There has been something different about racing so far this summer that I have not been able to put my finger on. Last year seemed like there was more “electricity” in the air before my races. There was more excitement. I could feel it in my legs as I stood in the starting area, and I could feel it in my heart as I tried to settle down and focus on my opening segment of the race.
Whether that was the first mile of a 5K or the first loop of a course, I feel like I was much more in tune with what I was trying to accomplish.
As this summer race season is now three races old, I feel like something is missing. Is it me? Is it fatigue from the additional triathlon training? Is it Dom? I’m just not sure.
Saturday morning was the Congress Avenue Mile. A race that I was hoping would snap me out of whatever funk I seem to be in. One mile on a fast course, literally letting it all hang out in a first class event put on every year by RunTex.
The race has several open division heats leading up to the State of Texas High School Boys and Girls Mile championships. The Congress Avenue Mile would also be the first race this summer that I raced one year ago. Over the next few months before NYC Marathon training reaches its serious level in late July/early August, I will be running the same local races that I did 12 months earlier.
Same race, same course, just one year older. Weather of course will be a variable I can’t control, but these races should serve as a pretty good litmus test to judge where I am as a runner right now vs. where I was at the same point last year.
The Congress Avenue Mile was the first such race for me to draw a line in the sand and ask, “Am I better today than I was a year ago?” Closing in on my 44th Birthday in July I am a realist. I know that at some point I am going to ask that question and the answer is going to simply be “No.” On Saturday morning I was hoping that we were not quite at that point just yet.
Pre-Race: I decided that I would for the first time at a short distance race, do an actual “warm-up”. Not just a quick little quarter mile jog to get the blood going in the legs, but a longer warm-up. A couple of miles. Everything I have read about racing short distances says that you should run a longer warm-up than you do at long races such as the marathon. It helps get the muscles firing, the blood flowing to your legs and will reduce the amount of time before you start accumulating lactic acid in your legs when you start running at a faster pace.
Still learning after only 5 or 6 years in the sport, I decided to give it a try. I had always been worried about “tiring” my legs before the race, despite all of the advice and studies to the contrary.
I parked at Magnolia Café at the top of South Congress Avenue where Dawn, Landry and our friends Sarah, Tedd and their 3-month old Tyler would be meeting for breakfast after the race. I strapped on my watch, tied my race flats and took a nice leisurely jog down towards the starting area a little more than 2 miles away.
After a mile or so, my legs were feeling really great. I had rested from running on Thursday and Friday and felt like I really had some snap, crackle and pop going on. The first time I could say that in a long time.
As I made my way downhill towards Riverside Drive, in the early morning light my friend Andy appeared on the right side of the road, he yelled over and we jogged to the start together. Keep in mind that Andy and I were literally the only human beings on South Congress at that hour; it was a miracle that we happened to bump into each other.
I had not spoken with Andy since his great performance at the Boston Marathon (3:04:00~), so we chatted away about our summer race plans and made our way to the start.
After about :20 minutes I decided to run another leisurely paced mile so I could take in the race course and the right hand turn we would have to navigate from 11th street onto Congress Avenue. The last time I had run on 11th street, I was in the closing 200 Meters of the Austin Marathon.
I would be going a lot faster on Saturday.
After a few quick strides I hopped into the starting corral next to Andy and near my friend Mick from Georgetown who had been training to break through the 5:00 minute mark at this race. Pretty heady stuff for a 43 year-old runner just like me. Mick had been hammering his track work and was very confident.
I knew that Mick and Andy had me by about :10 or so, this distance is not what I train for, but I was hoping that I could stay somewhere near them and close strong. I had run a 5:26 mile a year ago. Something around 5:15 would be a huge improvement. Just keep them within striking distance over the first quarter I thought, then hang on.
Opening Quarter: They called for the start and we all crouched down, fixated on starting our watches. When the countdown from the starter went from 6 to 5 to 4 to 3 we were all coiled like springs. Just then we heard a loud car horn sound out. Beep!
It was the chase pick-up truck that was moving into position. It was sideways across the starting chute just 20 yards or so ahead of us.
I would have raced right into it along with a hundred other runners.
After a couple of minutes to calm back down and get set, 3, 2, 1 – and we were off with the blast of the horn.
I fell immediately in with the runners I was hoping to stick with, we navigated the turn onto Congress Avenue with no issues, no tripping or spills and I picked out the white center line I wanted to follow straight through to the finish.
I wanted to stick on the line to avoid the camber of the road on the right, as that tends to bother my knees. I also wanted to run as close to “point to point” as possible. In a short race like this, every second counts.
I felt very strong over the first quarter and it came and went in the blink of an eye. I had changed my Garmin GPS Watch to record my splits every .25 miles instead of every mile – so I could see where I was with pace. At the beep we had run a 1:14 opening quarter – 4:58 pace. Yikes.
Middle Quarters: Over the middle two quarters I was hoping to “float”. Just take a bit off of my pace to leave something for the final quarter when my legs were heavy and we were trying to push hard.
I have been having trouble lately keeping the “hammer down” in the middle of my races, ever since the 3M half Marathon back in January. The last race where I really felt like I stayed focused on every mile of the course – not backing off when things got a little bit difficult.
Quarter number two came in at 1:18, I was losing contact a bit with Mick and Andy, but I was not losing any track position. There was a runner up ahead of me serving as a solid pacer, and another runner just off of my right shoulder. I felt like I was locked in to as comfortable a pace as I could find, just short of an all-out sprint, but pushing harder and harder as my legs tired.
Quarter number three was the first time I felt like I was slowing. I tried to keep hammering away with my race flats, but I could see the distance between me and the back of Mick’s yellow shirt lengthening. It was too early to push hard, I would have to save that for the bridge, so I kept track of the runner on my right shoulder, pacing to just stay in front of him.
My watch sounded at the end of the third quarter, I glanced down quickly but couldn’t make out the time, turned out that it was 1:20. Still in great shape for a new PR.
Closing Quarter: At the start of the final 400 Meters I passed the runner who was just ahead of me and started to wind the watch. I envisioned gradually increasing my leg turnover each 100M until the final 100. Then sprint to the end of the line.
I could feel the footsteps off of my right shoulder falling away. I was now all alone on the bridge just racing the clock. I could make out the display above the finishing line up ahead, it was still reading numbers starting with 4:5X – Mick had just entered the finishing chute – he had made his goal time.
I closed hard with the clock reading overhead 5:05, 5:06.
My final quarter was another 1:14.
5:07as I crossed the line.
Photo by Dawn a.k.a. Super-wife
Post-Race: I immediately caught up with Mick as I was catching my breath, congratulated him and my friend Andy (4:57) on tremendous races and then caught up with another good runner buddy Tom. He had finished with a new PR of his own.
Dawn and Landry made their way into the finishing area and it was time for us to head back up the hill to Magnolia Café for breakfast. (Royal Toast was the call for me, French Toast with Scrambled Eggs …)
As Dawn and I were walking to the car, I shared with her that something seems to be missing right now in my running and racing. Could I have dug a little bit deeper over the middle quarters and made a run at a 4:59?
Perhaps. I think most of the time immediately following a race, you feel like you could have given just a little more effort.
A :19 PR over a year ago should be a celebration. But again, I’m just not sure.
I feel like the physical side of things is there, the knee injury I had to deal with this spring is now a distant memory, but mentally, I’m still searching.
I have a couple more tune-up races before we run the Holland 5K on June 18th. Our summer “A” race 5K, where we’ll be going for a third-straight age group win.
Whatever it is that’s missing, I hope to find it in the next few weeks. There is no denying it right now, I’m just not where I need to be.