Monday, April 28, 2014

Blue Ridge Road trip and RR

I've shown some signs of breaking out of my prolonged slump recently.  However, this week I had been a bit sluggish.  Likely, my dosage needs to be tweaked a bit but thanks to the detox, my sensitivity has diminished. It will not be a disaster if my formula is a little off.  This race was billed as America's Toughest Road Half Marathon with a total of 3,800 ft. elevation change.  My mother had been worried about me running such a tough event when I am not in top shape and asked me to downgrade to the 10K.  I responded by assuring her that I would not be "racing" this event all out, had no time goal and even promised to walk parts of it if I got too uncomfortable.  I kept my word.

Trip up:
Took the shortest route on the way (I-59 to 24 to 40 to 81).  It's about an 8 hour drive so I broke it up by stopping just beyond Chattanooga on Thursday night.  It was a tough drive the next day with rain most of the way, especially after I crossed into Virginia.  There, I met up with my parents at the hotel then went out for a steak dinner before hitting the expo.  Not much to report there but I did like the tech shirt, which screamed: "You run hills.  I run Mountains."

The weather had cleared by the morning and we had fairly favorable conditions on race morning.  It was about 55 at the start with sunny skies but it quickly warmed to the mid-60s by the finish.  Not too bad overall.  I felt "just okay" warming up but remained unconcerned about my time.  I just wanted to get through it with as little pain as possible and check Virginia off my list.  I considered the RNR VA Beach as well as Richmond but opted for this one as a good low-key race that was within driving distance for myself and my parents.

The course quickly went downhill early in Mile 1 and the slope was fairly significant.  I reminded myself to take it easy here and I just ran it at my standard training effort.  The hill came around 0.7 miles and I passed a couple fading runners just before the Mile marker.  The climb would not let up until Mile 3.4.  To my Birmingham readers, for the sake of comparison, it was steeper than Peavine but not as steep as Stone River.  Everyone around me was running, at least in the early stages.  The grade remained manageable through Mile 2 and I managed to keep the pace respectable but it would steepen severely in the next mile.  At this point, I decided that it was not worth it and employed a walk/jog strategy until the top of the mountain.  Normally, I am not a believer in the Galloway method because the most efficient way to race is to run an even pace or at least an even effort if the terrain is very hilly.  However, in this case with time not important to me and hoping to simply get through it and minimize the pain, it was the right strategy.  Most folks around me were jogging up that monster but were not really gaining much ground on me.  Finally, we hit a gravel trail for about quarter mile that was merely rolling.  Then, it was a quad busting downhill that was shorter and steeper than the previous monster climb.  I'm normally a good downhill runner but here I made it a point to conserve energy.  There was a relatively flat section on a paved trail near a small creek that was a welcome relief.  I took it easy here as well for I knew that I would have to negotiate another monster mountain after Mile 7.
Here are the 1st half splits:
7:21 (7:21)  not bad YET
8:02 (15:23) very respectable
10:00 (25:23)  not worth the pain
8:11 (33:34) up and down
6:49 (40:23) quads are burning
7:20 (47:43) leveled off

The second mountain thankfully was not quite as bad as the first.  It was just as long but in this case, there were a few breaks along the way.  Again, I held my form pretty well early but decided that it was not worth it as the grade steepened in Mile 8 and Mile 9.  I think I walked about half of the steep uphills but we finally reached the summit around Mile 9.4 and were treated to a beautiful view near an overlook by the iconic star that gives Roanoke its nickname.  This time, I let it fly down the quad busting downhill and quickly re-passed 3 runners that managed to jog more of the that monster than I did.  No words were spoken as I breezed by at low-6 pace.  At the 10 Mile mark, I began thinking about my time.  Again, it was not real important to me but early hopes of a 1:45ish had faded to merely a sub-1:50.  I looked to be well on track but rounding a corner, I saw another very steep hill and once again, I was reduced to walking.  I would have to rally in the final 2 miles to break the barrier.  Fortunately, Mile 12 was largely a shallow downhill and I gained quite a bit of ground on the field.  Mile 13 was a different story with several rollers including a tough bridge climb.  This time, I would NOT be walking though some of my competitors did.  With about 3/4 of a mile to go, the sub-1:50 was in the bag and the last quarter mile was mostly a gentle decline.  I finished pretty strong and out-kicked 2 runners to finish in a time of 1:49:12 (8:20 pace).
2nd half splits:
8:36 (56:19) trying to hold it together
8:53 (65:12) ditto
10:00 (75:12) So what?
9:27 (84:39) should break 1:50
8:33 (93:12) need to rally
7:02 (1:40:14) finishing strong
7:30 (1:47:44) rollers
1:28 (1:49:12)  last .22, sub-7 pace.

Final thoughts:
Looks like an AWFUL result on the surface but if you take a closer look, it's actually quite respectable.  According to the overall results, I was 6th out of 55 in my age group (89th percentile), which is about on par with my usual placing.  Despite what looks like a ghastly fade in Miles 7-10, I actually GAINED 3 places overall in the 2nd half (passed 6, got passed by 3).  Again, this was NOT a serious "race effort" either and I'm sure that I would have been faster if I had walked less and ran a more even effort.

Trip home:
Showered up back at the hotel and went with my parents to Appomattox Court House National Park (site of Lee's surrender to Grant).  It was a mini version of Colonial Williamsburg, set up to look like it did back in 1865.  We had a really interesting guide who detailed the letters between Grant and Lee in the days leading up to the surrender.  It is a bit out of the way from any major town but worth the trip if you are in Roanoke or Richmond for any reason.  From there, it was back to Lynchburg for dinner at Outback then a trip to Monticello (Thomas Jefferson's home) in Charlottesville.  Unfortunately, we were unable to do the full tour of the house due to time constraints but there was plenty of interesting stuff to see in the Visitor's Center.  I had done the house tour about a decade ago so I was not too disappointed.  It was imperative that I made it back to upstate South Carolina that night.

From Charlottesville, it was country roads through central Virginia and the Piedmont region of North Carolina.  As an aside, with the exception of the DC suburbs, Virginia's culture is still predominantly Southern.  Nobody from the DC area says that they are from Virginia without adding the word Northern first.  Dinner was a nice independent buffet just before I picked up the interstate near Greensboro, NC.  I was late but made my destination in upstate SC.

I awoke early the next morning and drove through my old stomping grounds near Clemson.  I stopped at my old apartment complex and ran my old 5 mile route on Hwy 93 then stopped in to say hello to my old landlord.  He did not recognize me at first but but when I told him that I used to live there, he remembered and was very pleased that I stopped by.  I also paid a visit to one of old pizza joints and a fruit stand where I enjoyed talking to a nice woman.  Again, she did not recognize me at first but it came back after I started talking.  I moved to Alabama way back in '06 so I was impressed by all that.  I still like South Carolina very much but when I could not get a job, it was time for a change and I know that Birmingham is where I belong now.  The remainder of the trip went without a hitch and I was back by late afternoon.

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