Race report: Hank Aaron State Trail 5K

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

There’s something about this race that keeps me coming back. I always think I can conquer the course but I never seem to be able to. I always seem to run slower than I feel I’m capable of. This year, I planned a strategy that I thought would help me finally conquer the course and I decided to give it a shot.

Going into this race, I was a little unsure of my fitness. The racing year started off positive with a couple solid races in May and early June. Then I got sick in July and spent most of the month sick enough that my training was really thrown off. I was still getting in some training but I was, at best, treading water for at least 3 weeks. Finally, about 3 weeks before this race, I began feeling good enough to plunge back into full training. I put up a couple solid but not steallar weeks of training and my confidence was returning. With a solid race strategy for this course, was I back where I was in May and June, when I was already in sub-17 5K shape?

I set out on race day to go after that elusive (on this course) sub-17 5K. The first mile of the course is essentially flat, looping around the Miller Park parking lots. I got out fairly well and found myself settling into a large second pack while watching a lead pack of about 12 pull away. By about 3/4 of a mile, I worked my way to the lead of the chase pack and set out on closing the gap to the back of the lead pack, which was already breaking up a little. Some of that chase pack was going with me and I found myself in about 13th place with a couple of runners coming back. Through the mile in 5:28, I felt like I was on target. Now starts the challenging first half of the second mile, though. I wanted to push a bit but not bury myself. I was gaining on 12th place but, just before passing, got passed myself. So I was still in 13th. Then a few more guys passed me and I tried to hook on to their backs. I’ve never been a terribly strong uphill runner but I didn’t want to give up too much on this climb. Still, I just couldn’t hang with them as they slipped away from me.

Nearing the turnaround, I found myself leading a pack and somewhere around 15th place. The leaders began coming back and I was beginning to eye up how to make the turn. I moved out a little so I could take the turn wide and keep my pace up some. Someone was on my outside and another worked in to my inside. As I went around the turn, I had to go a little wide for the guy on my inside and the guy on my outside fell behind me. I did manage to keep my speed up fairly well but now it was time to hammer. The course levels out near the turnaround but I was soon to be going down the hill. Even though it was quite gradual, I had to take full advantage of this if I wanted a good time. First, though, I spotted a UW-Stout singlet worn by one of the lead women and had to give a quick Stout howl. Once it’s in your blood, you can’t get it out I guess. Down the hill, I just couldn’t get my legs going. A few more people passed me down that stretch and I found myself near 20th place. Then, with cones separating the "out" from the "back" of the out and back course, some lady heading out crossed the cones right into my path. Maybe it wasn’t as close as it seemed to me but I felt like I was barrelling down toward her at a pretty high speed and there she was right in front of me, seemingly with no concern about me rapidly approaching her. She did get back on her side of the road before I got there but not before I felt a little panic. I think that threw my breathing out of rhythm and I found myself gasping and making quite audible grunting sounds for at least the next half mile. Not what you want at around 2 miles of a 5K.

I went through 2 miles knowing that mile took a lot out of me and I was off my goal pace. I just knew I didn’t have it in my legs to take enough advantage of the downhill to make up for the uphill. I heard the time, somewhere around 11:20, and felt pretty deflated. Then I reminded myself one of my reasons to be out there, to get a good solid effort in before the important races come up. You can do a lot of good things in workouts but there is no workout that simulates pushing to your absolute limit in the last half mile of a race on dead tired legs. You only get that on race day. So I kept pushing, kept digging, kept fighting. One or two guys passed me early in mile 3, then I held my position. I kept digging to get back up to them but couldn’t. I could tell there were at least a couple of guys right behind me but I couldn’t separate from them. One of them got me toward the end but I held off the other. Looking at the results, I actually held off the others. It looks like I led a pack into the finish line.

Final result: 21st in 17:50. Not the time or place I was hoping for but the best possible effort I could give on that day. In retrospect, I don’t think I was fading when I gave up the net of 8 places between the 1 mile mark and the finish. I think, when I took the lead of that large chase pack and set out to run down the stragglers of the lead pack, a good portion of that chase pack went with me. As the pack broke up, some guys ran off the front and those were the guys who passed me.

Whatever the case, it was what it was. This course got the best of me again. It seems like nobody gets the time they expect there, though. Everyone seemed to be short of their target times or what I would expect of them. As an example, Andy Ruffalo always runs sub-16. Usually in the 15:40s it seems. Even on courses that, on paper, look more difficult than this one. He ran 16:21. There was some speculation from some that the course was long. I can’t say one way or the other. I know that long, grinding incline in mile 2 takes its toll on me all the time. Whatever the case, maybe I need to adjust my expectations on this course if I go back to this race in the future. It seems like it is just a slow course for whatever reason.

In the end, I got a good workout in and I got some good practice pushing hard on tired legs, even while dealing with some demotivating events. I’ll build myself up from this experience and move on. Next up: Stout Alumni. Looking forward to pulling out the spikes!

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