Wednesday night I made my way over to the Brushy Creek Trail in Cedar Park, TX for the 7th race in the Summer Sunstroke Stampede Series. The races take place every Wednesday night for 12 weeks, alternating between the Town Lake Trail in downtown Austin and the Brushy Creek Trail system behind my neighborhood.
I first raced in the series two weeks ago posting a time of 20:23 – finishing 10th overall, 1st in my division.
I treated race #5 two weeks ago as a “tune-up” for the Holland Cornfest 5K as I had not raced the 5K distance in almost a full year. The Stampede races are a lot of fun with 100-140 runners making it to the Brushy Creek Trail races every other week.
Being a morning runner – the races in the evening serve as a good test for me – taking me out of my element a bit and requiring me to race in different (meaning very hot) conditions than my body is accustomed to. Typically when I leave the house in the summer for my morning training runs the temperature will be between 75 and 78 degrees at 6:00 a.m. Evening temperatures in Austin in June and July are more in the 92-94 range, which makes “Going Fast” a bit more challenging.
Add in an 8 story high hill that stretches for 6/10 of a mile in the final full mile of the course, and you have yourself a pretty tough race on a Wednesday night. I learned a lot during Race #5 in the series and I was looking forward to tweaking my race plan a bit and seeing if I could come in a little closer to my goal two weeks ago of 20:00 flat.
I knew that my newly minted PR of 19:28 posted on Saturday in Holland, TX would be out of my reach given the heat of the day – but I was hoping I might be able to shave :12 seconds off of my opening mile one week ago and :13 seconds off of my 2nd mile. If I could hold steady up the hill and through the finish I would have a real good shot at that 20:00 time.
As I was going over my race plan in my head on Wednesday afternoon my good friend Trey in Atlanta placed a quote out on his blog from the legendary Bill Rogers who I met the day after the Boston Marathon this past April, it read:
“My whole feeling in terms of racing is that you have to be very bold. You sometimes have to be aggressive and gamble.”
Pretty appropriate heading into a race where I was really only racing for myself. Sometimes you have to push yourself to your limits to find out just where those limits are. The easy way for me to race on Wednesday night would be to look back at my performance two weeks ago and try to shave just a second off of each mile split. No real risk there – I certainly wouldn’t “blow up” by pushing the pace too early - and I would have a chance to run a solid time in the 20:15 – 20:20 range.
But if I wanted to take more than :20 seconds off of my previous race on the Brushy Creek Course – we were going to have to be a bit bold over the first two miles of the course and try to hang on at the end.
Risk – Blowing up on mile 3 and finishing with a time much slower than the 20:23 posted back on June 7th. I would also feel bad doing it.
Reward – Being able to keep it together for the full 3.1 miles and posting a much faster time than two weeks prior. I would also get a good sense of my threshold pace at the 5K distance in 90+ degree heat.
So that was it then – It was a “Ricky Bobby” kind of night – and to borrow his catch phrase from one of the most underrated movies of all-time in my opinion, “If you ain’t first, your last”.
Race plan: 6:15, 6:25, 6:45, :35 – Total time 20:00
Mile 1: I started right behind Bill Schroeder who has won the Men’s Masters overall title in just about every race in the series. Even though I knew that Bill would be going out a bit faster than I would like, I decided I would let him and his running mate pace me around the lake loop.
I fell into a strong pace about 10 yards behind the two race leaders and although the sun was really beating down on us I felt remarkably strong. I decided to race without a singlet hoping that not having that wet shirt sticking to me later in the race would help me “feel” a bit cooler. Fact of the matter was – it was brutally hot – Africa hot. As my watch beeped at the first mile marker I had turned in a 6:06 opening mile.
How’s that for going out “Bold” Mr. Rogers?
Mile 2: I remained in third position as we crossed the dam and I was holding steady. Two weeks ago I had relaxed a bit too much at this point of the race. I felt like this was really the key mile if I was going to break the 20:00 minute mark. As my breathing started to quicken, now on every second stride instead of every third when I am cruising, I focused on my stride and tried to “stay tall”.
This part of the race course takes runners down the hill they will be climbing on the way to the finish. It is heavily tree-lined, which keeps the sun from beating down on the runners, but it is absolutely stifling with no breeze whatsoever.
I kept digging through the turn around, grabbed a cup of water from the race volunteer on the way by and got ready to climb. I glanced down at my watch as I passed the mile two mark and was very pleased with my split – 6:15.
Mile 3: This is where the race really started for me. As I started to climb I was still holding on in the third position. Because this was a chip timed race – that did not mean that I was necessarily in “third place” as a runner behind me could have started back in the pack and been running a faster race – but I was determined not to let anyone catch me on the hill. My hill.
I kept my knees driving, focused on form and slowly and surely I was reeling in runner number two up ahead. The climb was taking a lot out of me, but it was encouraging as I was gaining on the runners ahead of me. As I got to the top of the dam after a solid three minutes of climbing, I had narrowed the gap to less than 15 feet. I had very little chance of catching Bill who had fallen back to second place, and an even smaller chance of holding him off if I could catch him – but I knew if I stayed close I would have a shot at that sub 20:00 minute time.
Sure enough as we hit the mile 3 mark, I had fallen back a bit but when I glanced down at my watch I had posted a 6:39 third mile, :06 seconds faster than my goal time.
Final .10: As I came off of the dam and made the turn to the final stretch just about everything hurt. Quads, Calves, Lungs, Chest, Arms – I was drenched head to toe in sweat. The climb and the chase had taken a lot out of me. My body was fighting me stride for stride, but it was a good hurt. In the simplest terms – I was loving it.
I was hoping for a :35 final 1/10th of a mile – but knew that I didn’t have that much left – I would close in :43 seconds which equates to about a 5:53 pace – I’ll take it.
Race Splits: 6:06, 6:15, 6:39, :43 – Total time 19:44
First place in my age group division, Third Place overall.
Up until four days ago, that time of 19:44 would have been just 1 second off of my PR for the 5K distance. To run that well on such a tough course in 90+ degree heat might make this my best 5K race ever.
That is the funny thing about PR’s – due to different courses and conditions – your fastest time my not always reflect your best effort.
I know that on Wednesday night I didn’t leave a whole heck of a lot on the course.
Thank you Trey for providing the inspiration I needed to “push it” a bit and test myself. It’s nice when you give an “A” effort and get an “A” result.