I've been way behind on posting, including the news that I qualified for Boston with a 3:34:54 at Myrtle Beach on February 14. A sweet treat!
Here's my most recent race, the Charlottesville 10-Miler, on April 4, 2009
1:11:04, 7:06 pace. 149/2300 overall, 7/92 AG (50-54 M)
I imagine most running communities have a race like the 10-Miler. The local race with a long history that the hardcore runners aim at, but that also attracts a large community following. The 10-Miler qualifies: it's been around for over 25 years, and draws a field of over 2000, mostly local runners, whose goals range from picking up an AG win to seeing if they can actually run 10 Miles.
The 10-Miler also has a great course going for it. A scenic tour of the UVA grounds, downtown Charlotesville, and some attractive old residential neighborhoods. Crowd support is vocal and enthusiastic for much of the course.
I came into this year's race feeling pretty strong. I'd gotten my BQ at Myrtle Beach by running a well-executed marathon, and I'd blown away my 8K PR just a few weeks before. 1:10, 7-minute miles seemed doable. A stretch maybe, but doable.
Race morning was bright, sunny, about 50 degrees, but quite windy. I seed myself in the first 4-5 rows and took off with the pack. A little jockeying around for position, and working through the rolling roadblocks of people who didn't understand where to line up, and I found some space. The key to the course is to hold something in reserve for the end. The course gets progressively more difficult as you go along, and a too-optimistic start can bite you later on.
I hit mile 1 in 7:00 flat. Good and bad -- good because I felt great, bad because I knew that was probably about 15 seconds too fast. No problem, relax on the next mile. Mile 2, which curls around the UVA football stadium has one of the first big hills. I held back, trying not to get caught up in the excited runners who attacked the hill like Marines going up Mt. Surabachi. Mile 2 -- just under 7 minutes. Hmmm....still felt good, but had a nagging feeling that this wasn't good in the back of my mind.
Mile 3 featured some slight rises as we passed by the center of the UVA grounds, designed by Thomas Jefferson. A beautiful place to run, to be sure. I concentrated on a conservative pace and came in a little over 7 minutes. Good. As we moved into Mile 4, I got ready for the long downhill that heads towards downtown C-ville. This is a mile to bank up time, and I did, coming in at 6:45. OK so far -- I was under 7 minute pace and feeling pretty solid.
Mile 5 heads up the Downtown Mall, a brick pedestrian street. The crowds are enthusiastic here, and the confines tight, so there was a lot of shoulder-to-shoulder racing. A had a good stride going here, and clipped it off right at 7 minutes. We turned off the Mall into the hilly neighborhoods north of the mall. This is always a moment of truth. The hills here aren't long, but they're numerous and relatively steep. Mile 6, a little over 7 minutes -- still OK. A wave to my wife and son, and onto the last long hill of downtown.
Now my early enthusiasm was creeping up on me. I kept pace with most of my competitors, but I could feel my strength fading and hear my breathing getting a bit ragged. Hold it together -- over the top, and back across the downtown mall. Grab a Gatorade, regroup and prepare to take on the last three miles. Mile 7 -- about 7:15. Not good. Not a deal-breaker, but not good.
Into the wind now, I head up the longest straight stretch of the race. A long false flat leading back to the UVA grounds. Runners who'd run a smarter tactical race than me were overtaking me, and I kept trying to match their pace, eventually finding one runner to draft off of. Mile 8 -- about 7:10. A had about a 20 second defecit on my dream goal now.
Mile 9 would decide the race. The route hits the last killer hill here, an ascent up the UVA "Corner," a student-oriented business district. I had to hit this hard if I had any chance to get back on pace. It didn't feel good. My legs were heavy and I was hurting. You can throw all the cliches you want at a hill, but if you don't have the wheels, the hill has the advantage. Finally over the top, then retracing the route back up the race course. Mile 9 -- fail -- 7:35.
OK, time to regroup -- push for as big a PR as possible, at least go under 1:11. Then -- YOW -- calf cramps. Both legs. Shorten the stride, stay under control. I watched my pace setter disappear into the distance as I alternated between sets of short strides and longer strides, trying to work out the cramps. I kept my pace up as well as I could, but there wouldn't be any sprint to the finish today. As I saw the finish line in the distance I looked at my watch -- 1:10. Darned close. I took it in best I could, and got across in 1:11:04.
I got my hugs from the family and reflected on the race. It was easy to be disappointed, but that faded quickly. 1:10 would have required doing everything right, and I had nothing to be disappointed about. I'd beaten last year's time by over 2 minutes, and taken out a 10-year old PR of 1:13:01. And I'd learned a lesson, too. You've got to train, you've got to plan, but most importantly, you've got to execute the plan when the race comes. The longer the race, the more important that fact is. I'll get it right next time.