Background: I am 2 weeks removed from a marathon but recovered far faster than expected. I was back 100% within about a week. 5 days earlier, I used the emotions of my first day on a new job in my favor to an unofficial 5 mile PR in 33:36. I knew that I would be hard pressed to beat it on this course and simply hoped for a sub-34. I left Hoover Friday after work and treated myself to a steak dinner before heading down to Montgomery. I still have a lease on my apartment there until the end of the month but plan on moving the rest of my stuff out this weekend. The advantage was that I would not have to get up super early to get there on time.
Race day: Felt good when I woke up and headed to town with plenty of time to spare. I felt strong warming up but was wary of some nasty weather approaching from the south. Fortunately, the worst of it held off until after it was over. Much of the race was run in a light rain with temps around 70 degrees. No big deal. I've run in much worse conditions before. I opted for a tank top and cap, which proved to be a smart decision.
Course: I would rate this one as a 6 in terms of difficulty on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being most difficult. In other words, not a PR course but not impossible to run a fast time if you have your best stuff. It had 3 nasty hills. The first lasted from about 0.5 to the first mile marker then one at 1.5 and another just after the 2 miler mark. The finish would be downhill and provided the opportunity to make up some time. A negative split is to be expected.
Race: I lined up in the front row and chatted a bit with another runner and explained the course that I had run the previous year. He thanked me afterward. We took off and I wanted a fast start because I knew that the uphills would slow me down. I was out in just under 6:00 pace in the first quarter mile, which was slightly downhill and dialed it back just a hair but not much. I would hit the half mile in 3:08 then came the hill up to the State Capitol building. I held my position but could not help that my pace was slowing. I kept the effort even but came through the first mile in 6:51. That's about where I wanted to be at this stage. If I could keep the next 2 miles under 7, I might have a shot at a PR. After the mile marker, we hit a brief downhill and I used it to recover then we hit a brief flat section. My pace was good but was beginning to feel the lactic acid buildup already. That was not a good sign. Heading up the longest hill of the race, I passed one and got passed by one while keeping the effort even. We hit a short downhill just before the 2nd mile marker but it was not long enough to recover and there would be no rest for the weary up ahead. My 2nd mile was just over 7 but still not bad and still on target. The 3rd mile would be my slowest of the race. We had finished most of the uphills but there were no significant declines in which to recover. The highest elevation point came roughly at the halfway point, which I passed in about 17:30. It seemed unlikely that I could run a full minute faster in the 2nd half but I knew that I would beat last year's time of 34:41. I saw an older man whom I had beaten with my finishing kick last year. I figured that he remembered me and really wanted to beat me this time. We would exchange places several times over the next 2 miles before I claimed the lead for good with 3/4 of mile to go. My split at the 3 mile mark was over 21. I did not feel good about it and my breathing had been labored since the 2nd mile. Fortunately, the course had leveled off and mile 4 may have been slightly downhill. I managed to pick up the pace and came through mile 4 just over 28 with lots of downhill to go. Last year, I ran the last mile close to 6 flat but I didn't feel that I had as much left this time. Initially, the last mile was gently downhill and I could tell that my pace had increased but according to my Garmin, I was only doing about 6:20-6:30. With just over a half mile to go, we hit a small uphill and I pushed it as hard as I could. I was gaining on another competitor but I was probably too far back to catch him. At the top, it would be a long straightaway to the finish and the banner was in my view, such a pleasant sight. This downhill stretch was fairly steep and I was moving well. With about 100 yards to go, I had a chance to pass somebody so I shifted into overdrive and caught him with about 30 yards to go. When I first saw the clock, it read 33:56 so I made a desperate drive to the line and yelled "Dang it!" when I didn't quite make it under 34. I had begun my all out kick just a hair too late. Funny thing, my watch read 34:00.91 and the results were not posted but I placed in my age group. The announcer called out my time as 33:48. In any event, it was a very good performance overall and probably just as good as my time trial. I could have made up that 5 seconds per mile on a flat course. Runners know that you can never gain as much on a downhill as you lose on an uphill. In the time trial, my energy was almost limitless and felt that I could have gone all day. However, today I showed a lot more heart in battling through the pain in the last 3.5 miles. I'll call it a 34-flat, which is my 2nd best time ever. I would not rate this as "excellent" but still "very good." If I were grading myself today, it would be an A minus.
Aftermath: My calf was screaming at me at the finish line but the rest of my body didn't feel too beat up. It did loosen up a bit after a 2 mile cool down jog. I did see a couple of old friends and got to meet LA Runner from Runner's World Online. I enjoy this race and will likely be back in the future but am glad that I live in Birmingham now.