Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Joy of Road Racing

I decided to test my wheels out last weekend at the Charlottesville Men's 4-Miler road race. The Men's 4-Miler lives in the shadow of the popular Charlottesville Women's 4-Miler, both of which benefit cancer research (breast cancer for the women and prostate cancer for the men).

The Men's race is a pretty low-key affair -- a couple of hundred guys out on a quiet country road in December. No big deal, just come out and run.

It was a beautiful morning for December. About 40 degrees, no breeze, sunny. After I checked in I took a very slow jog for about 10 minutes, then stretched for 10 more. By then it was time to line up. I hadn't run a road race in almost two years but all the memories came flooding back. I sized up the competition, put myself about 10 yards behind the start line, and took off with the gun.

As we galloped down the road, the field began to stretch out and I found myself running in space. The pace felt good, so I didn't worry as the lead pack stretched away from me. The half-mile mark came up -- 3:43. Faster than I expected I'd run, but the pace felt good and my breathing relaxed.

Soon some more runners came up on my shoulder looking to make a pass. They seemed to be working too hard for so early in the race, so I let them go, but tucked in behind to catch a draft for a while. The first mile came up -- 7:28.

As my little group moved through the second mile I held back a bit -- no use going too hard too early. As we approached the turn around, the leaders started passing on the return leg. I started counting to get my position. Soon the turn appeared. I clicked my watch as I rounded it -- 7:40, and 64th place.

I had a good idea of the field now and knew there were a lot of guys I could pick off if I kept my pace going. I started to run down some of them: 63, 62, 61. Two young guys passed me, and I jumped on their heels, while a fellow in a red shirt joined my pack. We started knocking off more runners: 60, 59, 58, 57.

Here's the third mile: 7:31. Concentrate on form -- quick turnover, arms straight, track narrow. Breathe deep, suck in all that O2. My group started to splinter. The two young guys and red shirt are pulling away slowly, but I'm catching some others. A final turn and I can see the finish line clock: 29:45. Dig deep, pass those guys in front 56, 55, 54.

I'm across! Watch stopped: 7:28 for the mile, 30:01 for the race. Big breaths of air. God that felt great -- when can I do it again?


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