Monday, March 19, 2012

Race Recap: The Leprechaun Loop 8K


I'm not sure what the craziest decision I made this week was, but I have two distinct nominees:

1. Running a tough interval workout in the heat two days before the Leprechaun Loop 8K

2. Doing a 17-mile long run about 13 hours after the Leprechaun Loop.

Or perhaps the craziest decision was made several weeks ago: To run the Leprechaun Loop at all.

I'm not really a very good afternoon / evening runner. I do nearly all of my runs in the morning, when it's a little cooler here in the South, and before I've become preoccupied with the events of the day. But the Leprechaun Loop 8K was too tempting: It's put on by Summit Coffee, the semi-official coffee shop / meeting-place of my running group, and it's right here in my home town. It was also at 6 p.m. on an abnormally warm day even for this part of the country.

On Friday morning after my tough interval workout, I was feeling sore. I did a 7-mile recovery run at a very slow pace and didn't feel any better. The weather forecast for Saturday's race suggested it would be in the high 70s at race time. I began to wonder if I could possibly meet the sort of goals I've been setting for myself in races lately. My last 8K was in October, when I took a wrong turn and finished in 33:10 - an asterisked PR. I should be able to do better than that; all it would take is to run faster than a 6:40 pace, and given that I'd managed a 6:07 just a few weeks ago in a 5K, that seemed quite doable.

But I also have a long-term goal of completing a 10K in less than 40 minutes. To do that I will need to run at a 6:26 pace. Ideally I'd use the 8K as a testing ground to see if I can hang at a 6:26 pace for 8K.

As the temperature rose throughout the day on Saturday I set two very tentative goals: First, to PR, and second, to finish at a 6:26 pace or better.

I arrived at the starting area about 40 minutes early and picked up my race packet. Soon I saw plenty of other runners I recognized. Most importantly, Chad was talking to Anthony Famiglietti, who recently moved to Davidson. Fam, as he is called, happens to be a world-class runner; he was a steeplechaser on the US Olympic team in 2004 and 2008 and will be trying out again this year. Chad introduced me, and Fam turned out to be a really nice guy. He asked me if I'd be running this one all-out, and I said I would, so he gave me several tips. The most important one was to go out fast; the course is front-loaded with downhills and you might as well bank time at the beginning.

This was a slightly different strategy than what I had been considering given the heat -- the temperature was approaching 80 degrees, and chances didn't look good for an afternoon shower to cool us all off. I figured Fam knew what he was talking about, and decided to head out at just over a 6-minute pace, then see how long I could hang on.

I took about a mile-long warm-up run, then headed to the start. I decided to ditch the running cap I usually wear during races; it was just too hot for it.

At the starting line. I'm right behind Fam (orange shoes).

Soon we were off and heading downhill. After a few hundred yards I glanced at my watch and saw that I was running about a 5:30 pace. Too fast. I gradually slowed down and let a few runners pass me; hopefully I'd pass a bunch of them back as the race wore on. Among the runners ahead of me were Fam (of course), and fellow DARTers Tommy and Chas.

Tommy and Chas have never beaten me in a race, but both of them seemed much more comfortable than me in the heat. At some point I think I passed Chas, but Tommy stayed in front of me through Mile 2. Here's a photo Chad caught of me at around Mile 1.5:

Me trying to look like I'm having fun

Soon after this, Chas passed me back, as did a runner Chad had just introduced to me, Pete. Here's a photo of both of them:

Chas is making this look much too easy!

Even though the course wasn't really getting any harder, my times got progressively slower for each mile. Mile 1 was 6:17, Mile 2, 6:30, and Mile 3 was 6:44, despite 85 feet of downhill. Even so, I think I passed Tommy in Mile 3. Chas just kept gaining ground, but Pete was tantalizingly close ahead of me.

I pressed into Mile 4, knowing this would be the most difficult mile of the course. I glanced down at my watch halfway up the hill on Avinger and saw that I was running a 7:30 pace. I knew I could go faster than that, heat or no heat, so I tried to pick it up. I turned the corner from Pine Road onto Lorimer, where Marc Hirschfield was taking pictures:

I may look awful in this picture, but I can assure you I was feeling worse!

I finished Mile 4, with its 84 feet of climbing, in 7:12. I tried to increase the pace for the final mile, not wanting anyone else to pass me. Pete was in my sights but much too far ahead to catch, so at this point I was just hoping not to be embarrassed. As we got closer to the finish I saw more and more people who knew me — not just running friends, but other friends from around town. I tried to smile as I passed by.  The final mile included two steep hills, and the race finished up a gravel road and then another gradual upslope. I strode across the finish and then mercifully stopped at the water table. The clock read 32:50; somehow I had set a PR.

Chas and Pete were there to congratulate me / commiserate over the difficult course, and soon Tommy, Brian, and a number of other DARTers had crossed the line. Chas had set a huge PR of 31:57, a 6:26 pace. Even if I hadn't succeeded in my goal of running this race at a 6:26 pace, Chas had! This was the first time Chas had beaten me in a race, and I suspect it won't be his last; he's still got lots of potential for improvement.

I learned a couple things from this race. First, I still haven't mastered the 8K distance; I don't yet know when to turn it on and how much gas is left in the tank. Second, I probably need to do more training in the heat to be prepared for events like this. I don't like the heat, but I do know that the only way to get better at handling it is to run more in the heat. Despite all this, I still managed a PR and finished third in the 40-49 age group, so I should probably learn to stop complaining and just be happy about my race! Here's the local news site's report on the race, here are the overall results, and below is my Garmin record of the race.

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