Monday, March 31, 2008

Charlottesville 10-Miler Race Report

Summary: 1:13:15, 16/126 AG (M 45-49)

Long report:

"Lean forward," I said to myself, "Pick it up -- you've got this in the bag."

I was 7-1/2 miles into the 10-Miler, and everything had gone right so far. Know I was within reach of beating my PR, set 10 years ago. It was time to see what was left in the tank.

The morning of the race had dawned colder than expected. Temperatures were hovering around 40 at my house as I had my breakfast. Just to be on the safe side I threw a short-sleeved shirt in with my bag along with my singlet. The rest of my gear -- hat and gloves were already set to go.

I drove down to the race start with plenty of time to spare. Although the race had a record field this year -- over 2100 finished -- the race starts by the University of Virginia's basketball arena, so there's plenty of space for parking. I got in my warmup run, hit the men's room, and lined up towards the front, not too close to the speedsters, but away from the crowd.

With the gun, we were off! My location was good. I went out conservatively, and had room to run without dodging other runners. At the half-mile I was at 3:50. That was perfect -- Debi's instructions were to do the first mile in 7:40 and pick up the pace from there. I was determined to follow the advice, after heading out too fast in my last race.

Like all the 10-Miler course, the first mile has some hills. I kept my effort even, but stretched it out on the downhills. At the first mile I was at 7:30 -- maybe a touch fast, but there was a long downhill stretch in there. More importantly, the effort felt good. I was breathing easy and running relaxed. I could hear some of the runners around me who'd gone out to fast breathing heavily, and it was a good reinforcement to me.

Mile 2 circled the football stadium, and the pace stayed consistent - 7:25, despite a couple of hills.

Mile 3 continued through the University grounds, passing many of the University's original buildings and Thomas Jefferson's enlightened architecture. At the close of the mile I was at 22:23 -- nice consistent pace through three of the more challenging miles on the course. Most runners leave too much effort on the ground after three miles, but I felt good -- relaxed, running well and in control. Now it was time to take it up a notch.

Mile 4 passes out of the University of Virginia grounds and into the city -- it's a fast mile, with a long downhill stretch. I took advantage and hit it in 7:05.

Now I was approaching the Downtown Mall, a pedestrian mall that's at the heart of the city. Good size crowds were out as we ran up the brick paving, and turned north into some of the older residential areas of Charlottesville. Despite the slight uphill, I came in at 7:17, hitting the 5 mile mark at 36:46.

This was a key moment. The 10-Miler is notorious for sucking runners in during the first 5 miles and then chewing them up. Negative splits are the exception, not the rule. I felt good after 5 -- plenty of gas in the tank, and prepared for the next couple of miles.

Mile 6 hits with a downhill, then a tough uphill. I gathered strength by starting to pass some of the runners who had left me early in the race. Every hill seemed to take a little more out of them, and I started passing more and more familiar faces from the first few mile. 7:24 for this tough mile.

Mile 7 is the breaking point for a lot of runners -- a long uphill past a cemetery (today featuring a bagpiper mangling some Scottish airs) and then a turn onto a short, steep uphill. The course passes back by itself, so I could see the crowd of runners still coming on behind me. A short jaunt back onto the Downtown Mall, then off onto another street. 7:29 -- the pace was a bit slower, but I was holding my own, picking off other runners consistently.

As I ran back towards the University I started doing the math. My PR was in site. 1:13:01. I'd need to average a little over 7:00/mile and I'd have it in the bag. The longest straight stretch of the race, Main Street, was in front of me. "Lean forward -- you've got it in the bag."

Mile 8 -- 7:23. Damn.

Mile 9 -- The University "Corner" -- shops, restaurants, and one of the toughest hills on the course. Keep it going -- fast legs, go hard. A left turn back onto the University grounds, and then a sweeping downhill. Here's the mile marker -- 7:19. This is going to take a heck of an effort.

Mile 10 -- There's no rest on the home stretch -- it's a tough section of rolling ups and downs as you retrace the opening mile back to the start. I focus on each runner ahead of me, focusing on catching one runner at a time, rather than the growing fatigue. Then I see him, up ahead. My co-worker, Tommy. I've been trying to beat him all year. I'd seen him at the start, then put him out of my mind, knowing he'd go out much faster.

Now I'm gaining. I keep digging. There's the finish. I'm not going to get him -- or the PR -- go hard anyway.

Finish -- 1:13:15.

No PR, no victory over my co-worker. But one of the best races I've run in years, and 3-1/2 minutes faster than last year. That's a good day's work!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


Summary: First race of the year, 35:15 (PR). AG placement: 4/29

My big goal this year is to improve my running and qualify for Boston at the Richmond Marathon in November. So road race results seem to take on extra significance. Despite a bout with a bad cold in January and February, I felt pretty strong coming into this race. I had a pretty solid base and had done significantly more early-season track work than I've done before.

The Martha Jefferson Hospital 8K is a pretty popular local race in Charlottesville. A lot of runners use it as a tuneup and yardstick for the Charlottesville 10 Miler, which follows in three weeks. And the course covers some of the same territory, albeit in a different direction. It's a pretty tough course -- urban and hilly, with about one significant climb in each of the 5 miles it covers. It'll tear you up quick if you're not careful.

Saturday morning was just as bad as the Weather Channel had said it would be. Grey skies, pelting rain, and temperatures in the mid 40s. Five minutes into my warmup jog, the rain changed into a downpour and I took cover on the porch of a house until it passed. Eventually I hit the streets again, finished my warmup, took care of business and got ready to race.

Despite the bad weather a pretty solid crowd was ready to go. I seeded myself a bit more to the front than usual, hoping to get a little running room early and settle into a steady pace. Amazingly, the rain stopped -- no rainbows, mind you, but at least no more cold rain in the face for a while. The gun went off and I began.

After a couple of quick cuts, I found the space I wanted. Settle in and shoot for a seven minute first mile. With the hills there's not much advantage taking it out too fast. As we wound through the residential streets north of the hospital I felt pretty good -- nice tempo in the legs, breathing under control. The first hill came as we neared the end of Mile 1. I kept my tempo, but didn't try to go too hard up the climb. Here's the mile marker -- 6:45.

Finishing the first mile, Tommy, a coworker of mine passes me. I've never beaten him before, but I see an opportunity here. He tends to go out too fast in his races, so I didn't try to stay on his heels. He'll come back. More residential streets, then the second major hill. As we pass the County Courthouse, running down the same street that Jefferson and Madison used to walk, I hit the second mile -- 13:49.

After the Courthouse, we turn onto the Downtown Mall, a brick-paved pedestrian mall. Normally an active spot on a Saturday morning, but today quiet and rain-slicked. The mall's a slight downhill, but at the end we turn and start up hill number three. There's Tommy in front of me -- he's stretched his margin out to about 75 yards. At the top of the hill we turn and start downhill again. I try to stretch my stride out a bit and make up some time. Here's mile three -- 21:00.

OK -- time to dig in -- I've been losing time since that 6:45 first mile. I've got to kick it up to keep it at 7 minute pace. Problem is, I'm in no-man's land. There's a loose pack about 25 yards ahead of me, and some stragglers behind. Nobody's energy to feed off of. But here's something -- I'm closing the gap on Tommy. Yes, I'm reeling him in.

Up ahead comes the toughest hill on the course, right at the end of mile four. I've got Tommy in my sights and the distance is dropping. As he turns to go up the hill, I can sense that he knows I'm coming after him. We both motor up the hill -- he gains some of his ground back, but he can't shake me. Cresting the hill a woman passes me, running well. She's looking strong, and I see an opportunity. I jump onto her heels and let her set pace. Here's mile four -- 28:23.

OK, I'm going to have to dig deep now. Trailing my pacesetter I pull up close to Tommy. The gap is only a few feet now. As we turn to hit the final hill, my pacesetter makes her move, accelerating away. I can't cover the move and her gap over me increases. As she passes
Tommy he picks up her energy and pulls away. Dang!

Now it's just me -- keep my stride together, don't give up. I make the last climb, pushing hard, feeling another runner closing the gap. Here's the final turn -- go! As we hit the line my pursuer pulls up and lets me across first -- a nice gesture to the old guy -- he could have had me. Stop the watch and walk breathless through the chutes -- final time 35:15. Over a minute off of last year's time, and a PR.

A good way to start the year. Now it's on to the 10 Miler in three weeks.