Posts Tagged ‘Mile Race’

There has been something different about racing so far this summer that I have not been able to put my finger on.  Last year seemed like there was more “electricity” in the air before my races.  There was more excitement.  I could feel it in my legs as I stood in the starting area, and I could feel it in my heart as I tried to settle down and focus on my opening segment of the race.

Whether that was the first mile of a 5K or the first loop of a course, I feel like I was much more in tune with what I was trying to accomplish.

As this summer race season is now three races old, I feel like something is missing.  Is it me?  Is it fatigue from the additional triathlon training?  Is it Dom?  I’m just not sure.

Saturday morning was the Congress Avenue Mile.  A race that I was hoping would snap me out of whatever funk I seem to be in.  One mile on a fast course, literally letting it all hang out in a first class event put on every year by RunTex.

The race has several open division heats leading up to the State of Texas High School Boys and Girls Mile championships.  The Congress Avenue Mile would also be the first race this summer that I raced one year ago.  Over the next few months before NYC Marathon training reaches its serious level in late July/early August, I will be running the same local races that I did 12 months earlier.

Same race, same course, just one year older.  Weather of course will be a variable I can’t control, but these races should serve as a pretty good litmus test to judge where I am as a runner right now vs. where I was at the same point last year.

The Congress Avenue Mile was the first such race for me to draw a line in the sand and ask, “Am I better today than I was a year ago?”  Closing in on my 44th Birthday in July I am a realist.  I know that at some point I am going to ask that question and the answer is going to simply be “No.”  On Saturday morning I was hoping that we were not quite at that point just yet.

Pre-Race:  I decided that I would for the first time at a short distance race, do an actual “warm-up”.  Not just a quick little quarter mile jog to get the blood going in the legs, but a longer warm-up.  A couple of miles.  Everything I have read about racing short distances says that you should run a longer warm-up than you do at long races such as the marathon.  It helps get the muscles firing, the blood flowing to your legs and will reduce the amount of time before you start accumulating lactic acid in your legs when you start running at a faster pace.

Still learning after only 5 or 6 years in the sport, I decided to give it a try.  I had always been worried about “tiring” my legs before the race, despite all of the advice and studies to the contrary.

I parked at Magnolia Café at the top of South Congress Avenue where Dawn, Landry and our friends Sarah, Tedd and their 3-month old Tyler would be meeting for breakfast after the race.  I strapped on my watch, tied my race flats and took a nice leisurely jog down towards the starting area a little more than 2 miles away.

After a mile or so, my legs were feeling really great.  I had rested from running on Thursday and Friday and felt like I really had some snap, crackle and pop going on.  The first time I could say that in a long time.

As I made my way downhill towards Riverside Drive, in the early morning light my friend Andy appeared on the right side of the road, he yelled over and we jogged to the start together.  Keep in mind that Andy and I were literally the only human beings on South Congress at that hour; it was a miracle that we happened to bump into each other.

I had not spoken with Andy since his great performance at the Boston Marathon (3:04:00~), so we chatted away about our summer race plans and made our way to the start.

After about :20 minutes I decided to run another leisurely paced mile so I could take in the race course and the right hand turn we would have to navigate from 11th street onto Congress Avenue.  The last time I had run on 11th street, I was in the closing 200 Meters of the Austin Marathon.

I would be going a lot faster on Saturday.

After a few quick strides I hopped into the starting corral next to Andy and near my friend Mick from Georgetown who had been training to break through the 5:00 minute mark at this race.  Pretty heady stuff for a 43 year-old runner just like me.  Mick had been hammering his track work and was very confident.

I knew that Mick and Andy had me by about :10 or so, this distance is not what I train for, but I was hoping that I could stay somewhere near them and close strong.  I had run a 5:26 mile a year ago.  Something around 5:15 would be a huge improvement.  Just keep them within striking distance over the first quarter I thought, then hang on.

Opening Quarter:  They called for the start and we all crouched down, fixated on starting our watches.  When the countdown from the starter went from 6 to 5 to 4 to 3 we were all coiled like springs.  Just then we heard a loud car horn sound out.  Beep!

It was the chase pick-up truck that was moving into position.  It was sideways across the starting chute just 20 yards or so ahead of us.

I would have raced right into it along with a hundred other runners.

After a couple of minutes to calm back down and get set, 3, 2, 1 – and we were off with the blast of the horn.

I fell immediately in with the runners I was hoping to stick with, we navigated the turn onto Congress Avenue with no issues, no tripping or spills and I picked out the white center line I wanted to follow straight through to the finish.

I wanted to stick on the line to avoid the camber of the road on the right, as that tends to bother my knees.  I also wanted to run as close to “point to point” as possible.  In a short race like this, every second counts.

I felt very strong over the first quarter and it came and went in the blink of an eye.  I had changed my Garmin GPS Watch to record my splits every .25 miles instead of every mile – so I could see where I was with pace.  At the beep we had run a 1:14 opening quarter – 4:58 pace.  Yikes.

Middle Quarters:  Over the middle two quarters I was hoping to “float”.  Just take a bit off of my pace to leave something for the final quarter when my legs were heavy and we were trying to push hard.

I have been having trouble lately keeping the “hammer down” in the middle of my races, ever since the 3M half Marathon back in January.  The last race where I really felt like I stayed focused on every mile of the course – not backing off when things got a little bit difficult.

Quarter number two came in at 1:18, I was losing contact a bit with Mick and Andy, but I was not losing any track position.  There was a runner up ahead of me serving as a solid pacer, and another runner just off of my right shoulder.  I felt like I was locked in to as comfortable a pace as I could find, just short of an all-out sprint, but pushing harder and harder as my legs tired.

Quarter number three was the first time I felt like I was slowing.  I tried to keep hammering away with my race flats, but I could see the distance between me and the back of Mick’s yellow shirt lengthening.  It was too early to push hard, I would have to save that for the bridge, so I kept track of the runner on my right shoulder, pacing to just stay in front of him.

My watch sounded at the end of the third quarter, I glanced down quickly but couldn’t make out the time, turned out that it was 1:20.  Still in great shape for a new PR.

Closing Strong

Closing Quarter:  At the start of the final 400 Meters I passed the runner who was just ahead of me and started to wind the watch.  I envisioned gradually increasing my leg turnover each 100M until the final 100.  Then sprint to the end of the line.

I could feel the footsteps off of my right shoulder falling away.  I was now all alone on the bridge just racing the clock.  I could make out the display above the finishing line up ahead, it was still reading numbers starting with 4:5X – Mick had just entered the finishing chute – he had made his goal time.

I closed hard with the clock reading overhead 5:05, 5:06.

My final quarter was another 1:14.

5:07as I crossed the line.

Photo by Dawn a.k.a. Super-wife

Post-Race:  I immediately caught up with Mick as I was catching my breath, congratulated him and my friend Andy (4:57) on tremendous races and then caught up with another good runner buddy Tom.  He had finished with a new PR of his own.

Dawn and Landry made their way into the finishing area and it was time for us to head back up the hill to Magnolia Café for breakfast.  (Royal Toast was the call for me, French Toast with Scrambled Eggs …)

As Dawn and I were walking to the car, I shared with her that something seems to be missing right now in my running and racing.  Could I have dug a little bit deeper over the middle quarters and made a run at a 4:59?

Perhaps.  I think most of the time immediately following a race, you feel like you could have given just a little more effort.

A :19 PR over a year ago should be a celebration.  But again, I’m just not sure.

I feel like the physical side of things is there, the knee injury I had to deal with this spring is now a distant memory, but mentally, I’m still searching.

I have a couple more tune-up races before we run the Holland 5K on June 18th.  Our summer “A” race 5K, where we’ll be going for a third-straight age group win.

Whatever it is that’s missing, I hope to find it in the next few weeks.  There is no denying it right now, I’m just not where I need to be.

Well that was certainly different. 

After running back to back marathons Run for Dom took on the Congress Avenue Mile as our next race.  Having never run anything shorter than a 5K – which in fact I have run exactly twice since 2005 – the mile was something of a mystery to me.  The biggest challenge that I would be facing for this event would not be my fitness level, health or mental strength.  It would simply be my inexperience. 

Having no experience with training, preparation, race strategy we were certainly at a disadvantage on Saturday.  I didn’t even know what to order for dinner on Friday night.  Do I need Carbohydrates for a 1-mile race?  Protein?  Should I just load up on Twizzler?  Who’s to say?  As I was laying out my race gear on Friday night I affixed my D-Tag (timing chip) to my brand new – never worn – Brooks T6 racers, I simply chuckled to myself.  What the heck am I even doing ….

But with great confidence, false bravado really, I woke up, geared up and drove down to the TX State Capitol.  Scene of my first mile race at age 42.

I found a great place to park right next to the Capitol Building, found some soft grass and stretched leisurely as I ate my protein bar and sipped on a grape Gatorade.  I put on my “heavy” 12.4 ounce Asics Gel Nimbus 11 trainers and ran some very light strides to shake loose.  My legs felt really refreshed from a light mileage week and appeared to have a lot of “juice” in them.  Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad I thought to myself as I went back to the truck to change into my new racing flats.

Immediately after I pulled on my new shoes I felt different.  It was like wearing a pair of slippers instead of running shoes.  At only 5.1 ounces both shoes put together weigh almost 1/3 less than a single training shoe.  I pulled on my Marathon Maniacs singlet – just to intimidate any of the sprinters in the crowd – and walked up to the starting area.

The mood at the Capitol was markedly different from any marathon I had ever  been to.  Smiles all around, lots of runners laughing and joking, just a few “serious” guys here and there getting ready to race – but the vibe was very “Austin” if you know what I mean.  Everyone was just happy to be there and do their own thing – whatever that is.  One of my favorite things about our city.

I chatted with a few veteran runners, spoke about how the very narrow exit leaving the Capitol driveway less than 1/10 of a mile onto the course would be a bit “dicey” if you couldn’t find some open road and I took full advantage of my “smallness” to sneak within 15 runners of the starting line.

Being a “newbie” to the mile I was looking for someone to pace me over the first 1/4 mile.  Running with the “Masters” men, which is a kind way of saying “over-40” without saying it, I felt like I belonged, but I needed some help pace me over that first 400 meters.  I wanted to make sure I neither went out way too fast which would cause me to blow up before we reached the Congress Avenue Bridge or that I went out too slowly and ran out of real estate before I could recover and hit my goal time.

I was thinking something around 5:40 would be respectable,  1/4 mile splits of 1:20, 1:30, 1:30, 1:20 would get me there.  I heard a runner talking about running an :80 second first quarter with another who wanted to cover their first quarter in :75.  Those were my guys.

The horn sounded and like a flash off we went – I stuck close to my guys and navigated the tricky exit out of the Capitol onto Congress Avenue where we had more than four full lanes of traffic to race in.  I fell into a quick pace, churned the legs and let my new Brooks T6 racers do their thing.  I could hardly feel my feet touch the pavement over the first 1/4 mile.  As I hit the first mark I glanced down at my watch and had run the first quarter in 1:19.  Perfect.

This was going to be the tricky part where I would fall back into a “comfortable cruising pace” – fast, but not too fast, as I would want to leave something left to kick over the final 200 meters.  It was at this point where my inexperience got me. 

I dialed back the pace slightly and ran a 1:24 second quarter-mile.  :06 faster than what my pre-race plan was calling for but I didn’t know how fast I was going until I glanced at my watch.  I did not have my usual “internal calibration” to lean on as I simply did not have enough experience running that pace to know how it “felt”.  

The other problem was I had no idea if that was even the pace I “should” be running.  Too fast?  Too slow?  I guess we would find out. 

I realized I was going a bit faster than I had planned, so I let up ever so slightly on the gas and let my “pacer” move ahead of me by another few runner lengths.  I was still keeping contact with him and felt like I could catch him on the bridge if I could kick at the end.  The next thing I knew it happened.

I caught myself daydreaming.  It only lasted about :10 seconds, but as a long-distance runner who frequently allows their mind to drift from topic to topic on a training run, my body started relaxing and I caught myself slowing.  Irritated at myself for losing my focus I picked up my pace a bit and would end up running my third quarter-mile in 1:26.

I looked up ahead and could see the marker for 300 meters to go.  I had planned on starting my push at that point of the race and noticed that even at the steady pace I was holding, I was gaining quickly on the runner that I had been using to pace me.  We hit the 300 meter marker in stride and I felt like I had quite a bit left in the tank.  At 200 Meters I went into my kick and gobbled up 100 Meters in what seemed like the blink of an eye.

Final Kick

I was breathing in and out on stride at this point but was still not experiencing a real “burn” from my legs.  I went full throttle over the final 100 meters and closed strong passing 3 more runners at the finish.  My final quarter-mile split was 1:15 – Overall time 5:24.

As I caught my breath in the finishing area it was a strange feeling.  Was I really done racing in less than 6 minutes?  What do I do now?  I chatted up a couple of runners, grabbed some grapes, a cookie and my finishers medal and then saw my wife Dawn and our friends Sarah and Tedd. 

I felt proud of my time, but almost immediately started thinking that I had sold myself a little bit short in preparing my pre-race plan.  With no way to really “know” what kind of pace I was capable of holding I know it was wise to err on the side of caution.  That said, I immediately knew that each of those two middle quarters could have been run at least :05 seconds or so faster.  Similar to the way that I felt after my first marathon I thought to myself, “I can do better”.

New PR for the Mile!

As for my new shoes – absolutely loved them.  They were certainly lightweight but also very comfortable.  No soreness in my feet, ankles, knees, hips – in fact I felt great after the race.  I still think I will keep them on the shelf only for races 10K and less, but after their baptism by fire I give them two big thumbs up.

The Congress Avenue Mile was a great event and a whole lot of fun.  I don’t think that I’m going to be going out and looking for any track shoes anytime soon, but I am going to take my speed work a little more seriously between now and the Holland, TX 5K in June.  I’ve got an age group title to defend up in Holland and maybe even a new PR to set at the 5K distance.

Brooks T6 Racers

As for Saturday – it’s always a great day when you run a PR and since this was my first ever timed mile, I pretty much had that goal locked up by the time I got out of the truck and made my way to the starting line.  5:24 – I’ll take it.

That time was good for 14oth overall, 15th in our Division.  For our first ever attempt at the distance, not too shabby.

But look out next year all you Masters runners … I figure chasing my daughter around for 9 months or so by then, I should be able to shave at least :10 off that time.