Friday, June 9, 2017

Grim Mile 2017 Race Recap

Racing a mile on a track is a blast. Fortunately, for the past three years I've had the opportunity to run such a race at the annual Grim Mile. Unfortunately, Luther North High School where it is held is closing. Therefore, this year's edition (held on Sunday), would be the last one - forever. In fact the t-shirts they gave out had the words "The Final Grim Mile" emblazoned on them.

This was an evening race, and the first age group heat started around 5:00 pm. The 40-49 year- old division wouldn't get started until 6:15 pm, so after an afternoon shopping trip to Menard's and then stopping off at Wendy's for a Frosty, I changed into my running clothes. Then it was a 4 mile drive over to Luther North High School to register for the race about 30 minutes before my heat started.

Waiting in the extreme heat for my heat to start!
Unlike last year's sparsely attended race, the grounds were packed with people. Lots of alumni came out to pay tribute to their soon-to-be-closing high school and to bask in the class reunion vibe. They had a grill going with free food and lots of family-friendly games on field inside the track. The track itself was old school, pre-metric, so each lap was a quarter mile, instead of the standard 400m, which meant that we had only to do exactly four laps.

My legs were tired as I had just run the Run For the Animals 10k the day before, and it was 91 degrees as race time approached, so I opted to do just a slow quarter mile warm-up. This race would not be about running a PR or even close to it, just simply to have fun and to bask in the glory of what might be my last track mile for a long time.

As for pacing, I actually had no plan due to my still-recovering legs and the heat. I was just going to run by feel.

About 12 of us gathered at the line. The gun sounded and we were off!

The Race:
Mile 0.25:  I was on the inside lane and a guy in racing flats bolted out ahead of me. After about 200m he slowed considerable to what was about a 6:00/mile pace. I foolishly bolted by him at a blistering pace since I thought I should easily be running a 5:30 pace at that point. 1:19 (5:15/mile pace).

Still in first place after one lap.

Having to swerve as spectators made their way across the track!
Mile 0.50: Near the beginning of this lap some spectators who were on the field decided to cut across the track directly in front of me. After swerving to the outside to avoid a crash, I got quickly back to the inside lane. Anyway, about halfway into this lap, I realized that maybe I'd fallen into a classic race "trap" during the first lap. By slowing down, the guy I passed had tempted me to do an early surge (which wasted energy) and he had also gotten me to unwittingly lead the race! I knew he was drafting off of me, since I could hear his footsteps behind me. I soon realized that the leg fatigue from the 10k the day before was not going to let me sustain the pace I set out at, so I backed off a little and then the guy behind me shot by me like a bullet. I had nothing in the tank to respond with. 1:21 (5:24/mile pace).

Mile 0.75: I had a feeling I was safely in 2nd place but it's a helpless feeling when racing on a track and you can constantly see the runner ahead pulling away from you after every turn and not being able to respond. 1:22 (5:33/mile pace).
Now in 2nd place
Mile 1.0: I tried pouring on whatever I had left. Another frustrating feeling is seeing the lead runner finish to cheers and then trying to motivate yourself when you still have 50 meters to go! Last year I ran this lap in 1:12! This time I was crawling in comparison. 1:20 (5:32/mile).

Official Finish Time: 5:22
Official Pace: 5:22/mile
Garmin Pace: 5:22/mile
1/2 mile splits: 2:40 and 2:42

Place Overall: 2nd out of 12

I ran by feel and ran pretty even splits, so that's something to be proud of. Otherwise, it was the first time in my life I've run back-to-back races so I just didn't have the turnover or the energy to even come close to my 5:08 PR set last year. In any case, I ran the race for fun and I had fun!

Post Race:
A guy in a white shirt (as seen in the pic above) handed me my 2nd place medal right after I crossed the finish line. I talked to the winner briefly. He finished in 5:02, so I would've had to PR by a ton to have even come close to beating him. Anyway, I spoke with a nice Polish woman who was there with her teenage son who was running the elite race. She congratulated me on a fast race and said that when she was younger she had run a PR of 16:09 in the 5k! We chatted for awhile, then I went over and watched the next heat and ate a free sausage from the concession stand. Before I left, I said my goodbyes to the track and to Luther North High School - saddened that this great race won't happen again.

Next Up:
Maybe the Chicago Rock n' Roll Half next month.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Run For the Animals 2017 Race Recap

As I mentioned in my previous post - I was uncertain how I would fare at this year's edition of the Run For the Animals 10k. I had put in about 33% less miles going into the race than I had last year, but I was optimistic that I had retained my fitness from the Shamrock Shuffle in April. If this was the case then a 37:59 10k was in my sights if the weather was favorable.

After a 5 a.m. shakeout run of two miles in the city, I jumped in my car and headed out to the 'burbs. My dad had picked up my bib along with his bib (for the 5k) earlier in the week, so I met up with him at his house, put on said bib, and we headed over to the race in downtown Wheaton. On our way to the start area I bumped into Zoe and we said hi for a moment. After reaching the start area, I again spotted Zoe lined up about 10 rows back. She was running the 5k and she also mentioned that she was going to run the Pike's Peak Half later in the summer. After a lovely chat the national anthem was sung. I could feel the sun beating down on us as we listened to the anthem. This race traditionally has pretty warm weather and Saturday was no exception. I went over my pacing strategy in my head:

Miles 1 through 3: 6:20, 6:10, 6:05
Miles 2 through 6.2: 6:00, 6:00, 6:00, 6:00

Running those paces would get me right about to a 37:59. I felt this was realistic especially since I ran 5 miles at the Shamrock Shuffle at just around 6:00 mile.

After the anthem, the horn sounded and we were off!

The Race
Mile 1: This was a dual 5k and 10k, so I started a little ways back. I'd forgotten that this mile had a gradual downhill for the first half mile, so I was running just slightly faster than plan. I felt okay to start, but once I sped up to pass a couple of runners I began to feel a little off. 6:13/mile.

Start of the Run for the Animals. I'm in the neon hat and shirt.
Mile 2: I waited for things to feel better, but I began having the feeling that this was not going to be my day. I shouldn't have felt like I was forcing things this early, but I was. It's not that my legs were leaden, but I just didn't feel 100%. Maybe it was the heat, but it actually hadn't gotten too hot out at that point. So, despite not knowing the exact reason I couldn't get going properly, I sadly had to admit to myself that I needed to back off lest I crash and burn during the second half. My goal finish time would be out the window and my new plan would be to find a new, slower maximum pace that I could finish the race at. 6:10/mile.

Mile 3: I started to gradually slow down and right after the mile 2 marker, a guy running next to me said, "one more mile!" to which I replied, "four more miles"! We both had a laugh and then soon parted ways as he headed for the 5k finish line and I continued on the 10k course. 6:16/mile.

Mile 4: I realized that the only person left on the 10k course that I could see was a guy about 30 seconds ahead of me who appeared to be in my age group (spoiler alert: He was). 6:20/mile.

Mile 5: The second half of the 10k course is cool because it contains a mile or so loop around a nice little lake. I closed the gap between the guy ahead of me to about 20 seconds, but things were a struggle. I even slowed way down during a water stop to try and reset myself, which seemed to help a little and I started up at a slightly faster pace. 6:17/mile.

Mile 6: For the final full mile the course heads on a very gradual uphill, which helps to kill most momentum and really made me work when I didn't have the will or the energy to do so. The only thing that was keeping me motivated was to keep contact with the guy in front of me. 6:28/mile.

Mile 6.2: For the last two tenths, the road finally flattened and I used every ounce of my dwindled reserves to try and catch the guy ahead of me since he was likely in my age group. He sped up as well and I had nothing to respond with. Soon enough, I saw him hit the finish line 8 seconds ahead of me. 5:32/mile.
Finish line from 2016!
Race Summary: 
  • Official Time: 38:48 Official pace: 6:16/mile
  • Overall Place: 16th out of 484
  • Age Place: 3rd out of 25 
  • Third fastest 10k ever (out of 24 races)
I was completed gassed and stumbled over to a tree and layed down on my back in the grass to catch my breath. I hadn't felt this winded after a race in a couple of years. It really was a monumental effort just to hold the slower pace I had relegated myself to during mile 2.

My sister and her kids came over and congratulated me (and asked me if I was okay) since I probably looked pretty wiped out laying on the ground and all!

Soon enough, my dad made his way over from the 5k finish line and we went over to the kids race to watch my niece compete in the half miler. After her strong finish, we went to the after party where I got my free Sam Adams. I took a couple of refreshing sips and checked the posted results on the big leaderboard. Two younger guys also looking at the results noticed that eyes were scanning near the top of the leaderboard. They then started peppering me with questions about how I got so fast! Talk about a boost for my morale! I guess that put things in perspective: I had what I considered a disappointing day, yet guys 10 years younger than me were astonished at my pace. I guess I might be too hard on myself this year since I had such a stellar year of training last year and subconsciously think that I should be near that level this year. I still had a good race. Not everyday goes as planned I can't really have similar expectations like last year. I'm not doing huge mileage volumes now, so I can't expect to feel the same way I did when I was.

Anyway, we all headed over to breakfast at a nearby diner. After breakfast, my dad walked back to the awards ceremony and got both of our medals. My dad got 2nd place in his AG!

Race Takeaway:
It was a tough and disappointing race since I finished almost a minute slower than goal and almost two minutes slower than the PR I set there last year. It also sapped a lot of energy out of me early on, and I was riding the struggle bus most of the race. It was just one of those days when things didn't click and I had to gut it out. Perhaps I am a handful of miles per week short of a breakthrough, or maybe it would be best to just maintain my mileage and see if a base of more weeks at the same mileage will pay off better in the long run? In any case, this is a recovery week so I'm going to do low miles and some swimming!

 BTW, next year the race will be on my birthday and I will be the youngest runner in my new AG!

Next up:
Grim Mile on 6/4!