Originally, I planned on doing the 10k only. But since both races usually gave $100 which buys a lot of diapers on Amazon (for my daughter, not me), I debated trying them both. In true chickenhawk fashion, I texted the two fastest Ryan's I know to see if they were showing up. Both of them had other plans, so I decided to give it a go. In high school, racing two events in a day can be considered a light day. For a lot of meets, I would race four events (some combination of the 4x800m, 1600, 800, 3200m, 4x400) but in college, a lot of people think they are prima donnas, and hold their nose up at the idea of racing twice in a day and just the idea of racing too much in general. I decided to get in touch with my teenage self and race twice.
The day before, I found out that one of my favorite running partners, Ted Towse, was showing up. He's had some downtime with some bum hip issues but is always a gamer at 5ks. I was hoping my gas tank and some ninja tactics would help pull me through. We warmed up together, took a wrong turn and I got to the car with just five minutes to put on my number, change into my clothes and put the chip on my shoe. I didn't have time to do my usual drills and strides but you can't always be a diva.
When I got to the line, I saw Jeff Edmonds was also racing. He's done a few recent track meets and ran a solid 5k two weeks prior, so I knew he was fit and would be able to handle a solid pace. The first mile starts with a small climb before having some gradual drops and it felt like we got out quick. I was just trying to tuck in with Jeff and Ted and it felt like we were going around 5:00 pace or a little bit under. When I'm racing one or two guys and fighting for the lead, I like to get a little bit of a gap a mile in. It's hard to lead and win but by getting a three second or so lead, you are a little bit out of touch even though the people are running the same pace as you. They feel like they are right there, but they are hanging by a thread and sometimes a surge or increase of pace can break that thread.
The mile marker signs were a little off, so I don't know what the first mile split was. But because I was racing people, not the watch, it really didn't matter. There were several smaller climbs in the second mile that weren't too bad. I felt like I was running pretty steady but I didn't want to turnaround to see what my lead was like because when you do that, the people behind you smell blood in the water and you also start worrying about what's going on behind you, rather than focusing on pressing head.
About halfway through the race, there is a long, grinding hill. I really hate those type of hills, especially in a short race like the 5k, where the pace is fast and forced, without much relaxing going on. I tried to stay focused on the hill and use my "hill running" muscles but I was really struggling and fading fast. With Ted's hip issues, I wasn't sure how he would handle the hills but I was expecting him to catch me because I was crawling up the last portion of it. Luckily, I held him off and was glad the rest of the course was flat/downhill. I was able to maintain a steady pace and get the win over him by six seconds, with Jeff in third. I felt much looser the second half of the race than the first, and crossed the line feeling pretty strong and relaxed. With less than 45 minutes until the 10k, I immediately started a mile or so cool-down to get my legs ready for the next race.
I was still feeling pretty fresh before the 10k and really didn't want to race too hard. I saw that Brian Shelton, who won the Memphis Marathon and is the owner of the Foothills Running Co., was on the line, so I knew I'd have to push a good bit. We got out sort of fast, so I tucked in because of the wind. After a couple of minutes the pace really relaxed, and we chit-chatted for a few minutes until it was time for the big hill. I gaped him a bit at the start of the hill and I felt ok running up it, except my lower back really hurt, which has been happening more frequently lately. I didn't want to look back, but I felt like I had a few second lead and did my best to keep it over the next few miles.
Aerobically, I was in complete control, but my legs were becoming more worn out over time. Taking several weeks off, and only have a couple of weeks of easy jogging didn't prepare me for the hard running over the hills, but I did my best to stay focused and keep the finish line on my mind.
The hill by the golf course, right at five miles, stole my soul last year, so I wasn't looking forward to running up it again. For the first 30 seconds, it wasn't too bad but as it dragged on, I could tell I was tanking fast and was probably running over 8:00 pace. I fully expected Brian to catch me on the hill, but I still did my best to push up it because I knew it had to be hurting him as well. Once I got to the top, I knew I only had a few minutes left of running and after a quick glance around one of the sharp turns, I felt like I had a big enough lead. Just to play it safe, I put in a hard surge for a 1/4 mile or so and was able to cruise it in to take another six second victory.
A short cool-down with Jeff Bandy and Travis Crouch put me at 15.6 miles for the day, which is my biggest day in about two months. I wasn't crazy about running 16:25 and 34:05, considering I ran 32:31 for the 10k here last year, but it was much windier this year and I was much closer to my peak fitness last year. Even though I'm not happy with my current level of fitness, I was happy to see three of the guys I coach race really well.
After the race, I was sad to see there wasn't any Bruegger's Bagels this year, but at least I was able to take more than my fair share of candy bars and smoothies. I also racked up a couple of gavels, which I like more than your typical medal or trophy that has a guy runner on it, with long flowing hair, which really doesn't help my self-esteem. In the past, each race has given $100, so I was a little disappointed when one of the envelopes just had $50, but that's not the reason why I run and am happy with whatever I can get.
The next morning, I felt like I was run over by a truck. My calves had killer knots in them, my back really hurt and my glutes were really sore. If I feel this bad after running a couple of steady efforts, I can imagine how ugly the Tom King Half Marathon is going to be. Originally, I was hoping to run a personal best and set the state record there but after missing so much time and not being fit enough to get in anything much faster than a jog for at least a few more weeks, I'll be happy if I can run under 1:10 (assuming the weather is ok).
I hope 2012 has a lot in store for me, but so far, it's off to a patient and slow start.