This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.
As always, this is one of my highlights of the year. The great people who are willing to sign up to run as members of Team HillRunner.com always amaze me. While our numbers and depth were down a bit this year, the greatness of the people I was surrounded by on Saturday never disappointed.
This year, we definitely had some turnover on the roster. I counted 5 team mebers from last year who were not on the roster when I picked up packets a week before race day. Woody and Laura made it to the race and Woody attempted to get himself on the team but we’re not sure if he succeeded. Regardless, it was great to see them and thanks Woody for the attempt. Other holdovers from last year were Tim, Jerry, Ed, Charlene and of course myself. New to the team this year were Peter, who is a team veteran who had not run with us for a few years, and newcomer Josh. Josh is an interesting story. He actually came across HillRunner.com when he found my Al’s Run report from last year while searching for another runner.
I felt we would log a team time that was slower than last year’s team time but likely not enough to affect our place in the standings. Unfortunately, I got a little concerned when Tim informed me that he strained his hamstring. My first concern was of course his health but I knew that had the potential of affecting our team time even further as I was expecting him to be running neck and neck with me as first or second runner on the team, much like we did last year. Any time you replace a #1 or #2 runner with a #6, your team time is going to take a hit. That said, I still had confidence in the team and of course Tim’s health came first.
On race day, I carpooled in with Charlene, Josh, Jerry and Peter. We had a good talk on the way in and everyone seemed relaxed and ready to go. As we got to the team meeting place, Ed was there ready to go and Tim arrived shortly later. The word from Tim was that he’d warm up and see how things went. Everyone else seemed ready to go. Personally, I was feeling good. The weather was favorable. Probably about 50 degrees with a northwest wind. On this course, a northwest wind is pretty favorable as the finish is southeast of the start. Still, I figured I was in shape to run about the same as I did last year. That meant hit 5:40 pace, give up some time in mile 2 and see if 28:20 is in the cards.
During the warmup, I was feeling pretty good. As with last year, I found myself at one point being 3 team members seeing those HillRunner.com uniforms in their full glory and I got a chill. How cool is that? I don’t think I’ll ever stop feeling that way when I see a group of people willing to represent this site.
The whole team this year lined up on the north side of the starting area so I was able to give everyone one last greeting before finding my position for the start. I also saw Woody and Laura and that’s when Woody informed me that the Al’s Run people seemed receptive to adding him to the team. I also heard from Tim that he was going to give it a shot but ease into it. I said one last time to him to be careful out there and then it was time to go.
At the start, I quickly realized that the sides were more even this year. Typically, the top runners line up on the south side and the north side offers more of a clear path. I would say the sides were about balanced this year. No big deal, just an interesting observation. I settled into pace, reminding myself that the first mile was a long, gradual downhill with the addition of a tailwind this year. That means keep it nice and relaxed. Let the downhill and wind take care of the first mile and save my legs for later. As it turned out, as soon as we hit the big buildings in downtown, I realized the wind was going to be a little more tricky. Every block, the wind was swirling around the buildings and creating a headwind. That didn’t change my strategy, though. I just eased through mile 1. I was honestly surprised to find out I hit the mile mark in about 5:28.
Into mile 2, a climb away from the river and toward the bluffs overlooking the lake and turning north more into the wind. This mile is always slow and I realized my best strategy is to accept that I’ll give up some time and not fight it. Surprisingly, I was still passing a few people even with this strategy and I don’t recall anyone passing me. Not too much happened along here. Reeling in a few guys but not getting crazy. I cruised through the 2 mile mark in 11:24 for a 5:56 mile. A little slower than I expected after opening up with 5:28. However, I’m starting to think I could try to break 28 minutes. Get back on 5:30 pace and I’ll slip under. I start pushing harder in mile 3, working my way past guys and through the field. I kept doing that until the downhill into the 3 mile mark. I’m usually good on downhills and I made a solid move here last year. This year, though, I felt like I ran it well but the 2 guys who were around me actually gained on me. I must have in the "good downhill runner" pack this year. No worries, though. I’m heading into mile 4, the make or break mile for me, now. Through 3 miles in 17:05, a 5:41 mile. Not bad for a mile that had some headwind and is probably the second most challenging mile of the course regardless of weather. Also, 5:30 pace over the last 2 miles would still give me a shot at sub-28.
Mile 4 for me is hammer time. This is a stretch along the lakefront where you’re running back toward downtown. Not much is going on around you there, there aren’t many spectators through most of this mile and it can really wear on a runner. A lot of runners fade in this mile and it’s a great chance to make an early move. I always try to hammer this mile and this year was no exception. I had two guys in my sights ahead of me. One, wearing a UW-Milwaukee shirt, who pulled away from me on the downhill and another, wearing a hoodie. No way I’m just letting a guy racing in a hoodie beat me. First up is UWM guy, though. I close on him and, just before I catch him, he surges. I had nothing to surge so I just held pace until his surge faded out. Then, as I pass him, he surges again. Again, I had nothing to respond to the surge so I just held position until the surge was over. Then it was on to hoodie guy. This guy was tougher to break than you’d think a guy wearing a hoodie in a race would be. It was tough enough to bring him in but I managed that just before the 4 mile mark. Once I did bring him in, I couldn’t break him. He just clung to me and even attempted to repass me. Man, this guy just wasn’t giving up. We passed through the 4 mile mark together somewhere in the 22:30s I believe. I kept pushing to challenge him, knowing I didn’t want to let it come down to a kick. I got ahead of him but I could never drop him. He just kept hanging right there on my left shoulder.
As we made a right turn, he made his move. He was ahead of me and I had nothing to respond with. Shortly after, we took a left turn. Showing how hard I had run and how dead my legs were, my right knee actually buckled going around the turn. I didn’t hit a bump in the road or anything like that, I just had a momentary loss of strength. I was able to correct, though, and get back on track. I couldn’t gain on hoodie guy no matter how hard I tried but I sure could try as hard as possible. Around a couple more turns, then a longer stretch into the final turn. Coming off that final turn, there was James Daul, who always seems to be around me in results, flying past. No response. I tried but my legs were spent. I then watched the clock tick through the 27:40s, then the 27:50s. Then it hit 28 flat. There goes that but I did get across in 28:02 to overperform my expectations.
I then looped back to catch the other team members coming in. Tim looked healthy (most important thing) and crossed the line in the mid-29s. Jerry was shortly behind, just over 30 minutes. Woody came through in just under 31 minutes and Ed was just under 32 minutes. Charlene was in the mid 33s, Josh came through in the 34:40s to slip under the 7:00/mile target he had. Peter, who twisted his ankle on the course, managed to finish on his banged up ankle in the mid-36 range.
As a team, we finished second to the always strong PRO team in our division, third overall including community teams (Marquette Running Club was a few minutes ahead of us, Marquette University was 4 seconds behind us). We also scored 3 age group medals. It was a disappointing day for a few runners, most notably Peter who came out injured. However, I think it was a good day in general for the team.
After the race, once we got everyone rounded up and back to their cars, the entire team except Woody and Laura were able to make it out to my place where Lisa was gracious enough to treat us to some excellent homemade Asian food. As always, it was great to sit back, relax and talk running as well as whatever else came up (anyone up for a stair climb?). Again, I’m always amazed by how great the people on the team are, both as runners and as people.
I’m very proud of everyone. Thank you all for representing HillRunner.com and for making Saturday such a fun day. I look forward to doing it again next year.