Sunday, September 16, 2018

BV Autumn Color Run Half

Yesterday, I ran the Buena Vista Autumn Color Run half marathon. Lo and behold, I won the damned thing. Results here.

With 214 runners participating, I’m fairly certain that’s the biggest race I’ve ever won.

Based on recent workouts, I was optimistic that I was in relatively good shape. A few workouts made me think I might just be in the best shape I've been in since college. So I wanted to give a fast course a decent try to see if I could score a new PR. Since this was a fast, downhill course, my goal was to try to run sub-1:25. My prior PR was 1:29:30-ish, which was the half way split to my marathon PR of 2:59 back in 2011. Given that I had never run a half marathon before, I figured I had an excellent chance for a PR!

But as I’m starting to learn at these small mountain races, organization is always a bit of a crapshoot. You never quite know what you're going to get on race day. 

The race buses got us to the starting line about ten minutes before the race was supposed to start, where there were three porta-potties awaiting 200-plus runners, so yeah, it was a bit of a shit-show at the start. Literally!

Being a male and only needing a number one, I was able to address my concerns easily enough amidst the beautiful fall foliage. But the race was delayed to accommodate many of those who had different concerns.

Conditions were nearly perfect. Warm for a fall day and breezy, but nothing to complain about.

The race eventually started with the race director driving on the mountain road ahead of us honking his horn, which was a first for me. I started in front for the first few hundred meters, and then looked at my watch and noticed I was under 6-minute pace, which was a bad idea.

So I relaxed a bit and a local runner named Jared Oubre popped out in front of me. Jared’s a great runner and he’s gone sub-1:20 a few times at this event, so I figured that was going to be that.

My intent was to try to start with a 40:00 initial 10k and then see if I could hold on for second. But the first two miles clocked in under 6:20 and it felt doable, so I decided to roll with it. Mile 3 was 6:03 and mile 4 was 6:02 (these were both downhill miles, mind you), but they felt good and relaxed. Mile 5 had some decent rollers that knocked the wind out of me, but I kept things below 6:30 and still felt ok.

From miles 5-8, the course opened up from the fall foliage to open roads where you could see well ahead of you, and Jared was, indeed, well ahead of me. I was running well, but he probably had close to a two-minute lead. Third place, on the other hand, was right on my ass. Through 8 miles, I was focused on time, staying relaxed, and holding off third.

But as we got closer to mile 9, there was another decent uphill section, and I could sense that I had closed the gap some. At a turn, I tracked how far I was behind him, and the lead had narrowed to 55 seconds. Then, with three miles to go, it was 45 seconds. Closer, but the math was still working against me.

The final three miles were on a busy (by Chaffee County standards) stretch of straight road heading back into BV. At this point, I still wasn’t even aspiring to catch him, except I started to notice that he kept looking over his shoulder. It’s been a long time since I thought about this in a race, but every runner knows that’s a clear sign of weakness, right? I felt like crap at this point, too, but I thought to myself, this guy is just waiting for someone to catch him. I figured I had to give it a shot.

So I pushed like hell the last two miles. And he kept looking over his shoulder, and I kept getting closer. I closed with a 6-flat and passed him somewhere in the last mile.

I won in an official time of 1:21:00. I was shocked. That was way faster than I thought I could run and way slower than any other winning time in the history of the race. My lucky day, I guess.

As Tom Sobal is fond of saying, “the key to winning any race is having the faster guys not show up.”

Either way, it's the best race I’ve had in years. And after a few years where I feel like I have underperformed expectations in nearly all of my races, it's nice to outperform expectations for once. 

Going forward, I suspect that’s the last race longer than 5k I’ll be doing in 2018. Still haven't even come anywhere close to the main goal for the year, so I figured I'd put some effort in that direction over the next few months.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Breck Crest

Ran the Breck Crest half yesterday. Results here.

Short story is that I got 5th overall and second in my age group. But they told me I won my age group (40-49) because the guy who got second got top three overall. So I got a blue ribbon with a medal on it for winning my age group even though a guy who was 43 ran 10 minutes faster, which seemed a little silly to me. 

Either way, it was perfect weather for a race, chilly at the start and then mild during the race. Race starts in Breck, which is at around 9500 feet.

At the start Andy Wacker took off at what must have been close to 5-minute pace uphill, and then a pack of five of us, with me following three men and one female, running at closer to 7-minute pace, well behind.

I moved into 4th place at about two miles, as we worked our way up gradual single track. I had planned to run conservatively, by heart rate, but my heart rate data was wonky and unusable, so I was running by feel instead. I got the sense that I was running hard, and when my HR data finally started registering correctly, I could see I was in the 170s, which was indeed too intense for a 2-hour-plus race.

I laid off the gas a bit, trying to keep my heart rate below 170. The trail got way steeper, though, and I got passed by a guy after the five mile mark. I continued to make steady if not spectacular progress up the hill. Hit the crest at 6.5 miles at 12,500 feet at about 73 minutes and then the mile-7 aid at 78 minutes.

At that point, the marathoners, who got a 10-minute head start on us, continued on the crest and us half marathons took the steep fire road back down into town.

It was rocky for about two miles and then smoothed out. I trotted my normal conservative pace on the rocky stuff and then tried to push on the smoother sections. Mile 10 was a 6:11, my fastest of the day. At this point, the road opened up, and I could not see anyone ahead or behind me. A guy at an aid station said I was about four minutes behind the next runner.

That did not do much for my motivation. We switched from fire road to single track, and that’s when my low-6-minute pace turned into high-7s. There were a couple of rollers, and then a bit of a contrived section as we got back into town. Race ended up being 13.54 miles, according to my watch. 

Finished in 2:05 and change.

On the whole I’m satisfied with the effort.

I certainly didn’t execute a perfect race. In an ideal world, I would have started off with my HR in the high 150s and finished with it in the low 170s. Instead I did the opposite. I toasted myself a little early, but I think 2:05 is a decent reflection of my fitness. With perfect execution I might have gone 2-3 minutes faster, but I think I finished where I belonged relative to the other runners.

Race results notwithstanding, I’m happy with how my running is going.

It was about two years ago when I started upping my mileage beyond 15-20 miles a week. Last year, I averaged closer to 60, but I was injured the second half of the year, so it didn’t do me any good. This year, I think I’m a touch better off fitness-wise, but have accomplished it on less mileage (about 40 miles a week) and most importantly, with no serious injuries (knock on wood).

So yeah, racing reasonably well (for my fitness level) at mid-distance mountain races with no injuries. I’ll take it.

Here's a pic of the top 3 plus age-group winners:

  Photo courtesy @agoldie94