It's rare that I go into a race and really don't care how I do but I usually end up pleased with the results when I treat a race as a training run. I actually had a mixed drink with dinner and ran a 2.5 mile warm up prior to the race so I could log a distance comparable to a weekend long run. I did not feel particularly well warming up and had some soreness in the hip/groin area so it seemed as if it might be a mistake to run today. I had only signed up the day before and it was pretty much a race day decision. If this had been a goal race at a shorter distance, I may have bailed in favor of an easier long run.
It's a point to point race starting at Vulcan Park and finishing in Liberty Park so we parked at the finish area and took a bus to the start line. There would be no return transportation back to Vulcan Park. I awoke on time and had a smooth uneventful morning. Another severe storm came through the previous night and the forecast called for temps in the low 50s with strong winds. I took a tank top and a long sleeve shirt but felt comfortable enough to run in the tank top because the wind did not seem to be as strong as predicted. The course had been described to me as a "nice 10K" through the beautiful Mountain Brook neighborhood followed by one humongous hill that is so steep that even very good runners resort to walking. After that, there is some downhill followed by a second killer hill. Most of the final 1.5 miles are sharply downhill but there are a few uphill portions, most notably a quarter mile stretch late in Mile 9. My plan was to go out relatively hard (near 6:50 pace), walk the big hills then bring it home strong.
I took off among the leaders for the first 100 meters downhill then we made the turn on to level ground. I wisely dialed it back and hit the 1/2 mile mark around 3:15. Maybe it was a slight incline but it was early enough that it did not hurt at all. We hit a small downhill just before the 1st mile marker which was passed comfortably in 6:46. It turned out that this "nice 10K" had at least 3 or 4 steep uphills before the killers ahead but fortunately, they were relatively short, maybe a tenth of a mile each. There were plenty of flats and downhills as well. I gained quite a bit of ground in Mile 2 and passed several runners who had gone out too fast. I thought to myself, this course doesn't seem so bad. Just then, we hit our first steep uphill just after 1.5 miles. Downhill would follow, which allowed me to hit a solid 6:44 2nd mile. At this point, I was running mostly with the 2 female leaders and we would pass each other several times over the next 3 miles. I was very pleased with how even my splits were and how comfortable I felt at the halfway point.
6:44 (13:30)- solid pace, gaining ground
6:34(20:04)- maybe a little fast, back off some, 5K in 20:50.
6:47 (26:51)- passed female leader on steep hill.
6:46 (33:37)- strong.
We hit another steep hill just after turning on Stone River at around 5.1 miles. After a nice recovery downhill, it would be slightly uphill for the next 3/4 of a mile or so but it was manageable. I figured that I was on pace for a sub-42 10K, less than a minute from my PR. At about 5.9 miles, the first killer hill began. My plan was run it as long as I could but if my Garmin pace went above 10:00, I'd be better off walking. I would make it a little over a tenth of a mile before my resolve weakened. Mile 6 was 7:06 for a total time of 40:43. The 2 female leaders passed me again as they attempted to run the hill. Their resolve did not last much longer than mine. I would be walking for most of the next 3/8 of a mile with a few short spurts of jogging but the hill was so steep that my competition was not gaining very much ground on me. Maybe I could have managed to jog up that monster but walking would be part of my strategy. As we neared the summit, I received a word of encouragement to pick it back up since we were almost to the top. I started running again, passed the female leader and would not see her again. The walk break must have refreshed me because once we hit level ground after a short downhill, I was back to sub-7 pace and feeling strong. Mile 7 was 8:26 (49:09), which really wasn't too bad considering that I walked about 25-30% of it. I thought I could make up some ground at the end and still manage to finish below 7:00 pace. We made a turn to hit some more downhill and I enjoyed it while it lasted because I had heard of another killer ahead. It had a short and fairly steep first part then it turned into a gradual incline. To make matters worse, there were 2 curves in the road which revealed more incline ahead. I managed to keep my pace pretty strong in this section. I was in the 7:20s each time I looked at the Garmin. Next, we made a turn to find another monster hill that was every bit as steep as the previous monster but mercifully, it was not as long. My strategy was the same. I ran as long as I could in relative comfort before walking for maybe 15-30 seconds. When we got close to the summit, it was time to get moving again. By this time, there was about 1.5 miles to go and about 75% of it would be sharply downhill. Time to really let it loose here. I gained ground quickly on a competitor who appeared to me near my age but whenever the terrain flattened or went slightly uphill, he pulled away again. My split for Mile 8 was a respectable 7:25 (56:34) and I still had a shot at the sub-7 pace finish. It would be an exciting race to the finish, I actually passed him once on a steep downhill but as we passed Mountain Brook High School, it was a moderate uphill into a headwind and I was left at least 20 yards behind. When we crested the final uphill, it would be about half a mile to the finish and sharply downhill for about 650 with level ground to the finish line. Mile 9 passed in an impressive 6:07, which put me back under 7:00 pace overall (62:41) and it was time to fly to the finish. I made up much of the ground that I had lost on the previous uphill but the finish line would come just a bit too soon. Another 100 meters and he would have been mine.
Final time for 15K (9.33 miles) was 64:22 (6:54 pace). My last 1/3 of a mile was 1:41 (5:10 pace). Downhill or not, that's some serious speed after 9 miles and I actually felt that I left a few seconds on the course as well.
The windy conditions came shortly after the race and I was sure glad that I had that long sleeve shirt. I was in good spirits as I chatted with other runners. The only downer was that competition in the 30-34 age group was fierce. I finished 13th overall but only 5th in my age group. My time would have been good enough in the 25-29 division. I posed the following question: If I can run 6:54 pace on this course, can I run that pace or better for an additional 3.8 miles? The consensus was yes. Those of you that have run this course before, I'd like your honest opinion, was this performance equivalent to a sub-1:30 half (13.1 @ 6:52) on a flat course?
Edit: Official time was 64:15 (6:53 pace)