Saturday, November 22, 2008

Cold Country

Today was the CT State XC championship, an 8K run at MDC in West Hartford.

Last year I was 7th at this race, covering the distance in a not all that exciting 30:27. I was hoping to run faster this year, but then again, in my third week after the Ironman, I decided to ease off the running for a week, and after a 75 minute run Sunday did just one 40 minute run Tuesday, plus 12 minutes on the treadmill Wednesday and a lot of spinning and swimming.

Tuesday was also my first cold-weather run. But it wasn't cold like today, no.

I drove up with Dick Korby, a triathlete I know who's move to Branford. We got there around 9:30, and I found myself re-thinking both the singlet and shorts plan (I did run in them) and the race shoes (I stuck with the trainers). The warm-up was short and painful. Dick tweaked his calf and we only did a short warm-up, then went back to the car. I ditched the tights and the jacket, went back to the starting line and did warm-ups running up the hill the race starts up.

The wind was relentless. It was cold. Right around freezing.

For good measure, they kept us at the starting line a few minutes. These are low key races, and for once, we needed the race instructions (more on that later).

Finally, we were off and running. The race starts out straight up hill. I could quickly see by the time we'd crested the hill and gone into the first turn that this was going to be the most competitive race I'd ever run here. I was back in 15-16th place. I'd known it was a deep field, both guys my age and some high school kids. As we wound our way through the woods in the first mile, we were basically single-track, nowhere to go. Right around the one mile mark, I got a stitch in my upper left chest from the cold.

But I'm 43 and I was joking about this later. Part of me, the stupid, crazy part- and I'm not usually a hypochondriac- is thinking, am I right the cold has just given me a little stitch up there or is my heart finally giving out...

But that faded quickly and I could see who in front of me I could take, and who I needed to try and take. I then tried to just coast back to the hill- not because of the stitch, which faded quickly, but because it's flat until we round back to the hill we start on, run up to the 2 mile mark and take a right instead of a left like on the first loop, which is when it gets really hilly.

Before heading up the hill, I hit the water table, grabbed a cup and dumped it over my head.

On the hill, I passed two guys at the right hand turn, one of whom had over-cooked himself and from what I heard later, spent a good minute holding a tree up before finishing. I passed a high school kid and worked to gap him but otherwise was just keeping my eye on the four guys closest to me.

I didn't want to make any move until after three miles, and take my shot when we started climbing again.

But I never closed on anyone else- nor anyone on me. I ran through the third mile and most of the fourth and came to the realisation that I just wasn't making up ground. I was running well, but not well enough, I wasn't really well-aclimated to the cold yet.

Despite that, I still ran hard, and the one thing I came away with was that when no one was watching, I ran hard, damn hard. Just not damn fast.

The only tough section is a steep short downhill just before the mile 4 marker. We'd gotten instruction that there was ice there, and boy, was there ever. I had to go well-wide of the usual path down to avoid the ice, and it was after doing this that I looked up and realised once and for all, I wasn't catching anyone.

I ran hard through the woods and back out onto the path by the main road. At what's about 1 minute from the finish the race director was there with a watch (or someone was). 'Right on 30.'

30 minutes ? That's what I wanted my total time to be. Damn.

I kept pushing through the finish. I could see the clock and I ran as hard as I could to break 31, but finished in 31:02, 11th overall and a disappointing 5th in my ten year age group.

Still, I was wiped out, but not sore, I'd had a great workout, beaten most of the field. What did I have to complain about ? Nothing. Was it every bit as good as I wanted to do ? Well, no.

But that's OK. It was fun. Cross country always is.

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