Wednesday nights for the next couple of months means racing as the Summer Sunstroke Stampede proceeds through a 12-week race schedule.
To be eligible for any year-end series awards, runners must compete in at least 8 of the 12 races. Your 8 best times are averaged together and awards are given for 1st Place Male and Female, 1st Place Masters Male and Female (over 40 years old) and the top 3 finishers in each age group.
I decided that this year I was going to make a real effort to race in at least 8 events, which means that on two occasions at least, I would have to drive downtown through evening rush hour traffic to make it to the town lake trail. 6 races on my home court, literally on the trail that runs behind our home, 6 races in enemy territory.
Lots of fast runners down there, heck, there are a lot of fast runners and great athletes in Austin. It’s a combination of the ability to train year round due to our great weather, the access to all kinds of great endurance sport venues to race and train as well as the city’s own “vibe”. It’s pretty much “cool” to do anything you want in Austin, whether that pursuit is frisbee golf, pitching washers, hiking, rock climbing, cycling, running, sculpting or painting. Whatever you’re “into” it’s pretty widely accepted in Austin.
We’re still “keeping it wierd” 24/7 here in the Live Musical Capital of the world.
Pre Race: This week was going to be a little more complicated from a logistics standpoint. Not only did I need to drive downtown for the race, easily an hour with traffic that time of night. But Super-wife Dawn is out-of-town on business. Little Miss Landry was going to need a sitter while Dad was out racing.
I picked up our little Angel at Daycare just before 5:00 p.m. and dropped her off at Aunt Sarah and Uncle Tedd’s house to play with their 3 1/2 month old Tyler. Landry now almost 9 months old is a pretty happy little camper most of the time. She would just need a couple of hours of attention, a diaper change and maybe a switch into her PJ’s. I’d be back before she knew it.
After dropping off Land I took my place in the long line of cars snaking their way down Mopac into downtown Austin. I drank my Gatorade, ate my pre-race bagel, made a few phone calls and after 45 minutes of patient driving pulled up to the race. Not too bad actually. I tried not to think about the fact that the drive took twice as long as the race would, but I paid my $10 and warmed up along the trail.
I ran into some of my good runner buddies, Sean, Tom and Brendon. First time I saw Brendon since our post Austin Marathon dinner out at the Salt-Lick. He continues to build on an amazing year of training and racing, coming off of a PR at the Boston Marathon and another PR at the 5K distance a week ago at the Chuys’s 5K here in Austin.
I would be racing for 2nd place Male Masters with Brendon in the race. Fine with me. If you want to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best. No other way around it.
Mile 1: Being a new course I was unsure just what lay ahead. I felt as if I should lock in behind a runner named Derek that I met last week on the Brushy Creek Course. He bested me by 7 seconds during our last race, I felt like we ran pretty evenly paced.
With little fanfare we lined up more or less single file as the trail is very narrow at the start and there is a ton of people out for their afternoon exercise downtown on the Town Lake Trail. Where we might have passed a dozen people last week during our 3 mile race on the Brushy Creek Trail, we would have to navigate that many just in the first 400 Meters.
At the start we crossed the mat and fell into a comfortably hard pace. I was running about 6th or 7th and kept my eye on Brendon up ahead. He was locking in somewhere under 5:55 pace, I backed off and tried to hang about :10 behind that for the opening mile.
My legs felt like they were starting to get some life back in them, but still not quite where we were at the end of last summer. Breathing felt good and I kept my position just behind Derek over the first mile. I glanced down on the beep just as I was pulling next to Derek at the end of mile number 1. 6 minutes, 8 seconds. Pretty much spot on pace.
Mile 2: As mile 2 began the course got a little confusing. We had to make a left turn onto another part of the trail, when the natural inclination was to run straight on. Derek and I were essentially neck and neck at this point and he was hammering along headed straight. I saw the runners ahead of us already heading up the left side of the trail. I leaned into Derek and nudged him left with my forearm.
He saw what I was seeing and we quickly changed course and continued to chase.
This part of the course got fairly technical as we had to navigate a few baseball fields where there were 10-12 year olds playing, spectators walking across the trail, children on bicycles – more or less an obstacle course. No bueno.
We crossed into and over a parking lot, then another 1/10 of a mile to the turnaround point. I grabbed a quick splash of water and retraced through the congestion. Finally clear of all of that craziness I came up on the mile 2 mark. At the beep my watch recorded 6:24 pace. It felt like we should have been closer to 6:15 from an effort standpoint, but with all the twisting, turning and dodging I was not too surprised.
Mile 3: At the start of mile number 3 I noticed that once again, I was all alone. The third straight race where I didn’t have a competitor ahead of me close enough to chase. I had dropped Derek at some point and could not hear any footsteps behind me. I was running behind my friend Sean but he appeared to be a solid :15 ahead of me.
I locked in on effort and just tried to hold my track position. I was running 8th, relatively sure that the only Masters runner ahead of me was Brendon. Mile 3 came in at 6:26 pace, just 1/10 to go.
The Finish: I saw the finish line clock up on the horizon and I went into a little bit more of a kick. 5:42 over the final 1/10. Total time of 19:37.
8th place overall, 2nd place Male Masters, 1st Place Male 40-44.
Another solid race but I still feel like I’m not quite getting after it over miles 2 and 3 at the 5K distance. We were able to drop :05 off of our time a week ago. But those two races are hard to compare. Different courses, different conditions. The real test will be next Wednesday when we return to the course on the Brushy Creek Trail and see how we do vs. our week 1 time of 19:42.
This Saturday is the Congress Avenue Mile. I’ll be taking Thursday and Friday away from running and cycling, just a swim on Thursday afternoon at a relaxed pace before my date-night with Landry.
I am going to try to rest the legs and hopefully they will rebound from all the heavy training we have been doing and have some snap, crackle and pop on Saturday.
Last year we ran the CAM in 5:26.
A year older. Not sure I’m any wiser. But we’re going to let it all hang out on Saturday.
The one thing I remember from last year’s race was how strong I closed out the final 200 meters. That led me to believe that I didn’t push hard enough over the first 1,000. I was holding back a little too much. I won’t make that mistake again on Saturday.
I might make a completely different one in going out too fast, but that is what is so exciting about this sport. There are always new ways to challenge yourself, and always new ways to succeed sometimes and other times fail. Rarely in life do you get a “do over”, but with running it seems like there is always another 5K, another half-marathon or marathon just around the corner.
As long as I still want it – I’m going to keep chasing, keep learning. I haven’t run the perfect race just yet.
Maybe Saturday is the day.