Wednesday night was race number 5 of the Summer Sunstroke Stampede 5K Race series.  After last week’s race downtown on Town Lake, the series returned to the Brushy Creek Trail right behind our neighborhood.

I prefer this location over the Town Lake course for quite a few reasons as there is no rush hour drive for me, the trail system is much less congested and there are no streets to cross, baseball players to dodge or parking lots to run through.

The one advantage that the Brushy Creek course does not enjoy however is topography.

The Town Lake course is very flat with only 36 feet of climbing spread evenly over the 3.1 mile course.

Town Lake Course Elevation Chart

The Brushy Creek course features 71 feet of climbing, which is not too terrible, a little more than a seven story office building, but the elevation change is concentrated for the most part from mile 2 to mile 2.5 as runners climb from 778 feet above sea level up to 833 feet at the top of the dam.

Brushy Creek Trail Course Elevation

There is also a 180 degree switch back over the last 200 meters of the climb that requires runners to forfeit their forward momentum to navigate the turn.  It is a very technical course and by my estimation appears to be somewhere between :06 and :10 “slower” than its counterpart downtown.

Both courses feature a “cone” turnaround where you have to come virtually to a stop to make a quick U-turn, grab your water cup and head back on your way.  These races are also run predominantly on loose gravel, also adding to the challenge of posting a fast time.

All in all, I love everything about this series as I know it is making me stronger and faster for our road races later this summer.  Steel sharpens steel after all.  If you are going to pick a race series to help you get faster – you might as well pick a tough one.

Pre-Race:  I tried something a little different this week as I have started to really feel like a longer warm-up is benefitting me in these shorter races.  I ran a 1.5 mile warm-up last week before the Town Lake race and ran a new series PR of 19:14.

So last night I decided to leave the truck in the garage and run over to the race start from the house.  It was exactly a 2-mile warm-up from my drive-way to the starting area, covered in 16:13.  My ½ mile splits were just about perfect as I gradually increased the pace:  4:09, 4:07, 4:00, and 3:56.

I arrived at the start feeling like most of the soreness from this past weekend’s tiling job had left my body.  My legs were feeling pretty “racy”.  I paid my $10 entry fee and drank a bit of Gatorade.  Hung out in the shade chatting with my friend Joe McCellon and started to think about goals for the race as Joe left me to warm-up.

As much as I would like to have shot for last week’s personal series best time of 19:14, I thought that trying to come in under my time on this particular course from 2 weeks ago was a more sound plan.  I had raced very well that night duking it out with Sarah Mark over the final 2 miles to finish in 19:23. Hopefully I would have another runner to push me this week.

Mile 1:  In keeping with the low-key nature of these race starts, we assembled as a group behind the timing mat and with very little fanfare we were off with the starters “Go”.  I settled into my opening half-mile pace in 5th position.  I felt like I was running right where I needed to be as Joe and Scott Rantall sped off ahead of the group.  They would be duking it out over the early miles.  Scott running a new course record in 15:59 or 5:09 pace.  They were long gone before we hit mile 1.

I clicked my first ½ mile in 2:53 only :01 second behind my opening half on this course two weeks ago as well as my opening ½ mile last week at Town Lake.  Just about perfect I thought.  I felt like I had run the opening mile just a touch too fast two weeks ago, so I backed off the pace slightly and let a runner slip past me.  My second ½ mile came in at 3:09, :07 seconds slower than the race two weeks ago, but I was betting that would help me over mile 2.

After all these races, I feel like I’m still trying to put together the perfect strategy.

Mile 2:  As we started the second mile I made a conscious effort to wind the watch a little bit and increase my leg turnover.  I passed back the runner I had let slip by and reclaimed my spot in 4th place.  He fell off my shoulder quickly as I feel like he went out a bit too fast, and I ran alone for the rest of the second mile.

With nobody to push me and nobody to chase, I knew this was a critical mile.  I needed to make sure I didn’t let my mind and my effort wander and keep hammering away with that 98 degree heat beating down on us.

My two ½ mile splits were 3:03 and 3:05.  I had made up :13 seconds on my time from 2 weeks earlier over the same mile after “giving away” :08 seconds on the opening mile.  I had a shot at a new course record for me if I could keep it together, but we were approaching the start of the climb back up to the top of the dam and I was running all alone.

Mile 3:  This is the part of the course where Sarah and I really started to chase each the last time I raced at Brushy Creek.  There were no footsteps behind me to be heard and the third place runner Colin was a solid :30 ahead of me.  Too far to realistically chase I was pretty much on my own.

I pushed hard up to the top of the dam and then started to once again regain some pace over the second half of the mile.  My two ½ mile splits were 3:16 and 3:10.  My sixth half mile was only :01 slower than my second.  It was going to be pretty close to come in under 19:23.  It was all going to come down to the kick.

Finish:  I hit the last 1/10 of a mile and could make out the finishing clock counting down the last few seconds under 19:00.  I kicked hard and tried to really push through the finish, just before the finish line Dawn was there holding baby Landry and I could hear Dawn say, “Here comes your Daddy” …. Too tired to smile on the outside, I had a big smile on the inside as I hit the timing mat.

19:19.

:04 faster than two weeks ago and another course best for me in the series.  It was good enough for 4th place overall, 1st place in the Male Masters (over 40) division.

Post-Race:  I walked down to the water and Gatorade, caught my breath and then walked back to turn in my timing chip and meet up with Dawn and Landry.

I had a great time introducing Landry and Dawn around to Tom, Jason, Joe, Colin, Pete and a few of the other runners that I see just about every week.  The highlight of the night for me though was during the awards ceremony while I was holding Miss Landry.

At school the last week or so they have been working on “clapping” and Landry has picked this up very quickly as well as saying bye-bye and waving to us.  Sometimes she does that when it is more of a “Hello” situation, but hey, she’s 9-months old, give the kid a break right?

But last night as all of the Age Group winners were called up for their awards, Landry would clap along with everyone else in attendance with the announcement of each winner.   When the clapping stopped, Landry would stop.  She would wait to hear the next name, then clap along with everyone else.

It was absolutely the coolest and she got quite a bit of attention from all of the runners and their families.  A year ago I was running the same series and Dawn was 6 months pregnant.

Amazing how things change, and how much cooler things are one year later.  I’ve got a pretty great little “race fan” right now, it might be time to try out that jogging stroller this weekend.

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