Monday, April 2, 2012
RACE REPORT: Cherry Blossom Ten Miler
I looked up at the Cherry Blossoms, but they were long past bloom. The trees along Hains Point were skeletal - their pedals, dead, were stuck to the soles of my shoes. Two years ago, it was if I had been racing through a vibrant white-pink tunnel, but today Hains Point was much more sinister. Today the point was kicking my ass…
I arrived at the Washington Monument shortly after 6:00am, during that magical hour between darkness and day. The weather was going to dawn perfect and it would be ideal racing conditions for any distance. Soon night turned into light and the warm-up was under way. The warm-up complete, I settled into the frenzied calm that develops in that last half hour before the gun goes off. Laces tight? Bathroom? Slug another gulp of Gatorade. Stretch?
Like cattle, we were all ushered out to the starting line and in no time we were on our way. The tide advanced forward, but I tried my best to let it go. My goal was to hit the mile in 5:12 and hold that pace for 5 miles (26:00). Teammates Outlaw, Tex and Burnham surged to the back of the chase pack and I soon found myself running alongside my old nemesis Bert Rodriguez. It was like old times again, but 2012 would be a little different. When Bert surged ahead, I let him go. It was against all my instinct.
By mile 1 (5:09), Karl Dusen and I were running, like we do most mornings, side by side and stride for stride. I was happy to have him. Ahead of us, was the Howard County Strider Carlos Renjifo (fresh off PRs in the 5k and 3k). Together our trio made an unspoken truce and we began to get after it. I found my legs and began to have fun. This was easy. Before mile two, Carlos made a bit of a move, but when I checked the clock (10:14), I told Karl we were fine. Without hesitation he agreed. He seemed to be smiling. He seemed to be waiting.
As we rolled under the Kennedy Center (15:21 for 3) I began to scope out the harriers strung out ahead of us. I saw Burnham, Bert, Sloane, Tex and Outlaw, among others. I wanted to start reeling these guys in, ever so slowly, over the next 5 miles. Our pack was soon thereafter joined by Falls Road Runner Dusty Merker and GRC expat Patrick Reaves. I wasn’t concerned that we were falling off pace, rather that these guys had seen us start to move, and wanted to ride the train, rather than smell our fumes. Our pack, now 5 strong, caught Tex and Outlaw somewhere around mile 4 (20:32). I was hoping my two teammates would join our train, but we seemed to be running at different speeds and no sooner did we catch them, then we left them.
Mile five, the halfway point, was somewhere ahead. I was feeling very good and although I was a bit ahead of pace, I didn’t feel as if I was running too fast. Running with this pack, a few seconds faster than pace, was certainly much better than running alone. The clock came into view and I could see the digits ticking – “25:20, 25:21…” I still had some real estate to cover before I got to 5, but this was a good sign. Reaves grunted at the split – 25:47 – and I grunted back “get #$%&ing tough”. Reaves didn’t answer, per se, but he got the message. It was time to go after those who had gone out too fast. It was time to collect some bodies.
But, the pace that felt so easy at mile 5 soon began to take its toll. I hadn’t raced a distance longer than 5k for almost two years so I wasn’t sure how I’d hold up for ten miles. Endurance and past practice would get me so far, but how far would it get me? It turns out, that was only about 6-7 miles. By the time I hit 10k (32:08) I was really starting to struggle. Karl, Carlos and Dusty made a surge down Hains Point that I couldn’t match. That surge, coupled with my own fatigue, left me desperately trying to hang on to Reaves’ coattails. But, Reaves soon pulled away and I was, for the first time in the race, alone.
I went from feeling bad to feeling worse fairly fast and I wondered whether I should stop down, catch my breath, and hammer later in the race or to buck up and get on the pain train. I chose the latter, but in all honesty that decision put me deep into the well. The next 10-15 minutes were some of the most painful minutes of my entire 17-year racing career. I was breathing extremely loud and wondered whether this aggravation would cause me to upchuck all over the point. Every time my right foot smacked the pavement, I’d let out a painful exhale, which made me sound more like farmer smoking Camels than an athlete racing 10 miles. I didn’t know it at the time, but my GPS later revealed that mile 7 was run in 5:25 and mile 8 in 5:29. I was slowing down considerably. In fact, I was grinding to a halt.
Then, something miraculous happened – my loud breathing abated. Like a light switch, it was turned off. In a sense, my legs had “rested” over the last two miles and, although I was still fatigued, I knew I could pick the pace up and get out of my rut. With mile marker nine looming just ahead, I tried like hell to walk down Patrick Reaves.
Just ahead, my old teammate Jason Dwyer was jumping up and down like a possessed madman barking words of encouragement to Reaves. When I passed Dwyer yelled similar attributes but added, “You’re back”. I was back. Now it was time to finish this damn race. And it was time to finish with some form of decency. I also knew that I was currently GRC’s third man and that every second counted with regards to team competition so I couldn’t relax the throttle. I had less than a mile to go and I did my best to kick when I saw the successive signs “1200m to go”, “800m to go”…”400m to go”. I wasn’t going to catch Reaves, far from it actually, but I was going to try to finish without anything left in my tank. I did.
I crossed the line in 52:32, far from my fastest performance at CB (50:56 in ’10, 51:29 in ’09), but I can’t recall ever feeling so beaten up after this race. Upon finishing, I clenched my thighs with my hands and spent the next minute or so dry heaving and trying to catch my breath. I felt relieved to be done, but more relieved to know I had given it my all. My last couple of miles were back on pace - 5:15s. This performance is far better than my 5k time from three weeks ago and finally puts me within striking distance of where I use to be. If I can run 5:16 pace on April 1, perhaps I can run just a bit faster, for just 5k longer in mid-June?
Next up: Pikes Peek 10k in 4 weeks.