Race report: Shooting for 22 years

As many of you probably know, I take incredible pride in my streak of running at least one 5K every year in under 17 minutes. Before today, that streak stood at 21 years and counting. After today, it would either stand at 22 years and counting or end at 21 years.

Before today, I was already thinking of sharing why sub-17 means so much to me so let me start there. Then I’ll get into today’s report. Continue reading “Race report: Shooting for 22 years”

Race report: 2017 Al’s Run

Team HillRunner.com (minus Andrea – behind the camera) post-race

Al’s Run is always one of my favorite events of the year, largely because of the team aspect. As I’m sure almost everyone reading this is aware, Team HillRunner.com has been represented at Al’s Run for well over a decade by now. If I have the count right, this was the team’s 14th year under the HillRunner.com banner. It’s also my 17th year at Al’s Run and my 16th year as a member of a team (Team GTI first, which became the original core of Team HillRunner.com).

There are two things I absolutely love about this team. Continue reading “Race report: 2017 Al’s Run”

Race report: 2017 Walleye Run – righting a wrong

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

Last year, I got a little bored with always showing up to the Walleye Run 5 miler and finishing in the top 10. So I decided to try adding a challenge: the 2 mile, which starts 75 minutes after the 5 mile starts.

It didn’t go so well. Between not great preparation and ridiculously warm weather, the wheels came off in the 2 mile.

Pretty much before I finished the 2 mile, I knew I would be back this year to do it right. I couldn’t let the experience end that way.

This year, in preparation for the double, I changed a couple things in my training. First, I really worked to toughen up the calves. Second, I actually did some quarter mile repeats. I did them at the back end of workouts, when already tired, because I wanted to simulate what I would be experiencing during the 2 mile, after already racing the 5 mile, but this is the first time in a long time I have done quarters in any format.

During the week of the race, I was a little concerned. I felt like maybe I had one week too much of hard training. I was really having trouble recovering in time for the race. I was worried that especially my left hamstring would not be ready and that could spell trouble, especially at the faster pace I was thinking of for the 2 mile. That said, by late week, things were getting quite a bit better by the day. The morning of the race, there was a little lingering tightness but not enough to be concerned about.

I was watching the weather report for the race and it looked like the forecast was getting warmer as the week went on. On the morning of the race, it was already in the 70s by the time I got there and the wind was getting a little noticeable. I picked up my bibs and found a good spot between the start lines and the finish line. I brought 2 singlets so I’d have a clean and dry one to start each race so I was able to put both bibs on a singlet and then I went out for my warmup.

The warmup didn’t feel great. I just didn’t feel all that sharp. That said, I was still confident that I can at least lock into 6 minute pace and ride it out. On my strides, I even started feeling halfway decent.

At the start, I got out well, initially in about 8th-10th place before letting others burn themselves out and settling in around 12th-13th. After a fair bit of relatively straight running, we go around a gradual turn to the left where there was a Chevy display this year with a handful of vehicles blocking the inside of the corner. Fortunately, traffic wasn’t too bad and I was able to get out and around this display. After negotiating the display, I worked my way up a bit. I figured I was in about 10th-11th place after passing a few people, then someone said we were all in the top 10, which meant I figured I was in 9th place. Just before the mile, I caught a fairly young looking runner and he surged as I pulled up next to him. He pulled ahead a bit, then settled in and when I came up by him again he surged. Right about at the mile mark, he finally didn’t have it to maintain and dropped back. With an earlier, uneventful pass, this got me into 7th place.

5th and 6th were spread out in front of me, seemingly within reach but at a distance that I felt would require some patience and gradual whittling away at the lead. As I was trying to first just maintain the distance 6th had on me, someone joined me from behind. I didn’t want to let him just pass me so I picked up the pace and ran with him. We went back and forth a bit but mostly were going side by side through the 2 mile and well into 3. At one point in mile 3, there was a family on the side of the street and he said that was his family. I took just a touch off the gas so he could be a half step ahead of me for the kids and the photo op, then I joined him again once the family was behind. After a turn, I felt like 6th place was falling back just a bit and I said we can catch him, let’s go. His response was I can’t, I’m just going to try to hang on to you. So I set out in trying to work on 6th and this guy I was running with fell a couple steps back.

Neither catching 6th or getting away from 8th was coming easily. It was getting very warm, the headwind at this point was somewhat cooling but mostly was just sapping my legs. I pushed on, kind of yo-yoing with 6th place, and never completely separating from 8th.

At one point shortly before the 4 mile mark, 6th nearly caught 5th and I was thinking he was going to be the guy to chase, possibly fading and not too far ahead of me, but he responded and pulled back solidly into 5th. Meanwhile, I was not gaining on 6th overall. The good news was that it seemed 8th was falling back some.

Typically, with a mile to go, I reassess and tell myself it’s a mile race now. This time, I reminded myself I have another race to go. It was becoming more and more clear that I wasn’t going to catch 6th so all I had to do is run hard enough to not get caught by 8th. I still took a shot or two at moving up on 6th but it just wasn’t happening so I ended up in the last 1/2 mile and last 1/4 mile not trying to pick it up like I usually do. Comfortably in 7th down the final straight, I picked up the pace a bit but I didn’t kick. I was focusing on saving something for the 2 mile.

I ended up crossing the line in 7th with a 30:20. 1st in the 40-49 age group.

After a short time congratulating other runners, I grabbed a couple cups of water, then headed back to my gear. I changed back into my warmups, pushed a lot of fluids, stretched, then did a little running to keep warm and loose. On that bit of running, I realized how difficult the 2 mile was going to be. The 5 mile, combined with the heat and battling the wind, sapped my legs of their speed. I did a couple strides toward the end of that running and just didn’t feel sharp at all. There was just no snap in my legs. That said, I knew I was fit enough to at least gut this one out and I had toughened up my legs so I was confident they wouldn’t fail me this year.

After some more stretching and switching singlets and back to my racing shoes, I went over to the start line. I saw Josh, we chatted a bit, then did what we had to in order to complete our preparations. I did a little mobility work and a few strides and form drills, then lined up.

At the start, I again felt like I got out well, then settled in to let the fast starters burn themselves out. This time, even after warning Josh to be careful of the Chevy display, I found myself getting into a place where I nearly got myself in trouble. I extricated myself just in time and moved out to actually pass a couple people while going past the display.

Pretty quickly, I found myself in about 8th place with potential targets to pass still in front of me. The legs are holding out and things are looking reasonably good, especially compared to last year. Eventually, I work myself up to 5th place, less than a half step up on 6th who happened to be someone I was talking with at the start who was targeting a similar time to me and was in my age group. That didn’t matter, though. I was now seeing the potential for a top 3 finish and the opportunity to make age groups irrelevant (top 3 overall are a separate category). Through the mile in 5th with 6th right on my heels, I was now closing on 4th. Around a turn and I turned on the gas a bit. I passed both runners ahead and moved into 3rd before going around another turn.

Now, second is pretty far ahead but I have a lot to run for here. I have at least 2, if not 3, guys right on my back. I’m in for the overall top 3 finish if I can hold them off. I know what that means, don’t let it come down to a kick. Every step, I’m telling myself to push a little harder. The legs don’t like it but they are doing all they can. I can still feel one guy on my left shoulder. Then he moves to my right for a few moments before moving back to my left. He’s drafting on me as we run into what is a pretty stiff headwind. But what can I do? If I let up, will he even take the lead and let me draft? Anyway, if I do that, I’m just setting him up to outkick me. I know my only hope of holding him off is to run his kick out so this is my only option. So I go on pushing, hoping I can take the sting out of his legs. We come around a turn and are approaching what I know is about 1/4 mile to go. I want to be moving before we get that close to the finish so, about 100 yards before my 1/4 mile to go mark, I pick up the pace. I knew I wasn’t picking up the pace much but it was all I could do. In response to that, the guy on my shoulder picks up the pace more. I want to respond but my legs have nothing. Right behind him is the guy in my age group. With about 1/4 mile to go, it looks like he might get the pass to move into the top 3 but this younger guy ends up pulling away.

Meanwhile, I want to run faster but I just don’t have it. I do my best and just hope nobody is going to catch me from behind. Fortunately, nobody did.

So I end up crossing the finish line in 5th with an 11:36. 2nd in the 40-49 age group.

Overall, I’m happy with this. The times weren’t quite what I was hoping for but I think everyone’s times were off a bit with the heat and the wind both taking their toll. More importantly, I finished in the top 10 overall and the top 3 in my age group in both races. That was essentially my goal going in and I did it comfortably.

Plus they had some nice hardware. This year, coasters for age group awards:

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Will I do the double again next year? I don’t know. Running 2 races with roughly 45 minutes between the finish of the first and the start of the next is brutal. My legs are going to hurt for days after this. That said, it is a fun challenge and I hardly think I’ve mastered it.

Just scanning the results, it looks like I was the only finisher in the top 10 of either race to also finish in the top 20 of the other. Maybe aiming for that kind of accomplishment, if not top 10 in both races like I pulled off this year, is a new challenge to keep going for over the next few years. Until I get bored with that and decide to move on to something else. ;)

Race report: 2017 West Bend Autism Awareness 5K

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

I first ran this event two years ago. It happened to be its first year but I was just looking for an early year (it was in April at that time) 5K to shake the rust out. The following year, it moved to a location just a few miles from my home and I couldn’t pass up a race so close to home.

This year, again, I wanted a race ideally this weekend and this one so close to home was too hard to pass up. My goal for this was mostly just to test my fitness. I feel like I’m rounding into sub-17:30 shape but am I really in that area? If so, how far sub-17:30?

The week was pretty uneventful this time, thankfully. I didn’t back off the training in the early week quite as much as I would for a goal race but I did do what has become my standard race week workout on Tuesday, then cut the bottom out of my training for the rest of the week. I went in thinking that, in ideal conditions and running the perfect race, I could probably run in the low 17s. I was sure I was at least in mid-17 shape.

Knowing this race, my biggest challenge was likely to be walkers. This is a 3 lap race around the county fairgrounds, which has its pros and cons. #1 pro: you get crowd support twice mid-race. #1 con: without good crowd control, it can be a challenge to get around walkers. I talked with the race director last year about the idea of giving the runners a dedicated lane that would funnel into the finish line on the last lap. That year, she attempted to tell the runners to stay to the left and the walkers to stay to the right. The walkers didn’t listen, though, and the finish line was on the right so the runners had to cross the walkers to finish. I thought the plan this year would be runners stay to the right, walkers stay to the left.

As I arrived, I noticed the crowd was good. I registered, pinned my number on my singlet, then got ready to warm up. As I was warming up, I noticed how tough the back side of the course would be. It holds the only incline, hardly worth calling a hill, but this year it was accompanied by a stiff direct headwind. This spot was out in the wide open and was getting all of the wind. The other side, with the tailwind, was unfortunately around buildings and not going to get the same wind. Oh well, you just make the most of the day. Other than the wind, the conditions were perfect. I can deal with the wind better than early season heat so I’m not complaining.

I finished my warmup and the director announced that runners should stay to the right, walkers to the left, as you finish. I almost jumped in to ask if that instruction should be throughout the course, not just as finishing, but for some reason didn’t. This was the first sign that things would not go as smoothly as hoped for. This was a race where I went in hoping for the best, a clear path and some people to cheer me in along the way, but expecting some traffic issues.

For the first lap, obviously, the coast was clear. I went straight into the lead and found a nice rhythm. I felt like I was moving very well, probably low 17 pace if not flirting with sub-17 pace. Then I hit the back side with the headwind. I felt like I slowed to a jog but I just pushed through. Around a corner into the park and I was out of the wind and rolling again. I went around a few turns and to the start/finish area, where some late starting walkers were still just getting going.

Pretty quickly in the second lap, I started hitting packs of walkers. At first, small enough to weave around without losing too much momentum or adding too much distance. Then the bigger packs started hitting. I began trying to take the inside line (the right, as I hoped walkers would be instructed to avoid throughout) but quickly found it far too congested. After a few close calls with dogs, including one I had to dodge and another I actually had to hurdle, and other close calls with people, I made my way to try the outside. I actually ended up off the pavement of the road and on the gravel shoulder. This went pretty well for a while, until crowds started appearing out there. Then I cut across to the inside and ran along the gravel shoulder on the inside. People were everywhere and it was hard to find a path. I added quite a bit of distance and spent quite a bit of energy weaving in and out but, not more than about a minute before hitting the start finish area, someone said I was just over 10 minutes. To me, this was a good sign. Somehow I was holding probably low 17 pace or I had gone out actually at sub-17 pace and didn’t lose too much.

By the end of lap 2, I was getting to the point where the walkers were spread out more, some jogging, and there was a little more space to maneuver. Lap 3 definitely began that way and I was largely able to use the inside shoulder to get a mostly clear path. Then I started getting back into the back of the walkers. This time, with joggers mixed in. The walkers were spread out a little more but there were others trying to pass them, complicating the situation. Fortunately, there weren’t any incidents but I did have to run on the grass a few times to avoid incidents.

As we entered the park again, the crowd was again thinning. I managed to weave through and use the grass at a few points to get through, then in the final straight I shot a gap to get to the right side and to the finish line.

As I crossed the line, I heard 17:50. To be honest, I’m happy with this. I figure the crowds cost me at least 20 seconds and the weather probably another 10 or so seconds so it was probably a 17:20 or better kind of effort and I didn’t finish completely wasted.

I came into this knowing the potential traffic issues so I hold no grievances over that. It was a little worse than expected but I knew there would be potential problems going in. Actually, to be honest, I offered to work with the race director on ideas to resolve the traffic issues for next year. I’m even considering volunteering instead of running to help resolve these issues. This event has potential and I want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem, for this race director.

Race report: 2017 Gary’s Gallop

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

This winter, I hit another age group as I turned 40. Seeing as I have little to no interest in racing during the winter these days, I wasn’t sure what race would become my first in this new age group. At first, I was thinking of the Legal Run Around in Fond du Lac but things just didn’t work out for various reasons.

As I was looking over my schedule and what I had in mind for late spring/early summer races (one too close to home to pass up and another that’s a favorite of mine and I have to correct a wrong from last year at) I realized Gary’s Gallop fits into the schedule perfectly. So that’s where I found myself this morning.

As it turns out, though, I completely wasted the opportunity of my first race in this new age group.

I arrived at the Wisconsin Lutheran College athletics grounds a little unsure of what today would bring me. I had a decent but not great winter of training. I feel I’m fit. By the end of this week, I’m feeling as healthy as I’ve felt in at least a couple months. However, I’m not yet race sharp. High level of general fitness, low level of race specific fitness. Of course, that’s what you expect at the first race of the year, right?

On top of that, I had some things going on this week that had me a little off my game. My refrigerator stopped working and we can’t get a new one delivered until next week. So, along with the stress and hassle of dealing with that, my diet has been thrown for a loop as we’re trying to avoid any food that would need to be cooled. I also have several things going on that just had me more busy than I usually like on a race week. So I wasn’t quite sure how great my energy levels would be.

That said, I was there to race. I’d do the best I could, whatever that meant. So I checked in and got ready to warm up.

I was originally planning to warm up on the course but, when I got past the start line, I quickly realized a gate about 100 yards in was still closed. So I detoured onto the track and did my warmup there. I have to admit I didn’t feel too springy on the warmup but I was getting things worked out and feeling at least a little better.

At the start, I was eyeing the competition. It looked like a few good runners but nobody I could pin as someone who would surely run away from me without a problem. Whatever the case, this was going to be a day of pure racing, not time trialing. This course doesn’t have ridiculous hills but it is undulating with a general downhill trend early and uphill late. Combined with a fairly stiff second half headwind, this was a day for real racing.

At one point, I overheard a conversation where someone asked a friend if another of their friends would be winning. “Yeah, of course” was the answer. That kind of rubbed me the wrong way. I sure didn’t see anyone who looked to warrant that sure of a statement. Oh well. If pre-race prognostications were always right, we wouldn’t need to run these things.

I lined up next to the two guys I pegged as the most likely lead competition. I was wrong. At the gun, I found myself right behind one of them as he acted surprised to be in the lead. Down a slight decline, I took the lead and picked up my police escort. It’s been a long time since I had a police escort so I thought for a moment how fun that was. Then I focused on getting a read for who was behind me. I could tell someone was there, I didn’t think it was the guy who started out in the lead but I couldn’t be sure until he pulled up next to me and I could see he wasn’t.

For the first mile, we were back and forth. At times, I’d get maybe a half step lead. At times, especially up one of those inclines, he got a one step lead. We were always right there, though.

We were being given splits everywhere. I heard a 4:05 and jokingly said I sure hope that’s not the mile split. As it turns out, I believe I heard 5:45 just before I hit the mile.

Around this time, I noticed that the guy I was running with was breathing pretty hard. Not to the point I thought he was about to crash but hard enough that I could tell he was working harder than me. Shortly after, we went up a slight incline and I let him get a slight lead, maybe 1 step. As we were going up this incline, I told myself the top of this incline is my moment. He’s working harder than me, he’s pushing the incline a bit so he’ll be a little more fatigued by the top, and I want to get away so he can’t draft off me into the headwind when I make my long move to the finish.

So we crest the hill and I go. I gave him enough of a lead by the top so I could accelerate before pulling up by his side, which would make my move feel more decisive. I accelerated and went by him with no fight. He just let me go. I kept pushing for a bit, then settled back into pace.

Around the turnaround and into the headwind, I could see I had about a 2-3 second lead on him and a third guy who was pretty much right with him at this point. I decided for the moment to just maintain and get to mile 2 before trying to open up a bigger lead. At least nobody was drafting off me. That was the only purpose of the lead at this point. So I settled in behind my 2 motorcycle escort and just focused on keeping as much of a rhythm as I could over this undulating course.

I cruised through the 2 mile mark, which I believe I recall being on one of these inclines. Once I crested the top, I put a little extra in, trying to stretch what I could sense based on splits being called was about a 3 second lead. At this point, I either wanted a bigger lead or the guys behind to have to work so hard they would have nothing left if they did catch me. I continued this into a second turnaround behind the stadium, then into the parking lot.

Around a turn and entering the track and football field, I picked it up a little more but knew I had the win tied up and my time was going to be off due to the course and the wind so I didn’t really try to light it up. I cruised into the finish in 18:06 and got to break the tape.

It’s been a long time since I’ve either had a police escort or got to break the tape at a race. It was fun to get to do both.

As for my first race in the 40-44 age group, though, I kind of wasted that opportunity. Who needs age groups when you get the overall win?

This is a fun race. Definitely not where you go for a fast time with the deceptively challenging course, two 180 degree turns, and today with the wind. However, it’s a good chance to get the competitive juices flowing and get an early season tune up.

Plus they have some nice hardware:

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