Saturday, April 19, 2014

Race Recap: The Lake Norman Rotary 10K (2014 edition)

Sleeping the night before a race is always a bit iffy, and last night was no exception. I knew the forecast for today's Lake Norman Rotary 10K called for rain, which wouldn't be a huge problem unless it was an absolute downpour. Naturally this meant I woke several times to the sound of water hitting the patio outside my bedroom. When I finally got out of bed at 6:20, the rain had slowed to a steady, cold drizzle.

Maybe that's not ideal conditions for a road race, but it's certainly better than 80 degrees and humid! I tried to keep to positive thoughts, but I kept coming back to the idea that I'd be chilled when I reached the start line and wouldn't be able to put out a solid effort.

Taking the rain into account, the race temperature in the mid-40s dictated a short-sleeve compression shirt and gloves, much like I wore at Spencer Mountain when I won my first 5K:

Drier times, indeed!

That day, the temperature was considerably colder, but I felt like today's rain would even things out. I shivered as I got dressed, and was still cold even with a layer of sweats worn over my racing gear. Surely this would be plenty once I was running at race pace, right?

An hour later I was at the starting area of the race. It was cold, no doubt about it. I got my race shirt and bib and walked back to the car to warm up. Finally, 30 minutes before start time, it was time to start my warm-up jog. I took my sweat pants off and headed out in the rain with a jacket and shorts. Once I'd run a half-mile I could see I had made the right decision. It's crazy how much your body heats up once you start moving. After my two-mile jog I was back at the car changing into racing flats. With ten minutes to go I took my jacket off and headed back to the starting area. It didn't look like there were a lot of fast runners, and I was the only one doing strides to warm up. Perhaps I had a shot at the win.

A few minutes later, we were off, and sure enough, I pulled into an early lead. My plan was to run the first half of the race a little faster than the second half -- both because the first half was easier and because I had done a little research suggesting that the best 10ks are run with slightly positive splits (aka running the first half of the race faster). Overall my goal was a 6:15 pace, for a 39-minute 10K and a PR. Here's the elevation profile of the course:

The biggest hills are in miles 1, 4, and 6

Mile 1 was not bad -- I ran it in 6:13 despite the hill. There was a pace car in front of me with a big "5K" sign on it, so I wasn't sure if it would be with me the whole way or split off when the 5K runners split. Mile 2 flattened out a bit and I took advantage, running it in an easy 6:09. At one point we looped back onto the course and the pace car had to stop for the runners coming the other way. Fortunately I was able to get by the car and make my way down the route solo until the car caught up.

Funny how the situation can change everything. At Spencer Mountain when I was leading the race after the turnaround I kept thinking the runners headed the other way must be really impressed at my awesome capabilities. Today it just felt like they were thinking "why is that guy going the wrong way"?

After a turnaround around Mile 2 I could get a good look at my competition. There was a man in black who looked to be about 30 seconds behind, then a woman just behind him. Ahead of me the pace car removed the "5K" sign and led me onto the 10K course. I was a little jealous that all the 5Kers had left was one little downhill back to the start, but I actually felt pretty good at this point.

Ahead of me a car pulled to the side of the road and an old running buddy, Ben, hopped out. He gave me a high-five and urged me on. That was unexpected; I hadn't run with him for a few months!

Mile 3 was a gradual downhill and I consciously reduced my effort and ran a steady 6:15. I glanced at my watch at the 5K marker and saw that I'd completed it in 19:15 -- 15 seconds ahead of my target pace, just where I wanted to be.

Mile 4 started with rolling hills that rolled quite a bit more than what you see in the profile. Now the wind and rain was hitting me directly in the face. Fortunately it wasn't so strong that it felt like it was slowing me down -- but if the temperature had been any cooler I might have gotten a chill. Here the road twisted uphill, but it hadn't been closed to traffic, so I did the best to keep to tangents while watching for cars. I had one close call heading around a semi-blind corner and had to veer out of the ideal line.

Finally I reached the top of the hill! I knew we'd make a left turn, then turn around and head back down. But when was that left turn coming? It seemed to take forever. Finally the lead car made the turn and I followed. Mercifully, the turnaround was only a short distance away. I turned around and headed back towards the finish. Mile 4: 6:20.

Mile 5 had some rolling hills at the start before heading downhill. I passed the Man in Black again; he looked to be faltering a bit, so it appeared I had the win locked up. This mile went by fairly quickly as I had the runners heading the other way as a distraction. 6:18. 1.2 miles, and one big hill left.

The final hill stretched over two corners, so it was hard to see where it ended. I was going slower, slower. I told myself to stay strong, and plodded on. When would this hill end? Finally I could see the last corner, where we turned onto the downhill final stretch. This was another somewhat busy road, but I managed to run decent tangents as I gradually picked up the pace. My watch beeped Mile 6 but the finish line was nowhere in sight. Could it really be just 0.2 miles away, or would this course be long?

After what seemed like an eternity I turned the final corner and headed uphill to the finish. The clock was turned backwards, so I couldn't see the time, but I was confident I was still on track for a PR. I didn't sprint for the line but kept a steady, hard pace. Mile 6: 6:23; the final 0.22 miles: 1:23 for a 6:09 pace. I received a high-five from the race sponsor, who asked "Are you a 10Ker?" I nodded, and he let out an exuberant cheer: "You WON!"

I knew I had won, but had I PRed? Fortunately the race times were displayed on a video monitor. My time: 39:01. A definite PR, but tantalizingly close to the 38s. My overall pace was 6:15, right on target. Here's the hard evidence of the PR:

A lot of 1s on that sheet!

Dripping with water, I felt no inclination do to a cool-down run. Instead, I headed straight for a nearby restaurant, which had opened its bathrooms to the runners. It was only then that I realized there were no photos of me on my PR day -- so I snapped a quick selfie in the bathroom mirror before changing into dry clothes:

Yep, that's me, soaking wet in a public restroom. The "glamour" of winning a 10K!

All in all I'm thrilled with my race today. I pretty much executed it exactly as planned. Could I have run that last 1.2 miles a little faster? Possibly. But a PR is a PR, and this one leaves a lot of room for improvement. I think I'll wait less than a year to run my next one!

Update: Here's a photo the race organizers got of me headed to the finish:

My Garmin record of the race is below.

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