Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Gate River Run-15k National Championships

I was first invited to run the Gate River Run last year, but ended up passing on it. It was the same day as the Tom King Half-Marathon, which is a pretty big deal in Nashville.  And I wanted to break the Tom King course record, owned by my old college teammate, as well as break the state record for the half-marathon. This year, I planned to run Gate River instead of Tom King, but was glad to see they were actually on two separate dates. Win-win.

I've talked to a lot of people who've run Gate River in the past and they've all said that Richard Fannin does an outstanding job on putting on a high quality race and fun experience.  He makes sure to actively recruit a competitive, deep field and has a lot of love for the sport. Sometimes trying to get into races or figuring out logistics is a big headache.  But Richard is on top of it all and made everything very easy for me.

I was really nervous about this race, because there was going to be a killer field and I was really doubting my fitness level.  Most of the guys in the field are well into their spring training and I've been very up-and-down since the Houston Marathon.  A couple of months ago, I was expecting to be sub 45 at this race, but with how things were recently going, I felt like I was going to run between 46:00-46:30.  I figured I'd go out in 4:50ish, be forced to slow down to 5:00ish pace over the next few miles and then, do my best to hang on to that pace.  While I was looking forward to the weekend, I was somewhat dreading the race and nervous I would somewhat embarrass myself.

So going into the race I made a few goals.  Goal #1 was to beat fellow Nashvillian, Jeanette Faber.  She ran a marathon a couple weeks prior and with the women getting a  6:18 head start, I felt like I could maybe catch her late in the race.  But I mainly made this goal because I knew it would keep me going in the middle of the race, when things start to get mentally and physically difficult.  It's easier to push through things when you know you are getting a little bit closer as each minute passes.  Goal #2 was to not lose to Kevin Castille.  The dude is fast and if he were 39, I wouldn't care if he beat me.  But he's 41 and I didn't want to lose to him in fear that if I brought up this race to someone, they would be like "wasn't that the race you got smoked by that old guy in?" So, I didn't want to lose to him (but do you ever want to lose to anybody).  And I guess my biggest fear would to chase a girl down late in the race, only to be outkicked by her down the final straightaway. I really didn't want that to happen.

I didn't get to the hotel until almost 11:00pm and I was supposed to room with fellow Newton teammate, Stephen Pifer, who ran for the University of Colorado back in the day and I believe he may have broken 4:00 in the mile for the past ten years in a row. But he is training partners with my other Newton teammate, Tyler McCandless, so I ended up switching up with Tyler so they could room together.  Tyler was originally rooming with Chris Barnicle, who I met at the BAA Half last year.  He's a laid back guy and does his own thing. If I were a single guy, he would be living my dream. He spent some time running in Kenya, used to be in Mammoth, is now living in Albuquerque and is about to head to Ethiopia.  He's also super fast as he has run 28:10 for 10,000m.

After checking into my room, I let Chris know he had been downgraded and got my first night of 6+ hours of sleep in over a week.  After waking up, Chris and I headed down to get some breakfast in the hospitality suite.  I was both ecstatic and frightened because they had Nutella, which I haven't had in years.  I downed an Einsteins bagel, loaded down with the stuff, which made it more like a chocolate and hazelnut filled donut, instead of a bagel.  And then I downed another bagel with some of that fake butter crap on it.  It was such a good meal, I ate the same thing for lunch.

This wasn't my bagel but it looked like that. And are those boogers?
After breakfast,  I went on a run with Chris, lounged around, took a course tour, went on a run with Jeanette and some guy from the BAA named Harvey, who turned out to be a nice guy and then we went to some after school daycare program.  We did some relay races with the kids, along with some other stuff and it was a fun way to spend the afternoon. At dinner, we got to hear Dick Beardsley speak and a couple hours later, it was time for bed.  But throughout the day, I was pretty pessimistic about my chances and was continually dreading the race.  Being that I train mostly alone and don't have a coach, I have to figure out things mostly on my own since I don't have anyone to really plan race strategy with, talk about recent workouts, etc.  So I have to somewhat have two personalities as I'm the runner and the coach.  But after being pessimistic about my chances all weekend, my coaching self told me "well, it sounds like you have your mind made up then. You're going to run really badly."  That got my attention and made me change my outlook on the race.  Maybe I wasn't very fit but going into it with a terrible attitude would only result in a terrible performance.


Race morning, I got up at about 5:30 and ate breakfast.  It couldn't have been that good because I forgot what it was.  Temperatures were already in the mid 50s, with the daily high supposed to be in the upper 70s. Not exactly ideal racing weather but I figured the warmer conditions would help the Southern boy.   I did my warm-up with Jeremy Freed, who is another Newton guy and would be forming a team with him, and Josh Carson (another Newton runner).  We were supposed to have Fernando Cabada on our squad, but he recently found out he was going to represent the United State in the World Half-Marathon Championships, so he decided to take some much needed recovery. But even without Fernando, we had a nice Newton representation.

When the race started, I took my time finding my rhythm and and went from around 50th place or so a couple of minutes in, to the back of a big lead pack near the mile.  The pack had about 20 guys or so in it and I was probably three seconds off the lead.  With Shalane Flanagan getting such a big head start and with this race being Chris Derrick's longest race (I think), I figured the pace would start pretty slowly.  But I was hoping they would run faster so I wouldn't find a spot in the pack, only to slowly get the life drained out of my legs.  I went through the first mile in 4:47, feeling pretty comfortable.  The next mile, I worked my way past a few more people and split 4:45.  I even had a brief moment where I realized that I could be in the front if I threw in a short surge.  But I didn't want any of that.

Since the pace was increasing, I backed off a little bit so I could do my own thing and not be one of the guys who would turn into road kill a few miles down the road.  I was running by myself with the pack slowly leaving me.  I ended up catching Kevin Castille and ran side-by-side with him for a minute or two before pulling away.  The next mile was a 4:53, which was encouraging.  I was feeling really good and didn't expect to feel this strongly after running the first two miles in a little bit over 9:30.  But I also started to notice the increasing temperature, so at the next fluid stop, I poured some water on my chrome dome  I tried drinking out of the cup, but barely got anything out of it, so my plan was to water myself down at a few of the stops.

In the fourth mile, I saw Tyler McCandless start to slowly come back to me.  I eventually caught and then passed him a little bit under halfway through the race. I was hoping he would rally back and have a good race but my eyes were focused on the next guy ahead of me.  Once I hit this point, I knew I was running pretty well because I felt strong and I knew who all of the other guys ahead of me were. I noticed Brent Vaughn having some trouble and have heard he has a lot of trouble racing in the heat.  I went by him and then went on to pass Scott Macphearson and on a highway stretch a little bit before six miles, then ran behind Joe Moore for a minute or two before making a pass once we turned off the highway.

Continuing to pass so many tough guys was helping me push through the middle of the race, and I went through 10k in 30:05, which was much faster than expected.  Sometime during this mile, I ended up getting goal #1 and passed Jeanette.  Sorry Jeanette, it ain't personal, just business.

I could see a pretty big group of guys within 100m of me that I was slowly gaining on. I went on to catch Michael Eaton (I guess he's sort of a rival since he lives in KY), Elliot Krause (super tough but has been having a rough patch lately) and Scott Smith.  I really wanted to beat Scott Smith since we have the same first name.  Random stuff like that usually motivates me.  But I also liked running near him because I got over twice as many cheers.

I was still hanging on to the lowish 4:50s and had hopes of catching Craig Curley, Ben Bruce, Nick Arciniaga or Craig Leon.  They were anywhere between 5-15 seconds ahead of me and definitely would be good scalps to take.  Shortly after passing Scott, it was time for the famed hill.  Since we were in Florida and right on the coast, I figured this hill everyone talked about would be a dinky little 1/4 mile thing that wouldn't be an issue.  But that thing kept on going and going and going. It was probably about a thousand meters long, gained about 150 feet and I felt like I was absolutely crawling up it.  I expected someone to pass me but luckily, they never did. However, the guys I were chasing were now pulling away and I went through the eighth mile in 5:08, which was my slowest mile of the day by 15 seconds.
Green Monster Wikimedia
At a little over seven miles into a 9.3 mile race, this hill is placed in a bad spot

After cresting the hill, I was hoping to barrel down the downhill but my legs were too tired. Craig Curley was about 10-15 seconds ahead of me and Craig Leon was probably 6-7 seconds up on me when I passed the 1600m to go sign.  I thought they were both too far ahead to catch, so my goal was to stay focused so I didn't lose my position. This may have been the first race that I hadn't been passed after the first 1/4 mile and I didn't want to lose that.

After passing the nine mile marker, I went by Jen Rhines and felt like I could catch Craig if I went after it some.  I had to at least try because he literally ran like 150 miles the week before the race. I ended up passing him within a hundred meters and with about that much distance left, I kept on pushing and went by Amy Hastings.  There was another girl just ahead of me, so I passed her in case there was a live feed or something so it wouldn't like she was smoking me down the final straight away.

Finishing up in my Newton Distance Elite's, the shoe I wear pretty much everyday

I crossed the line in 45:25 and figured I was around 15th-20th place and was really happy with how I ran. After results came out, I was 15th.  Results show 14th but Nick Arciniaga wasn't listed.  With the head start the women got, I finished behind 17 of them.  Not too bad of a day.

Stephen used his sub 4:00 mile speed to put a whooping on Jeremy down the final straightaway as they finished 9th and 10th overall, both running 44:51.  Tyler finished up in 45:54 and Josh ran 51:06.  When the race was over, I started cooling down with Jeremy and our group quickly turned into a Field of Dreams moment as more and more people starting joining the group.  After I got in my couple of miles, we had about 15-20 guys in the group, including Ben True and Chris Derrick, who finished 1-2 overall, with Ben running a 3:59 last mile to pull away.

In the women's race, Shalene Flanagan broke the American Record for 15k by a couple of seconds and took home something like $30,000.  My old college teammate, Janet Bawcom, finished as the second female and was stuck in no-man's (or no woman's) land for pretty much the entire race.

They had some timing issues, which delayed results.  But it was a good opportunity to eat some donuts, drink some Gatorade and even devour a surprisingly good hot dog.  I even met a guy who reads my blog, who I believe was wearing Newton's.  And while waiting for Pifer and Jeremy to get their top 10 award, I also spent some time talking to a guy from Florida who also wears Newtons.  For some reason, the shoes result in me meeting a lot of cool, new people.

While I was happy with my race, I was a little bit bummed because this was Jeremy's last race as a Newton runner.  He's pretty much immediately moving to Oregon to work for Nike.  He's doing something with online marketing and interacting with customers or something.  I was hoping he would tell me exactly what it was so I could go and troll him some, but he wouldn't give me all of the info.  I've only met him twice, but he's a teammate who will be missed.  We are both similar in the fact that we have both found our best running, post-college and also have a similar outlook on our mental view of things.  Too many people are too emotinally attached to running.  When they run really well, they are ecstatic and on top of the world.  When they run poorly, they are down in the dumps and to them, life couldn't be any more worse.  Running is a pretty stupid thing when you think about it and when the race is over, it's over. That's not to say I don't care about things, because I do. But I never let one race, workout, etc. affect the big picture or how I feel about things as a whole.

After the race, I bummed around, ate some pizza and relaxed some before the dinner and post-race party. At the dinner, they had fried alligator, which was really good and they even had a picture book of the guy you were eating.  Normally, gator meat isn't very flavorful and is really chewy but everything tastes better fried and it was loaded down with a ton of spices. They even had an ice cream place serving free ice cream and my dilemna of the night was choosing between Maple Nut or Salted Caramel.  In a closely contested ice cream battle, the tie breaker is always the toppings, so Salted Caramel reigned supreme.

That wasn't my ice cream.  I was just in need of a picture since I have too many pictureless paragraphs.

After the dinner, we went to the post-race party at some bar near the hotel.  They had both a DJ and a band and my old butt spent a couple of hours talking to Craig Curley, who is a super nice guy and is training for the Boston Marathon.  He can't be more of a inch or two shorter than me, and said all the mileage he's been doing for the marathon has made him lose some weight, and he's down to 109 pounds.  I haven't been that light since seventh grade!  While a lot of people were out until 3 or 4 in the morning, I was in bed before midnight. With an early flight, I knew I needed some sleep because heading home and then taking a nap after being gone for three nights while my wife watched the kids, would be a death sentence.

Overall, it was a really fun race and overall experience.  Next year, I'll be back for some revenge and will be ready to attack the hill.  It also gave me a chance to meet a lot of the runners I've competed against but never really talked with.  Tyler Pennel and Matt Llano are both really nice guys and will also be representing the US in the Half-Marathon Championships, along with Fernando, Josephat Boit and Shadrack Biwott.  And maybe I'm finally coming around because I know all of those guys now.

After this race, I went from taking a low-key approach to the spring season to wanting to jump in the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler, which is also the USA 10 Championships, three weeks later.  Based off my current level fitness and what I've done so far, I feel like I will be able to maintain this pace for a half-marathon in 4-6 weeks, even with the warmer weather.  Hopefully it's a sign of good things to come.

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