"OH CRAP!" (Or something to that effect) was how the day the day started at 6:45am. We had failed to set our alarm, since the Little Lady usually wakes up a little earlier. After seriously debating getting out of bed or not, I knew that I'd be mad at 8:00, when I was wide awake, if I didn't go for it. And, with the late start, it looked extremely unlikely that we'd be able to get the Little Lady fed and packed up so we could all go together. But, miraculously, we made it work, and I was at race registration shortly after 8:00am—an hour before the race start.
I hadn't decided to run this race until Friday, when I mentioned it to D, and she said that she thought I could run and she could hang with the Little Lady. And, in truth, I'm not really sure I knew this race was happening until I read about on Maine Running Company's Facebook page on Tuesday. So, I hadn't pre-registered, and I wasn't exactly mentally focused. But, I hoped it would be "fun," and based on last week's result, hoped I could run OK.
I got in a decent warm up and realized that the return trip on this almost all out and back course was going to be rough—the entire last mile was into the wind and boasted a couple toothy uphills. Of course, that meant the first mile was mostly downhill. In other words, this course, while seeming benign could really bring the hurt—especially if you went out too fast.
I made my way to the starting line and felt like the only guy who didn't know anyone. Road races are weird. I was also a little uncomfortable because I felt like I was too far towards the front of the pack. I was leery of getting pulled out too fast, so I backed up a bit. But when I backed up, the second tier was full of walkers and strollers and people with walkers pushing strollers. Again, road races are weird. So, I moved back up a touch with some trepidation. Then suddenly, the air horn sounded, and we were off. I hugged the left hand side of the road, and watched the masses sprint away. I settled into a comfortable pace and slowly passed a number people through the first half mile. I just kept thinking, "Easy, easy, easy," as the course went downhill.
The course turned into a neighborhood just before the 1 mile mark, and I had a moment of panic. I could see the clock at the 1-mile mark in front of me, and it read, "6:58." "No wonder this felt so easy. CRAP! I'm going waaaayyy too slowly." As I got closer, I realized that it had actually read, "5:58," and I went through the first mile in 6:16. "Well, that was a touch frisky," I thought. So, I consciously dialed it back a notch and hoped that it was the downhill that caused the fast pace and that I wouldn't pay for it later.
I stayed relaxed throughout the next mile dropping back a touch from the 4 guys that passed me shortly after the mile mark. The wind was at my back here, so that was no problem, until we entered the second neighborhood loop. This loops begins the turnaround back to the finish, and this is where the wind started to be a factor. Luckily, two guys passed me just near the turnaround, and I was able to use them as a bit of a wind break coming into the 2-mile mark—13:00. "OK, that was a 6:45 mile. Time to do a little work."
Pre-race, I had hoped in a best case scenario to go through 2 miles around 13 minutes, so I was right on target and feeling pretty comfortable. Good signs. I passed one of my wind breaks on the short uphill just after the 2-mile mark, and set my sights on "Anti-Tangent Man." He was one of the runners that passed me before the 2-mile mark, and I had noticed that he wasn't really running the tangents. It was particularly obvious as we wove through the final neighborhood section: we were on completely opposite sides of the road. His hatred of tangents allowed me to move right up behind him as we turned back onto the main road. I stayed behind him to help break the wind, and we closed in on some runners in front of us.
The last mile was hard. The wind was dead in our faces. At the bottom of a short and the only downhill on the way back, I passed Anti-Tangent Man, and was poised to pass another runner—Blue Shirt Guy. Just at that moment, Blue Shirt Guy saw his wife?, girlfriend?, mistress?, sister?, cousin?—who knows, but she was definitely a woman and she gave him a temporary boost. He zipped away for a few strides until the course went uphill. I passed him on the uphill and set my sights on the group of three ahead. Somewhat to my surprise, I was reeling them in.
During my warm up, I had picked a point on the final hill that was my "all out" point. I was so focused on the group, I missed it. I really wanted to get those three guys and had really started digging before that point. The head was down, and I didn't even realize I had passed it. No matter, as I passed two of them on the hill and the third just past the top. I made the final turn into the school driveway towards the finish and saw the 3-mile mark and clock. It read 19: something. I couldn't really see too well at this point and was just hoping my arms would keep pumping. The legs were good, but the upper body was giving out. Cheers from D and her sister certainly helped keep me going—can't get passed in the homestretch in front of the fans!
That last .1 was the longest .1 E.V.E.R. I could not get to the finish soon enough. In fact, I'm going to go back and measure it—I think it's closer to a half mile. Felt like it anyway. Once I saw I wasn't going to break 20 minutes, I backed off for half a step, but quickly realized that was lame. I pushed through the finish in 20:19. To my surprise, that was good enough for 25th overall (out of 453) and 2nd in my age group. (Results) The age group place is a bit suspect because they used 5 year increments, e.g. 30-34, but I'll take it. I'll also take the $10 Hannaford Gift Card I won. As it turns out, the guy I passed at the very end was also in my age group. Admittedly, I was shocked to beat that guy because I noticed him at the start, and he looked...well...fast. I chatted with him briefly at the end, and all we could talk about was the wind. It blew.
Overall, I'm very pleased. I had dreams of breaking 20, but not with the wind today. I ran the out-and-back portion of the course on the main road for my cool down, and I couldn't believe I did that. Running in that wind was no fun. I'd say that this race was a good barometer for my fitness. It's clear that the strength is there based on my performance on the final, hilly mile, but I'd really like to crank up the speed a bit. Perhaps doing some type of speed work would help... To this point, I've done a couple "up tempo" short runs and 5x strides two or three times a week. So, there's no reason I should expect to be fast. And, as I've typed a bajillion times here: upper body work is in order. But, really, this is a good start.
Thanks to D's sister for coming out to cheer. And, of course, huge thanks to D for not only allowing me to get out to race, but also for coming along and watching the Little Lady while I was racing. And, thanks to everyone for hanging out afterward, so I could pick up my $10 Hannaford Gift Card—the prize for second in my age group. And, thanks to Tim Hortons for being a tremendous post-race stop—so delicious! Although road races really aren't my thing (my shins are not pleased this evening), this particular one was very well organized all the way around, and I wouldn't mind returning. Well, only if they turn off the wind.