Race report: 2016 Deer Run 5K

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

After tuning up two weeks earlier at a small local 5K, I stepped up my game and showed up at the Deer Run. Pre-race, I told myself if I improved by 20 seconds over the prior race (17:43) I’d consider it a good race. If I improved by 30 seconds, I’d consider it a great race. If all the stars aligned, maybe I could even take a crack at sub-17, though a 44 second improvement in two weeks seems like a tall order.

I could begin to see early in the week that the stars wouldn’t align. Monday, we had a significant hail storm that caused damage to our home. That meant, instead of a relaxing and restful Wednesday I had planned to recover after a very busy prior weekend, I got to spend all day talking with contractors and insurance people about getting the house fixed. I got to follow that up with another Friday evening discussion. Not the most restful way to spend a race week but some things need to get done.

On race day, as relaxed and rested as I could be, I took the trip to Brown Deer. I arrived earlier than intended and much earlier than necessary, picked up my race packet and went back to my car to relax and prepare. It was pretty chilly and seemed like it could rain any moment so we stayed in the car.

After a while just relaxing, Ed showed up at my car and we chatted until warmup time. I loosened up a bit, then we went on our warmup. We reviewed the finish as I always like to do so I can get a feel of how far from the finish certain landmarks are and can plan my finish accordingly.

After a few strides, it was time to line up. Looking around at competition, I first assumed that the 5K runners were wearing 3 digit bib numbers and the 10K runners 4 digit bib numbers. That helped me determine who the competition was. My eye instantly went to a PRO runner with a 3 digit number and I picked him out as the likely eventual winner. I saw a few others who looked like legit competition but nobody else who I figured was out of my league.

At the start, I felt like I got out well but not great. Pretty quickly, I settled in to 4th place, with the PRO runner and a guy in a red shirt already separating from the pack and myself in a pretty good size pack just off the shoulder of someone I wasn’t sure of but didn’t really expect would be too much competition in the end.

In pretty short order, I found myself in front of the chase pack but the pack was remaining surprisingly large. I didn’t expect that many runners to keep hanging around. Eventually, though, I separated from the pack. About the same time, the PRO runner separated from the guy in the red shirt. My first thought was I hope red shirt guy is blowing up and I can bring him back in. I went into chase mode but pretty quickly realized that PRO guy likely just picked up the pace. I was bringing in red shirt guy but very gradually.

Every once in a while, red shirt guy would surge and build back his lead on me. However, one thing I noticed early and continued to notice throughout the race was that red shirt guy was not at all running good tangents. He was running much farther than necessary. Taking the shortest line possible is one of my strengths so this gave me an advantage and I could see it through parts of the course that had a lot of turns. He was always going wide, I was always trying to anticipate turns and take the shortest line. Between this and my slight acceleration, I was generally closing the gap but not quickly.

I was losing hope of closing the gap before the finish line when I saw the 5 mile mark for the 10K. I thought we were already farther along so this gave me a surge of energy. Maybe backward from what you would expect but, instead of saying I have longer than I thought to go and I don’t have a lot left, I told myself I have longer than I thought to work on red shirt guy’s lead and maybe I have a chance. Combined with catching him looking back toward me, a sign of weakness I love to take advantage of, I decided to take a shot. Of course, I told myself it’s now or never. If I don’t make some serious work of this gap in the next half mile, I will run out of time.

So I did all I could to make serious work of the gap and I did close the gap quite a bit. With what I would estimate to be a half mile to go, I was within striking distance. The problem is, if this guy had any kick, I’d be a sitting duck. I never have a great kick and, with all the work I had done to close the gap, my kick would be even weaker than usual. I tried with all I could to close the gap as soon as possible.

With about 1/4 mile to go, we go around a left, then there’s another left into the finish. By this point, I’m not with red shirt guy but I’m definitely in reach. He swung out to the middle of the road off the left turn, I stayed right on the left shoulder trying to minimize my distance. I kept chipping away at his lead until I figured that, around the final turn, we’d be almost even. Then it would come down to who had a kick. Then he kicked before that turn. I had nothing to respond and he extended his lead in the final straight.

In the end, I finished third in 17:23, 4 seconds behind second place but with a healthy gap over fourth. That was exactly 20 seconds faster than two weeks ago so I’ll call it a good race.

I can’t help but wonder if I could have gotten second with a more aggressive first half of the race but I doubt it. I ran about the best race possible and gave it all my legs had and I came up a little short. That’s life. Sometimes you have it, sometimes you don’t. I can still feel that the base is with me and I need sharpening work to run a more solid 5K but that’s a reasonable place to be at the end of April.

A couple pics from the race and results:

Early on: probably not quite as aggressive as I should have been.

Shortly before the last turn: what it looks like when you’ve spent a lot to catch up and have nothing left.

Results

Race Report – Deer Run 5K

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

I like to be pretty early to my races so when I was leaving 15 minutes behind schedule I was a bit anxious but I still had plenty of time. I arrived on-site and walked to check in and pick up my race packet. I asked if Ryan Hill had checked in yet and they stated that he had. I went back to my car to pin on the race bib and noticed only two pins in the packet. Its a good thing I always have at least eight pins in my car at all times. After pinning on my race bib I went to find Ryan. I knew where he liked to park at this race so I headed over there and sure enough he was there.

We talked a bit about life in general then prepared for a warm-up. I mentioned that based on some of my workout paces I thought if everything went perfect I could maybe pull-off a 5:50 pace. The warm up was easy paced and just about 1.4 miles. We did some light stretching and then I did some strides trying to zero in on what 10.2 MPH felt like.

As the start of the race drew near we all lined up. At the gun a large group of individuals took off pretty hard. I stayed with them letting Ryan and a few others start to pull away. At about the 1/4 mile mark I checked the Garmin and we were at nearly 11 MPH – way ahead of my pace. I thought "crap I am going to finish a whole lot worse than 4th or 5th place." I slowed a bit trying to zero in on my 10.2 MPH. Part of the group was pulling away but as we neared the 3/4 mile point a big part of them faded hard and I easily caught and passed them. I could still see Ryan and the other leaders even though it was a course with lots of turns. I settled in with the chase group and tried to find my stride. At about the 1 mile mark it felt a bit slow so I checked my Garmin and we were at 9.7 MPH – way to slow.

I started to slide to the side to pass the group but a guy slid over in front of me each time I tried. Since we had picked up the pace a bit to 10 MPH I though I would tuck in very close behind him literally on his heals to where I had to match his cadence and stride or I would hit his feet. I knew he would get sick of that eventually and by 1.25 miles he let me go and I pushed it and left them all in my dust.

As we neared 1.75 miles I knew I would now have to do a gut check – I felt like I was at my fastest 5K race ever and was thinking about how I would hold on to this pace. At about 2.25 miles I stared to look ahead and see if I could catch the guy in front of me. He seemed pretty out of reach he had what I tried to count as about a 40 second lead on me. I looked back and saw that I had a pretty large lead on anyone else. I was in no-man’s land. I hate being in this position. No real chance of passing the guy in front of me and a nearly impossible lead to lose a position from the guy behind me.

I had nothing to push me except my determination to go after a PR – my Garmin is set up a bit different as it a a newer one to me and I didn’t know what my overall time was at this point. So I didn’t know if I had a shot at a PR or not.

Ryan and I had ran part of the finish as our warm-up so we knew where to start the finishing drive and final kick. As I approached the 2nd to last turn I noticed I had been closing the gap on the guy in front of me but still had no chance to pass him unless he had a catastrophic issue. Into that 2nd to last turn I started to push it a bit more my breathing was labored but not out of control. I built speed towards that final turn and once I completed that final turn I started to push very hard giving my final kick.

My eyes aren’t 20/20 so I couldn’t read the clock until I got pretty close – I saw it showing 18:13 and was excited. I knew I would get a good new PR but still remembered to run through the finish line and not to it. Had no idea what my final time was – I just knew that it was good.

After a good cool down with Ryan of just over 2 miles – we got back just in time for the awards. A guy named Adam walked up to us and we found out that Ryan was 3rd overall (Adam 4th) and I managed 5th overall. Not bad. It took a while to get to my old man’s age group and was pleased with an age-group win. Second in my age group was one minute 16 seconds behind me. That is an easy age group win. I had narrowed the gap between myself and 4th place to 23 seconds (still a ton) and managed to hold the lead on 6th place to 47 seconds.

Overall a great race but I made a few mistakes. I could have cut all of the tangents a bit better and could have pushed a tiny but more. I usually want to fall to the ground at the end of a race but I didn’t this time. That will have to corrected for my next 5K in early June.

Race report: 2016 Autism Awareness 5K

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

Last year, I was looking for a local 5K to shake up the legs and get my running back into a rhythm after a vacation. I found a 5K relatively close to home at just the right time. It happened to be in its first year but I wasn’t really concerned about anything other than getting in a hard effort in a race day atmosphere. So I did it.

While the people were good, I didn’t have a whole lot of interest in returning to the event. The people seemed to care but the event was nothing special. Then, this year in searching for a tune up effort before a planned trip to Brown Deer for the Deer Run 5K, I discovered that this race, two weeks before the Deer Run, had moved to a location that was less than 5 miles from my home. So here I was again.

This year, I didn’t need to get back into a rhythm. I just finished up a very solid base phase and was transitioning a bit more to race prep type work. This was actually not the ideal time for a race as I was in my first week fully focused on that race prep work. Not a cutback week, plus there are always things that don’t feel right when in the first week of a new training focus. That said, it was a good week for tuning up for the Deer Run. Plenty of time to recover from a 5K but not so much time that I will have forgotten how a 5K is supposed to feel.

So I was back. Not fully rested, on a day that was warmer than we recently had seen. Not the variables for a great race but I wasn’t looking for that. I was looking for a solid effort and not worrying myself about time. I expected to be in the mid-17s if I ran well but wasn’t too concerned about the time. It was more about a good effort.

After registering, I reviewed the course map. Pretty simple. 3 laps around a 1+ mile loop around the county fairgrounds. Mostly flat, a few hard turns but mostly a semicircle around the parking lots. My only real concern was how traffic control would be. Would a clear path be given to runners as we began lapping walkers?

I warmed up over the course, which allowed me to confirm that the loop was a little over a mile and seemed generally to have a good flow. A couple hard turns early and a few late but, otherwise, this had the potential to be a fast course.

At the start of the race, the instructions were given more than once that there were cones down the middle of the road throughout the course. Runners were to stay to the left of the cones, walkers to the right. This left me a little relieved. They had a clear plan to control traffic and avoid issues.

As the race started, I went straight to the lead. I had talked to a couple runners before the race and their goals were in the 20+ minute range. I didn’t see anyone else who looked like sure fire serious competition and I recall winning by a significant margin last year. So this wasn’t a real surprise. What was a surprise was that I could sense more than one runner going with me, not just for the first 100 yards but for at least close to 1/4 mile. I wasn’t sure if they were going out fast or I was going out slow, though I definitely didn’t feel like I was going out slow. Pretty soon, though, I found myself alone, hugging the cones on the left side of the road. Late in the first lap, I turned back into the park, went around those few hard turns, then was passing through the start/finish area.

Then, into lap 2. This was when things would get interesting. How good would enforcement of the "runners left, walkers right" rule be?

It didn’t take long to find out. Early in the second lap, I started seeing packs of walkers strung out across the road. I weaved through as best as I could and, in a few instances when there was simply nowhere to go, wedged my way through the biggest gaps I could find. I’d like to say I called out but, honestly, I was halfway through a 5K. To say my breathing was labored would be an understatement. The best I could do was grunt out some kind of audible alert but the walkers weren’t taking the best hint I could offer that I was coming through.

Unfortunately, I let this working through the walkers get into my head more than I should have. I’m disappointed in myself for that. I should have remained tough and kept pushing but I didn’t. I was still pushing but not redlining the way a well-run 5K requires.

Eventually, the crowds started thinning out a bit and it was easier to work through without too much problem. However, I already let the circumstances get in my head and I wasn’t prepared to get back to redlining. I pushed as hard as I could convince myself to but I definitely didn’t have that 5K edge.

In the third lap, the situation started changing a little. Now, the walkers were thinning out but I was encountering lapped runners. They were easier to work around, though. The walkers were staying to their side better and the runners were at most two or three wide, so there was room to pass with minimal, if any, trouble.

Unfortunately, there was one more logistical problem. The finish was on the right side. I’d have to cross the walkers lane to get to it. Fortunately, there was a gap when I needed to go so I could do so without problem, even managing a bit of a kick as I finished in 17:43.

All things considered, I’m good with this result. Fitness wise, I know that with more rest and better focus on my race execution, I’m probably in low-17 shape already. If the stars align for the Deer Run, I could possibly even make a run at a sub-17.

To her credit, the race director was very receptive to my suggestions for race improvements. I tried to make it clear that I was trying to offer suggestions to make the event better and not give her a hard time but I knew my comments could easily be taken as criticism. I had two suggestions. First, runners on the right so we have a clear path to the finish line. Second, have course sentries enforce or at least remind people of the rules of the road (runners right, walkers left next year if my first suggestion is followed) on the course. This would make the event both better for runners and safer for everyone involved as I was truly concerned at points about hurting someone.

All said, this event has a lot of potential. It’s clear the race director does care deeply about creating a good experience for both runners and walkers. The course is actually spectator friendly, unlike so many road races, and it has the potential to be a fast course with more fan support than most local road races can offer. I have a feeling I’ll be back, especially since it’s so close to home.

Race report: going for two decades

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

I have a feeling this is going to get long so I’ll break it into sections.

Background

For those of you who aren’t aware, one of my proudest personal accomplishments as a runner is my streak of consecutive years with a sub-17 minute 5K. It may seem monumental for some to run a single sub-17 5K, while for others such a run is barely a workout. For me, it took a lot of work to get under 17 minutes in the first place and it takes a lot of work to stay there.

How much work did it take to get there? Well, I graduated high school with a 17:06 PR. Anyone who knew me in high school could tell you how hard I worked for that 17:06. It wasn’t until indoor track during my freshman year of college, 1996, that I finally broke through the 17 minute barrier. Every year since, through continued hard work and surely some luck I’ve gone under 17 minutes at least once.

This year, I wanted more than anything to continue that streak. To be able to say that I’ve gone under 17 minutes every year for two decades meant a lot to me. I’ve never been a superstar but one thing I’ve always taken pride in is my consistency. Sure, I have bad races but I bounce back and, year after year, I’m always there. When you don’t get hurt, you are always willing to work both hard and smart, and you are willing to lay it all on the line on race day, that’s the result.

Leading up to race day

So it’s with that background that I entered today’s race. I had a shaky spring racing season. In the fall season, I was fighting some lower right leg problems that I believe can be traced back to my perpetually tight hamstring. Through that, though, I fought through my races and had a high before today at the Hootie Hustle 5K, winning with a 17:15 on a course that seems to be both challenging and relatively fast. At Hootie Hustle, though, I felt like I left something on the course. I was in a relatively close race and didn’t want to leave myself hung out to dry in the last half mile so I saved something. That wouldn’t be a problem today.

In the past couple of weeks, I felt like I had done some solid work since my semi-disappointing run at Al’s Run. I felt like I was coming in fit and the taper was working perfectly. In fact, even the lower leg problems were disappearing. In the two days immediately preceding the race, I even found myself saying I felt better than I have for months. I felt ready to roll. After yesterday’s run, I told myself I felt like I could have run a 16:45 5K (remember that).

Race day

This morning, I got up and checked the weather. At 6:30, it was 24 degrees at the nearest weather station to the race course. The race was 10:00. I knew it would warm up but I also didn’t want to take anything for granted so I threw some extra gear in my bag just in case and the family packed up and we headed out to the race.

As we arrived, a parking space right next to the finish line was available. I grabbed it and had myself parked with my front bumper virtually even with the finish line. With the course for many years starting at the finish line, this was perfect.

We went inside and I relaxed until warmup time. I went out for my usual warmup, initially keeping the pace very relaxed before opening up a few times after a very slow opening mile. Much like yesterday’s run, I didn’t feel the greatest when running slowly but I felt invincible when I picked up the pace. Sounds fine to me. As long as I feel good at a fast pace, that’s all that matters.

After some strides, the walkers started going past to get lined up. As I was waiting for the crowd to clear so I could line up in front, one of the runners I see every year at this race came over and asked me about the new course. Huh? New course? Oh, shoot. Maybe I should have hung around to listen to the pre-race instructions. So I went over to one of the organizers and got the scoop. There’s a new rec trail, which I happened to notice while warming up, and for safety reasons they are moving the course to there.

One problem, the rec trail is a crushed limestone trail. Anyone who is familiar with crushed limestone trails, especially newly established ones, should know this means some loose gravel on the trail. Not bad footing but there is definitely some slippage every step and you lose just a bit from your toe-off on every step. Combined with the fact that this was a new course, not the one I’ve run 14 times before and had the utmost comfort and familiarity with, this shook my confidence just a bit. Then I reminded myself. 20 years. I’m not letting that go without a fight. So I lined up with that in mind.

The race

The air horn sounds and I’m off. Straight into the lead as usual and running hard from the gun. I quickly settle into an aggressive but not insane pace. I feel calm and relaxed but I know I’m holding a very solid pace. I follow the trail around some baseball fields, then out of the park and onto an old railroad bed. Up a quick, steep rise to the highway, then across with the assistance of a police officer as traffic control. I did notice that an SUV did not want to stop when the police officer stopped it but, as it was inching forward to make the cross, the officer stepped right in front of it and put his hand on its hood. That stopped it and I crossed without incident. There was a bike going across the far sidewalk and we looked like we were on a crash course but I didn’t break stride or adjust my path. Fortunately, the bike stopped very quickly right before we met and the guy on the bike cheered me on "Go number 34!" I cruise down the other side of the highway and I’m on the way to the mile mark.

There was someone there calling times but I couldn’t quite hear what he said. 5:24? 5:34? I thought it was 5:34. A little slow and I felt like I just ran a fairly fast mile. Not good but I’m not giving up this streak without a fight. I push harder, harder, out to the turnaround. This, fortunately, was not a hard turnaround. We come out to a road, take a left, then take another left on a spur from the trail before merging back in with the trail. Not as good as the old course with no turnaround but not nearly as bad as it could have been.

Now, I’m on my way back and I can see I have a good lead as usual but not quite as big as usual. That’s fine, though. I know what I’m here for. Keep pushing with all I have. I see more of the runners go by, then I come up on the 1 mile mark. The guy gives me my split as I go by there, 10:20. At that point, I tell myself I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that’s not 2 miles. A little later, I see someone calling out "2 mile" and she gives me a split of 11:30. I instantly assume that the 2 mile was somewhere between 10:20 and 11:30 but likely not quite either one of those. Quickly after, I’m up the incline, across the highway and down the other side. I know I either have 5 minutes or less to go at this point or I don’t really care so I’m pushing with all I have. Then I start coming across walkers. Most move over and give me plenty of room but a few must be staring at their feet and don’t see me coming. I’m breathing so hard I can’t even grunt so I’m just working my way through. Fortunately, with no serious problem.

As I turn back into the park with what I figure to be about 1/2 mile to go (it turns out it was just a hair over 1/2 mile so that was a good guess) I pour it on with everything I have. Around the baseball fields, past the start line and onto pavement. Once I hit the pavement, I kick with whatever I have. Not sure if I got faster but the effort level definitely reached 100% there.

I couldn’t see the clock until I was almost at the finish line but, when I did, I saw it clicking through the 16:40s. As I crossed, it was at 16:45.

Result

So that’s what it was. 1st in 16:45. Just what I figured I was ready for. I didn’t let the course change beat me, I overcame the lower leg problems and I extended the streak to 20 years.

Needless to say, I’m thrilled with this race. 20 years means a lot to me. I’m so proud to say I’ve run a sub-17 5K every year for two decades (and counting). This means a lot to me and I look forward to extending it next year.

That said, I’m done. Physically and mentally, I’m ready for the 2015 racing season to be over. Time to take a break, then focus on 2016 with the goal of my 21st consecutive year with a sub-17.

Al’s Run 2015

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

I was the first of Team Hillrunner to arrive but I always like to be early for races – I get anxious if I am not. As always, I also have a lot of nervous energy before a race and usually pace around like a caged animal. So this time I made sure that I drank water, used the facilities and then meditated. I concentrated on my breathing to relax myself. Eventually, three of our team members showed up; Josh Jackett, Gerald Cameron and Dave Dehart. We chatted and I pinned the bib on my Team Hillrunner shirt. I was still worried a bit about my recent tear to my calf muscle as I was not 100% and would have to monitor that closely so I wouldn’t get carted to my car and hurt the team.

Eventually Ryan Hill came by and we all chatted some more while waiting four our other two teammates Peter and Mike Diamond. When they arrived, we decided to get out there for a warm-up but they opted out due to recent training issues. The warm-up was uneventful but we shared some light conversation and were cheered on by some cheerleaders along the course.

We headed back to our meeting location for final race prep (drink more water and again hit the facilities – just to be sure.) I did some light stretching of the injured calf in hopes of preventing a re-injury. We then headed out to the starting line.

We each worked our way up to a place we felt most appropriate for our skill level but saw some people that clearly didn’t belong there – but hey – that happens at most races. They started the countdown and then we were off and running.

I was checking my pace on my Garmin to be sure I didn’t get out to fast. I wanted to get miles one and two in 6:15s, then miles three and four in 6:10s and mile 5 in whatever I had left. Based on my recent 5K I should have been fairly ready to accomplish that goal. Hit the first mile mark in 6:15 and was exactly where I wanted to be and I was feeling good. The swirling winds didn’t affect me at this point. I felt like I was slowing during mile two so I checked my Garmin – sure enough – SLOW! I kept trying to get myself up that long hill but kept losing speed – there seemed to be more headwind than the first mile. Sure enough – hit mile two in 13:00 even. That was a major let down. I lost 30 seconds and knew that would be nearly impossible to make back up. I also felt a light bit of pain in my injured calf – now I need to be very measured and very mindful.

I knew I could pick up several seconds during the steep downhill during the third mile so I tried to push myself to get back on pace for a 6:10 mile. I was careful but fast in the steep downhill worried about my calf. Sadly, I was slow yet again this time hitting a 6:15 mile. Now I am 35 seconds off pace. I begin to also strategize on finding runners from the Performance Running Outfitters Team to pass as many of them as I can.

Mile four can be a tough mile I fought hard not to fade and looked for someone to try and draft – but the end of the fourth mile really got me – a 6:28 mile. Now I am 51 seconds off pace and felt crushed but knew I had to fight for the team. Somewhere in the last half mile Double (Dave Dehart) caught me gave some encouragement and passed me. I tried to fight to keep up with him but slowly lost some ground. I focused on not getting passed by others and tried to pass as many people as possible. As I rounded the last turn before the finish line Coach Hill was yelling encouragement and telling me that every second counted – this is where I went for broke. Pushed hard and passed several runners.

I was disappointed in my performance because I was hoping to PR and get in under 31 minutes. My final time was 31:59.2 – 60 seconds slower than I wanted to be. Now I was worried about the team as I was the fourth man – and I was so much slower than I should have been.

In retrospect though – coming off of two injuries I did fairly well. I managed 81st out of 2,560 runners and took third in my age group of 88 guys. So I am walking away with some hardware once again. The team did ok especially considering we were missing so many people.

We all had fun and are looking forward to next year!

Personal and team race report: 2015 Al’s Run – battling adversity

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

Al’s Run is, of course, always the big Team HillRunner.com event of the year. This is the 13th year we’ve entered a team under the HillRunner.com banner. As always, I’m very touched and honored by the great group of runners who agree to run under the HillRunner.com banner.

This year was a struggle from the start, though. Due to injuries and other issues, a handful of recent Team HillRunner.com members were unable to make the race this year. While this hurt the team’s depth, I still felt we were fielding a solid team. Unfortunately, we had another runner bow out after registering due to not being race ready. Before I go any further, first let me wish all those who couldn’t run this year well on your recovery efforts. I hope to see you at Al’s Run next year not just to solidify our compeitive pursuits but because it’s always sad for me to see team members missing.

To further complicate things, my personal registration got messed up somewhere along the way. I was given the wrong bib (I believe it was a walker bib which means it didn’t even have a timing chip) when I picked up our team packet a week before race day. I reported this to the people there and one of the individuals told me she didn’t have a replacement bib on hand but could either leave one at the registration table on the day of the race or overnight one to me. Due to everything I have going on race morning, I requested it be overnighted to me. My understanding was that it would be issued Monday and I’d have it by Tuesday. When it didn’t arrive, I called Wednesday morning and was assured it should be arriving that evening. When it didn’t arrive by Thursday evening, I called again and left a voicemail. Friday morning, I got a call and was told to go to the registration table and request a replacement bib. Great but two problems. First, that’s what I was trying to avoid because I’m just too busy on race morning. Second, last time a team member had to do this, he never showed up as a member of our team. I pointed this out to the person who called me and she assured me I would be counted as a member of the team. So, on race morning, I asked the guys I carpooled in with to take team packets to our meeting spot and I headed straight to the registration table.

This is when the pre-race fun began. I went to the "problem solver" table and told them of my situation. First, I was told that I did receive a bib. Right here, it says you received bib number 15. One problem. I never received it. They didn’t want to believe me so argument #1 started. Finally, they either believed that I never received it or just gave up and issued me a new bib number. Then I asked if they could ensure that this bib number get properly added to our team. Argument #2: you can’t be added to a team on race day. You need to register with a team. I did! You guys screwed up my registration! After another argument, they took down the team information and repeatedly ensured me that I would be included as a member of the team.

Then it was off to our meeting spot to catch up with the rest of the team. As I arrived, I saw that the crew was there except for Peter and our one new recruit for this year’s race, Peter’s son Mike. I pinned my newly issued bib on my singlet, hoping to no end that I would actually be included as a member of the team but not counting on it based on past experience. I then chatted with the guys while going through my usual pre-race routine. Just before warmup time, as I was preparing to leave Peter and Mike’s race packets behind, they arrived. I said hi to Peter, we caught up quickly, then I introduced myself to Mike and we had a quick chat. Then it was warmup time.

As usual, we warmed up down Wisconsin Avenue, over the opening portion of the course. At one point, I swung off to drop a gear bag at my car. As I rejoined the team, I just kept thinking how cool it was to see the line of blue HillRunner.com singlets going down the road. That will never get old and it will always give me chills. I rejoined the group and we continued on our warmup.

On the way back, I again stopped at the car to change to my race gear. Then I ran by myself back to the starting area. After a few strides and a bit of loosening, I went inside and found the team and we headed out to the starting area together. A little more warming up, then we were lining up. In a classic Double move, he saw someone who shouldn’t be toeing the line of a large race like this and shouted something like "Alright, big guys in pairs, small guys in bunches!" You could hear a pin drop in the moments after that but the "big guy" didn’t take the hint and ended up toeing the line.

As the race started, I got out well. Quick but comfortable. The wind was a little tricky, generally a tailwind but at every intersection swirling around the buildings and creating cross winds and even headwinds. The gradual downhill almost to the mile marker, though, left me feeling like I was just in cruise control while going pretty quickly. I found myself in a gap so, when the crowd stayed to the left as I knew we were approaching a quick jog to the right, I went to the right. I wasn’t in position to pick up a draft anyway so I might as well take the shortest line. Nothing much happened from then through the mile mark, which I hit in about 5:31. I was targeting something around 5:30 so I was feeling good about this.

I know my best races at Al’s Run always consist of a relatively slow mile 2 as we climb from the river toward the bluffs overlooking Lake Michigan. I’ve learned to not fight this slowdown. When I do, I end up running poorly. So I didn’t push when we started climbing, actually just before the mile mark. Nobody was getting away from me, though. There were some swapping of positions but nothing major. By the second half of mile 2, I had my mark. Two Marquette uniforms put a PRO guy out the back and he was struggling to hold on. I knew he was my next victim and I was working on gradually bringing him in. I was closing in at the 2 mile mark, which I hit in about 11:32 for a 6:01 second mile. Not spectacular but within range of what I wanted.

Early in mile 3, we ran past a spot with a particularly strong gust of headwind and the PRO guy as well as the second Marquette guy both did not handle that gust well. It also hit me hard but not as hard as them. Shortly after that gust, I made the double pass. PRO guy was a little back of the Marquette guy but fought to stay with me. As I was approaching Marquette guy, I actually thought for a split second I could rub PRO guy off using Marquette guy but I’m not that kind of runner. I left room for both of us to get past without incident (or I hope I did at least, I was trying to). Near the end of mile 3, we head down Lafayette Hill. I always let loose on this downhill. In doing so this time, I gained on the Marquette guy ahead of me. Surprisingly, though, someone caught me. As we leveled off and cruised through the 3 mile mark in about 17:24, a disappointing 5:52 mile, I held with him and thought we might be able to work on two Marquette jerseys ahead.

Into mile 4, this is typically my "drop the hammer" mile. It’s a mile that can be very demoralizing if you’re not in the zone along here as you’re running a flat, relatively straight mile, staring at the east side of downtown Milwaukee the whole way. If you’re struggling, it can crush you. I like to attack, partly to keep my mind in the right place and partly because I know passing someone along here can help crush their spirit and prevent them from coming back on you. This time, though, the guy who caught up to me going down Lafayette Hill began edging ahead of me. I tried going with but just couldn’t. I did my best to focus in on this mile, ignore the city skyline off in the distance and just focus on the guys ahead of me. I did that well but I just couldn’t get my legs going. I didn’t pass anyone in this mile, which is the first time in probably at least a few years that has happened.

I finally got myself to the 4 mile mark but can’t remember the split. I think it was a low 23, probably around 5:50 again. At this point, I just told myself give it all I have. The guys ahead of me were pulling away but I could tell there were guys close behind. I was going to do all I could to have enough of a gap on them to be safe in the kick. This final mile has several turns. Right, left, right, left, left, finish. I did all I could to prevent myself from looking over my shoulder on any of those turns. I didn’t want to show any sign of weakness. Right, left. No looking back. Guys ahead are pulling away. Right. They are already going left. Have to gap the guys behind me. Left. Don’t look back, don’t look back. Go, almost in. Left. I see the finish line. I can’t see the clock, though. This year, the speakers are above the finish line and the clocks are off to the side. I can’t see them until the time is ticking past 28:40. One of the photographers is directly in line with my shortest path to the finish. Playing chicken with him. Eventually, he takes a couple steps to the side and I pass by without incident. Is anybody coming on me? I don’t know, I’m not even thinking of looking back. Drive through, every second counts.

I end up crossing the line in 28:52. 25th place overall. Not what I was hoping for but far from a disaster. Given the fact that I let myself waste energy by getting more worked up about my registration mix-up than I should have, combined with the fact that I was coming down with a cold, I’m not going to complain.

I then backtrack to catch my teammates. First, Cameron coming in just under 31 minutes. Then Double and right behind him Ed about a minute behind Cameron. I walk around the last turn and see Josh coming. I give him some words of encouragement. In retrospect, I should have been telling him the finish is just around the next corner so he knew he was close. We have two more runners coming. So I can catch everyone shortly after our last runner is in, I begin walking back toward the finish line, frequently looking over my shoulder to watch for the blue uniforms coming. Somehow I almost missed Peter as he went by but he called out and told me Mike was right behind. I hung around for Mike, gave him some words of encouragement, then went back around the corner to find my teammates. Unfortunately, we missed Peter and Mike but the rest of us chatted a bit, then went out to my place for a little (or not so little) unhealthy food and healthy war story swapping.

Final results for Team HillRunner.com:

25) Ryan Hill, 28:52.0 (2nd 35-39)

53) Gerald Cameron, 30:52.0 (2nd 40-44)

78) Dave Dehart, 31:55.5

81) Edward Pankow, 31:59.2 (3rd 40-44)

238) Josh Jackett, 36:46.0

324) Peter Diamond, 38:13.4

867) Mike Diamond, 44:32.1

For the record, there were 2,560 finishers listed in the run and total participation, run and walk combined, was reported to be over 16,000. Very solid results all around.

Also check out our cleaning house in the middle-aged male age groups. Nice job guys!

It took them two days to get some team scoring issues worked out but I believe the final result is in and, battling all the adversity we faced, we still hung tough for a top 5 team finish with an overall team time (top 5) of 2:40:24.9.

Race report: 2015 Hootie Hustle 5K

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

My second of two race reports from August races.

the Hootie Hustle is a second annual event supporting the scholarship fund at the school district I live in so I feel an obligation to show up. Besides, last year I discovered that it’s a pretty nice course overall and it had better competition than I was expecting. Plus, this year, I’m unable to make it to the Jamie Block Alumni Meet at UW-Stout so it’s the perfectly timed replacement for that as a final Al’s Run tune-up.

As I mentioned, this course is pretty nice overall. I wasn’t expecting so much in Slinger, a pretty hilly town. However, they found a course where you have a long, gradual climb in the first half and a long, gradual descent in the second half. Before the race this year, someone mentioned the middle school, roughly the high point of the course, is 130 feet higher than the start/finish area, roughly the low point. So it’s not like we’re mountain climbing but it’s hardly pancake flat.

As I arrived at the course, I found an open parking space and, as I was pulling in, realized I ended up parking right next to Ed. We had a quick conversation, then I wanted to pick up my packet. Ed decided to join me so we walked together to the packet pick up. It was kind of drizzly/misting but, otherwise, not too bad of a morning. Honestly, I was thinking that precipitation might be a benefit because it was humid. Without the precipitation, it could get downright stuffy. With it, at least there was something to help cool you down.

Ed and I warmed up together, scouting out a bit of the early part of the course and the last mile or so of the course. After some loosening up, strides and scouting out how slippery the field turf football field we’d be turning on to for the finish gets when wet (not very) it was time to line up.

At the start, you pretty quickly hit a U-turn onto the street. Before that, i was out into the lead. Around the turn, I played it a little cautious and someone got past me. I fairly quickly got back in front and then was in the driver’s seat. For some reason, I felt like I was working hard but not going as fast as I would have hoped. As we climbed the hill, I could hear someone on my back. I could tell he was working hard but not giving in. I didn’t want to kill myself up the hill and turn myself into a rabbit so I kept the pressure up but didn’t fully open up. Then we got to the middle school and I knew that, generally speaking, it was all downhill from there. By that time, I felt a little more in sync and began pushing a little harder. Around a hard right that slowed me down, then into some neighborhoods. I pushed through that stretch then, at the 3K mark around a turn I stole a look back. I definitely built a gap but not as big as I had hoped. Knowing I didn’t have a whole lot to go and a great downhill was coming, I raised the effort level a little there.

Around another turn, through the 2 mile mark and into almost the perfect downhill. I leaned into the hill, tried to make the most of it but felt I wasn’t really accelerating much. By the bottom of the hill, I was just pushing with all I could.

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You can see how wet it was, not ideal but not as bad as 85 and sunny would have been

Around a left turn, then just before a right I could see the scoreboard clock. 15:03. I pushed the pace thinking I’d be at least in the low 17s and maybe have a shot at sub-17.

I didn’t realize quite how far I still had to go, though. By the time I hit the track, the clock was right around 16 flat. I was pushing as hard as I could but, even in an oxygen deprived state and without trying to do the math, I knew a sub-17 effort would require the kind of sprint I don’t have when I’m rested, much less at the end of a 5K. I still gave it all I had, around the track for about 300 meters, then onto the field and finishing at the 50 yard line.

I saw 17:15 on the scoreboard as I crossed the finish line, then thought Ed should be around. Sure enough, he was on the track. I tore my pull tag off, then got around to cheer him in. I could see he was clearly on track for sub-19, I started telling him he has sub-19, how far under can he go? He seemed to pick up the pace some but not a whole lot. One of the finish line workers said something about me telling him sub-19 and I told him it was his goal and would be a PR for him. I think he was quite impressed when Ed crossed in 18:30.

After a few pictures, Ed and I headed out for a cooldown through a different part of town. All said, I have to rate this as a successful day for Team HillRunner.com at the Hootie Hustle. Sure, I would have liked sub-17 but I scored the win and this tells me I’m well on the path to sub-17 this fall. Ed got a top 3 finish and a huge PR. I’m looking forward to seeing what we both can do at Al’s Run.

Race report: 2015 Hank Aaron State Trail 5K

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

I’m a little behind on race reports. It’s been a hectic summer. So I’m going to be posting two race reports in fairly short order.

First up, the Hank Aaron State Trail 5K. As seems to be the case every year recently, I find myself at some point questioning whether I should run this race. This time, as mentioned, I had a very busy summer. The weekend before this race, I was in Illinois going through an RRCA coaching certification course (which I’ll write about when I get a chance). 2 days, 8-9 hours per day plus driving, then return to work on Monday. Plus I had a 100 question test I had to complete on my own time after the course was completed and I wanted to get that done before going on vacation the weekend after the HAST 5K. So I thought about skipping the race because I thought I’d be pretty drained.

Then I saw an offer for a free entry on the Keep Running MKE blog and figured what the heck, if I can get in free I can show up and at least get the body used to running hard. As it turns out, I ended up winning the free entry so there was no backing out.

On race day, I arrived and claimed my free entry, then relaxed until warmup time. During the warmup, I wasn’t feeling great but I was feeling good enough. What I noticed more than anything was the humidity. It was only around 70 (pretty good for this early August race) but the humidity was just thick. Still, everyone has to race in the same conditions and conditions are never ideal for distance running in early August. So I lined up thinking of what has become my recent usual finish: mid-20s for place with a time in the high 17s. This is a good field but not on a fast course so, while not thrilling, that isn’t a bad performance.

I lined up about 3 deep and, once the race started, quickly found myself first wishing I had lined up in the second row then getting passed by a handful of people. I probably lined up about right.

As the course looped around the Miller Park parking lots for most of the first mile, I worked my way past the fast starters, then settled into position. Around the mile, I passed a few people, then someone with a Hansons singlet passed me I believe just past the mile mark. I wanted to go with but I couldn’t quite match him so my goal became to just hang close and try to get him back later.

As we went up the gradual rise, I stayed as close as I could but he did open up a bit of a gap. As we turned around and went back down, I tried to make the most of the gentle downhill slope to pick up some speed but Hansons guy seemed to be doing the same thing. I was gaining slightly, though.

At the bottom of the slope, there are a couple quick turns, then a turn onto the off road portion of the trail along the river. Around the first turn, I was lining up to pass the Hansons guy. Coming off the turn, he knew I was there and picked it up, almost instantly passing 2 guys who were just ahead of us. I tried to match the move but again couldn’t. So I shifted to focusing on the 2 guys now between us. I fairly quickly passed one, then set to work on the other. Just past 2 miles, I got him and was back looking at Hansons guy.

With a couple quick, sharp turns, we cross the river, then it’s running parallel along the other side of the river upstream until we’re back by the Miller Park parking lots and into the finish line. Not much changed along here. I pushed hard, trying to close on Hansons guy unsuccessfully but also trying to make sure the guys I just passed didn’t come back on me. I don’t remember any position changes through here or into the finish.

In the end, I finished 19th, 1st 35-39 age group, in 18:03. Not quite the time I was hoping for but a better place than I was expecting. Maybe the humidity took more out of me than I expected. I did finish feeling like I had just swum, not run, a race.

Regardless, this race brings me back for another year and I get another good early tune-up for the fall season. Plus a gift certificate to a local running store. Not a bad day.

Hootie Hustle 5K Race Report

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

August started out very poorly for training and I was just recovering from a light ankle sprain ten days before race day so I had mixed feelings about my possible race performance. I had a great workout on Tuesday so I did have some confidence.

The weather seemed less than ideal with a mix between a light rain and a heavy mist. The winds were less than ten MPH so that was good.

I did try something new this time and that was eat something about three hours before the race. I, as always drink a lot of water and some Gatorade.

I like to be early to races "just in case," so I got there in plenty of time. I proceeded to pick up my t-shirt and bib and noticed that there was no timing chip. That’s fine – old fashioned scoring and gun time – works for me. As I was pining my bib on the iconic blue Hillrunner Team Shirt Ryan, my friend and coach, pulled up next to my car. We chatted which helped calm my always nervous energy before a race.

We went out for a warm-up of about two miles and Ryan gave me some excellent pointers regarding the course. I stretched some (very little actually) and very lightly and did some easy strides. It was then time to line up at the starting line.

Upon the command of "go" we all took off. After making a tight turn onto the streets I decided to check my Garmin to be sure I wasn’t heading out to fast – especially since I was pretty dang close to Ryan who usually beats me by about two to two and a half minutes in a 5K and holding pretty steady tied for third. "Shoot!" 10.3 MPH and I was hoping to go out at 9.8 for the first 3/4 miles. I dialed it back a bit knowing there was a hill somewhere in the first half of the race but I didn’t want to lose to much ground on third.

I normally check my Garmin every 1/4 mile to see my splits but this time I didn’t check it too often at all. As we hit the hill I decided to make my move on third place so I reeled him in and started to create some space. From there I started to push for what I thought was too hard but wanted to see what I could do. I started to close the gap on second a bit but then he and Ryan pulled away.

I was in no-man’s land. I was losing sight of Ryan and the second place guy and fourth was no-where in sight behind me. This is where the mental battle started. Why should I endure this pain with about 1.25 miles to go when I could ease up and still take third? So I started to back off a hair and then thought – NO!!!!!! I want to come in under 19 minutes and get a solid 20 some second PR.Plus I was coming up on the downhill portion of the race.

The downhill is great! Not too steep at all but just steep enough to lean into it and pick up some extra momentum that didn’t cost that much energy. By the time that I was getting close to the finish line (almost a full loop around the track and then a very tight turn headed to the 50 yard line on the field) I was really hurting and not driving it as hard as I could. Until. Ryan yelled "under 19" "go Ed". That is when I dug in deep and pushed hard for that last 250 yards or so.

Crossed the line looking at the clock and I was elated 18:30. A new PR in the 5K that was almost a minute quicker than last year on a faster course with better weather.

Thank you Coach Hill!!!

Race report: 2015 Walleye Run 5 miler

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

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I haven’t given many updates on how my running has been going here for a while. Before I get to the race, I’ll offer a quick overview.

The winter went well. I thought my volume was a little off but my intensity was better. When I checked this year compared to last, my volume was nearly identical. If my intensity was better, then I was having a very solid winter.

In retrospect, my intensity was good but possibly not as well balanced as would have been ideal. Lesson learned. Tempo runs are great for base training but you at least occasionally need to crank up the effort level a couple more notches.

For the first time in over 20 years, I took a spring break this year. The family headed down to Florida for a Disney vacation, then we went to Alabama to see family. Needless to say, this wasn’t the greatest thing for my training. I planned my training around this, though, so I could be in ultimate recovery mode.

Upon returning from vacation, I wanted to get in a race but didn’t know how to fit it into the schedule well. The answer was run a race 6 days after returning from a 9 day vacation. Not ideal. The course also wasn’t ideal and the competition wasn’t there. I ended up winning a 5K in 17:44, second place was 21:24 so I didn’t exactly have anyone pushing me.

4 weeks later, I was again looking for a race. I ended up at another small 5K on a constantly undulating course. No major hills but never on level ground. I ended up also winning that in 17:41. Not the same runaway effort but not really pushed in the second half of the race and the course left me less than motivated to keep pushing.

So that brought me up to Walleye Run, a race that has become a family tradition. The family makes the trip with me, then we hit the festival after the race to do all the kid friendly events.

This year, we arrived to find the weather very humid, a little breezy but not terribly warm. When I started warming up, though, I realized how much the wind would be a factor in the first half of the race. It wasn’t terribly strong but, out in the open as we are for good portions of this race, it would be hitting you hard enough to have an effect. On the way back, I got a taste of how the return trip would be. Dead, humid air that just made everything feel stuffy and sticky. By the time I got back, I was sweating profusely and this was just from very easy running with about a 1/4 mile gradual acceleration. At race pace, this was going to be like running in a swamp.

As I was doing my pre-race strides, I saw a couple familiar faces, including an old InStep teammate. I don’t expect to see InStep guys in Fond du Lac so that was a bit of a surprise but it was good to see him. We chatted a bit, then lined up pretty close to each other.

At the start, the usual crowd of fast starters got out ahead of me (you can see a couple of them in the photo at the top) but not like some years. I don’t think I was ever outside the top 15. Usually, I’m at some point in the 20s at this race. Not sure if I got out better or the hard charging crowd was a bit thinner than usual.

About 1/4 mile in, we approach a median in the road. I was to the right of someone with someone just to my right and a half step back. The guy to my left moved out, forcing me out and the guy to my right made some comment that only I could hear. I think he was saying something about squeezing him out. Sorry man but I’m doing what I can. I didn’t say anything but I was definitely thinking that. We did settle back in, though, and the median never became an issue.

As we rounded another turn, I found myself right around 10th, with a pack of 3 that had already separated themselves by a fair bit and a couple guys in no man’s land before the chase pack I was in. I worked my way up to the front of the chase pack and found myself even with a guy in a green singlet for 5th/6th place at the mile. I had a period where the going felt a little rough so I let green singlet take the pace for a bit before I felt stronger and pulled up next to him. As I did so at about 1.5 miles, I said let’s work together and get the guy in black ahead, we both can get him. From this point on, that guy in black was my focus. The guy in green fairly quickly dropped off the pace and I was alone chasing the guy in black.

The guy in black was a distance ahead so this was going to be a long term chase. I set out to close the gap gradually, while hoping I wouldn’t run out of time. I grabbed a cup of water somewhere around the 2 mile mark and poured it over my head. A nice temporary relief from the humidity but short lived. Through mile 3, I kept focusing on the guy in black. I did notice at one point that the 3rd place guy was dropping off the lead two but he was so far ahead I knew he would have to completely fall apart for me to have a chance. My only real chance was the guy in black.

By the 3 mile mark, I knew I would be in competition with the guy in black well before the finish. I had closed the gap enough that making contact was nearly inevitable. The only question was how he would respond. As I continued closing the gap, grabbing another cup of water to pour over my head at one point, I was formulating a plan for the pass. Actually, more recalling my usual pass strategy. Surge a little and try to get past without him thinking he has a chance to hang. A little before the 4 mile mark, after focusing on this guy for 2+ miles, I got to put the strategy to work. I made the pass and he didn’t respond.

Still, I put a lot of effort into catching him. I was worried that he might recharge and make a run at me. I put everything I could into the next mile to not let that happen. I kept pushing and the signs I could pick up on from the people cheering were positive. It appeared the gap was growing.

I kept telling myself 3/4 of a mile to go, 1/2 mile to go, 1/4 mile to go, what do I have left? The answer was not much. I did not have a spectacular kick, I really had no gas left in the tank. However, I made the pass and I separated myself. I didn’t need a kick. I did all I could to bring it home as fast as I could but I had already left it all on the course.

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I crossed the finish line in 4th place in 28:52. Just as expected, the wind was a bit challenging on the way out and the humidity and dead air were stifling on the way back. All in all, I’m thrilled with my effort. I’m not ecstatic about my time but the time is understood given the conditions. I am very happy to be back in the top 5 of this event and to have run a very strong, very smart race. I couldn’t have asked for more of myself on race day.

This is it for me for the spring racing season. I’m going to take a bit of time away from racing to work on my fitness, then gear up for the fall season.

Official results