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.


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