Sunday, September 23, 2012

Break Free: The Trail to Ale 10K Report

There are few things quite as painful as a 10K.

No, really: this is a distance that just flat-out sucks. There is no better way to describe it. It's too short of a race to really attempt a more disciplined approach, but it's too long to attempt to go balls to the wall. The best way I've heard it described, from my buddy Seth, is that "it's 5K intensity, doubled, and you're praying to hold on."

I've raced a lot this season; a marathon, three half-Revs, the Friday Night Fights series, among others. This little 10K here in Portland was one of the harder events of the year. But it also taught me a valuable lesson:

I can run pretty darn fast, when I just let my mind relax.

Now, for the actual race report:

Gearing Up: The Week Before
Unlike Rev3 Maine, where I was a hurtin' unit for the week afterwards, coming off of Cedar Point I felt good. I was contemplating signing up for another race in the Rev3 series (note: nope, not happening. You'll find out why when I reveal the 2013 race schedule next week.)

I had eased my way back into training with some light-duty stuff, all non-impact: hour long bike, a swim, some weight training. I was tired from the couple of half-distance efforts, but otherwise the body felt very strong, and very good.

I went for my first run following Cedar Point the day before the race, just a nice 30-minute cruise with a couple sets of striders. I didn't know what to expect. I felt a bit tight, especially in the hips. Ruh-roh, Scooby.

So going in, I had absolutely no expectations.

Except, well, there was a matter of pride on the line. In one of my more creative moments, I decided to create a Facebook contest for the store. There were six of us from Maine Running Company involved in the event, including Adam, my friendly rival. The concept was simple: you picked which one of the six you thought would win, and their finishing time. Whoever came closest would win a gift certificate for the store.

I knew there was no chance in hell of me winning, unless I tied the shoe laces of the speedsters together. I mean, I'm not running a 36:XX 10K out of the box. I might be improving, but that just wasn't going to happen.

So my goal was simple: beat Adam.

You see, Adam and I have had a friendly rivalry for a while. It helps push each other to new heights. This started with an open 10K training run last April. Then it stretched into our Beach to Beacon last year, where (depending on who you ask), he beat me, or I beat him. He then proceeded to crush me at Timberman last year, definitively, by nearly 45 minutes. I then returned the favor in the first CompuTrainer battle at Maine Running Company.

We unfortunately didn't get to race each other all that much this year; Adam spent his winter last year in Hawaii that effectively killed his racing budget for the year. (Pity party for the poor fellow, right?) He focused on some running events, whereas I went to town racing triathlons.

It just so happened that there were slots available for Trail to Ale. We both jumped at the opportunity, and the trash talking began.

Well, guess I needed to put up or shut up.

Race Morning
I woke up early, just like I always do on race morning. I consumed my normal breakfast for race day: rice, eggs, and maple syrup (salt and pepper to taste) with my regular 32 ounces of liquid gold known as iced coffee. I'd estimate it at about 450 calories, for those wondering. (1.25 cups of rice, three eggs, 1 tbsp of syrup, coffee is black.)

I snagged a bottle of water, threw on the Rev3 team kit, and headed on out the door. My weaponry of choice for the day:

  • Pearl Izumi Elite Tri Top (Rev3 Kit)
  • Pearl Izumi Elite Tri Short (no matter what, I'm wearing tri shorts under my running shorts. Anti-chafe mechanism)
  • I forget what running short it was
  • Rev3 Black Visor (my favorite one of the visors)
  • Tifosi Roubaix sunglasses
  • Maine Running Company race number belt
  • Swiftwick Aspire One socks, size XL (technically, I should be a L. But I like the slight extra forefoot splay from the size up)
  • Pearl Izumi IsoTransition (I switched out the insoles in these to the ones from a pair of Mizuno's, just to give a touch of extra arch height underfoot.)
I had thought about my PowerBar Team Elite arm warmers, but made the call to go without about fifteen minutes before the start.

We met Adam down at the Ocean Gateway terminal. We headed out for a warm-up run of about two miles, just to shake the cobwebs out. I still felt tight, but things seemed to be improving the more I moved. I also did a set of striders, and that's when I felt the best, so I started getting some confidence that I'd be able to run decently.

Made it to the top of the hill at the start line around quarter to 9 (gun time). Ran into fellow MRCers Jon, Joey, Nick, and Maggie, who all were part of the six-pack challenge. Jon and Joey lined up on the start line. Adam, Nick, and I were about four rows back. Maggie was mid-pack.

Everything queued up, the race clock was readied, and we were ready to fly. Weird to not have a countdown to start. Just a runners set, *BOOM*, and time to go!

Race Breakdown: The Quick Hits
Gun Time: 41:15
Net Time: 41:13
Pace: 6:38/mile
Overall Place: 65th
Age-Group Place: 6th
MRC Competition Place: 4th

This year, they moved the course around a little bit at Trail to Ale. It started on top of the Eastern Promenade, went uphill a bit, then screamed downhill towards Back Cove. You completed one lap around Back Cove Trail, then looped back by East End Beach for the finish line.

This meant that you'd start out super fast, have some slight uphill around the Cove at mile 4, then uphill on the I-295 overpass until the end of mile 5, roll by the sewage treatment plant right around the same time you wanted to vomit anyways from the effort and the hill right there, and then have a big downhill to find your stride into the finish.

The gun went off, and immediately Nick, Jon, Joey, and Adam dropped me like a bad habit. I went to keep the gap for the first tenth of a mile. I then tried to take account of how I felt.

Damn, this feels fast! was all I remember thinking. So I glanced at my watch really quickly: 5:22/mi pace.


I immediately backed off the throttle. I couldn't sustain that kind of effort. I might've been able to crank out a mile, mile and a half, and then would have blown up so spectacularly I would've been scattered all over greater Portland.

I settled into a good groove, heard that a couple people around me were looking for around 42 minutes, and just hung in there. Considering all of my speedwork for the year had been focused more for longer distance events, I didn't think anything much faster than 6:50/mile pace would be happening.

Even with me settling in, the first mile went by in 6:11. That's a lot of downhill to work with. OK, no biggie.

Adam was a good 200 meters up the road. I just said to myself, "reel him in, each and every mile. No need to go and get him at mile 2." This was in opposite of our Beach to Beacon experience last year, where I went out and made a move at mile 2, had a lead, and he caught me with less than a mile to go, and we sprinted together for the finish. Later on, Adam told me his game plan was "out of sight, out of mind."

The first water stop was also the last one. I went to reach for water, but they were using the tiny Dixie cups. It just exploded in my hand. Note to self: needed to pinch the cups from the top. Adam was still hauling tail in front of me.

I could still see him as we got into mile 2. The person next to me was saying he didn't see the mile 1 sign before, so he felt really good seeing the two sign early. Works for me!

We made the curve at the soccer fields by Back Cove. I saw that Adam's gap on me had shrunk, so at the turn I counted out his lead: eleven seconds. Cool, I just need to go three seconds a mile faster than him and I can get him around mile 5.5, and may the best man win there.

Apparently, I went through the next mile a bit quicker than he did, as all of a sudden I was right behind him. I panicked for a second: have I gone too early again? I made the call to settle in again, let him lead for a little bit. I don't know if he knew it was me that was five steps behind him, but the pace quickened slightly again.

We ran together for the next mile, him just ahead of me on the right side. We then started a slight rise on the back side of Back Cove, which is about 4 miles into the race. This is where I said, you know, I don't want to turn this into a sprint finish at the end. He's been doing track work all year. He's got better top end speed than me. I need to go here and now.

I swung out a little wide, ran with three strides side-by-side, and then just kicked as we went over the rise and slight downhill. I ran scared; I didn't know where he was and I wasn't looking back. I just wanted to push through this surge. Came through the next water stop, got a quick cup of water, and started plugging away again.

The Cove then rises again. If there's one thing I need to really work on, it's being able to keep top-end speed going uphill. I've gotten better, but there's still room for some massive improvement. It was here that I figured if my move hadn't worked well, Adam was going to catch up again.

There were some friendly faces on the side of the road right here, and they started cheering for me. I kept waiting for them to say something to Adam, but they never did. Huh. He's either the feet right behind me in full on stealth mode, or the move stuck. I fought the urge to look behind me; the course was about to make a hair-pin turn and I'd be able to find out where he was anyways.

I went onto the overpass, trying to ignore my hamstring, which wanted to fall apart. Around the corner I went, and looked up.

Holy shit. He's just cresting! I've got a whole bunch of room!

I threw on the jets then and there. No way was I giving in now.

The course then rounded by the sewage treatment plan, and oh yes, it reeked to high heaven. There's also the last hill of the course to contend with, and the combination is vomit-worthy. I fought back the urge.

Bounding down the hill, I didn't realize that the finishing chute was so short away from there. I kicked as hard as I could. I thought it was further than it was, but hey, whatever! I blasted through the finish line.

Hey, who's that guy in the Rev3 kit who ran that quick?
Boom. Stick.

Adam came across the line 30 seconds later. We had pushed each other to brand new heights: this was nearly a five minute race PR for me (2:35 faster than any 10K I've run, race or training), and a 1:40 PR for Adam.

We had our rear ends handed to us by our co-workers, as Jon ran 36:20, Joey 38:15, Nick 39:45. But hey, a good day all-around.

The reward for such an effort? Free pizza and beer.

Later that day, I really got tired. I mean, nap during football games tired. If you know me, I don't fall asleep when I get the opportunity to watch football. So I was beat. Hence part of the concept of ending the race season here.

I'd like to, as always, thank all of the sponsors, friends, family, etc. that help get me on through!

Great way to cap off a banner year. I've taken an hour off of my half-distance time. I've taken five minutes off my 10K PR. What a season.

What does next year hold? Check back later this week!

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