Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Commodore Classic 8k Cross Country

After nearly eight years away from the game, it was time to once again lace-up my spikes (well, I actually had to borrow some from a kid on my team) and race the young whipper snappers in a college cross country race. I have some friends in the Nashville area who formed a team and gave me the invite to join. After coming off of five weeks of easier mileage, I knew I wouldn't be very race sharp but I was looking forward to seeing what I could pull off.

I didn't really have any concrete goals for the race. I knew the course was tough because my freshman year of college, I completely tanked in this race and ran 27:27. It was so bad that my coach went off on me right after the race and me being the sensitive diva I am, ended up fighting tears. Ryan Chastain was part of my team and he's a pretty solid runner and has done some recent races, so I decided to key off him for the first few miles and see how I felt. I also saw that the top 20 runners received a T-shirt, which then became my goal.

There were 22 teams in the race and I pegged Alabama as the favorite to win. Our team goal was to take out Vanderbilt and see how close we could get to Belmont and Lipscomb. I didn't know who the top individuals would be but I did see a lot of Kenyans and college kids with terrible looking tattoos. It's funny how in your late teens/early 20s, something looks so cool but down the road, just looks ridiculous. I'm just glad I didn't get the Flash tattoo I was planning on my junior year if I made All-American in the steeplechase (missed by just one spot.)

With some people being out with travel and sickness, our final team was me, Ryan Chastain, Ted Towse, Dan Muller, Alex Moore and Hunter Hethcoat. We were hoping to at least take out Vanderbilt and make a run at Belmont and Lipscomb.

I checked out the course on the warm-up and wasn't a big fan of it. The terrain was pretty bumpy, the grass was thick and there were a couple hills that I knew would put a whooping on me. Too often it's easy to subconsciously expect and rationalize a poor performance before you even step to the line.

When I headed to the line, I did a few strides but felt pretty flat. From my past shorter races, I've realized that I don't keep the pace fast enough and often settle into the patience of marathon mode. With the longer races, I still constantly focus on the pace, but in a more relaxed fashion. With races 10k and under, I have to make an effort to constantly press on the gas.

Everyone finally got settled, and it was time to go. When the gun went off, I tried to make my way in the top 20 or so. I got in my desired position about a hundred meters into the race and then slowly settled into my groove. That was a big mistake because in about 10 seconds, I went from about 20th to close to 100th. Guys flew by me and I got stuck in the middle with no escape. With training primarily by myself and running races were I'm usually towards the front, I've learned how to get a real read for my body, paces, etc. The problem was, I was racing about 200 other guys and I forgot what that was like.

I tried to shift my way out of the middle so I could move up. I had to push a couple of guys out of the way and cut off a few others but eventually, I was at the edge of the massive herd and for the next 10-15 seconds, sprinted my way up the side, passing about at least 50 people in the process.

A few hundred meters into the race, there is a bridge, which made traffic come to a standstill. However, once I got off that, I was able to pass a lot more people and a little over 1000 meters into the race, I was in the top 15. I continued to pass people and moved my way into the top 10, hitting the mile marker in 5:00.

Anyone can run a good first mile of a race when you're out of shape. You're pumped up, the adrenaline is pumping and you have a temporary false reality of your capabilities. Reality doesn't start creeping in until a few minutes later, so I chose to slightly slow down before science made me. I relaxed a hair and was within 10 seconds of the leader but over the course of the 2nd mile, I slowly lost some time. There was a hill that to the naked eye didn't look too bad but it definitely slowed me down. I split 5:15 for the second mile, which frustrated me because I knew if I lost 15 seconds in one mile, things could get ugly if I didn't consciously stay focused and work on attacking the guys ahead of me.

In the third mile, I was starting to get passed. Shortly before the end of the third mile, Ryan Chastain passed me, which was frustrating because I wanted to be close to him. And with me bleeding time, I knew if I got passed by him before three miles, I would probably lose to him by 15-20 seconds. In college, I really struggled with the 8k cross country distance. If I ran well for three miles, I would have a good race. However, if I struggled before the end of the third mile, I would not finish the race as a happy camper. Throughout the years, I've become a much improved and mature racer, so I mentally caught myself resorting to my old college habits and tried to get back into gear.

I split an even slower mile with a 5:27 but with a renewed focus, started chasing some guys again. I was probably in 15th-20th or so place at this point and tried to work my way back up into the top 10. I was gaining ground on the people in front of me and even passed a couple of them. I struggled up the hill again but after getting to the top, I started making up even more ground. I ran a really solid 5:06 split this mile, which put me back in the thick of things.

I heard Dave Milner yell to some Belmont kid that there was about 1000 meters left, so I tried to push. I went from just outside the top 10 to right behind a pack of several guys. I didn't want to start my kick too early, so I tried to stay close to the pack until it was time to sprint. My mental laziness cost me a few seconds and a few spots, as a Belmont kid and a couple of Kenyans went by me.

Finally, it was the final straightaway. In high school, I loved getting into kicks. It was mano-a- mano and if you were gritty and stubborn enough, you would win nearly everytime. In college, I learned that everyone is tough and even if you raced your butt off to the line, some guys would still beat you and then steal your lunch money. Since starting back running in Tennessee, the only time I've been in a kick is when Ryan Snellen beat me at the Fangtastic 5k this past February. So I was excited at the oppurtunity to test my manhood for the next twenty or so seconds.

I started gaining ground on the guys ahead of me and with about 50 meters in the race, passed a couple of guys. I could see the two Kenyans who went by me earlier on, starting to struggle, so I tried to kick in another gear and caught them both in the last 10 meters of the race.

I crossed the line in 11th place in 25:33 with a 4:45 last .97, and ended up with my t-shirt. It was a little bittersweet because if I would have run 2.5 seconds faster, I would have been 7th, which I think I could have done. But then again, if I would have run a little over 2.5 seconds slower, I would have been 14th. But we did beat Vanderbilt, which I was happy about.

One of my high school runners on his way to the Vandy game came to watch me run. Within a minute of receiving the shirt, I realized that I have too many shirts as it is, so I gave it to him. It's funny how little extrinsic rewards like a shirt, medal, etc., motivate you to achieve a certain task, but after you receive the reward, you realize it's meaningless and the real reward was completing the task.

All in all, it was a pretty good day at the office. I feel like this was a better performance than my Crazy 8's and Goodlettsville Classic 4 Miler even though I'm really rusty right now. The plan now is to spend the next month or so trying to get some wheels before laying down my marathon-specific fitness.