Monday, July 11, 2011

A Tale of Two Races

It's been an unusual couple of weeks. My routine is gone. Any sort of regularity in my sleep, eating, work schedule and training is non-existent. All things must happen when time allows. That said, I think I have done a pretty good job of maintaining a healthy balance. Three weeks into this new chapter in a new city, I don't think I have lost any of the discipline I learned in Charlotte.

If anything has faltered, it is sleep. It was especially hard to come by in the days leading up to the Boilermaker 15K in Utica. I signed up for this race two weeks after coming back from my back injury. I had just finished a particularly rewarding 16 mile run in Charlottesville, and gained enough confidence to put a race on the schedule in ink. I hadn't run it since college, but had fond memories of the atmosphere and organization of the biggest 15K road race in the country. However, I did not anticipate the life changes that would come as a prelude to the starter's horn.

The Friday before the race, I worked until 12am, and had to be up to catch a town car to the airport at 5:30am. I got to Rochester, rented a car and drove to Newark in time for an easy run, a quick nap and a couple's shower my aunt was throwing. I went to bed at our cottage in Wolcott around 10pm that night and was up at 4am to make the two hour drive to Utica. Although the race didn't start until 8:15 (or so I thought. More in a few paragraphs), I hadn't made it to the expo the evening before so I had to pick up my packet by 7am.

With Lauren keeping me company, I felt decent on the drive. I actually drank an entire cup of coffee thinking three hours was plenty of time to work it out of my system. We got to the starting line and it was surprisingly chilly. It was barely 60 degrees and although it was still early, that boded well for what the weather might be like come race time. During my warm-up, I passed by the elite tent where I saw throngs of Kenyans and Ethiopians along with Bill Rodgers, Stephan Shay and Pezz. I was surprised to see here there. I also ran into Brad DePoint who ran on my team at Oswego.

As I made my way to the starting line, I heard the announcer say the race would begin in 10 minutes. Apparently, it started at 8 and not 8:15 and I still had 13,000 people to make my way through. I didn't make many friends as I pushed and shoved my way to my assigned corral at the front as someone sang the National Anthem. Somehow, I made it to the very front line right behind the elite field. But, there was no time for strides.

When the horn blew, I got into a pack of people and tried to settle in without going out too fast. Not knowing what kind of shape I was in, and knowing the course was very demanding, I hoped to break 52 minutes which wouldn't be a PR by any means, but would be about 5:35 pace and a decent confidence booster. I hit the first mile in 5:17, which is nice and controlled, but I felt terrible. Through the second mile, I hoped I was just shaking out the uncomfortable and would find a nice groove by mile three to settle in to. During the third mile, a blazing fast woman pulled up along side me and I thought I might stay with her. We ran together through the 5K point. I crossed at 17:05 feeling like I had just run a 16:00 and wondering if I could hang on for two more 5Ks. I actually contemplated dropping out. I didn't, but the woman dropped me. I would later find out she is a Russian who runs for Adidas and was the second female finisher making some megabucks for her run.

As you start mile four, you hit the biggest hill on the course. You can see it wind and climb through a park as you hit the base of it. Seeing the ascent demoralized me. Adding insult to injury, as we ran through the water station at the mile marker, some guy shoved me. I responded with a, "what the hell, man?" But, he didn't say a thing. I climbed the hill, feeling my pace drop. I wasn't wearing my Garmin, but I felt slow. Nearing the top of the hill, I managed to pick off a couple of people and by the time we hit the downhill, the grove I was looking for had suddenly shown up. With my first four miles not a total disaster, I thought I might be able to salvage the race. Mile five was a 5:04 (all downhill), and I felt like a new runner. I went through the 10K in 33:56.

The crowd support at Boilermaker is phenomenal. It's the biggest event Utica has all year. It's televised. They shut down the entire city and people line the streets like they would for a marathon. So, I decided to take a page from the Aaron Linz racing handbook and use the crowd to my advantage. I'd pump my fist in the air, cup my hand to my ear, high-five little kids. It was a blast. At mile eight, a radio station was set up and playing "Last Friday Night" by Katy Perry. I did a little dance then started lip-synching the song and the people went crazy. These antics may have ended up costing me a few seconds and a little bit of injury, but I was having too much fun to care.

With a mile to go, I still felt fresh and decided to lay it all out. The crowds are really loud there, so I gave it all I had and motored to the finish. When I crossed the line, my watch said 51:11, but my official time on the results was 51:17. Still a PR and a great feeling. Lauren found me as soon as I came through the chute and we started walking toward the party My quads and calves were pretty wrecked (and are searing today), but the unlimited free Saranac beer at the finish line made that pain disappear. By the way, any race the ends at a brewery is a race you want to do. We hung around the huge post-race party for about a half-hour. There was a great band and tons of food. Then, it was 3.5 miles back to the car at the starting line. I ran it, a little bit tipsy from the beer and flying high from the race and the excitement.

Four races into the "season" and this is the first one I am truly pleased with. The challenge going forward is to continue to do the workouts without my Charlotte support group and log the miles day-in and day-out. I have been good about it thus far, using the Boilermaker as my motivation. I think I'll be able to use the same race as a reason to keep up the hard work because I'll want to eclipse that performance when I step to the line again.

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