Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Awesome Epochal DART Hiking Expedition

As the DART Hiking Trip was in its late planning stages, a thought occurred to me. We were planning an epic 3-day hike through the Linville Gorge Wilderness. We wouldn't be able to start until after Tristan got off work at 5 p.m. on Friday. It was now Wednesday. Don't you usually need to get a permit to camp in a wilderness area? A quick Internet search confirmed it. I called the USFS ranger station in Nebo, NC, and they told me that they had already issued the maximum number of permits. The only way to get a permit now would be to show up at the Linville Gorge information cabin between 10 am and 5 pm Friday, where 15 more permits would be issued, first-come, first-served. Oops.

Then I realized that the gorge was just 2 hours from my house, and I didn't have to work Friday, so I decided to drive to the park Friday morning, then return home, permit in hand, in time for all of us to set off on the expedition. Three hours later, I was driving my tiny Honda Fit along a rough gravel road, wondering if I'd made a wrong turn. Finally I arrived at the cabin, which turned out to be about a half-mile off a paved highway. Outside of the cabin was a sign, "Spence Ridge Bridge is OUT." I didn't have time to wonder what that meant; I got the permit, then took the quick way home, arriving back at 1:30.

After some frantic packing, I managed to meet Tristan and Joe at Tristan's office in Lincolnton, and by 6:00 pm we were finally on the road. We arrived at the trailhead at 7:30 -- we had about an hour and a half to hike 4 miles, straight uphill, set up camp, and cook dinner, before darkness arrived. Here's a photo of us before we started up the trail.

Tristan took the lead, and as we briskly marched up the hill, I realized that I hadn't hiked with people in such good shape for decades. I was used to being the fittest and most-experienced hiker in the group, but today that wasn't the case -- we were all equally matched. It meant that I had worked up a ferocious sweat within minutes. Within 15 minutes, we had climbed at least 500 vertical feet, and the views were already quite impressive. Our planned campsite involved another 1,300 feet of climbing, though. Despite carrying around 35 pounds each, we were walking at better than a 2-miles-per-hour pace. This is how fast I usually plan for hikes on level ground when carrying this much gear. Soon we were at the edge of the gorge, at an elevation of almost 3,000 feet. Here we all are, enjoying the view:

And here's another shot of the cliffs -- you can see they descend quite steeply into the gorge:

After another mile or so of hiking, we found a nice campsite -- with no water. We did a quick bit of figuring and decided we probably had enough water to make it through breakfast, so we went ahead and started pitching our tents. We had to cook our spaghetti dinner using headlamps, but the meal was quite satisfying. Tristan had even brought a box of wine for us to share with our meal. Delicious! There was only one problem. Joe had neglected to bring any kind of bowl or utensils for eating. Joe then reminded Tristan that he was supposed to bring utensils for him. "No problem," Tristan said. He had purchased some oatmeal that came in its own cup, so they dumped the oatmeal into a ziploc bag and used the oatmeal cups as beverage containers / bowls for the rest of the trip!

The next morning we got up and enjoyed coffee overlooking the gorge.

Then we packed up and got ready for a challenging day of hiking. The plan was to hike about 12 miles on Saturday, then 9 or so on Sunday when we had to be home by about 6 pm. Here we're about to start the day's travels:

Now we were hiking along the ridge line, and astonishing views presented themselves quite frequently. The Linville Gorge is known as the "Grand Canyon of North Carolina," and while that may be a bit of an exaggeration, there's no doubt that the scenery was stunning:

There weren't a lot of flat sections on this trail -- everything seemed to be heading straight up or straight down. As we made our way up one of the steeper sections of the trail, we noticed a peculiar sort of trail marker:

Yep, you're seeing that correctly. Someone on the trail crew thought it would be funny to taunt hikers with a little smiley face as they slogged up this steep trail with no switchbacks.

Eventually we emerged at another viewpoint, and we began to see Table Rock in the distance. Several DARTers had run the Table Rock Ultra a couple years ago, so it was neat to see it for ourselves.

Yep, that's me and Table Rock
We ran in to some climbers here, and they were nice enough to take our photo in front of the rock.

Hiking further along, we were surprised to see the trail pass through a very narrow gap. Here's Joe heading into the gap:

And here's Tristan on the way out:

Over the next few miles we saw some really spectacular rock formations including the Chimneys and Table Rock, but somehow neglected to take photos of any of them. In this area we ran into a lot of day hikers and climbers because there is a parking lot a mile from the top of Table Rock. It was surreal to be working up a huge lather of sweat, carrying heavy packs, and see day-hikers in capri pants and flip-flops strolling by, asking us how far it was to the parking lot.

After lunch on the Chimneys, we headed on to Table Rock, where there were more stunning (and undocumented) views. I had planned to take a photo of the group here with my phone and post it to the DART Facebook page (the better to make my fellow DARTers drool in jealousy), but despite not having turned the phone on for the entire trip, the battery was completely drained. Oh well, you'll just have to take my word for it -- the views were stunning.

Next our trail headed down into the canyon. STRAIGHT down, that is. It was a quad-searing descent, with nary a switchback to be had, on a very technical trail. We ran into several hikers making their way up the trail or we might have thought we were going the wrong way. Eventually we reached a nicer trail, "Spence Ridge." Now, where had we heard that name before? It sounded vaguely familiar. After continuing down on a more gradual path for a half mile or so, we had our answer. We had arrived at the Linville River, but  where there was supposed to be a bridge there were just a few twisted bolts embedded in a rock.

About 10 people were here, most of them wearing bathing suits. The water was deep, and where it wasn't deep, it was inaccessible. It was a beautiful day for a swim, but there was no obvious spot for a ford. Two young women in bikinis were trying to coax their reluctant dog across the river. Finally they carried him across a gap and hopped across some rocks. There were a few deep spots, perhaps two to three feet deep, with rapidly-moving current. The dog fell in the water a couple of times and didn't like it. I decided to head over to where they had made their way across and see if I could cross without getting my pack wet. Then I looked back to the large rock where the bridge had been and saw this:

A plan in action!
A couple of kind-hearted hikers had offered to carry our packs across for us. There was no access to this spot except through deep water, but once they had established themselves, it wasn't hard for them to port our gear over!

Next, we swam across and helped haul the gear over the remaining gap:

Everything made it across, and the only thing that got wet was our shorts! We even saw a bald eagle flying overhead as we finished porting our gear. For fun, I decided to put my Garmin in swim mode for the brief water-borne phase of the trip. Here's the satellite image of my 0.02-mile swim:

You can even see the (now-nonexistent) bridge!
It was a warm day, so we knew we'd be dry in no time. We put our shoes back on and continued up the trail, now following alongside the river. The scenery was completely different at the bottom of the gorge, at an elevation of roughly 1,400 feet. We could even occasionally look up and see the cliffs we had been hiking atop earlier in the day:

Finally, after about eight hours of hiking, we decided to call it a day. We found a great campsite along the river, and Tristan and I swam across and found a great rock for sunbathing:

Here we are back at the campsite:

After another good dinner followed by some good Scotch, we bedded down for the night. In the morning we had another breakfast with a view:

Then it was time to head out on the trail. We figured we had about 10 miles to cover. Within a hundred yards of breaking camp, the trail got rough again. Within a couple miles, we had lost the trail completely. Or perhaps the trail had simply been obliterated. We were in an area where there had been a rockslide a couple years back, and it looked to me as if the trail had never really been rebuilt. Fortunately Tristan had an excellent hiking GPS unit and a great knack for navigation, and was able to find the trail again, but it took a solid 30 minutes of bushwhacking and climbing over boulders. Did I mention we were wearing 35-pound packs while doing this?

This is what a South African looks like when he has re-located the trail
One small consolation on this part of the trip is that we did see a few rhododendrons in bloom. In my experience, you rarely see the blooms while hiking in the mountains, so I did my best to document it:

We continued to hike along, seeing a few other campers, one of whom warned us of a major climb ahead. Tristan thought we could continue along the river, and the map seemed to indicate there was a river route, but soon we found ourselves on a different trail, and consulting the map we could see that we were indeed headed up the side of the Gorge. Tristan suggested we go back and look for the river trail, but I argued for climbing out where the trail was more obvious. Then we could hook on to the road for a couple miles and make up for whatever time we lost on the climb. Somehow my argument prevailed, but when we were about halfway up the climb, some of the members of our team seemed to think we had made the wrong decision. I don't understand why they didn't think that a 1,500-foot climb in the blazing heat on a grade that averaged about 30 percent wasn't a good idea. These photos should give you some sense of the mental state of the expedition about halfway up the climb:


"What? You'r'e not enjoying sweating off 10 percent of your body mass?"
Finally we arrived at the road, and took the opportunity for a group portrait with the "Bridge Out" sign:

No, I didn't wet my pants. That's all sweat!
Here's the elevation profile for Sunday's hike.

Dave's Detour is that tall section in the middle. We pretty much climbed all the way up the ridge, only to climb back down again. In my defense, there was at least a mile section along the river with no marked trail on the map, so while we did have a hard climb, we may have avoided a lot of bushwhacking. I'll leave it to you to decide whose plan was better.

In any case, we had a nice three mile walk along the road before heading back down the ridge, where progress was quite rapid and we had a pleasant discussion of our views:

"Munger, we would have been there by now if we'd just gone my way..."
Finally we headed down, down, down to the river again where there was no one to help us ford across. Fortunately once we crossed there would only be a couple more miles left to our journey, so it didn't really matter if we got our gear wet.

And our gear definitely got wet!
It was just an easy hike up what we now considered to be a very gradual slope to the car, and we were done! Until Joe noticed a tick on his leg. Then Tristan noticed a tick on his leg. Then I found one, and Joe found several more:

Tick Count: Tristan, 3; Dave, 3; Joe, 12!
After tick removal we posed for our triumphant post-hike photo!

Soon we'll have pizza!
The expedition was complete! We drove back to civilization, in the form of a Mellow Mushroom pizza place where we enjoyed air conditioning and slice after slice of deliciousness. My GPS record of the journey is below.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

A couple tough workouts

I'm now prepping for two big races -- the Peachtree 10K in Atlanta July 4, and the Grandfather Mountain Marathon July 13. My goal for Peachtree is to break 40 minutes despite the heat, and my goal for Grandfather is simply to survive.

So for Grandfather I'm running a lot of hills, running a lot in the heat, and running a lot of mileage.

For Atlanta I'm running a lot in the heat, doing a lot of speed work, and running a lot of mileage.

Honestly, the hills won't hurt my Atlanta training and the speed work won't hurt my Grandfather training, so I'm really doing both.

This week was fairly typical: On Tuesday I needed some speed work. On my calendar was a time-based workout: 2 minutes fast, 2 minutes slow, then 1 minute fast, one minute slow, then 30 seconds fast, 30 seconds slow, repeated 8 times. But Chas had a different plan: 400 meters fast, then 400 slow, 200 fast, and 200 slow, repeated 6-8 times. This seemed close enough, so I decided to work with Chas instead of going it alone. Claire and her friend Chad also decided to join in.

Chas wanted to hit the 400s in around 82 seconds, and the 200s as fast as possible. It was a warm morning, quite humid, but not stiflingly hot. Here are my splits:

I forgot to hit "lap" so I didn't get a time for that first 400, but everything else was pretty consistent. Ultimately I'd like to get those 400s under 80 seconds, to match my goal of hitting a sub-5:00 1500 (sub 5:20 mile), but I feel like that's a solid workout in the heat.

Then today I had another speed workout planned (some 400s, plus 5 X 1,000 meters), but no one to run with -- everyone else, it seemed, had either an easy run or a tempo planned. But the Charlotte Running Club has a group that runs from the YMCA downtown every Thursday, and since they're a lot faster than me, I figured their "easy" run would basically be a tempo run for me. Claire decided to hop in on this run as well.

When I woke up at 5:10 a.m., I looked at my thermometer, and it read 77 degrees. Really? It's still dark and the temperature was already 77? I didn't even want to know how humid it was. I wondered if this was really such a great plan -- drive 20 miles just to run 9 miles? But Claire needed a ride, so I was pretty much fully committed anyways.

I showed up at the Y and saw lots of young, skinny guys that I vaguely recognized from Facebook. They all looked like they could knock out 80-second 400s in their sleep. We took off, with Claire in the lead, and soon were knocking off 7:15-and-faster miles. A 7:15 pace isn't really too bad for me in good conditions. For a while I was even thinking of that as my marathon pace. But it was hot and humid, and after 4 or 5 miles, the pace had quickened to 6:58. I was starting to drop off the back of the pack, and I realized I had no idea how to get back to the Y. That was decent motivation for me to not completely phone in the rest of the workout, so I did my best to hang with the group, which only seemed to be running faster. Finally at around 7 miles I knew I could no longer keep up -- but fortunately I now could figure out how to get back to the Y, so I decided to slow down. I ran mile 8 in a 7:40 pace.

Thankfully, about this point, Claire decided to wait for me and she and I ran the final mile at an 8:00 pace. Overall I was pretty happy with the run -- I had averaged 7:23 over 9 miles in very hot and humid conditions, and the first 7 miles averaged about a 7:15 pace. I still need to improve -- in Atlanta I'm hoping to run a 6:26 pace -- but I think I'm still not fully adapted to the summer heat.

After making a lame joke ("I needed to make sure Claire didn't get lost"), I chatted with the CRC guys, who were quite friendly and unconcerned with how much my run had sucked compared to theirs.

Not an ideal week, but not terrible. I've still got quite a ways to go, though -- this is a 70-mile week, and I've only completed 32, with 3 days left. I'm going to run 4 more this evening, 6 tomorrow, then 10 on Saturday and 18 (!) on Sunday. Wish me luck!

Details of today's workout are below.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Race Recap: Powerade State Games 1500 meters

I'm not really a track runner, but I did run track for one year in college, and I have a vague recollection of breaking 5:00 in the 1500. So when I noticed that the Powerade State Games were going to be in Charlotte this year, I decided to sign up and see if I could break 5:00, over 25 years after I think I remember doing it before.

For those of you not well-versed in standard metric track distances, the 1500-meter run is just under a mile in length. Modern tracks are 400 meters around, with 4 laps -- 1600 meters -- equal to almost exactly a mile (though technically a mile is 1,609.34 meters). So the 1500 is 3 and 3/4 laps. To break 5 minutes you need to average 1:20 per lap, plus 1 minute for the final 3/4 lap. But before you do that, you must wait...and wait...and wait.

I had to arrive at the track before 9:30 a.m. to check in. Then I took a look at the program of events:

Track Events
Race Walks
3,000 Meter Run
80/100/110 Hurdles
100 Meter Dash (Finals)
800 Meter Dash
400 Meter Dash
4 x 100 Meter Relay
1500 Meter Run
300/400 Meter Hurdles
200 Meter Dash
4 x 400 Meter Relay

There were no times listed for any of the events -- one event would simply start as soon as the previous one was finished.

So I decided to settle in on a shady knoll above the track. It was the only shaded area with a view of the track itself, and the day was already stiflingly hot. I had a Kindle loaded with William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury, so I was quite certain I would not run out of reading material. First up was the 3,000-meter race walk, 7 and a half laps. For fun, I timed one of the laps -- it took nearly 3 minutes to complete. This was going to be a looooong day.

The 3,000-meter run was a little quicker, but it still took nearly 20 minutes.

Next came the hurdles. It took nearly as long to set up the hurdles as it did for the race-walkers to complete their event. After all that, there was just one heat, lasting 15 seconds!

Finally I figured out what the main attraction of this meet was: The 100-meter dash. Wave after wave of men competed, each one fiddling with his blocks for quite some time before the start.

Meanwhile there were four competitors in the Pentathlon, so those running events (a 200-meter and 1500-meter dash) also took up some track time. By the time my event was finally called, it was 3:15 PM. It was a sweltering day, and even warmer down on the track. But it had cooled just a touch from some of the early competitions. I decided to do a very limited warm-up, figuring I was already plenty warm. I did a few strides while the women competed, and that was that.

Finally it was the men's turn. There were about 10 men competing, so they put us all together in a single heat. Most of the men looked to be quite a bit older than me, and it didn't look like any of them would be faster than me -- but you never know! In a flash, we were off. In hindsight, I probably should have taken the lead right away, but a fellow who looked like he had a spare 15 pounds or so around his waist ended up cutting in front of me.

I had my Garmin on, and while I knew it wasn't going to be perfectly accurate with my pace, I hoped it would at least give me a good sense of how fast I was going. I would need to do slightly better than 5:20 per mile in order to break 5:00 flat. Then I could hit "lap" at every lap to see if I was making my 1:20 splits. The guy was actually running about a 5:10 pace according to Garmin, so I stayed behind him. As we rounded the second corner, he seemed to be slowing a bit, so I strode past him on the outside. From here on out, I'd be running against the clock. I hit "lap" as I crossed the starting line and saw 1:22. Crap. Too slow.

But each breath of hot air told me that I shouldn't try to speed up too much. The watch continued to read a sub-5:20 mile pace, so I felt like I was doing okay. But as I finished my second lap, I forgot to hit "lap" right away. I remembered a second or two later and pressed the button, but my lap time was 1:27. That didn't seem possible! Oh well, there was nothing to do but keep going. I was breathing harder than ever, and I started to doubt whether I could finish. Was anyone in line to catch me? I didn't dare look back. I tried to pick up the pace, and strode as hard as I could to finish lap 3: 1:21. Faster, but still not fast enough.

I put everything I could into the final 300 meters. I was running all-out as I rounded the last corner and headed into the final straight. I couldn't imagine keeping this up all the way to the finish, but it was just 100 meters...I had to. Somehow, I did, and I powered across the line. My time: 5:09 on my watch, officially, 5:08.85. Not what I was looking for -- that works out to a 5:31 pace, or slower than what I had done for a mile on the road last year about this time. Granted, this time it was much hotter, and I had no one ahead of me to pull me along, but still, it was depressing to see I had made no progress.

Another problem with my performance is that I was relying heavily on my Garmin, and as it turned out, the Garmin was WAY off. It measured the total distance as a full mile. According to Garmin, I had run much faster than I'd ever gone; if I'd really run a 5:09 mile, then I could have completed 1500 meters in 4:48!

Despite being off by over 7 percent, the Garmin record did tell me something about the race. Here are my splits according to Garmin:

Assuming the Garmin was off by the same percentage throughout the event, my pace improved with each lap. That's probably not ideal. Really I should have run lap 1 faster than laps 2 and 3, when I was more fatigued, before picking it up again for the final lap. That means I should have taken the lead right from the start, instead of settling in behind another runner.

I think if I had done that I might have been able to shave a considerable amount off my time. Could I have shaved off a full 9 seconds? I'm not sure. It was a very hot day, and surely that was costing me as well. Perhaps if I had had a perfect pacer to follow I might have been able to do it, but since that wasn't in the cards, I'd say the best I could have done yesterday would have been about 5:04. If I ever want to break 5:00 in a 1500, I'll also need to be in better shape than I am right now.

I'd be interested to know if I could get a more accurate pace out of a Garmin if I used a footpod instead of the GPS. Let me know if you've had success going that route on a track.

(Inaccurate) GPS details of my race are below.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Race Recap: The China Grove 5K

Up until about Tuesday of this week, I wasn't planning on running hard at the China Grove 5K -- I was planning on helping Roberta Villneff by pacing her at a very fast pace for her, which is a steady but doable pace for me: 6:51 per mile, which would have been a new state record for her age group, 60-64.

But Roberta had a sore leg this week and decided against making a record attempt. Since I was already signed up for the race, I figured I might as well go all-out.

Fast-forward to Friday evening. China Grove is a 9 pm race, which is unusual for just about anyone but particularly for me. I decided it would be best to have dinner beforehand. But what to eat? We had already been planning on fish tacos, so despite the fact that that might not be the best pre-race meal, I figured it couldn't affect me too much if we ate 3 hours before the race. Then I figured it wouldn't really be "fish tacos" unless I also had a margarita. Just one--surely that will be out of my system by the time the race starts, right?

Chad picked me up at 7:30 and we headed up to China Grove through what seemed like a monsoon. But the weather cleared up by the time we arrived, and I was impressed to see that the locals truly appear to embrace this race. There were dozens of fans lined up along the main road through China Grove with folding chairs. All this, for me? (Or, perhaps, for US Olympian Anthony Famiglietti and US Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier Caitlin Bullock, who were also racing this evening...both of whom would break the course record!)

As I jogged up and down Main Street to warm up, lightning began flashing in the distance. There wasn't any rain, but the lightning seemed to be getting closer. My stomach was growling (okay, maybe the pre-race margarita wasn't such a great idea), and I seemed to be struggling even to jog at what was ordinarily an easy pace for me. I was wearing my training shoes, and decided to change into my flats in case I had to make a dash for cover while awaiting the start -- I didn't want to be caught without them. Suddenly, with my flats on, each step felt a little springier. The roads were a little damp, and the K-Swiss flats also had a better grip on the road than my Brooks Launches. Things were looking up. Here I am about 30 minutes before the race start:

Note the totally-dry shirt!

I headed up to the starting line, just in time to hear that the start was going to be delayed 15 minutes due to the storms. Chad and I found an awning to stand under as the storm passed. As we waited, a lot of fast-looking runners continued to warm up in the rain. This didn't strike me as a great idea, because I felt like I was staying warmer by staying dry. One runner in particular seemed quite proud of his admittedly Adonis-like physique, and ran by us repeatedly, shirtless, through the driving rain. Finally they called the start on again, and I took a few quick strides on my way up to the starting line. The rain was tapering off, and I congratulated myself on staying relatively dry before the race start, while still getting in nearly two miles of warm-ups.

The large field stretched all the way across three lanes of Main Street. There were about 500 runners, and many seemed like they would be fast, perhaps attracted by the fact that this was a very flat course and was also the 2013 RRCA North Carolina State Championship 5K. I decided to line up in the second row. After a false start, they lined us up again and we were on our way. Immediately someone jabbed me in my arm, and another runner put his hand on my back as the crowd surged forward. After a hundred yards or so, the crowd thinned and we all had enough room to run in.

My plan, such as it was, was to try to maintain a pace that would get me a sub-19-minute time, something I'd only managed twice before. That meant 6:07 per mile. I didn't want to start too fast, and after about a quarter mile, I was pleased to see that I'd managed to do that; my watch showed a 5:55 pace.

Cliff Weston, another DARTer who had beaten me two weeks before at the Bare Bones 5K, and Bobby Aswell, who almost always beats me, were nearby. Cliff was just behind my left shoulder, and Bobby was striding out ahead of both of us, perhaps 20 meters out. I decided to run my own race, focusing on keeping my pace under the magic 6:07 mark.

It was still drizzling, and there were quite a few puddles in the road. My feet were soaked within a half mile of the start, and I could tell my grip on the road wasn't perfect, but it wasn't terrible either. I guessed the road surface was costing me about 5 seconds per mile. But I still wanted to hang on to that 6:07 pace. 

I cruised through the first mile marker at 6:05, right on target! Cliff was still on my shoulder, and Bobby was out of sight up ahead. I could tell the heat was starting to get to me -- sweat was now dripping off the brim of my hat, and my singlet was already nearly soaked through. The course was nearly flat, but I noticed myself slowing down whenever we hit an incline, and speeding up on the gradual declines on the road.

I was also passing a lot of people, which is a great feeling. I had started at a sustainable pace, and now all the runners who had gone out too fast were coming back to me. It was an awesome feeling, and I gained confidence with every pass. Soon I was at the turnaround, and I passed another guy as we rounded the cone and headed back towards town.

Now I could see Bobby ahead of me. Could I pass him too? I knew he had a strong finishing kick, so if I was going to have a shot at beating him, I needed to make my move soon. I strode up behind him, rode his shoulder for perhaps a quarter mile, then surged past, trying to look as confident as possible.

My split for Mile 2 was 6:08 -- a little slow, but my overall average pace was right on target. I should be able to maintain this pace for the last mile. It wasn't a super hot evening, only around 70 degrees, but with 100 percent humidity it's definitely an uncomfortable temperature for me to run in; my ideal temperature for a 5K would be more like 50 degrees!

Somehow I was keeping my pace up, and ahead I could see another target: R J Scott, who was in my age group and had beaten me handily at the Bare Bones 5K. I passed him fairly easily. Next in my sites was a shirtless man -- Could it be the Adonis I'd seen warming up earlier? Somehow it gives me special pleasure to pass people who appear to be in better shape than I am. I passed him too! Next in line was a woman who looked to be running a fairly solid race. As hard as I tried, I couldn't seem to close the gap to her.

Now I was really laboring for breath, and looking for signs of Mile 3 and the finish line. I could see a fire truck on the side of the road -- I think that was about a quarter-mile from the finish. Sure enough, as I approached the truck in the darkness, I could see the lights of the finish.

Almost there... but as I ran, the finish line seemed to shrink back in the darkness. Was it farther than I had thought? I started to hear footsteps coming from behind. I hadn't been passed yet in this race, and I didn't want to get passed now, so I picked up the pace, but the footsteps kept getting closer. This guy was moving! I figured it was probably R J, and I really wanted to stay ahead of him since he was in my age group. Finally I could see the mats of the finish line and knew I had just 20 or 30 yards to go. I gave it everything I had and surged to the finish, just beating my rival to the line!

It wasn't R J, it was Bobby, who had summoned up an amazing kick and nearly beat me to the finish!

My final time was 18:54; I had run the last mile in 5:57, and the last fraction at a 5:23 pace. I congratulated Bobby on his strong finish and as we both panted, trying to catch our breath, he told me he thought someone in the crowd had clued me that he was close by shouting "Go Bobby" as we finished. I told him that I hadn't heard that, just the sound of his feet moving much faster than my own! Soon Cliff, Bobby, Roberta, and Bobby's daughter Nicole were all gathered near the finish line. All of us earned hardware: I was third in my age group, and Bobby and Cliff finished 1-2 in Grand Masters. Despite her injury, Roberta won the state championship in Senior Grand Masters and captured the Grand Masters title for the event. Julie Allsop also won her age group, and Jim Crotts was also at the race.

I also spoke briefly with Anthony "Fam" Famiglietti, who had been flustered by the false start but still felt fairly good about his 14:19 course record and overall win. Here are some photos of the DARTers who participated:







Finally, here's a shot of me that captures just how soaked with sweat I was at the end of the race:

Overall I'm quite pleased with my result. I'm training with a goal of breaking 40 minutes at the Atlanta Peachtree 10K, where the weather is usually oppressively hot, so this was one chance to test myself in the heat. While I don't think it was quite as warm as it will be in Atlanta, you can't get any more humid than a steady drizzle, and my time was still quite solid. If you plug it in to the McMillan Running Calculator, it projects an equivalent performance of 39:15 for a 10K, so while Atlanta will be hotter and hillier, I think I may be on track for a sub-40-minute performance.

Details of last night's race are below: