Saturday, May 7, 2011

Capital City Classic 10k

3 mile w/u + drills and strides
Target: 10k race @sub-36 mins
Actual: 35:54; 5:55, 5:38, 5:34, 5:42 (off course), 6:06, 5:52
1st female, $500 (results)
2.5 mile c/d
Total: ~12 miles

After spending a few days visiting accounts in Durham and Raleigh, Jordan and I made our way to the downtown Raleigh Sheraton just after 5pm on Friday evening. Since this was a Balega-sponsored event, Jordan's sales manager Carol had graciously offered us a room at the host hotel, which of course we appreciatively accepted. We already thought this was awesome enough, but when we realized that the race started and finished literally outside the hotel, we were even more excited. There is nothing better than waking up race morning and walking straight downstairs to the starting line, which is exactly what we did about 12 hours later on Saturday morning. The still-gimpy Jordan went off to man the Balega VIP area (which promised post-race mimosas, among other perks) while I set off to warm up solo along the downtown streets.

In contrast to last year, when I hear temps were in the 80s, it was 60 degrees and low humidity as I prepared for the start. Though the cloudless skies and bright sunlight would make for some very warm spots along the course, overall the weather was best case scenario. If my goal of breaking 36 minutes was not met, it wouldn't be due to the conditions. And even though I'd heard the course was rolling and hilly throughout, I doubted that would be a limiting factor either; not because I absolutely adore running uphill, but simply because I don't know any other alternative at races in the Carolinas. Saying I couldn't break 36 due to hills would effectively be saying I'd never break 36 on any course in the state, and I wasn't willing to resign myself to that end without putting up a fight. A few minutes before the start, all of us gathered on the line as the race director read off the bios of the seeded athletes. I began to feel a little intimidated as I heard the pedigrees of the former D1 runners who toed the line beside me, but I tried to block out any negative thoughts. I lined up next to Heather Magill, a 1:15 half marathoner from Wilmington who Caitlin knows. We'd officially met a few minutes earlier and expressed similar race goals, so I hoped we'd be able to work together during most of the race to pull each other along to fast times.

Within the first 400 meters of the race, that desire seemed as though it would become reality. Though our pace didn't feel unusually speedy, there were already no other females with us. That is, until about 1000 meters into the race, when a tall brunette shot past on on a downhill section--literally sprinted as though she was racing a mile--and gapped us by about 20 meters within a matter of seconds. "Do you know who she is?" I turned and asked Heather. She did not. As it turned out, this wouldn't pose much of a problem. Without increasing our pace we caught back up to her on the next uphill and proceeded to reclaim the lead. (I didn't see her again for the rest of the race, although I believe she did manage to hang on and finish third in 37:0x. I also heard from another athlete that she continued the pattern of downhill sprinting, uphill jogging throughout the entire race. Whatever works, I suppose.)

Heather and I hit the first mile and I split my watch at 5:55, a number I read with dismay. There was no way I would've guessed we were running that slowly, but the clock doesn't lie. (Although maybe the placement of the clock does, as I heard from several people post-race that the first marker was off by about five seconds.) I almost threw my goal of sub-36 out the window right then and there, but fortunately Heather didn't allow that to happen. Visibly agitated by the seemingly slow pace, she took off and almost instantly put 10 meters between us. While I knew I needed to pick up the pace, I also knew I wouldn't be able to maintain the clip she was currently running. I kept my cool and noticed her slowly coming back as the mile progressed, and by the time I clicked 5:38 at the second mile marker I was only a stride or two behind. The third mile contained probably the most downhill section of the entire course, and before I knew it we'd recorded our fastest split of the day, 5:34. Heather and I matched each other stride for stride, passing through the 5k mark in 17:45 on the dot, but a few steps later I felt the momentum shift ever so slightly. Until then I'd all but convinced myself that she was going to burn my legs out from under me and run away with the race, but by 5k I'd found my groove. I pulled a few strides ahead, coming abreast of two older guys and trailing another male master's runner by about 20 meters.

Somewhere around 3.75, the incident happened. We were running slightly uphill along the interstate access road and approached an intersection where it seemed as though we would exit to the left. The guy in front of us--who I subsequently learned is John Hinton, a former 3x Olympic Trials Qualifier and sub-4 miler and general badass who was putting me to shame at the age of 52--turned left. "Left or straight?" asked the guy next to me. "I have no idea," I responded unhelpfully. "I guess we'll just follow the leader," he replied. At that point the four of us--me, the two dudes and Heather--followed Hinton's lead and veered left. We'd gone maybe 15 meters in that direction when some rando on the overpass who was walking his dog--not, mind you, the police officer who was actually getting paid to stand there and direct us--yelled out, "Hey! I think they went this way!" With that the four of us shouted a cacophony of expletives (or maybe that was just me), hollered in Hinton's direction, then broke right. If you've never tried to run uphill through multiple grass medians while in the midst of an already painful race, I don't exactly recommend it. Somehow I still managed to split 5:42 for this mile despite the detour, but it certainly didn't do me any favors. I was winded and flustered and approaching the most difficult section of the course. If I missed my time goal due to this snafu I would be absolutely furious.

Unfortunately, it didn't help that we turned left less than a minute later and began an almost two mile ascent to the finish line. I'd been warned that the final miles of the race were hilly, but to me that implies there are both uphills and corresponding downhills. Not so much. Virtually the entire fifth mile was uphill, and no amount of grunting and heaving and flailing on my part was going to help keep the pace respectable (though it undoubtedly made for an interesting race experience for the guy running next to me). I split 6:06 and felt like death, with no idea of how Heather was faring behind me. If she was also dying, I could probably hang on for the win. But if she felt even a fraction better than me, this was definitely her chance to reclaim the lead. The sixth mile continued to climb for about 800 meters, and only when we took two hard lefts in a row was I able to sneak a peek behind me and see that Heather was no longer within striking distance. The final turn brought us to a generous 600 meter downhill to the finish, and I kicked with everything I had to get under 36. It wasn't pretty, but I got it done. Heather hung tough to finish about 20 seconds behind me , but I couldn't help thinking that she would've been close to breaking the 36 minute barrier were it not for our detour. (It is worth noting, however, that Hinton managed to recover quite well and ending up finishing in front of me despite going much farther in the incorrect direction than the rest of us did. Props to him.)

All said and done, I'm mostly happy with this race. I succeeded in breaking 36 minutes and setting a new road PR, finishing over a minute faster than I did at the Race Fest 10k just three weeks ago. My fitness is starting to come around, which only further fuels the fire to see what I can do in the coming weeks and months. It is also interesting to note that the men's winner, Bobby Mack, ran 29:45 today after posting a blistering 28:11 less than a week ago at the Stanford Payton Jordan Invitational. Granted, he is certainly still tired and recovering from that race, but if he is in shape to run 90 seconds faster on the track then I have to believe that I could run at least a minute faster on that surface than I did here today. That tells me I'm not too far off the shape I was in this time last year, which is a good reference point to have going forward. The next big (read: money) race on the horizon is the Running of the Bulls 8k in Durham next month. Caitlin won this race last year in just under 29 minutes, but after today she and I are convinced we should be in shape to go 28:30 or faster on the right day. Heather is planning to race there too, so it will be a great opportunity for the three of us to work together and help push one another to fast times. Will we all hold hands across the finish line? Only time will tell.


Unknown said...

3 girls holding hands through a finish line? that might just be a man's dream come true. i'll only do it if you smile like you're winning the olympic trials like i did last time.

mfranks said...

Nice run! Love the recap.
Keep kicking ass.