Posts Tagged ‘5K Racing’

Funny thing about races, no matter how big or how small, the nerves arrive a day before and they stay with me right up until the first stride across the timing mat.  Once I cross the starting line, tick the legs over a couple of strides all systems automatically lock in and my focus becomes sharp.  I start to think about making a tight tangent on the first turn, keep my feet clear of other runners, find the flat spots on the street, lock into pace and everything goes away.

I’m back to being a runner.  Nothing that happened before that moment matters any more.

If you ask me what I love most about racing it is exactly that.  That for 18 minutes, 37 minutes, 83 minutes or 185 minutes I’m just a runner.

Missing out on the Houston Marathon this year was kind of a biter pill to swallow.  I’m not going to lie.

I had trained consistently all the way through the Kerrville Half-Ironman, into Fall and peaked in December running PR’s in both the 5K and Half-Marathon 8 days apart.  It’s one thing to run the short fast stuff well during training, but to pull off the 1:23:31 at the Shiner Half 4 weeks before Houston I felt like our time had finally arrived in the Marathon.

Achilles Strain.  No running for 5 weeks.  You know the rest.

So in the last month we have gradually gotten things back to basically normal.  Running 4-5 times a week pain-free.  No more hesitation in my stride.  I’m back on my toes, my footfall is virtually silent again and once more – I am a runner.

Tomorrow morning I will be lacing up my new Brooks T7 Racers and toeing the line at the Texas Independence Day 5K on the Congress Avenue Bridge at 8:00 a.m.texasflag

For the first time in a long time I arrive at race day without a plan.  I do not know how fast my opening 1/2 mile will be, or my second 1/2.  The only thing less certain is how much I am going to have left over the final mile and what kind of pace I am going to be able to hang on to.

A goal time for the race?  Honestly, I have not a clue.  I would not be surprised to see a sub 19:00 minute race tomorrow from me, but I also would not be surprised to see me closer to 19:30.  What I do know is that my shiny new PR of 18:02 is beyond safe.  I may not run a single mile down below 6:00 minutes tomorrow, let alone 3.1 at 5:46 pace.

I just simply have not been able to put in that kind of work lately, and that’s o.k.

Texas Independence Day is the celebration of the adoption of the Texas Declaration of Independence on March 2, 1836.  With this document, settlers in Mexican Texas officially broke from Mexico creating the Republic of Texas.  It is an official holiday in the State of Texas and one where the Texas State Flag will fly proudly atop the Capital building on Congress Avenue as runners speed toward it at 8:00 a.m. on Saturday.

It is also going to mark the return to racing for this Texan, where we put our Achilles strain firmly in our rear-view mirror and move forward as we were before.

Back to being a runner.

I think one of the hardest things about coming back from an injury is knowing when you can “trust” your recovering body part to hold up to the rigors of a tough workout or a race.  It is almost one of those things where you have to get close enough where you feel more or less confident, but until you cut it loose, there is always going to be a doubt in your mind.

Part of the problem is that the fear of re-aggravating the recovering area means more time away from the sport – and after a layoff of 5 weeks in my case, that is something I have basically no interest in for a long, long time.

But the other problem is that we forget that very rarely as runners do we feel “perfect” before a tough workout or race.  Truth be told, more times than not there is some part of my body that I am monitoring.  Sometimes for months on end.  A strained abdominal muscle was the most recent example where I trained all summer long with the condition and even raced the Kerrville Half-Ironman with it.

I simply learned that there was a difference between “pain” and “injury” and knew my limits in pushing the former and not the latter.

Right now I would say that my Achilles strain is 95% recovered.  There is the occasional tightness after a run, a little bit in the morning, but if I had not had a full-on sprain in December and January, I would not even notice these symptoms right now.  I would just go about my day as an amateur endurance athlete and train on.

But right now I need that one workout or that one race to let me know that I am back.  That I can turn it loose and there will be no reprisals.  I might not be hitting my splits right now and I might not be in PR shape – but the only way I really know to do that is to race.

So, I’m going to hop into a local 5K on March 2nd – the Texas Independence Day 5K downtown where the Back on My Feet Team Members will be racing in their first organized event.  We’ll then tee it up again on three weeks later at the Thin Mint Spring 5K on March 23rd and compare our performances.

If we are anywhere near 18:30 by then, it will be a huge win, albeit far short of our 18:02 we posted in December.  We still will know going into the Cooper River Bridge Run on April 6th that we are healthy and pretty close to our previous fitness level.  At that point our Achilles strain should be firmly in the past tense and we can move forward and race fearlessly.

So to help me get excited about the prospect of racing again, and not fearful of the endeavor – we received inspiration in a box from the good folks at Brooks.

A shiny new pair of Brooks T7 Racers – in our favorite optic yellow and black.  All that is left to do is write D.V.D. 8-15-10 on each instep in honor of our boy Dom and we will be ready to give it our best shot in a couple of weeks.T7's

I’m not sure “Boom goes the dynamite” is the right phrase right now, but there might be a little snap, crackle and pop in store on Texas Independence Day.

The third Saturday in June arrived and for the fourth year in a row that meant that it was time for the 43 mile ride up to Holland, TX for the 38th running of the Holland Cornfest 5K.

It would be my final title defense in the Male 40-44 year old age group in Holland having won the event each of the last 3 years. Wins are nice, and the Cornfest Trophy is one of the coolest I’ve seen in my years of racing – but I go back each year because the small town of Holland, TX – population 1,121 puts on a great festival race.

In keeping with tradition, my friend Neil picked me up at 6:00 a.m. for the ride up to Holland so I could ride back home with Dawn and Landry after the parade. I woke up, got in the shower to warm up the muscles and had my bagel and a banana.

I drank a grape Gatorade, chased it with a bottle of water and it was time to go. Race temperature was going to be over 80 degrees at the 8:00 a.m. gun. A steamy start to our double-race weekend.

We arrived to packet pick-up, I grabbed my number 16 bib and ran a quick 2-mile warm-up after talking with my friends Erin and Dan who like me would be competing in the Lake Pflugerville Triathlon less than 24 hours later. It’s comforting to know that I was not the only lunatic doing both events this year, but we were basically the whole minority.

As I changed into my race shoes after wrapping up my easy 2-miler in 17:32, I started to lock in on my strategy. I wanted to run a race almost identical to the 2011 5k. Start out with an opening 1/2 mile in the 2:53-2:55 range, then lock in to 6:00 min./mile effort and hold the needle right there until the final 1/4 mile and try to push to the finish.

The Holland course features 225 feet of climbing over 3.1 miles as well as a cone turnaround at the half-way point that requires you to come virtually to a stop robbing you of your cadence and momentum. It is not a “fast” course, but it is one that if you run it with a sound plan, you can run a solid time.

Without having run a 5k race since the Lights of Love 5k last December, an incredibly long time between short races for me, I was a bit nervous about finding my pace. I ran a few strides after changing into my race flats and then ducked into the starting area.

One of the best parts of running a small local event is the quick start. The race director walked in front of the chute, told us we would go one the whistle and quickly counted it down. “Ready, Set, Go!” – and we were off.

MILE 1:

We got out extremely clean and were leading the runners up the hill on Main Street. I throttled back a bit and a few High School and College age runners slid past on my left. I was running in 8th position and tucked in behind a crowd of four.

My legs felt strong and my cadence easy. I decided not to adjust over the first 1/2 mile and just run to the beep on my watch. I would see where we were at that point and adjust effort accordingly if we were either ahead or behind of the 2:53 mark.

At the beep I glanced down at my watch and saw the first split – 2:52. Perfect.

I stayed even knowing that the initial rush of adrenaline carried me to a sub 3:00 opening half mile. No reason to back off on the effort, my body was going to slow down as we approached the first long uphill climb on its own.

We reached the first mile marker with a second 1/2 mile in 2:59, an opening mile of 5:51.

MILE 2:

The second mile begins on an upslope, rewards you with short recovery downhill for about 1/10 of a mile, then the arching left turn up to the top of the course just prior to cone turnaround. After making the cone turn, it is back uphill to the end of the mile.

It is the slowest part of the course, pushing it too aggressively here is not a smart move, it is just a matter of how much time you are going to give back to the clock. Not having raced at 5k pace recently hurt me here. I found myself let my mind wander for a moment and realized I needed to snap out of it. The race would be over before I knew it and I needed to keep my foot down on the accelerator.

My third half mile came in at 3:13 which was a bit slower than I hoped, followed by 3:00 flat closing mile 2. At the 1 mile to go sign I slid to the left of one runner and the fixed my eyes on the back of a runner in front of him. I would chip away at him and take him on the last uphill section.

MILE 3:

Having a runner up ahead to chase helped me keep my cadence and I clocked a 5th half mile in 3:03. I made my way up to 6th place and was running :20 seconds or so out of 5th place. I was running out of real estate, but knew that if I focused on catching the runner in front of me, there was very little chance of anyone catching me from behind.

We crested the final hill at the High School, made the right turn onto the home stretch and turned in an identical 1/2 mile in 3:03. All that was left was a kick to the finish.

I closed hard to the line dropping down to 5:23 pace finishing just :03 seconds behind the 5th place high school runner.

18:56 – 1st Place Age Group, 6th overall. Just :05 seconds off of my time from one year ago on the same course, which was a great outcome as we have not raced a short distance event like this one in almost half a year.

In fact, the difference between our last two races in Holland really came down to our closing kick.

1/2 mile 1: 2011 2:53 2012 2:52

1/2 mile 2: 2011 3:01 2012 2:59

1/2 mile 3: 2011 3:13 2012 3:13

1/2 mile 4: 2011. 2:58 2012 3:00

1/2 mile 5: 2011 3:04 2012 3:03

1/2 mile 6: 2011 3:01 2012 3:03

Final Kick: 2011 :41 2012 :47

The course tracked slightly longer this year which added a bit to my final kick, but the splits were so close throughout the race, I am going to call this one basically a dead-heat with last year.

So now it is time to focus on rehydrating, refueling and trying to get that eye of the tiger back for tomorrow morning’s race. It is tough to peak on back to back days so if things do not go perfectly tomorrow I am going to try to cut myself a little slack.

It is Father’s Day after all.

Wednesday night marked the 7th race in the 2011 Sunstroke Summer Stampede race series.  I had to miss last week’s race as I was traveling on the East Coast, but with 3 more races needed to be elibible for any year ending awards, I decided to take advantage of the slightly lower temperatures and race again just 4 days after the Holland Cornfest 5K on Saturday.

Compliments of a pretty significant thunderstorm that rolled through Northwest Austin at 1:00 a.m. Wednesday morning, temperatures dropped 10-12 degrees from where they had been over the last several weeks.  This was our first rainfall of any kind since May 30th, breaking a streak of 17 consecutive days that reached 100 degrees.

Oh yeah, and summer only started on Wednesday.

This was going to be a tough race to predict as I had really been training hard since our race on Saturday.

12 miles at 7:24 pace on Sunday.

15 Miles on the Tri-Bike Monday morning.

1500 Meter Open Water Swim Monday afternoon.

6.25 Miles at 7:17 pace Tuesday morning.

Another 1500 Meters Open Water on Tuesday afternoon.

My legs were definitely feeling it from all the racing and training.  I was not exactly showing up with a knife to a gun fight, but I knew that I had very little chance of running my fastest race in the series on Wednesday night.  I was just a little bit on the tired side.

But it was cooler out ….. maybe that would help me a bit I thought.  That is the funny thing about racing.  You never really “know” what is going to happen.

Pre Race:  Dawn and Landry were not going to be able to make it to the race on Wednesday night, so my choice was between running my warm-up to the race from the house (2 miles) or driving to the trail head and running my warm-up there.  I decided to run over to the race from the house after a little bit of back and forth.  I knew my legs were a little heavy, so a good warm-up would certainly help them.

I wanted to gradually ramp up my pace and finish the two miles in 16:00 minutes.  Leaving the driveway my legs didn’t have a lot of snap to them.  The temperature felt a great deal cooler at only 90 degrees, amazing how nice 90 can feel when compared to the 100 or 101 we raced in the last few Wednesday nights.

By the time I pulled up at the race start, my legs had loosened up a bit and started feeling “runnerish”, still not perfect by any means, but not enough to change our race strategy.  My warm-up took 16:06.  Pretty darn close.  My friends Joe McClellon, Brendan Cahoon, Sean Lilly and Tom Munier all made it to the race.  There were some fast runners in attendance on Wednesday night, I wouldn’t have any problem finding some folks to chase.

Mile 1:  I was looking to complete mile one with 1/2 mile splits of 2:53 and 3:05 for an opening 5:58.  At the start of the race I settled in around the 7th or 8th position and started making my way around the lake.  My legs definitely didn’t have their usual get up and go, my pace felt a little bit labored, but I decided to just hang in and see where it took me.

The first 1/2 mile came in at 2:49, definitely a bit too fast given the circumstances.  I tried to slow down my next 1/2 mile and get back on target.  This is a tough part of the course to manage as it can be fairly technical with a few small looping turns, a hill and then a 90 degree turn up onto the surface of the dam.  You are never really “locked in” to a consistent pace – so managing effort is all you can really hope to do. 

As my watch beeped my second 1/2 mile split came in at 3:08.  Mile one – 5:57.  Just :01 ahead of my planned opening mile.

Mile 2:  I was pretty encouraged by my first mile and took aim at a runner ahead of me.  He had gone out quickly and had been more than :20 or so in front of me through the first mile.  I increased my effort just slightly and posted a third 1/2 mile of 3:05.  In the next 1/4 mile we would be approaching the turnaround point and the water stop, I thought that if I kept steady I would catch up to him before we made it to the aid station.

I pulled past the runner, grabbed a quick sip of water and headed back towards the hill that would take us up and over the dam to the finish.  My fourth 1/2 mile came in at 3:01 for a second mile of 6:06.  A pair of really solid opening miles on this course, but I could feel my legs going away from me racing again so close to Saturday’s effort up in Holland.

Mile 3:  As we hit the incline of the hill I heard footsteps closing in on me off of my right shoulder.  I had a feeling it would be my friend Sean Lilly as he had been hanging back a bit from me at the turnaround.  Out of the corner of my eye I spotted his blue race flats and Sean cruised past me on the climb.

As we reached the concrete switchback that takes the trail up and over the dam my fifth 1/2 mile came in at 3:18.  :05 seconds slower than our race here two weeks ago when we set our personal best on the Brushy Creek Course.  I had given back most of my margin vs. that performance.  It was going to be a tough last .60.

I hit the dam without anyone to chase and with nobody on my back.  This has been the theme of my races this summer, with only the exception of the race back on May 25th when I was duking it out with Sarah Mark over the closing 1/2 mile, I have been racing virtually all alone in the closing stages of these 5K races.  It makes it tough to keep pushing hard to the end of the course, but it is definitely good for building on that mental toughness to keep running hard when your body is sending you very different signals.

At the last turn before the final 1/10 of a mile my watch beeped with a final 1/2 mile split of 3:13.  I had fallen off pretty badly over the last mile posting a 6:31.

My closing miles this year in the series on the Brushy Creek Course have been:

Race 1:  6:32

Race 2:  6:28

Race 3:  6:26

Last Night: 6:31

Definitely a outlier as we had been trending down on our closing mile since the series started.  My final mile in Holland on Saturday came in at 6:05.  Now the elevation over that final mile was -8 feet net, comapred to the +46 feet net on the Brushy Creek Course, but it was still a bit disappointing that I couldn’t hold on just a bit longer.

Finish:  The final .10 came and went in :42 seconds for a total time of 19:19 tying to the second my course PR from two weeks prior.  All things considered I should be happy with my race just 4 days after racing so well and so hard at Holland, posting a course record there of 18:51.  But somehow finishing with the same time as two weeks ago is bittersweet.  On rested legs I think we could have held on a bit better over that final mile.

We’ll get another chance on July 6th.

Post Race:  My time of 19:19 was good for 8th place overall, 1st place in the 40-44 year old Age group, My friend Brendon took home the Male Masters award with his time of 18:46.  Sean ran a great race in 19:04 just a couple of seconds short of his PR at the 5K distance for 7th place, 3rd in his age group of 35-39. 

Tom finished at 24:16, good for 5th in his age group of 45-49.

After catching up with my friends for a bit, it was time to run back to the house for a 2-mile cool down.  I was looking to once again cover the distance in 16:00 minutes.

The miles ticked by quickly and as I crested the hill and made the left turn onto our street I saw Dawn, Landry and Kayla out for their walk.  I ran down to the house, clicked off my watch and joined them for their evening walk around the neighborhood.  I even took Landry for a couple quick strides in the B.O.B. stroller.  She seemed to like going fast a bit.

My time for the cool-down run?  16:00 flat.  Pretty locked in right now, feeling good as the calendar flips to July and our first triathlon is now just over a month away.  Still a long way to go with our training, but things are certainly looking like July 31st might be my most “interesting” birthday out of the 44 I’ve had.

How many years do you have the chance to possibly drown, maybe experience a bike crash at over 20 mph and run 3 miles as fast as you can when you are hungry and tired ….. sounds like fun to me 🙂

The third Saturday in June is the celebration of the local cash crop – corn – being harvested in the small town of Holland, TX – population 1,233.  It also marks the annual corn festival now in its 37th year.

For me it means race day.  Our “A race” 5K of the late spring/early summer.  The first road race after we make the switch from marathon training and racing in the fall and winter months to the shorter, faster races held in the heat of our Texas summer.  Even though the race attracts only a little more than 250 participants, it is a well organized event that returns many of the same runners year after year.  Holland, just north of Georgetown and just south of Temple is about an hour by car from our home in Northwest Austin.  A little far to travel for a 5K, but every year the event is more and more fun.

I plan on keeping it on my calendar for many years to come.

As is usually the case before a race that I care about, I had a hard time sleeping on Friday night.  I slept soundly until about 4:00 a.m., then dozed on and off for the last hour and a half before it was time to get up, grab a quick bagel for breakfast, slam down a grape gatorade, shower and dress for the race.

It was going to be another hot one on Saturday morning, 82-85 degrees at the start of the race at 8:00 a.m., but more troubling was the humidity which was hovering around 84%.  To make matters worse, the wind which had been relatively calm for the last couple of weeks was back on Saturday.  It was blowing out of the West 12-15 mph.

I tried to play the race course over in my mind when I walked outside to check on the conditions, wondering if the wind would be in our faces on the way out or on the way back.  I thought that it would be blowing into our faces on the first 1.5 miles, then helping us slightly on the way back to the finish line if I had remembered correctly. 

No matter.  The elements are the same for everybody, you just have to block that stuff out and race hard.  That is the only way I know how to do it when it comes to dealing with less than ideal race conditions.

Pre-Race:  My friend Neil picked me up at ten minutes after 6:00 to make the ride up to Holland.  Dawn and Landry would be making the trip up a bit later to take in the awards ceremony and the parade.  With no traffic Neil and I made our way to the race start to pick up our race packets and retreive our bibs.

I opened up my bag and saw my number.

Rule Number one, I'm number one.

The number seemed fitting as I wanted to really run my race on Saturday after the events of the past week.

I was going to leave it all out there and try to break through the 19:00 minute mark, which would be a :23 second improvement over last year at this event and :42 seconds faster than my time in 2009.  It was a time I was capable of on the rural, hilly course.  But with the heat, humidity and wind, it certainly wasn’t going to be easy.  Not too much is when it comes to racing a fast 5K.

Warm-Up:  I got back to the car, pinned my bib to my shorts and fired up my GPS watch.  I wanted to run an easy 2-mile warm-up.  Something around 16:00 minutes total, just enough to get a good sweat going, but easy enough not to sap my rested legs.  I ran out onto the race course and covered the initial .25 miles up to the first turn and the next .75 miles down to the first foot bridge at the bottom of the first climb. 

I turned around and ran back to the finish to wrap up my warm-up, looking at the curves in the road and planning out how I was going to tangent the turns.  I wanted to run the shortest route possible, making sure my race was as close to 3.1 miles exactly as possible.

I hit the 2.00 mile mark in 15:54.  Just :06 seconds fast.  I was pretty much dialed in.

Mile 1:  I had chatted with my friend Paul from Temple, TX, his son and his friend about their goals and pace for the race.  It sounded like they wanted to run about a 6:30 opening mile.  I was thinking more along the lines of 5:55.  We were all tucked into the starting chute and a couple of minutes ticked by.  I felt my legs tightening a bit, so I ran two quick striders in front of the starting line.  Just two :15 second bursts – just enough to stay loose.

I tucked back in to the chute and at the horn we were off.

I surged out in front of the pack and got into the line I wanted to take the the first turn to the left.  The road has a significant camber to it and falls off quite a bit to the left.  I wanted to make sure I was running on the flat part of the street, about 30 feet from the left edge.  I would cut hard to the corner and make a tight left turn. 

As we approached the turn I was running in third position, no traffic on my inside and I was able to nip right along the edge of the turn.  Perfect.

I felt a few runners coming up on my hip as we approached the first 1/2 mile split and realized it was Paul and his son.  My watch beeped with an opening 1/2 mile of 2:53.  I called the time out to the runners with me and Paul and his son backed off the pace, they had started out a bit too fast which is an all-too common occurance in short distance races.  It takes a lot of discipline to lock in on your pace and not waver no matter who is running around you and how fast they are going.

We hit the slight downhill section leading to the bottom of mile 1 and two high school runners moved ahead of me.  I passed Paul’s friend and settled in to 6th position.  At the beep my second 1/2 mile came in at 3:01.  I had run a 5:54 opening mile, just :01 second ahead of my goal for that split.  Perfect.

Mile 2:  In any 5K this is the “money mile”, it is the mile where your pace starts to slow and you have to increase your effort to hold the same time.  The trouble is if you have opened the race too aggressively, you don’t have anywhere to go.  The pedal is already to the floor, so you can’t run harder.  Your pace then slows down and you fall back from the pack.  The key to running a solid second mile for me, is running a solid first mile.

Too fast over mile 1 and I’m cooked too early. 

At Holland, this also marks the beginning of a 51 foot climb over the next 1/2 mile to the turnaround point.  It is spread out over two hills.  Put together they are a little bit higher than a 5 story building.  This would be my slowest 1/2 mile split of the race unless I fell apart at the end.  That was not the issue.  The issue was how slow it would be.  I was hoping to run this stretch in 3:10 or 6:20 pace.

I pulled past one of the two high-school boys ahead of me and was running alone with nobody to help cut the wind.  Tough break.

At the beep I glanced down at my watch and caught my third 1/2 mile split – 3:13.  I was :03 slow.

I navigated the cornstalk turnaround and grabbed a quick splash of water at the aid station.  I didn’t want to take more than one sip as my breathing was perfect, so I just wet my lips and pitched the cup.  We could now see the runners who had been behind us, as I pulled past the second high school runner I was now in 4th position.  No threats from the rear, but unfortunately I was a solid :15-:20 seconds behind the third place runner.

Unless they came back to me I would be running the final 1 1/2 miles alone.  Nobody to push me, nobody to chase.

I focused on my form and keeping my legs churning.  I needed to make up a little bit of time lost on the uphill split.  At the top of mile 2 my watch beeped once again marking my 4th 1/2 mile split at 2:58.  2:58?  I was right back on track.

Mile 3:  The next mile has a slight uphill tilt to it.  Nothing too terrible, but it is long and gradual.  I focused on running up on my toes a bit and tried to keep my stride long.  Not letting the change in the grade shorten my length.  Split number 5 came in at 3:04, Split number 6 at 3:01, I had just run a 6:05 third mile.  It was time to kick, we had a real shot at that sub 19:00 time.

The Finish:  Thankfully this part of the course tilts in the runners favor to the finish – my final 1/10 of a mile clocked in at :39 seconds.

As I hit the timing mat the clock read 18:51.2

During a week where I lost a good friend and a tremendous running partner in Scott Birk to a tragic accident, I had turned in what was easily my best race since the last time I ran with Scott, the 3M Half-Marathon back in January.

With Scott’s initials on my left shoe and Dom’s initials on my right – I wanted to make sure I left it all out there on the course for those two men on Saturday.  Not to be overly dramatic about it, but I placed their names on my race flats with the ultimate measure of respect.  They deserve nothing short of my very best.  It felt really wonderful to deliver the goods for them.

I grabbed a quick sip of water and caught my breath.  I saw Paul Lopez and my friend Erin Ruyle come through the chute finishing up their races then I jogged back up to the top of the final stretch of the course.  I told my friend Neil that I would pace him in over the final 1/4 mile and help him close out strong.

My timing was just about perfect as I got in position to run in with Neil with .30 miles left in his race.

Running just ahead of him, challenging him to get on my back, run harder, run through the timing mat – push all the way to the finish.

Neil came to the race with a goal of running a time under 24:00 minutes.  As he hit the mat I looked at the clock:

23:55.

Tremendous.

Dad, Landry and Uncle Neil

Awards Ceremony: Dawn and Landry made it to the race to join the party as Erin, Paul and his son Jonathan would all receive age group awards for their performances on Saturday.

Superwife Dawn and Landry

As for me, I finished in 4th place overall, my highest finish at the Holland Race.  We also came away with our third straight Age Group 1st place award.  As I was walking up to the stage the Race Director said, “1st place in the 40-44 Male Age group with a time of 18:51 …. wow, that’s a fast time …. is Joe Marruchella …..”  Hearing the comments of the Director was quite a compliment, he seemed genuinely surprised that one of us “old guys”, could throw down a time under 19:00 minutes. 

The goal was to go for the three-peat.  Mission accomplished.  We’ll be able to come back next year, our final year racing in the 40-44 age group and see if we can make it 4 straight.

Three-Peat ....

Landry was kind enough to make the trip up to the stage with me to pick up our Cornfest Trophy.

Landry and Dad

Great race, great day and to be totally honest something I really needed after learning about Scott’s death on Monday.  I know that if he had been at the race on Saturday he would have been the very first person to come up to me, offer me a big bear hug and tell me just how wonderful a race I had run.

Of course, he would have beaten me by a few seconds.

Maybe that’s why I was running all alone over the final 1.5 miles on Saturday.  Scott Birk was missing.

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.

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.

The downtowners”.

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.