Today was the club's Hospice 12K race, which started at Bluemont Park in Arlington. The 7.456 mile course burns up a couple of miles on the flat W&OD Trail and then heads up the hilly Custis Trail for a five mile out-and-back. It's a nasty five miles. Then it's head for the barn on the W&OD again. Did I tell you the Custis Trail is hilly? It's like they sing about in the Army marching song, Over Hill, Over Dale...
A goal of mine is to run a 12K in under an hour. I should be able to do it because an 8:02 pace will get you there. I have run sub-8s in race distances all the way up to a half-marathon, but it didn't happen in either of my two prior 12Ks, a 1:02:54 (8:26) in 2003 on a muddy course around Burke Lake in Fairfax and a 1:01:40 (8:16) at the same Hospice 12K last February. (At the 12K last year, I missed my goal of breaking an hour.)
Last year's race was a milestone of sorts because it marked the first time that a runner I had formerly coached in a training program beat me. Sasha, a former student of mine and currently a valued coach in the Half-Marathon Training Program I direct, ran thirty-eight seconds faster than me at last year's race when she finished with a time of 1:01:02 (8:11) Thus was the torch passed. (Sasha, on the right, before last year's race with another Program runner, S.)
No Program trainees were there this morning that I saw. Full-Marathon Program coach Ben was there and we nodded hello.
I was concerned about ice on the trail (see my last post) but the race director had done good work in getting his volunteers out to scatter rock salt on some bad spots and had changed the start and finish of the course a little to avoid a long shaded rutted stretch of trail. The morning was crisp, 39 degrees. but warming up quickly. I wisely set my fleece outerwear aside and raced in technical shirt, compression shorts (for my always-tender hammies) and running pants, gloves and hat.
What I unwisely didn't do, however, was hydrate properly before the race. I should have carried a water bottle along, as I often do in races, but all the water bottles in my car were frozen solid.
Getting underway in the big field where the start/finish line was caused everyone to get spattered with mud. It was a slow undertaking to emerge onto the trail from there but once on the W&OD, there was room to operate. The usual early race jockeying went on and I saw many familiar faces from countless other local races. The same people tend to always be around you in races.
There were a few small icy patches on the trail where we all had to slow down and proceed with caution for a few steps but it was the same footing for everyone. The path was surprisingly clear.
I saw a marking taped onto the path that indicated one mile. My stopwatch said 6:40, which was way too fast. I said to no one in particular, "That's no mile!" The runner next to me looked at his Garmin and said in confirmation, ".87." A minute later I heard a chime which I recognized to be his Garmin signalling a mile. I clicked my lap counter at 7:38, right where I wanted to be. But that was only the first mile and that was on the flats.
Ben, who is faster than me, soon passed me but then I passed him back as he slowed down to a walk. He was evidently experimenting with a run/walk routine. Soon he flew by me again and I never saw him after that. He took Program honors today by finishing way ahead of me.
I was following a good-looking woman, which always is a pleasant distraction, but she was slightly faster than me and was very slowly pulling away. As I chased her trying to keep up, I came upon a groaner and a grunter who was about my speed.
Noisy runners are not a pleasant distraction, but I couldn't get away from her. I passed her four or five times in those early miles but she always passed me back. She finally settled in about 30 yards ahead, far enough away that her sighs and groans were diminished.
We passed a big "2" taped on the trail and I looked at my watch, which indicated 6:50. Too fast for the second mile. The mile markers were way off and I disregarded them thereafter.
We hit the cutoff for the Custis Trail and went up it. And I mean up. And down. And up. And down. Two and a half miles of wicked little, and big, rollers outbound to the turnaround point. We traversed the same rollers the opposite way on the way back. My speed was definitely dropping and runners started passing me.
The race leaders came sprinting by. First going by in the opposite direction was local legend Michael Wardian, the country's current 50K, 50-Mile and 100K champion. I imagine he won as he had a minute lead at that point. I noted the first woman to go by, a club runner, and saw two other locally renowned women chasing her. I wonder if the club runner held on to win.
I was getting hot and thirsty by this point. I really wished I had some water. We passed the course's sole water table about a mile up the Custis, but they were handing out water in little 2-ounce dixie cups. I grabbed one on the fly but most of the precious liquid spilled on the exchange and I only got one tiny swallow.
The groaner had stopped momentarily to drink her water so I caught up with her. Thus started anew the slow process of having her once again get far enough ahead to where her groans and sighs didn't distract me.
Soon I saw runners going by with whom I had been running amongst back on the flats so I knew the turnaround was near. As I went around the cone, the marshal there said, "Halfway done!"
Not! My watch said 35 minutes and I hoped I wasn't on course for a seventy minute run. I was shooting for sixty minutes and I thought I might make it, or at least beat last year's time of sixty-one forty. The turnaround cone was further than halfway because the marshal hadn't factored in the out-and-back part on the W&OD Trail.
The hills were daunting on the way back. I just took them one at a time. I run the Custis Trail often so I knew when the two most ferocious rollers were behind me but that still left a seemingly unending progression of smaller hills stretching out ahead of me.
Since I was ignoring the misplaced mile markers, I ran by feel, just like in the olden days before I got my Ironman watch with its 100 lap counter. Although I couldn't tell my pace each mile, I was sure that I had fallen way off of anything approaching sub-8s.
I passed the sole water table again and grabbed an extended tiny cup a little more delicately as I went by this time so I spilled less of it. I quaffed two ounces of delicious water and wanted some more. Up ahead was one more volunteer holding out a water cup. I extended my arm in signal as I approached her, but she moved her hand and I missed grabbing the cup. Instead I merely knocked it from her hand. Calling out "I'm sorry!" over my shoulder, I ran on, wishing I had gotten that water. But coming back I was running into the wind so I no longer felt so overheated.
A steady stream of runners passed me, a dozen or so. I only passed one runner myself after the midway point, and he passed me back anyway. The two of us got into a little duel as we exited the Custis Trail and got back onto the W&OD for the last leg home.
Coming through the tunnel which passes under the Interstate Highway (the Custis runs alongside it, but they didn't bother to grade the trail like they graded the nice, flat Interstate), he came up to pass me but I cut him off by taking the turn back onto the trail sharply. He patiently waited his turn, then on the sharp left turn onto the W&OD, he came sharply inside of me and forced me wide and behind him at the turn. Then he proceeded to put me away the last half mile.
By this time I had come up to within 10 yards of the groaner. I thought she was tiring and I figured I might take her. But once she came off the hills, she also took off and pulled away from me.
Soon I could see the turnoff into the field we had started from. I glanced at my watch and it was over an hour so I knew I had missed my goal. A fellow about my age had caught up and was running alongside of me. He was the only runner I held off all race. When I saw the finish I ramped it up somewhat and entered the field ahead of him. I was careful not to slip on the muddy field and passed the finish line in about 1:00:40 (8:08). It was a minute faster than last year, a PR, but still short of my goal.
The groaner was by the finish line, doing some post-race stretching. I congratulated her on her excellent finish. She said her time was a few seconds under one hour. I thought wistfully, If only in that last half mile, when I was a mere ten yards behind her, I had matched her strong move towards the finish...
But I was happy with my race. Yesterday I ran a tough 11.2 miles on the Mall with my training group in the cold and wind, including traversing once up the imposing Capitol Hill and twice up the smaller hill leading to the Washington Monument, so maybe if I'm rested for my next 12K...