Virtual race report: 2020 Al’s Run

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      Ryan
      Keymaster

      I’m going to start this post with a little of my history at Al’s Run. I first ran Al’s Run in 2001 and I’ve run it every year since. Pski recruited me on to a team his wife’s employer sponsored in 2002 and I proceeded to run my still standing 8K PR of 26:17. In 2004, the team’s sponsor dropped out and Pski suggested I pick up the team under the HillRunner.com banner. There was a short stint in the late 2000s and early 2010s, during the time I was sponsored by InStep, that we combined with them to enter a team. Since I left InStep so I could wear the HillRunner.com singlet exclusively at races in the early 2010s, Team HillRunner.com has been what we know it to be now.

      As you may have noticed in that history, this year was to be my 20th consecutive year running through downtown Milwaukee and the east side before finishing in the Third Ward. Then 2020 happened. I still view this year as my 20th consecutive Al’s Run but it’s, obviously, a little different. The team component, obviously, changed quite a bit also.

      When I first registered, the plan was to run at one of the branches of a local fitness club in a socially distanced manner. The race was organizing this with the club and it could still be a timed competitive event. In August, I received the news that this plan was off the table. Now, they were just encouraging people to go out on their own and log their runs. Still, I wanted to treat this as a race and this is where Team HillRunner.com came in.

      I figured we could still get in a smaller socially distanced run together and get some of the feeling of a race day atmosphere. Plus, we could still socialize in some fashion. Recruiting for the team kind of got swept up in a late start due I’m certain to Al’s Run organizers trying to figure out how to hold the event in a safe manner and then in a whirlwind summer I was having. While some of the long time team members bowed out this year (and I can hardly blame them, given the unique circumstances this year) Josh and Cameron were still game. So I thought of the only route I could think of that was relatively flat and fast and would allow us to “race” the effort with no road crossings, meaning no concern of cars. That place was the Bugline heading west from Sussex. As it turns out, this was a nice return to a trail I’m very familiar with as the last time I ran on the Bugline was March 20th, my last day “at” work (as opposed to working from home, as I’m still doing).

      So Josh, Cameron and I met up yesterday morning on the west side of Sussex and had our own little virtual Al’s Run. After catching up a bit, we warmed up over to Village Park where we used the facilities and chatted while loosening up. Then we warmed up a little more back to the starting area before getting in our final preparations for the virtual race.

      To start, we lined up in order of expected finish and started with a little gap between each other. I was off first, followed by Cameron about 10 seconds back and Josh another 10 seconds behind Cameron.

      My plan for the run was to make sure I didn’t run the first mile and probably second faster than 6:30 and hopefully not slower than about 6:45-6:50, then see if I could pick up the pace in the second half.

      At the start, with a bit of a downhill, I was getting a little fast but I knew I had a steady climb coming up later in the first mile so I tried to check myself a bit but wasn’t too concerned if I was making good use of the downhill. Going up the climb, I held pace a little better than expected and ended up going through the mile in 6:39.

      Mile 2 is when things started to get interesting. I knew I had a slight downhill but it was very slight, not much of an advantage. I was trying to keep myself in check and was hoping to stay in the 6:30s but I knew my pace was creeping up a bit. I was just settling into a nice, quick rhythm. While I was trying to keep myself in check, I wasn’t going to do too much to break a good rhythm so I just went with it. I ended up cruising through mile 2 in 6:25.

      Mile 3 was where I knew I’d have to gut it out a bit but I didn’t want to get carried away. I already had a good run going and wanted to make sure I didn’t crash and burn in the last 2 miles. I carried the rhythm and pushed while still keeping in mind how far I had to go. At the turnaround, a bike was coming from the other direction so I went a little past where I wanted to turn around so the bike could get past before I turned around. After the turn around, I saw Cameron and then Josh were looking strong and running well. Then I was off on my own again. I cruised through the 3 mile in a strong 6:18.

      Mile 4 was getting tough. There was the slight climb that I went down in mile 2. From doing many workouts on this stretch over the years, I knew it seemed more significant than it did while going down but it still wasn’t much. Much more than that, I was just feeling the grind after a strong past two miles. I pushed it but couldn’t quite maintain that sub-6:20 pace. I ended up cruising through mile 4 in 6:22.

      In mile 5, I get that long, gradual downhill that I had to go up in the first mile. I was planning to really use this to set off on the last mile at a blistering pace but my legs were too gone to manage that. Instead, I had to use it just to maintain what I could. At the bottom of that, I knew I was getting close to the end so I started the slight climb to the finish just giving it everything I had. With about 100 yards to go, I tried to throw in a little more but didn’t have much left to give. At the 5 second countdown to the finish, I tried again but there just wasn’t anything there. I ended up finishing the final 0.97 in 6:13, which according to Garmin was 6:24 pace.

      I ended up finishing in 32:00. Going in, I was going to be happy with 32:30 and satisfied with 33:00 so I have to feel very happy with this. Cameron faded a bit but held strong, especially given the circumstances. Josh ran a very solid effort and got himself back under 35 minutes for 8K.

      A few things I’m taking from this:

      • Whether or not it felt like an Al’s Run (and I have mixed feelings on that) I’m calling it my 20th consecutive Al’s Run.
      • This was my first run on the Bugline since March 20th. Since I got transferred to Sussex for work in early 2003, I’ve never gone anywhere near this long without running on the Bugline. My longest time away would have been whatever our worst winter was, probably around 2-3 months. I miss the Bugline!
      • While I can’t blame those who didn’t make it in this crazy year, I’m incredibly grateful to Cameron and Josh for being there. It means a lot to me not only that they would still be there to represent HillRunner.com under these crazy circumstances but also that they were there to help me push to do the best I could in this not-really-a-race setting.
      • It was also great to see them and to catch up both before and after the run. We spent longer than I expected (though I wasn’t surprised) catching up after the run, both along the side of the Bugline and around the corner at Culver’s (on their outdoor patio).
      • On a personal note, I’m in better shape than I thought. If this were a “real” Al’s Run, I’m sure I would have run faster with the competition around. How much faster it’s hard to say but I know I would have found more. I’m very happy with this result.
      • This is the end of the line for me in 2020. One stair climb race before things went crazy, two virtual races (I owe you a report from a virtual 5K I did two weeks ago). I’m kind of counting this as an in person event but not a traditional race setting. It’s my first time going an entire calendar year without a traditional race since the 1980s.
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