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.

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