You know it's hot, like crazy hot and humid, when 4 miles into a 10 mile road race, a state championship no less, you set your goal to be to run under 70 minutes.
I'd ridden 101 miles the day before and then run 40 minutes and the only goal of that run had been to avoid heat stroke. I weighed myself after that Saturday workout, which I finished at 2:30 PM, and I was under 130 pounds for the first time in- forever. So that lead me to drink everything that wasn't nailed down to the inside of the fridge. Beer, water, Pelligrino. I knew if I was going to race the next day I needed to get back about 5 pounds of water weight.
Still, I had moderate expectations. I got up in the morning and felt my overall recovery from the ride had been moderate at best, but that's how it is with this race, which I'd run more than once the week after doing IM Lake Placid or the day after the Block Island Tri.
We started out and where it was pouring rain last year, it was bone dry so when we turned into the fairgrounds- there's a 90 degree tight turn inside a wooden fence post maybe 100 meters from the start. Runners around me were complaining about the dust JB's van was kicking up, but what are you going to do, have him lead the race out on a bicycle ?
It's a tough first mile because it's a state championship, so you have fast young guys that know what they are doing, fast young guys that don't, and some really fast older guys. We all know you have to take it out easy, but there's a lot of adrenaline out there. I went through a mile in 6:03 and I was at best in 30th place.
We hit the first water stop and there were two people at it. Trying to pour the water into cups and hand it out to everyone going by. Two people cannot adequately staff a water station when it's like 90 and 100% humidity with the sun blazing. I reached for a cup, and it wasn't even close- the guys in front of me got water, and I got nothing. I said 'Damn it' out loud, not yelling at the volunteers- it wasn't their fault, but still, I needed to pour that water on my head. Jim Zoldy heard me and told me all he could think was 'I know that's going to show up on alan's blog...'
Probably it's just a hangover from being at IMLP, where they know how to handle water stops.
What really was surprising to me was how hard some people were pushing it. The way most races start out, I get out there pretty fast, then I get passed by people in the back half of the first mile that are going to crush me- like Jim Zoldy as an example. That's OK. But there were people I was not sure would be finishing ahead of me really taking it out and I just shut it down a little because I wanted to run the 10th mile closer to the what I ran the 2nd.
There were some traffic issues but in a race you're going to have to a) wait b) drive around me. I really want to run the tangents during a race, especially one that's ten miles long. I don't have a ton of patience with traffic and the way the race is set up there is only one or two places where there would be any chance of conflicting with oncoming runners (faster) unless you are well towards the middle or back of the pack.
There are some rollers in the first two miles and then the race gets as hilly as a race in Guilford near the water can get. The truth is in a road race a 50 or 60 foot elevation gain is a serious hill that will start to break people and sure enough even before the fourth mile some of the same guys that had passed me and that I questioned (in my own head) passing me started coming back to me. I passed one guy who- I swear- was weaving up a hill, not going in a straight line but climbing at angles back and forth.
My focus was really totally on me though. I was really fighting the urge to run hard up these hills and the downhills on the other side. But when I hit the 4 mile mark I reset my goal of under 65 minutes, which was not a very aggressive goal- to breaking 70. It was that kind of day- I only had my 24-25 runners ahead of me, and I was bleeding time like a stuck pig, running 6:40+ a mile mile after mile.
The back part of the course is a loop, and it's where the biggest hills are and that's where a lot of damage that gets done. I was really running with two guys. Now when I saw with, they were running 50 meters in front of me and no one was any closer, but for me, that's close. I tend to run in the deep space between the packs, like the dark matter physicists are always looking for.
They were back and forth with each other while I watched both of them get closer to me. Towards the end of this back loop we came up on a guy who had been in that top 15 group and he was walking. I tapped him on the shoulder and told him to stick with it, and then went back to watching the wheels come off one of the guys in front of me, who I caught and passed.
It's a real relief to head down the long sloping downhill back towards Guilford and you can also see well ahead of you- I was passing the second guy now and setting my sights on a group of three further up the road. At this point I was getting good water. At one stop I told them to just hit me with the water and got three cups in the torso, and yes, that's exactly what I want.
I got back into town and because I'm an idiot who'd forgotten the course despite running it last year, I was confused as to why I had not yet hit 8 miles. At this point, I was already having trouble holding it together. I'd passed several more guys on 146, but now the only two guys still within range were down the street as I made the corner and the heat was like a giant hand pushing down on me. I was thinking that no, they couldn't possibly have us run up over the bridge- a giant hill really, in both directions before the turn home.
Yes, yes they could.
You run into a little neighbourhood in that mile 8 area and there was- I kid you not, the nicest 80-year old woman handing out cups of water at a water stop.
Her attempt to get me a cup of water was- unsuccessful.
The first guy to pass me in at least 5 miles, and the last one that would- went by and said something to the effect of how ineffective the water stops had been. I agreed.
I was glad to be carrying my own bottle.
Heading towards the hill I could see two guys in front of me, one with a familiar freckle pattern on his back. I knew who it was and it's someone I never beat, but I passed him going up the hill and then I passed another guy. I kept thinking the turnaround was coming but it wasn't...
The turn around was actually that you run around the old Stone House. Brutally far away. I made that turn and passed another guy in the parking lot and then just ran as hard as I could to the bridge and just kept running hard. No one was going to catch me. Going the other way, people, lots of people, were walking up the hill.
I made the second to last turn and saw a 5K athlete in front of me. I had to run her down- I was about to pass a 5k running after running 10 miles. I got the pass, turned into the fairgrounds and had gapped the people I passed, so I just finished, grabbed a bottle of water, poured it over my head and then grabbed another, mixed up some recoverite, and sat by my car exhausted drinking it.
I got a chance to talk to some friends, but the whole thing was sobered by watching an ambulance pull in to deal with one of four athletes who collapsed after the race.
Four. None serious affected but still, something like that reminds you that all you achieved or endured, or whatever, it's small. It's secondary...