Friday, July 22, 2011

The rainiest race yet (Bobcat Bolt)

(Results) June 25, 2010

This is a race that has caught my eye for a few years: a 5k and 10k, nearly in my hometown, with plenty of prize money. We knew that Lesley, Dan and Bob would be doing the 10k, so Alan and I did the 5k.

We thought the race started at 10:00, but it was at 9:30, so we arrived a scant 15 minutes before the start of the race and had only a few minutes to sign up, change into racing flats and do some warming up. Warming up was necessary because there was a light drizzle that threatened to strengthen into rain. Bob was nice enough to loan me a hat for the race.

The race start. Photo from Foster's Daily Democrat article

The 10k and 5k were together for the first 5k, and then the 5k runners stopped and the 10k runners kept going. So when the race started, I ran with Lesley (10k) and another woman (Nicole) who was doing the 5k. We ran exactly together around the high school and up the hill to the middle school, retracing the "Bagel Challenge" that I ran weekly in gym class in middle school. I felt that the pace was pretty honest, and yet Lesley and Nicole were chatting! Hmmm, this Nicole was apparently quite legit. I missed the mile mark because, although I saw both of them glance at their watches simultaneously, I didn't think that it had been close to a mile yet. Time flies!

We passed Stoke and took a right to go past the town pool, and I was getting a little worried because Nicole was still right there. I was hoping to win the 5k! At about 1.75 miles, she tucked in behind me to draft, and from there she slowly drifted back. We got to two miles in 12:01. Now it was really pouring. Lesley and I splashed through the puddles, passing men now and then.

We went into a little housing development with about a half mile to go, and I noticed that it was raining so hard that the road was covered in water. Maybe 1/2 inch of water was sitting on the road, with more pouring down -- it was raining so fast that the water couldn't drain fast enough. I was really glad I had the hat to keep the rain out of my eyes!

I was not worried about Nicole, and I didn't particularly care what my time was, but I didn't want Lesley to beat me through 5k since she was running twice as far. So I turned it up a little for the last half mile or so. In this picture, you can see that I got a little ways ahead of her by the finish:

Photo from Coolrunning by Richie Blake
See those "rocks" on the ground around my feet? Those are raindrops. The ground was covered in a sheet of water, with big raindrops pelting down.

I am doing a weird motion in the picture because they guy in front of me stopped running as soon as he crossed the line, whereas I decelerated gradually, so I nearly ran into him. Luckily, this moment was preserved for posterity and showcased on Coolrunning.

Lesley had asked me during the race if I wanted to keep going and do the whole 10k with her -- joking, but I offered to meet her with a mile to go and help push her to the end. So as soon as I finished, Alan and I changed our shoes (he also won the 5k -- see photo, above) and ran backwards along the course. We met her with a little more than a mile to go. I was surprised at how difficult it was to turn on the fast pace again! Alan had no trouble keeping up, but I was straining to stay just behind her. We ran with her for about 3/4 mile and then figured she would have plenty of motivation from there to the end.

After the race, the five of us all cooled down together, and then the photographer took a picture of us for the paper:

Photo from Foster's Daily Democrat article

The post-race meal was very generous, and we had a good chat (despite everyone being soaked through). They gave each of us a plaque in addition to a check. I was hoping to see some of my former classmates, but I only saw one or two people that I barely knew.

As an aside, first place in the 5k and second place in the 10k carried the same prize -- $100. I finished only 20 seconds ahead of Nicole, and she certainly kept the pressure on for the whole race -- whereas in the 10k, the second place woman's time was 43:10, which is much closer to my training pace than to my 10k race pace. But I'm glad I did the 5k anyway.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Miles over the Moon 4-mile

(Results) July 15, 2011

We did this race because a bunch of friends were doing it, and we were planning to hang out with them before and after. It ended up being a fun evening, and a good outing for me.

The race was at 8 pm, and was themed as a night race; they handed out glowing necklaces to pre-registered runners. (I didn't pre-register, but I also finished before it was dark enough to need a glowing necklace!) The race was hosted by the Wicked Running Club, whose mascot is a black cat (Salem, MA -- get it?); the mascot handed out medals after the race.

Alan, Brett and I warmed up on the course with some other guys. It was warm, but not too hot. The race was through downtown Salem, and the roads were not closed during the race, so there were lots of policemen. We ran past the 1- and 2-mile marks, which ended up being helpful since they were positioned on the right side of the course, so I might not have noticed them if I hadn't known what they looked like.

No other women lined up on the starting line. There was one high-school-age girl (Nicole) on the edge. When the race started, she sprinted to the front, running alongside Alan. I knew it wouldn't last, but I felt I needed to cover it just in case. So I ran behind her, and next to Brett. Nicole checked her watch twice in the first minute of the race. She hung tough for about two minutes, which was impressive, but then I passed her and stayed with Brett's group of four guys.

Here is a video of the start. I am visible if you know what to look for, in white, behind the girl who is in the front:

Alan is very visible. He is wearing sunglasses and a white and grey singlet.

I was running just behind them when we passed the mile mark in 5:29. I asked aloud, "do you think that's right?" and one of them said it was 0.97 on his watch. I had been planning to run a little under 6-minute pace, so I decided to slow down even though I didn't think it was actually 5:29. I had thought about trying to beat Brett, but I certainly didn't want to kill myself to do it, so I consciously slowed down. One guy passed me before the second mile (Doug), with whom we had warmed up. I let him go.

I got to the second mile mark in 11:17 (5:48). I hadn't looked back at all to see if there were any women nearby, but with that pace I decided it was unlikely that anyone was (especially since there was no prize money). I kept my effort at about 90% -- not all-out, not jogging, just a good effort. I passed Doug. A guy ahead of me jogged over to the sidewalk and started walking; as I approached, he started jogging again. Doug called out to him, "Don't push it; live to race another day." I passed a high school kid in orange basketball shorts (Scott). At this point, Brett was the next guy ahead of me! But there was a big gap between us.

The third mile was at a water station; I passed it in 17:08 (5:51). I was hoping I could break 24 minutes (my previous 4-mile road race PR was 24:27), and at this point I was pretty confident that it would happen. I wondered if I could catch Brett. To determine how far Brett was ahead of me, I counted my breaths: I breathe once every three steps (two steps in, one step out) and my stride rate is just about 180 steps per minute, so I breathe just about once per second. Brett rounded a corner and it took me 12 breaths to get there. I decided I couldn't make up 12 seconds in one mile, especially because I knew Brett would be trying his hardest to stay ahead of me. In reality, he was far enough ahead that I was having trouble seeing him as dusk was falling.

The last 0.4 miles or so of the race was around a triangular park in Salem. I had done my pre-race striders around the triangle, and I noticed that each side was deceptively long, more than a comfortable strider distance. So I picked it up, but not too much. On the final straight, I could see the bright lights of the spotlight and the time clock approaching, and I kicked really hard. Spectators told me, "run hard; you can break 23 minutes!" Since I couldn't read the time clock, I had no idea if it was saying 22:57, 22:58... or if I had more time. Luckily, I was kicking as hard as I could anyway. I crossed in 22:54.

I was pretty sure that the course was short. I consulted with Alan (who had a much harder race than I did, taking the lead only in the park) and he agreed. A friend with a GPS watch got 3.92, for a converted time of 23:22 (5:51 pace). Still a PR! We cooled down in the park, and stayed for the awards ceremony. The people cheered really loudly for all of the age group winners who were Wicked Running Club members. Alan and I each got a sparkly red trophy. There were also orange slices, which is my idea of a perfect post-race banquet. Afterwards, we hung out with friends at their house, and had delicious food.

From this, I learned that taking a few weeks between races is really key to my success. It's been three weeks since I ran the Bobcat Bolt, and I was able to run fast in Salem without killing myself. I am going to do my best to space out my races, and at least allow a few weeks before my most important races.