|Near the end of the trail!|
It had been a pretty rotten 2nd quarter that included 3 rather weak efforts at 10K. Only the 3rd one (41:19 in Atlanta) was satisfactory. However, I've turned the corner in recent days by further tightening my restrictions on sugar. For the past 2 weeks, I've been drinking nothing but water. The only exception is a few sips of Gatorade on my long runs. It has paid off. Today is my 7th day off the pills and in my last workout, the effort seemed much easier than the actual pace. This was to be my 3rd time racing this course. I delivered a tremendous performance in 2008 given my fitness level (62:40) but I was horrible last year and vowed to return for redemption. Sub-60 was the goal.
This is a very unique event. The first mile begins with a moderate incline for about a half mile then we get some downhill towards the end to even out the elevation. Overall, the first mile has about 80 ft. of uphill and downhill. From that point, it's basically straight uphill for the next 1.75 miles with just a couple of small dips and brief sections of level ground. The average grade is about 6% in Mile 2. Mile 3 is not quite as steep and runners are treated to a spectacular view near 2.75 miles at a clearing. Then, we actually get a decent downhill before a very steep section of about 400-600 meters to the top. If you're not too beat up, you can really let it loose on the downhill but you need to save a little strength for the trail section that comes near the 10K mark on the course. It's a single lane dirt path with sharp turns every 50-100 meters with rolling terrain and lots of rocks and sticks. At this point, the race can't be over soon enough. Finally, you're off the trail just after 8 miles and have a 200 meter sprint to the line. It's July 4th in Alabama so you can probably guess the weather conditions. This year was near normal (mid-upper 70s at the start, 80 by the finish with about 80% humidity). Fortunately, virtually all of the course is shady, which provided some relief.
The plan was to go out conservative and treat the early miles like a glorified training run. I aimed to run Mile 1 at roughly the average pace that I hoped to sustain for the entire race. I saw some slower runners move out ahead of me. Do I go with them? No. Forget 'em and just run your own race. My legs felt pretty good early but I was struggling for breath, which was not a good sign. I looked down at the GPS and saw that I was doing just under 7:15 pace, which was plenty fast enough. I would gain some more time on the downhill. When I hit the long killer hill, I reminded myself to keep the effort even for there would not be a let up in the hill for a very long time. To my credit, I ran the uphill portion extremely well. I must have passed at least 10 runners here while not getting passed at all. When I passed the slower running buddies, a few of them remarked that they were wondering when I was going to pass them. I reminded myself not to push it on the brief downhill for the uphills were not over yet. I finally made it to the top and was still not totally spent. I walked for a few yards to the water station and took my time drinking a full cup before heading back down. The downhill is normally where I make a big move but today, I had reached a spot where the pack was pretty thin. I passed two immediately but nobody else was within my reach and a younger runner actually went by me just before we hit the trail section. Of course, I struggled here but so does everybody else. I have to be especially careful here because of my history of ankle injuries. The runner who had just passed me continued to distance himself but it was not a significant difference is speeds. I checked my GPS frequently trying to figure out just how much more trail that I would have to negotiate. It could not be over soon enough. Still, I was well on schedule for a sub-60 and probably would come in under 59 depending on the GPS measurement. It's officially an 8.2 mile course but the reception is poor in the woods so it usually comes out near an even 8 miles. The same held true this year. One runner who appeared to be a few years older than I went by near the end of the trail but I managed to keep him in range. A small pack of about 3 others were gaining on me but I was not about to let them go by. With the trail coming to an end, I would not have to. I turned on the speed and re-passed the older runner while keeping the others safely behind. Unofficial result: Time of 58:40. Official pace was 7:08ish but GPS pace was7:20. There are no age group awards, just top 10 overall and I was told on the way down that I was in the top 30.
7:04 (7:04) (rolling)
7:52 (14:56)(sharply uphill) excellent split here
7:38 (22:34) sub-60 looks like a pretty safe bet
7:20 (29:54)(top came at 3.7ish)
7:00 (36:54)(mostly down)
6:10 (43:04) (downhill)
7:55 (50:59) (trail)
Well done. This was a good solid performance but probably will not go down as an all time great. I'll bet that I was good for a 1:30ish half today on a level course. I didn't quite make the sub-7 pace, or A+ goal but I did break 60 by a comfortable margin of 10 ticks per mile.