Tuesday, July 5, 2011
Flashback to 2000. I'm still healthy and a year from being a collegiate 1500 meter runner. I sign up for the Firecracker Mile because road miles are fairly uncommon, and this one is unique. It's run at 6300 feet elevation in Truckee, CA. To compensate for this, it's downhill from about a 100 yards in to the 1k mark. For that half mile you think you're flying. Then, it flattens out. Maybe even climbs juuuust a few feet back up. The last stretch sucks. Your arms and legs feel like bricks as you run out of usable oxygen. 11 years ago, I got passed just before the line, slowing badly. I still remember that race because it's THE most I've ever hurt after any race of any distance. Of course recovery is faster, but the pain more intense. If anyone out there doesn't think running a mile is as hard or harder than a 5k, 10k, whatever...you need to run harder. Sure, you can jog a mile and it's a peice of cake. But if you are going as hard as you can go, every distance from a 400 meter oval on up has it's lung and leg-searing pain. Sounds like fun, right? Yeah, I thought so too, so after a decade or so of not racing anything this fast or this short, I thought I'd give it another try.
I'd even thrown some 200's in on my speed days to remember what running faster than 2m/5k pace feels like. A 4:29 on the tread was hard, but I knew there was another gear there. However, transfering to road, I just wanted to be under 4 1/2 and keep my odd little streak of top 2 finishes going. Most years it takes a sub-4:20 to win this bad boy, and I had no dillusions of being able to run as fast as I did in 2000. It's funny seeing the body adapt as one gets older (I can't run as fast now, but can hold closer to top speed for longer).
Anywho, last week was a good one. A quality interval day on Wednesday followed by a 2011 5k pr on Friday, and...an extra day off after that last hard day due to the race being on the Monday holiday. I felt good going in, but have to admit, my pre-race nerves are getting the best of me these days. After struggling for a couple weeks, I questioned myself when the warm-up didn't feel as good as I would have liked (this one week after contemplating dropping out of a race). I think it's in my head, which can be your best friend or worst enemy. Sometimes it feels as though no matter how many good days you have, there's always that confidence-shaking, soul crushing bad day (or week, etc...) to make you question your ability...your readiness. But once that gun goes off, all that flies out the window.
Running a mile is like playing third base. Not a whole lot of time to react, or strategize. It's just bang! Go! It didn't help I had my weight on my back foot when the gun went off (sorry about that Fred...next time I'll get behind you). Not quite a sprint, though, so I didn't overreact. I made my way through the kids and the sprinters in the first 100 yards, and settled into third. I picked the right guy to tuck behing because another hundred later, he was leading and I was right on him. About half-way through the downhill section I took the lead. I had no idea how fast we were going and held back just enough so maybe I could run strong til the end. We went under I-80 at just past the halfway mark, and through the roundabout before the course flattened out again. Still 600 or so to go, still in front, and feeling ok. More trouble with the lungs than the legs so far, which is just fine. For a race this short, you can ignore the lungs as long as the legs are still churning. I hadn't even glanced at the watch, and didn't dare look behind me. I knew there was a pack right on my tail, and the crowd let me know too. The pace slowed as the elevation caught up to us, and the last quarter mile became an exercise in survival. It was no longer about a good split, but running fast enough to not get passed. It was all I could do to keep the legs moving down the homestretch as oxygen debt set in. It felt like the turnover remained steady by my legs just couldn't manage a full stride.
It was fun to go back and look at the pictures on the race site, and seeing just how close things were. I got a little lucky with a slightly slower, but deep, field, and held on for the win in 4:25.7. Second place was only a second behind, and third just another couple ticks. Not much room for error there.
I had some tunnel vision on that last stretch, so didn't really hear or see where the family was. Just looking for the finish line! Abby figured it might be a good idea to come to me, which she did, after they got me to stop clogging the finish chute. Pretty intense burning lung and leg pain for a few minutes after, but it didn't last, and I'd paced myself a little better than last time. Betty, Abby, my parents, and the kids stuck around for part of the parade, and I got to see the rest of TLD fresh from their own race (Big Blue Run to the Beach), though since their race started late, they missed mine. Nothing like seeing Dave beer in hand cheering "first woman" as I pass by. Maybe next time...
Pretty cool to see Gretchen sprinting home to 3rd place just over 8 days after finishing Western States. Hopefully over the next couple weeks I'll build a little base for a succesful half in the fall. No races for 20 days, so getting in a couple long runs will be the goal, preferably up in the mountains. Got off to a good start today with a 12-miler on the TRT at over 7,000 feet!
I'll get Abby's pics up sooner or later :)
AND...I only coughed once during the race (lots after, though).