This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.
Over recent years, I’ve fallen into a routine at the Walleye Run. Show up, run 28 something, finish in the top 10, sometimes top 5 depending on who shows up. Feeling a little bored with the routine, I started wondering how often the double is done. With the 5 mile starting at 8:10 and the 2 mile at 9:25, the double seems very possible.
Interestingly, as I scanned the results of the past few years, I couldn’t find anyone in the top 10 of either race who also was in the results of the other race. After long consideration, I decided I was just the guy to break that trend. So I registered for both races.
Little did I know at the time I registered that the weather alone would offer all the additional challenge I would need this year. Not only was it hot out there but the heat came suddenly with no time to get used to it. Tuesday, I was wearing a t-shirt for my final pre-race workout and still feeling a bit chilled. Wednesday and Thursday, I was running shirtless again but was a little chilled when starting my runs. By Friday, the heat had started. I had the telltale sign of not yet being acclimated to the heat, a salty crust along the sweat line in my shorts after the short Friday run.
Given the heat, I knew times were going to be off. Interestingly, it didn’t seem "hot" when I arrived in Fond du Lac. It was definitely very warm but not hot. Then I warmed up. About 12 minutes of easy running with just one relatively short acceleration and I was sweating uncontrollably. OK, yes, it’s hot.
I did the remainder of my warmup and lined up for the 5 mile. At the start, I didn’t see anyone I personally knew but I did recognize some of the top runners from prior years.
As the air horn sounded, I got out well but under control. Then I settled in. I counted out myself to be in 12th place about 1/4 mile in, then moved to the lead of the pack I was in, placing myself in the top 10. There were two runners who clearly separated themselves out front, then a group of I believe 3 runners and another group of I believe 4. I quickly got ahead of some high school runners probably a little past the 1/2 mile mark, then set out for the next runners.
Approaching the mile mark, a runner behind me was running so close that he didn’t clip my heel but actually the sole of my shoe during my back kick. He apologized but didn’t really move. Shortly after the mile mark, he did the same thing but this time moved to the side a bit. Around a corner, he passed me. He was wearing a Marquette jersey. He might have been a Marquette runner but, if so, I would have expected him to already be ahead of me. At this point, the field already thinned a bit and I was in 6th. There was an orange shirt up ahead in 3rd, then a guy in white in 4th. Marquette guy was running away from me in 5th. I actually picked out the orange shirt guy as my most likely ticket to the top 5 because he seemed to be struggling already, only about 1.5 miles in. When Marquette guy caught the guy in white, the guy in white went with him. Around the 2 mile mark, they passed orange shirt guy and my chase was on.
At the 2 mile mark, I poured some water on my head at an aid station and set out for orange guy. Around a right turn and I was closing in on him. Not too much later, around a long, gradual bend to the left, I passed him. He left room to the inside and I took the short line to pass.
Not long after the pass, I could tell someone was behind me. I wanted to push harder to try to keep a gap but the heat was hurting me pretty badly. I tried pushing but felt like I was maxing out. I thought for a moment about letting up, trying to regain my energy, and being ready to respond when this guy caught me. Then I thought better of it.
Shortly before the 3 mile mark, he caught me. A guy in a Badgers jersey (I’m sure this guy wasn’t on the team). He wasn’t alone, either. A guy in an Oshkosh jersey was with him. Through the 3 mile mark, then heading toward a left turn. I didn’t want trouble at the turn so I put in a bit of a surge so I had a step on everyone and got through that turn clean. After a bit of leading after that, I decided to let up just a bit so someone else could take the lead and share the pacing effort. Badger guy went by and I sat right on his heels for a bit before I couldn’t maintain the pace. As he left me, Oshkosh guy went with him. Badger guy got a step or two on Oshkosh guy, Oshkosh guy got 2-3 steps on me, then we all just held. Through another aid station with another cup of water on my head, and we continued to hold.
Suddenly, late in mile 4, Oshkosh guy stepped off the road and stopped running. I couldn’t see any obvious problems, figured maybe the heat got the best of him, then kept on going. Badger guy was gapping me but I felt like I had a nice lead on the next runner. Here I am, solidly in 6th place as I enter the final mile.
Through the final mile, I tried to keep close. As I had just seen, anything can happen in the heat. If I stay as close as possible, I will be ready to take advantage and slip into the top 5 if anything does happen.
Interestingly, I noticed that, on long stretches, I could still see all the way up to second place. If anyone other than the leader falters, it doesn’t seem like my chances of catching him are zero. That said, I know at this point that I’m not catching anyone unless they falter. The heat is getting the best of me and I just want to get to the finish line in one piece.
Around a near 180 degree turn near the finish, I glance back to the other side and see I have a solid lead over a pack of about 4 runners behind me. This gives me comfort and lets me not kick all out, saving something for the next race. Coming into the finish line, the clock is ticking through the 30:50s. I’m pretty sure I finish in under 31 minutes.
In the end, it was under 31 minutes – just barely. The final result shows me 6th in 30:59. Not a great time but the place leaves me thinking the effort was in line with prior years.
Now, I grab a few cups of water and head back to my warmup gear. I talk with some people who have a family member on the course a bit, stretch some, then head out to run a mile. That mile, including a couple accelerations, went better than I expected. I stretch some more, then head to the start where I see Josh. We chat some while I’m trying to keep loose. I get in a few strides that feel good but not great, just what I would expect, and we line up.
At the start of the 2 mile, again, I get out well. In fact, very early, I count myself in 6th place before settling in. Then some fast starters go by me.
By 1/4 mile, I get ahead of the pretenders and find myself somewhere around 10th place. I count out the runners and figure I have a chance at a double 6th place finish. A pack ahead seems very catchable and 6th is in there. I feel a little too under control, so I accelerate.
That’s when the first sign of trouble hit. My right calf rebels with a mild cramp and I stutter stepp a bit. I settle back in before again trying to accelerate and the right calf cramps again. I try a few more times with the same result. Then I try once more and the right calf, immediately followed by the left calf, cramp. I almost stumble but manage to keep my feet. So I am now forced to just maintain the pace my calves will allow.
Shortly after this, someone behind me asks if I’m the guy who ran the 5 mile. I give a thumbs up and he makes a comment suggesting he also did.
I continue pushing as fast as I can with the calves rebelling. Trying to push harder only to have the calves tell me no. Pretty soon, the Oshkosh guy from the 5 mile goes by. He’s the last guy I’m expecting to be the one who also is doing the double, given the fact that I watched him walk off the course. He catches up to a couple other runners up ahead as I continue to try to find a way to pick up the pace.
At this point, I’m getting frustrated. I want to run harder. Aerobically, I feel very much within myself. I feel like I have so much more in me but the calves are preventing me from using it. I’m trying to run flat footed but you can only go so fast while trying to not push off with your forefoot. I’m trying to push harder but my calves keep saying no. This is the story of most of the rest of the race.
With about 1/4 mile to go, the women’s leader pulls up alongside me. I wish her well, say finish strong or something like that, and expect her to pull away from me. She gets about a step but then I come back on her. We run side by side for a bit, then she pulls ahead again and I pull even again. This continues until near the finish, at which point she kicks and I feel a combination of "I can’t" and "I don’t want to be that idiot who tries to steal the spotlight from the women’s winner". So I just cruise in. As far as I am aware in 10th overall, right around 12:10.
After the race, I talk with Oshkosh guy (Matt) for a bit, then catch up with Josh, who was talking with a runner who finished near him. Then we go check out the results. It turns out I was 11th in 12:12. Darn, missed a top 10 finish in both races.
As it turns out, Matt and I weren’t the only doublers. Laura, the runner who finished right in front of me in the 2 mile, not only doubled but got the double victory, first lady and 10th overall in both races. What a performance on a tough day!
It might seem strange to say this given my 2 mile experience but I’m glad I did the double. I also am looking forward to giving it another chance. I have been slacking a bit on my strength training, especially for the lower legs. I have no doubt doing a better job with that would go a long way toward setting myself up for a better experience. Some nicer weather would also help. I look forward to going back next year and finishing in the top 10 in both races.