Thursday, January 29, 2009

Anatomy of a Ten-Mile Race

The Al Lewis 10 Miler in Kensington, MD, is a club 10-mile race in early January that tests a runner’s early season, or cold season, endurance. It’s free for club members, or $5 otherwise. The course is on an asphalt bike trail that runs alongside Beach Drive, which is closed to traffic on weekends. The bicyclists hold sway on the road while runners labor on the trail as it tracks alongside a small creek and wanders up and down lots of little roller hills.

The Half-Marathon Training Program I coach for was in its ninth week when we ran the race. The instructions were to run it as a supported training run, "non-competitively." It was our furthest distance up to that date.

I ran it under the same circumstances last year, except that no one else from the HM Program showed up. I was disappointed then with my 1:22:44 (8:16) finishing time, a bottom-half showing. Club races are tough.

This year was bitterly cold, just like last year. Many Program runners were there and I started the race with a couple of fast women from the Program, J and K. We passed the first mile in 8:21, which consisted of a several little downhills that were going to become uphills in the last mile.

I could tell that I was holding J back so I told her that I couldn’t keep up and to go ahead. I never saw her again and she turned in an excellent 1:18, second in her age group. (J, Matt, and another Program runner, Jo, on a recent training run. All three finished many minutes ahead of me.)

I settled in with K. She is very competitive and she hung right with me and didn’t slow me down at all. I was glad to run with her.

Club races have a predictable rhythm to them because you run against the same folks all the time. And guess what. The order of finish rarely changes.

During the second mile I went by a fellow near my age and speed that I always overtake at about this stage of a race. He dislikes me because once, when he was wearing Texas running shorts (the ones with the white star on a field of blue with red legs), I muttered "Texas sucks," as I went by him. The devil made me do it. He heard me and now he works hard at not letting me pass, so I had to go by him very quietly. He didn’t look up from his reverie when I passed so as another famous Texan once said, Mission Accomplished.

That was my fastest mile at 8:03. I logged the third and fourth miles at 8:23 and 8:17. I was following K’s lead by half a body length.

Running right on our heels was another fellow about my age and speed that I dislike because he acts so stuck up. The few times I have made an attempt to talk with him he has stared at me, responded pithily to my particular comment if it was in the form of a question, and then looked away. In races I actively try to beat him. He’s a Republican because he wears shirts with conservative slogans. I'll bet that he listens to Rush Limbaugh.

He passed me but didn’t open up any distance between us with his pass. A mile later I passed him back and powered on a short ways but couldn’t shake him. He was quickly back on my heels once more and soon passed me again. I settled in behind him six feet back.

I pointed out to K the spires of the Mormon Temple in the distance, peeking over the treetops, the course’s Kodak moment. We hit the bottom of the big hill where the course veers up a residential street to its turnaround point. As I clung to the Republican on the hill, I lost K who couldn’t take the hill in as forceful a manner. I was sorry to leave her behind but this was personal.

Laboring up the hill behind the Republican, I counted familiar faces coming back down it. Kevin, who would finish second, chasing the leader and ultimate winner. Last year’s winner, who would finish third this go around. Program coach Matt, who would finish fifth in 1:02. Program participant G, who ran a 1:31 in last year’s Half-Marathon and who would finish this 10-miler in 1:15.

Two club runners I knew ran by and said "Hi" to the Republican. I ran up alongside the Republican and smartly asked him if he thought those two club members were boycotting me by not shouting out a greeting to me also. The Republican didn’t even look at me as he ignored me. I went on by him for the last time.

A half mile up the steep hill was the blessed turnaround. I did the fifth mile in 8:23.

Coming down the hill, I checked out the competition. K was pushing up the hill gamely, not too far back. S, a very competitive Program runner, was back a quarter mile, working hard on the hill. Coach Lauren was back of her, running up the hill with two of his trainees. Another trainee, normally a strong runner, was walking up the hill with her head down.

I re-entered the trail at the bottom of the hill and tried unsuccessfully to pick up my pace. The sixth mile passed in 8:23 and the seventh mile in 8:28. Three or four male runners picked me off and went by. I told one passing runner, trying to be humorous, that there was a wise guy in every bunch, and he retorted that I looked like I was in his age group and I wouldn’t be catching him. He was right on both counts.

I heard a female runner approach and she pulled alongside. I thought it would be K but I was surprised that it was S, in the throes of a monster negative split. She had come from a long way back.

I pointed out a guy in a grey shirt 30 yards ahead who was flagging and told her that she could catch him. Pointing to my grey shirt, she said, "I already caught the guy in grey that I wanted to catch." Aww.

But S did press on, leaving me to contemplate being beaten by a runner I actively coach. It would be a first (J is coached by Matt). I passed the eighth mile in 8:34.

Then Lauren pulled up alongside. He had really made up some ground, doing 7:20s since the turnaround, he said. Whew.

Lauren ran ahead and caught up with S. I chased those two the penultimate mile, which passed by in 8:33. Lauren ran on but I started gaining on S and passed her a half mile out. In her inexperience, she had run a 9.5 mile race rather than a 10 mile race, and was finishing the last half mile on pure grit.

I ran hard up the short rollers of the last mile as best I could, doing it in 8:33. I saw the finish clock in the distance reading 1:23:50. I sprinted and thought I ran by it at 1:23:59. When my time was later listed officially as 1:24:00 (8:24), I became disproportionally disappointed. But the difference between 1:23 or 1:24 doesn’t much matter as much as that I was 76 seconds slower than the year before.

It was an interesting race, with plenty of little dramatic moments. Lauren finished almost a minute ahead of me while S finished about half a minute back and K came in a minute later. (S, Lauren, K, moi.)


Rhea said...

Nice race report! I felt like I was there. Looking forward to having you up here in Tahoe. We're here for a long weekend. I'm going to skiing. Hope I don't break a leg.

Sunshine said...

You write well, of course, which makes all of your reports a good read. Congratulations piled high for your encouragement of upcoming runners. .. Encouragement is the finest of ways.. by racing with them. Pictures is witness that you make it fun.

jeanne said...

you are so funny. one would think that you dislike a lot of people from reading this, but i know that ain't so!

I get to do my 10 miles tomorrow at some place called candy cane city. it's sounds yummy. i can picture in my head...although something tells me it's not going to live up to my high expectations. :)

Anne said...

What a great inspiration you are to your runners! You not only keep them moving, but you walk the walk (er, run the run).

Don said...

I did some calculations a few months ago indicating that we lose about 4 seconds per mile each year as we age. If so, you get 40 seconds for free and were only 36 seconds slower than last year. Pretty close.