Saturday marked the 39th year that the small town of Holland, TX would be gathering to celebrate bringing in their cash crop on the 3rd Saturday in June. Fourteen years ago, celebrating the 25th Cornfest, Holland added a 5 kilometer race.
I was talking with a runner who had been to just about all of the races over the years who shared with me that at first the race organizers used to bus the runners out into a cornfield 3.1 miles to the finish line, and run a point to point race back to town. What sounded at first like a great race to me was then explained a little bit further.
“The worst part was the start when you ran through the field with corn head high on both sides of you. No breeze, stifling heat – it was pretty steamy.”
In the days leading up to the race I saw on the website that the festival was moved to Holland City Park and would not be taking place on Main Street as it had in years past. This meant a change to the race course which I had not expected, so even though I would be running my 5th consecutive Holland Cornfest Race – 2013 would be a different race than in years past. Perhaps it wouldn’t be as hilly I thought as I lay in the driveway stretching waiting for my buddy Neil to pick me up. What I did know for sure was it was much hotter than the past couple of years.
The temperature was already 77 degrees two hours before race time, and the humidity was in the high 80’s with overcast skies and even a few scattered rain drops hanging around. I had read an article just the day before that talked about hot-weather racing and that running by perceived effort instead of by “pace” was the way to go. Just because you can run an opening mile of a 5K in say 6:00 minutes flat in 50 degree temperatures does not mean you can run one in 80 degree heat.
Or let me put it another way. Yes, you may be able to run ONE mile at 6:00 in 80 degree heat, but you are going to have an awfully hard time running a second and third one. We’ve covered this before, but your body’s response to higher temperature is to bring more blood to the surface of your skin to cool you off. More blood traveling to the surface of your skin means less blood going to the muscles that are doing the work.
Less blood to the muscles means slower times. So you need to adjust accordingly. What seems to be right for me is 5 seconds per mile for every 5 degrees over 65 degrees. So on an 80 degree day, I would be looking to run 6:10 pace for the 5K instead of 5:55 pace. To put that into race time terms – something around 18:55 for the 5K instead of 18:10. Add in a little extra humidity and I started to think that a time around 19:00 minutes flat would put me in a pretty good position in Holland. A race where I have been fortunate to run in the top 10 overall over the past two years finishing 8th in 2011 and 6th in 2010.
My race plan came together for me on the ride up to Holland. I was going to run my opening mile at 5:50 pace which would put me in a position to break 19:00 minutes given the inevitable drop off in pace as I heated up. I should also at that point have a solid place among the top 10 runners and would lock-in at that point. Try to maintain my track position and not let anyone catch me from behind.
Pre Race: Neils’ daughter Megan was joining us this year for the first time. New to running, Megan who is 12 had been showing a lot of promise on her school team. This would be her first 5K and I was interested to see how she enjoyed it. We made the 50 minute drive up to Holland and found the city park. As we pulled in to park I noticed a large fair ground this year with rides for the kids and food vendors.
Landry would be coming up with Momma Bear after the race wrapped up for the parade and “candy grabbing” as the people on the floats and the fire trucks throw out candy for the kids. She had been talking about wanting to go on a Ferris Wheel for the last week or so – I think it must have come up in a book she was reading at school. So it looked like she was going to get her chance.
I checked in, grabbed Bib #2, and went off to run a 2-mile warm-up which would let me see the first mile or so of the course.
I started out at a smooth pace in my heavier trainers, 7:30 was my opening mile and by the time I reached the course marking for 1 mile in/1 mile to go I was already dripping sweat from my brow and down my shoulders. At that pace in the winter time, I would not feel a drop of sweat until the start of mile 3. It was definitely a hot one.
I wrapped up my 2-miles in 14:50. Legs felt nice and snappy, but the humidity was pretty ugly.
I changed into by Brooks T7 race flats, visited with my friends Erin, Paul and his son Jonathan for a few minutes and it was time to duck into the chute for the start.
Mile 1: As I have been doing for some time now, I had my watch set to record 1/2 mile intervals – giving me a little bit more feedback for a short distance race than simply looking at my split at the end of the first mile. By that time in a 5K you are almost 30% of the way through the race. A little bit late to make adjustments from there.
At the gun we got out smoothly and tucked in behind 2 young runners. One just out of College, the other was Paul’s son Jonathan who was now 16 and running strong. He had set a new personal best for the mile this year in 4:42. I felt like I was in the right place and glanced down at the end of the first 1/2 mile – 2:52. I was right on target for that opening 5:50 as the second 1/2 mile would be slightly slower having gotten over the adrenaline rush from the start.
On cue our second 1/2 mile came in at 2:58 – a 5:50 first mile. One thing I noticed was how easy my cadence felt compared to other 5K races. I could definitely notice a slight change in my running economy due to the track work we had been doing. The weather however was making me feel like this was pretty much suicide pace on a hot day and I decided to gradually slow things down. I was thinking that something like a 6:10 second mile and 6:15 third mile would let us run through to the finish, place well and not dig too deep of a hole that it would take us several days to recover from. As Marathon training was going to be right there staring us in the face on Sunday morning.
As we started mile 2 the last thing I thought to myself was – “Don’t do anything stupid.”
Mile 2: A young runner came past me at the mile 1 marker and huffed on by. I compared his breathing to mine – which can tell you a lot about your competitors during a race. He was breathing like he was in the final 800 meters of the race. I let him slip past me and knew that I would be returning the favor pretty quickly. We dropped back into 4th place but I did not try to respond.
Just before getting to the cone turn-around we hit the third 1/2 mile split in 3:01. I slowed to make the 180 degree turn, grabbed a cup of water to throw over my head and another to take a quick sip. I would give away a handful of seconds here, but not running for a PR – it really was irrelevant. I got a chance to take a peak at the runners behind us to see if anyone was looking strong and closing on me as the course would retrace itself back to the finish.
My friend Paul was running in 5th position, 300 meters or so behind me, followed by a handful of runners who I had close to 1/4 lap of a track on. I wasn’t worried about being caught from behind as we were all going to be slowing a bit in the heat. I caught up to the runner who had passed me previously and slid by him as he was faltering badly. We were running back in 3rd place – about :20 seconds off of the leaders.
At the beep we hit the 4th 1/2 mile split in 3:08. a 6:09 second mile – 6:05 or so pace given the cone turn and water stop. Just about right.
Mile 3: One mile to go and it was getting pretty rough. Always a tough point in the 5K, but I was soaked through my shorts, socks and shoes in sweat and just battling to keep my effort even through to the finish. We hit the 2.5 mile mark in 3:10 and the 3 mile mark in 3:09. All that was left was the final kick.
Finish: I hung in close enough to see the winner cross the finish line ahead of Jonathan by a handful of seconds. Not risking anything I decided to just gradually press on the accelerator and end at about 90% effort. Not an all out sprint, but a fast-finish to wrap things up in a strong fashion.
18:56 was our time – 3rd place finish, our highest ever in Holland and we had accomplished what we had set out to do which was take home our 5th consecutive Age Group Award from the Corn Festival.
Post Race: I was able to see both Neil and Megan finish the race before I went out for an easy 1-mile cool down. On the way back I ran next to Sandra who was running her first ever 5K race. She had to stop to walk a couple of times as we chatted over her last 1/2 mile, but I was able to tell her about how I started running, all the places that it had taken me and how much she would be able to gain from the sport if she was just able to stick with it during the period of time (just starting out) when it is the hardest, and the most people quit.
I ran her all the way to the last 200 meters and then dropped her at the cones so she could speed to the finish on her own. The announcer called out her bib number and name as she ran under the finish arch and I smiled. Hopefully it marked the start of something great for Sandra.
At the awards ceremony I got a nice surprise as when I was called up to the stage the announcer said, “And in first place in the Male 45-49 age group category …. wow, that is a fast time …. Joe Marruchella. Joe comes up here every year to race with us, thank you for being here.”
Landry had quite a time at the festival this year. Not only did she get on the Ferris Wheel with Dad – and I have to be honest, I had my doubts about how great she thought the ride would be once we got to the top. But she LOVED seeing the park and all the rides, animals at the petting zoo and people down below. She is such a big girl these days closing in on her third birthday now just a little over 2 months away.
We had some great local barbeque, and Landry played on the playground going toe to toe with some of the big kids before it was time to get going back to Austin. Moving the festival to the City Park was a great move by the organizers as it seemed like there were close to twice as many people there as last year.
So in our last race before we age yet ANOTHER year at the end of July, we wrapped up a pretty solid age 45 year or racing.
We were blessed enough to start and finish 13 events from the 5K to half-ironman, set new PR’s in the 5K, 5-mile, Half Marathon and Half-Ironman, age group in 11 out of 13 events and miraculously win two of them. In a year where I focus constantly on the one event we had to miss – the Houston Marathon due to injury – I have to remind myself that we had a pretty successful last 12 months.
It is really easy to fall into the trap of focusing on the negative and poo-poo the positive when you are training and racing. But it is just as important to look at the positives and not always dwell on the misses.
That said, just two weeks ago I registered for the Houston Marathon in January of 2014. I know me well enough to know that I cannot see the word Houston, hear anyone mention the city or even see the Astros in the box score and not think about my missed race last year.
For me to say that I have something left to “prove” at this point is pretty silly – Prove what? To whom? But when it is all said and done and we are no longer running marathons, I don’t want to have to think about Houston as the race that got away from me. Fast or slow, PR or not, I am going to cherish just being at that starting line healthy and I am going to run my ass off.
See you in January Houston Marathon. 12 months late, but better than never.