Saturday, December 11, 2010

Big Day of Racing

Part 1: Thunder Road Marathon
Result: Jordan won, 2:24:46

Part 2: USATF Club XC Champs

3.5-4 mile w/u + strides
6k race @21:04 (21:06 in official results)
9th place overall team

1.5 mile c/d
Total: 9-9.5 miles

Wow, what a day. I don't even know wh
ere to begin, but I suppose chronologically would be the best idea. For Jordan, the morning started just past 5am when he awoke to begin his pre-race prep. He was already long gone by the time I got up around 7, then woke Jenna who was crashing on our air mattress. We'd made plans to go see Jordan around the 10 mile mark on the Booty Loop, then head over to Caitlin's for the second half viewing. The only contingency factor would be road closures and traffic backups due to the race course criss-crossing every major thoroughfare in town, not to mention the fact that we had to get ourselves across town later in the morning for our own race, but we hoped we'd be able to avoid most of the chaos.

Jenna, John and Caitlin: Jordan's trusty cheering squad

Jordan striding down the Booty Loop on Queens Road West at mile 10

For the most part, the Thunder Road viewing went off without a hitch. Jenna and I saw Jordan right at 10 miles, which he came through in 54:30 looking strong and confident. He was also completely solo, as his pacer Paul had peeled off just past 10k. For the rest of the race it would be nothing but Jordan, the cop car, the lead cyclist and a few people dedicated enough to brave the cold and cheer outside. We immediately hustled over to Caitlin's, taking a bit of a circuitous route after reaching one of the aforementioned race crossings at Morehead and Kenilworth, and arrived within plenty of time to see Jordan again at 18 miles. Again he was solo and again he looked strong and relaxed. From that point on he would be entering the loneliest part of the course, but unfortunately this was also the part that would be too logistically challenging for us to reach by car and too far for us to traverse on foot given our own upcoming race. We opted to stay put and see Jordan again at 25 miles which passed literally in front of John and Caitlin's house. We knew he was hoping to break the course record of 2:24:20 and by our calculations he would be right on. When we saw him charging the downhill with a mile to go we were confident he'd broken the mark, only to be a bit deflated a few minutes later when Jay rode up on his bike to tell us that he'd missed it by 26 seconds. Sounds like a lot, but only one second a mile for an entire marathon seems a bit of cruel irony. My initial disappointment was quickly overshadowed by my excitement that Jordan had bested his PR by over two minutes, completely solo on a tough course. Definitely a respectable run. We stuck around to see Billy finish in 5th place with a new 2:41 PR but had to depart before Danielle came cruising by with her sub-3 hour victory. I would've liked to cheer her and several other friends on, but we had business to attend to.

Caitlin shouting words of encouragement as Jordan passes mile 25

I'm not going to lie; for the entire drive out to McAlpine I was a nervous wreck. Nervous because I have very little cross-country experience, nervous because I'd barely run 25 miles the entire week and most of all nervous that I'd let my team down by having to pull out if my Achilles (or whatever muscle) became too painful. I had no way of knowing what would happen and could only hope for the best. We set off on our warmup together as a team, the first and maybe last time for all seven of us to do so. The park was absolutely packed and it was cool to see so many teams and fans out to support them. Our race was scheduled to go off at 12:45, and with 10 minutes to go the CRC lady harriers approached the starting box.

Now, a word about that. I'm not one to make excuses or complain about things that affect everybody equally ("it's too cold" or "it's too hot" or "the course was too
difficult"), but I think I am justified in complaining that we got pretty much the worst starting location of all time. Or, to be precise, we got the 51st worst starting location of the 55 available. Our box was situated all the way to the right of the starting line, which meant we would have to sprint across the tangent as quickly as possible in order to make it onto the narrow dirt path without getting stuck behind 100 other people. It was definitely not best case scenario, but at least Jordan had prepared Caitlin and me for that situation. We would simply have to get out hard for 90 seconds and then settle, just as we'd practiced. So simple, right?

Running side by side with Caitlin early in the race

12:45 came quickly and before I knew it we were off. Caitlin and I had hoped to work together for most of the race, and by the time we'd reached the dirt path I was situated right on her shoulder. We'd gotten out as well as could be hoped for and were probably in the top 60-70 at this point. Just before making the first turn Caitlin reminded us to "settle," and we tried to do so despite the throng of women around us. We'd said in advance that going out faster than 5:30 would be suicide given our current fitness levels, so we were both relieved to split 5:31 through the first mile. I still felt comfortable and it was reassuring to have my teammate by my side. I heard countless shouts our names and of "Go CRC!" which of course boosted my spirits and resolve. Though the Achilles was in the back of my mind it hadn't yet become an issue, but I was apprehensive about testing it on the first pass of the hill. Fortunately the hill came and went uneventfully and I didn't even seem to be in any danger of falling down the steep descent (my other great concern), and before I knew it Caitlin and I were running down the familiar path beside the pond preparing for the second loop.

At this point in the race, the powers that be had changed the course in a way I'd never seen before. Basically we had to run up a small, rather gradual grassy hill, make a sharp 180-degree turn at the top of it and then come back down to where we'd started. It was, in a word, stupid. So stupid, in fact, that as I ran up it I very distinctly remember thinking, "I've run at McAlpine a million times and have never once had to go up this ridiculous made-up hill." I guess they were just trying to add on some extra distance to the course, but there were several other ways to do so without this awkward addition. Whatever. This was also the point in the race when I began to pull away slightly from Caitlin. I silently willed her to come with me but would not see her again until the finish. Instead, I tried to focus on staying strong and maintaining form down the long straightaway, but at this point my legs were beginning to fatigue. I was just as worried about being caught as I was about catching others, but fortunately more of the latter occurred than the former. The second trip up the hill felt like an absolute crawl, and the final straight to the finish seemed to go on forever, but I charged for home and pumped my arms as hard as I could. I saw the clock tick past 21 minutes just a few seconds before I crossed the line, which was a bit of a bummer as I'd harbored aspirations of breaking that mark, but there was little time to dwell on it. Caitlin came in just a few seconds later and we immediately went over to congratulate an exhausted Pezz who'd finished 10th.

Coming down to the pond for the finish

The next few minutes were a blur as the remaining 200 runners came in, including the rest of our team. We exited the chute to find tons of CRC members, friends, family members and even Jordan who'd managed to make it just as our race was starting. There were plenty of hugs and congratulations to go around, especially when we found out that our team had cracked the top 10. As club president Aaron said later, to compete among teams that have many more resources than us (we didn't even have matching warmups, though I had managed to score us some sweet Craft tees for our uniform tops), some of which are populated by legitimate professional runners, and still finish as high as we did was definitely an accomplishment. I couldn't have been prouder to run with this group of ladies and to represent CRC today.

From a personal perspective, the race showed that my fitness isn't too far from where it needs to be. Had I found those extra five seconds and cracked 21 as I'd hoped, I would've beaten a few other "professionals" who were just over that mark. However, I will note that two of the girls I finished between, Esther Erb from Zap and my friend Jemissa Van Hoy who works at Fleet Feet Raleigh, just ran in the 27:30s for 8k less than a month ago. Knowing that tells me I could probably achieve similar results at that distance on the roads, which is far better than I expected to be at this point. If nothing else, this provides a solid foundation for me to build on in the weeks leading up to Houston.

But enough about me and this running talk. Now it's time for the afterparty!