Saturday, September 08, 2007

New Haven Road Race

It's hard to believe that the race was almost a week ago now.

The race looms over the early part of my September every year and I view it with a mix of anticipation and dread. On one hand, as a member of the road race board for at least the last five years, it's nice to see the Friday morning meetings, the packet stuff, the race bag pick-up and everything else materialise into the actual race, and to be connected to something which is so well run (by others, not me), so well liked, and such a big-time running event.

On the other hand, committing time at the start of the Fall semester is a real challenge, and the race it self ? Historically, this is not a race at which I run well, or at least, not run as well as I would like. I compare it to the hillier Fairfield half-marathon, where I ran a 1:18, and look at the sorry collections of 1:15s and the 1:20+ I ran last year and wonder why I never prosper at this race.

Of course, you have to go into the race with your good sense firmly in place. The race is huge. Cracking the top twenty in your age group can be a challenge- it is a national championship, after all. A guy like me is going to get beat by more than a hundred men and women, and everyone seems to bring their best to the race. So if you are ever going to run a race against the clock and only the clock, this one is a good choice.

That said, the number one race killer for me has been the fast start. I usually position myself in an area with some other runners I know, not too far from some other Hitek and Mohegan guys, whose pace I'm familiar with, about 2-3 rows in. I usually then proceed to explode over the line, get sucked into a ridiculous pace and run a 5:30 first mile which sets the stage for a melt-down somewhere in the no-man's land between miles 8 and 9, when I'm not even clear on where in New Haven I actually am anymore.

I got out in a leisurely 5:42, running along with Charlie Iselin. I had a two-day sinus infection and was on day two, so I was dry by the mile mark but I couldn't get over to the table to get water. We exchanged some brief conversation, agreeing that was too fast. Charlie's an amazingly genial guy who will work with you and encourage you if he comes up on you during a race to come along. We both backed off, but I was really thinking about the heat that was coming and how I usually suck on the back half of the course. I let Charlie start to open up a gap slowly and stuck with what I hoped was around a 6:15 pace, which was my goal for the first ten miles. A large number of women and guys I thought I'd been trying to keep off my back in a shorter race went by, but I was determined to not get into oxygen debt early.

We turned into the first hill and I climbed at about 90%, took some water at the top of the hill, and I think that was about where Ian Frankel came up on me. He's a Hitek teammate and was running what was to be his last race in his age group, I think I gave him some encouragement and kept going and soon Dave Pantin (also on the board) and another runner in my age group went by.

Through mile 4 everyone started pulling away. Charlie got about 20 seconds, and everyone else built close to half a minute. Usually this is the point of the race where I get discouraged. then I push hard up over the bridge on 10 and by the time I hit Long Wharf, I'm gassed, I feel miserable, and oh, more and more people pass me.

I let everyone go, and focused on my nutrition. At mile 5, I was going to eat a pack of Cliff Shot Blocks. I waited. I watched people's backs. I ate.

Charlie started to come back to me. I closed the gap without changing speed. I watched Ian, who'd hooked onto a woman who'd passed me about the same time. I tried to keep Dave in sight.

I hit the 10K mat at 38:50. That's a at least a minute slower than last year, I think. But I felt good, even though Mary-Lynn Currier had passed me within the last mile and I knew Kerry Arsenault (both teammates) couldn't be far behind.

The best part of my race was still ahead of me, and that was only possible because I stayed calm on Long Wharf, even though Mary-Lynn and Ian were now 20 seconds ahead by the end (Ian tends to slow up at the water stations). I kept it even and thought about closing people down. Around mile 8, Ian started to come back a little but not too much. By mile 9, I'd hooked with 3 guys who came up on my right slowly and whose pace I was able to match. We started running people down, passing Ian (who ended up getting water cramps) and then working up the hill in East Rock (where we really moved up places). I lost the guys on the downhill, which I did not want to blow up.

It was still damn hard running, downhill or no, that last 1.5 miles. Dave and the other 40-something were tantalizingly close, but I never did catch then. I trimmed all but 10 seconds of their lead away, but in the end, I wasn't able to pass them as I passed quite a few others. The next finisher after me was Mary-Lynn and Kerry was only 20 seconds back.

The 1:18:41 is a far cry from the series of 1:15s I ran, but it was a solid two minutes faster than last year, and it felt a lot better as well. More proof that a steady, solid performance feels better and lends itself to better results than a hot start and a late meltdown....

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