Wednesday night marked the 9th race in the 12 race Sunstroke Summer Stampede 5K series. It would be my 8th race in the series, which was my goal from the start this year. I wanted to run enough of the races to qualify for any year-end awards I might be eligible for as the series takes your 8 best times to come up with your series average.
More importantly, I wanted two solid months of speed work on Wednesday nights to get my race legs back into their pre-Austin Marathon condition before training really got started for the NYC Marathon.
It was going to be a hot race for sure as the temperature on my thermometer in the truck read 102 on the drive over to the course. I decided it would be wiser to drive over and run just a short 1-mile warm-up at the park than it would be to run 2 miles from the house to the race start.
Just too hot for a long warm-up like that as my core temperature would rise too much and it would hurt my performance during the race.
I had run a moderately paced (7:27 min./mile) 8.3 miles on Tuesday morning to kick of NYC Marathon training, followed by a 2,250 Meter continuous open water swim out on the lake Tuesday at lunchtime. That’s 1.4 miles of swimming without a break, longer than the half-ironman swim distance of 1.2 miles.
I knew I wasn’t going to be setting myself up for a personal course record on Wednesday night, but my pre-race goal was to try to tie that time of 19:14 on the Brushy Creek Course.
Pre Race: There haven’t been too many times that I knew at the start of a race that my legs just weren’t with me. But this was definitely one of them. I stretched, ran my warm-up, even a few strides at a quick pace, skipped and swung my legs and hips but just couldn’t shake that concrete leg feeling.
This happened at the Harvest Fest 5K last October, the Boston Marathon in 2010 and last night. I suppose that three instances of “dead legs” in more than 40 races is not a very high percentage, but when it happens to you, it certainly isn’t a lot of fun.
Not being an “A” race, I wasn’t very worried about it, but if you are going to bother racing, you might as well race fast I figure. The plan was to go out as I normally would and hope that my legs “snapped to” after a half-mile or so.
Mile 1: I was chatting away with my friend Joe McClellon as the starter got us ready to go, instead of my usual squat down as a last stretch, before I knew it we were signaled to start and I was firing out across the timing mat. The heat was pretty oppressive and I thought about what my opening ½ mile split would be. I felt like my legs were still not all the way there and I settled into 5th position.
At the half-mile point my watch beeped with a time of 2:49. The identical opening ½ mile split I ran two weeks earlier on the same course, but I felt a lot different doing it.
I decided to slow down a bit and lock in to a pace that felt comfortably hard. A runner slipped past me on my right and moved out ahead of me by 15 meters or so. I locked in and just focused on my breathing and my stride. At the top of mile 1 my second ½ mile split came in at 3:11. A 6:00 minute flat opening mile, which was only :03 seconds behind my race two weeks earlier.
A decent start, but there was still a long way to go.
Mile 2: We hit the dam and ran down through the switch back and back onto the gravel trail. The runner ahead of me had stretched his lead out to about 25 Meters. With nobody behind me to push me, if I wanted to “race” with anyone, I was going to have to close on the runner ahead.
My next ½ mile split came in at 3:02. Right about where I wanted to be for that split as I had run 3:03 and 3:05 the two races before on the Brushy Creek Course over this interval. My legs were starting to feel a little more “awake”, but I was far from crushing it out there.
As we made our way up the short hill toward the turn around point which falls right at the 1.85 mile mark on this course I had cut into the runners lead up ahead of me.
I navigated the cone, grabbed a quick splash of water at the aid station and pushed on towards the hill that would take us back up and over the dam.
At the top of mile 2 my ½ mile split was 3:08 – a 6:10 middle mile, :04 seconds slower than the race two weeks ago.
Mile 3: As we made our way up the hill I was now just behind the runner in 5th position. The trail is narrow here and there were runners coming down the other side of the course right at us. I picked a wide spot and pushed past the runner, lengthening my stride a bit as I went past.
I wanted to clear him quickly and not enter into a back and forth pace-quickening duel. This was the toughest part of the course and I needed to have a little bit left in the tank for the final push across the top of the dam.
My ½ mile split came in at 3:18, exactly the same as two weeks ago which was surprising as I felt like I was running slower.
When I reached the switch back I glanced down over my left shoulder and saw that I had opened up a :05 or :06 second lead on the runner behind me. I couldn’t hear his footsteps I thought to myself, so if it stayed quiet behind me across the dam, I would be able to hold on to 5th place.
With nobody else to chase it was hard to stay focused on pace and stride. I tried to think about closing out this last ½ mile as strong as I could as this might be my last race of the series. As I reached the top of mile 3 my ½ mile split was 3:08, :05 seconds faster than the same stretch two weeks ago.
I didn’t make up all of the time lost, but I was surprised that I had thrown down a pretty solid ½ mile so late on a hot, hot night.
The Finish: With no footsteps behind me I navigated the final turns and kicked to the finish. The final 1/10 came in :39 seconds, which is just about spot on what I have been closing out the races in this series with.
19:18 total time, 5th place overall, 1st place Male Masters.
I was :04 slower than my goal time/course record, but given the way that I felt pre-race and the amount of training I have been doing recently including a fast paced 15-miler on Sunday, I was pretty satisfied with the result.
Post Race: There were 99 participants out for the race on Wednesday night. Jason, Anne and Bill from my office made it out to race, (all claiming age group awards which was pretty darn impressive), and my good friend Tom was out as well.
I ran a nice and easy 1.35 mile cooldown as we were waiting for the results to be tabulated and awards prepared, then enjoyed a nice frosty adult beverage with my friends. (Thank you Jason!).
The race series has been great to me this summer. I was able to get in some quality speedwork once a week for two months, spend some time with some great Austin runners, make a few new friends along the way and head off into NYC Marathon training a healthy and respectably fast runner once again.
This is going to be a special training cycle for me with my Mom battling through her treatment(s) for brain cancer. I’ve tweaked my plan a bit, added some more miles, some more hills and another race or two to keep me honest.
It’s going to be a tough 17 more weeks of preparation, but the end result I hope will be that I stand among 45,000 runners on November 6th in the greatest shape of my life.
I will have never been faster. Never been stronger. Never been better trained and never been more determined.
That is the only recipe I know for how to continue to train for this particular event.
The marathon is a cruel, cruel race that does not discriminate. There is no room for woulda, coulda, shoulda when it comes to the 26.2 mile footrace. Whatever the clock says in November I am willing to own 100%.
The time to do the work necessary to excel that first Sunday in November is right now, not 17 ½ weeks from now.
All in once again.
I wouldn’t have it any other way.