Sunday, March 15, 2009

Caesar Rodney LBRR – The Streak Remains Intact

There's something I still don't get about racing. When I was playing team sports, the feeling was that if you practice slow, you play slow. In racing, you're supposed to go much slower in training runs, and then speed up when you race. I'm not sure where that speed comes from, though. I'd been doing some tempo runs when training for the Caesar Rodney Half-Marathon. Typically, I'd drive down to Valley Green, run a warm-up mile or so on Forbidden, then speed up for 2-3 miles, ending by going hard up the hill on Valley Green Drive until the top of that hill, by Chestnut Hill Academy. In the parts of the run on Forbidden, I'd been averaging somewhere in the 6:35-6:40 range. But that was hard. Really, hard, actually. No way, I though, could I do a half-marathon at that pace.

So I had to adjust my goals for Caesar Rodney. When I signed up, my very ambitious goal was to run it in 1:25. As it approached, I'd lowered my goals; I was still hoping to beat last year's time, and keep my streak intact. But the night before the race, when I wrote up my pace chart, I settled on a 6:45 pace, which means a total time or 1:28 and change. My thought was to stick with that for the first ten miles and then open up if I had the energy.

The race started out well. The first mile is downhill and really fast. I managed to bank around 20-25 seconds, which was around what I was hoping for. Things flatten out for the next few miles, as the course winds around Wilmington's little waterfront area. My goal was to keep those seconds banked until things started to climb in miles 4-8. I was able to do that quite comfortably. At that point in the race I was running pretty smoothly and easily, or at least that's how it felt. I wasn't running with anyone in particular – Chris Verry was heading off at a faster pace, which I knew would tire me out – but there was a good crowd of people around me.

Somewhere after mile 4, or really after mile 5 I guess, things start to climb. People think of it as a very hilly course, and I guess most courses are flatter, but it's not hilly compared to our neighborhood, and it's certainly not hilly compared to running in the Wissahickon, so I felt pretty good going up the long climb that winds through some park and ends out on a road sometime in the ninth mile of the race. And really, I felt good on the climb. At the start of the climb Helen was there to cheer me on, which gave me a lot of energy and just generally lifted my spirits. By the top of the climb I realized that I'd actually managed to hold on to the time I'd banked, and was still ahead of the schedule. At the ten mile mark I was able to open things enough. Yes, a girl did pass me at that point, but I still felt like I was running pretty well. Some guy in the crowd told me I was 84th, which was lower than I thought, since this part of the course was an out-and-back and there were plenty of people I'd seen going back when I was still going out.

The other nice thing about opening it up at mile 10 is that things are downhill for most of that. I'd stopped paying so much attention to my watch, but I was able to keep up a pretty good clip for the last three miles, and pass a bunch of people. I knew that the last section was the hardest part of the course, but I knew that I'd prepped for it and expected it to be ok. Same as last year, there's a hill that makes up the last 600 yards or so of the course that's pretty brutal. But this year, when I turned to go up it, not only was there no headwind, but I knew that it was exactly what I'd been training for with all those tempo-to-hill runs. I tried to remember all the different parts of the hill up from Valley Green, to make the Wilmington hill seem smaller.
That didn't quite work. But I did managed to go up the hill quicker than anyone else I saw around me. I heard Helen cheer me on. She said it looked like I was doing well, but I didn't even have it in me to look for her and wave. I felt kind of nauseous at that point, but I was able to keep going and even to pass a few more people before the finish line. My final time was 1:26 something. The pace on my 'gun time' (oh, yeah, there was a really loud gun at the start that set off a car alarm) was 6:37. I managed to keep that up for 13.1 miles. Still not sure how that works. I was in 72nd place, so I passed 10-12 people in the final three miles. Not bad.
Overall, I'm really pleased with my race. I could have trained harder, sure; but given the training I did, I'm not sure I could have run it any faster. And I think that this is a good distance for me. It's a good mix of relying on endurance and long-run training without being too grueling, and it doesn't have the 20-mile 'weekend-buster' long runs. And I'm hoping that the recovery is much faster than the marathon recovery, too.

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