Friday, August 30, 2013

Blue Ridge Relay leg analysis: Leg 31

The Mountain Goat leg. The Big One. The Billy Goat. The Climb. The Hill. The Switchbacks. Whatever you call it, this is arguably the toughest leg on the Blue Ridge relay, and for the second year in a row, I'm going to run it.

Last year I wasn't planning on running it, but one of our runners got sick, so the order of runners changed and I was called into action. When I got to this leg, I had already run 5 legs, and I would be running one more after it, so I was already exhausted and still needed to save something for the last leg. I told Chas I was hoping for a 10:30 pace on the leg and I ended up running a 10:19. Not very impressive, despite the leg's 1,400 feet of climbing in 6.5 miles.

One of the reasons I wanted to run the Blue Ridge Relay again this year was to run this leg. A week from tomorrow, somewhere around 8:00 a.m., I should get my chance. Here's the BRR info sheet on the leg:

As you can see, the route is flat for the first mile, then gradually starts climbing in Mile 2, and from there on out it's pretty much a steady climb to the finish. My team gives me a projected 7:20 pace for this leg, and I can say right now, there's no chance I will do that. I honestly would be very satisfied with an 8:00 pace for the leg, but I will probably shoot for something in between the two and hang on as long as I can. Here's how the leg breaks down, mile by mile.

I got the gain / descent figures from last year's GPS record of the leg, so they should be fairly accurate, although I must say I don't remember any downhill in Mile 6! If there's any bright spot here, it should be in Mile 5, where it does level off ever so slightly before entering the notorious switchback section on Mile 6. As you can see, I slowed considerably on those switchbacks last year, because for some reason I thought the leg was 7.4 miles, not 6.5, so I didn't realize how close I was to the finish. A car passed me at the end of Mile 6 and told me it was just a half-mile to the finish, and I didn't believe him! I only really picked up the pace when I started to see team vans parked on the side of the road about a quarter-mile from the end.

This year (assuming no one has to drop out and change the order of the runners) I should be better prepared for my final leg. I've done a lot of BRR-specific training, including plenty of hill repeats and workouts on the bleachers at Davidson College, so I think I'll be ready for this. In addition, I've now studied the route (in addition to having actually run it), so I'd like to believe that armed with that knowledge and training, I should be able to perform well.

I'm planning a relatively slow first mile because I don't want to go into the hill feeling tired. I'm going to treat that mile almost like a fast warm-up to prepare me for things to come. I'll slow down just a touch, to a 7:45 pace as I start heading up the hill, and then do all I can to hang on to that pace all the way to the top, even as I get progressively more exhausted.

Last year as I ran up the hill there were perhaps a dozen spectators, each of them thinking they were encouraging me by telling me "this is your last leg -- give it all you've got!" That didn't do much good because I knew that in fact I had another leg yet to run. This year it really will be my last leg, so perhaps that knowledge will actually help this time around! I'd like to get through this leg without walking (as I did many times last year) except perhaps for 10 yards at a time when the road gets super-steep as it heads around switchbacks.

If everything goes as planned for our team, I should be running this leg around 8 a.m. on Saturday morning. Currently the forecast overnight low for Friday is 55 degrees, so with any luck I'll be running this leg in temperatures below 60. That would be absolutely fantastic, and considerably cooler than last year, when I started at 10 a.m. on a much warmer day.

This is a very tough leg, as my humbling performance last year demonstrates. Hopefully this year I'll be able to turn that around. If I can, it could be one of my most satisfying races ever.

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