:24 average pace)

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