This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.
First, I realize the blog has been a little silent recently. I just got overwhelmed with things going on. From end of summer vacations to commitments to runners I’m coaching and various other things, I just didn’t have the time. The blog should return to its normal schedule next week.
It’s always fun to go back to my old hangout and see how well I can hang with the guys who are running the same routes and, in at least some cases, the same meets I once ran now over 15 years ago. This year, I had a little extra bonus of talking with the team at my old high school the day before.
As for the race, though, it was a little different than in prior years. The high school where we usually run is undergoing some construction so the meet got moved this year to the Red Cedar Trail and Riverside Park, along the shores of the Red Cedar River. Initially, I thought this would make the course much faster. In retrospect, though, I think it only made the course slightly faster. The trail was wet from recent rain and anyone who has run on wet crushed limestone trails knows how slippery they can get. We were also running upstream so, while it wasn’t too noticeable, there was generally an incline throughout the first 3 miles. In addition, the last mile through the park was much like the high school course. A grassy, uneven surface that saps your energy while slowing you down. All of this isn’t an excuse for a bad time or anything like that, just an explanation of why you might see a faster overall pace at a longer race in two weeks. That’s normal for the high school course and I’m not going to be surprised if that’s how it works out for this course also.
Given the point to point nature of this course, we had to get to the start somehow. I joined a few fellow alumni in walking part of the way while reminiscing about our times in Menomonie, before a couple of us started running with about 2 miles to go. We noted the slippery spots but I was thinking some of them, especially the wooden bridges, were things we would just have to deal with. No getting around them, we’d just have to do our best to keep our feet under us.
After the usual pre-race ritual, we were off. Given the narrow trail we were starting on, I lined up near the back. This is an unusual starting position for me but it makes sense given the strength and depth of the team. I knew going in I didn’t have a chance of competing against anyone on the current team except maybe a few freshmen. Last year, I had a good race and beat a single freshman. So I lined up between the freshmen and my fellow alumni.
At the start, it didn’t take long to get moving. I settled into a rhythm in front of the alumni pack with a few freshmen around. Once the initial pace settled, I found myself moving up a bit and closing in on a pack that I assumed was most or all freshmen. I worked my way through that group while offering a few words of encouragement, then set my eye on the next pack. I slowly gained on them through the first mile and, when I heard a coach recording 5:37 for them, figured I ran about 5:40. Shortly after, I caught one guy falling off the back of the pack and encouraged him to try to hang with the pack. Then I caught the 3 remaining guys and made some comment amounting to who wants to go after the next pack. One of the guys had an entertaining comment that I can’t recall exactly but could be summarized as "no" and I just wanted to say I’m twice your age, if I can go after those guys you can suck it up and go with. Instead, I just took the lead and kept the pace honest. I was hoping for some shared work but, for about the next mile, I was in the lead. We cruised through the 2 mile and I heard one of the guys say 11:20 so that was another 5:40 mile for me.
Somewhere in mile 3, I don’t know if I began fading or the guys started moving more but two took over the lead and I sat with the third, right behind the two leaders. I hung there for a while, occasionally feeling good enough to pull even with the leaders but often just sitting behind. That was the start. Then it became occasionally falling behind a step before battling back. As long as they were not accelerating, I was going to do all I could to stay with them as long as I could. I never know when I might catch a second wind and be able to push them through the finish.
Then the coach who was out recording splits cruised through on his bike at about 2.5 miles. He told the guys, if you’re feeling good, it’s time to move. The guy who had a comment for me earlier said something summing up to he’s not feeling good but all three of those guys pulled away from me right after the coach went by and that was it for me. I battled to stay with them but could only watch them pull away. Through the 3 mile mark, there were a couple members of the women’s team saying 16-something. That means, even as those guys dropped me, I must have picked up the pace to go sub-5:40.
Just after the 3 mile mark, we turned off the trail and into the park. Wow. The moment I took my first step off the trail, I knew it was going to be a battle. The grass was long and wet, the footing uneven. It just sapped any energy I had left from my legs. In addition, it wasn’t level at all. There were these little rises and drops throughout the park that just messed with you. With the wet grass, I couldn’t really let myself go on the drops and the rises just sapped more energy. That mile, I was still looking at the guys ahead of me but really just trying to survive.
The final mile was a half mile loop around the park, run twice. Near the end of my first lap, someone was coming on me hard. For some reason, it didn’t occur to me I was being lapped. I just figured, if he passes me that hard, I have no response. I got passed just before the split between going out for the second lap and going into the finish line. I saw the guy who passed me split to the finish line as I was heading out to my second lap. Then it occurred to me. People were cheering for Patrick. That’s Patrick Jenkins, top man on the team and reigning WIAC champion. Hey, I was hurting at that point. My mind wasn’t the sharpest. Anyway, that made me feel less bad about being almost a half mile behind him.
Nothing much happened in the last half mile. I kept watching the guys ahead, hoping someone would fade, but more realistically thinking I need to keep pushing to keep from getting passed or at least make anyone who is going to try to pass earn it. I succeeded in preventing any passes and, as I look at the results, realize I didn’t have much to worry about. As I rounded that final turn toward the finish line, I saw the clock just past 23 minutes. The last number I saw was 23:07.
Final results had me 30th overall, 6th on the alumni team and first alumni runner to have graduated before 2013, in 23:08. Yes, my last mile was 6+ minutes. It was just a tough mile. Again, I won’t be one bit surprised if I have a faster average pace at Al’s Run but this race has always been about competing and not worrying about time. I felt like I competed well. Last year, I was only able to beat one freshman and, after he ran with me for much of the race, I was able to pull away from him late. This year, I was able to get in front of 7 freshmen. I feel like I’m at least as fit as last year, possibly slightly more fit, and I ran the best race possible out there. It will probably be my only race this year outside of the top 25 and surely the only race I’m not in the top half of the overall field but that’s the nature of the competition, not a reflection on how I ran.
This leaves me feeling confident in my position as I head into Al’s Run.