This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.
Ever since my last race, things haven’t gone quite to plan. In that race, I had to make a last second maneuver to make a left turn as the lead bike nearly led me off the course. To make that turn, I had to plant my right foot hard. Two days later, I got chased by a kamikaze goose that actually took flight and was aiming right at my head. Once again, I planted my right foot hard to turn around. The next day, my upper ankle/lower shin were hurting. Based on everything I heard of high ankle sprains, this fit the description. This was very frustrating because it was something essentially out of my control, not due to some training mistake I made or anything like that. I wouldn’t even call it a running injury really but it messed with my training for weeks. I only took one day off but my training wasn’t quite normal for about 2-3 weeks.
Upon returning to my training, I never really got back into the flow I had going on before. Things weren’t going badly but they also just felt a little off compared to how I was feeling through March and most of April. Still, I plowed through, got myself back into the best rhythm I could and took the trip to Fond du Lac for the Walleye Run.
On the warmup, I felt much like I did during training. Not bad but not quite right. I continued through the warmup, though, and felt better as it went on. I felt pretty ready to go by the race start.
As the air horn sounded, a good group of runners took off pretty hard. I took some quick steps, then settled into pace. After a couple hundred yards, we make the first turn and I counted runners to get an idea of my position at the turn. 14th place. Pretty quickly after that turn, I passed 5 guys and found myself in the top 10. Over the next 1/4 mile or so, I passed another 5 guys and was now in 4th, with the lead group of 3 already well ahead. I told myself I should stay as close as possible to that group, not because I was going to reel them all back in but because I figured if anyone fell off the back, maybe I could clean up the roadkill. I continued pushing with that idea in mind through the mile mark and most of the way through mile 2. Early in mile 2, I did notice one guy was falling off, which gave me hope that he would fall back toward me. Pretty quickly, though, I realized he was still pulling away from me.
At that point, I realized my race wasn’t with the guys in front of me. It was with the guy who was still just a couple steps behind me. I had a decision to make. Do I push the pace and try to break this open early or do I save something for near the end? I was feeling very warm at this point and I knew I had a return trip with the wind. This was going to create dead air and make for a very warm return trip. I decided to ease off just a bit and save something for near the end. I didn’t want to turn myself into roadkill in that heat. I’d rather make sure I had something left to respond to any moves he might make later on. So I kept pushing but not quite redlining it. Through the middle of the race, I kept an eye on third place just in case he would fade but my real focus was on showing no signs of weakness to the guy right behind me. It was getting very warm out there during mile 3 and I didn’t want this guy to know I was feeling the heat.
As we cruised into mile 4, it was clear that I wasn’t going to finish in the top 3. The battle was to remain in 4th. This guy was hanging tough and, while he was a few steps back, would not let me drop him. I grabbed a cup of water and dumped it on my head but the water wasn’t that cold. It helped some but not a ton. I kept the pace honest but not all out. As we rolled through the 4 mile mark, nothing really changed.
Around a right turn with a little less than a mile to go, I decided it was time to go. At that point, I knew I could make it the rest of the way in and I didn’t want to leave it up to a kick. I started pushing really hard but couldn’t tell for sure if I was building up the gap. Then I noticed that people cheering were starting to leave a bit of a gap of silence after I passed before cheering for the next guy. First, maybe a second. Then 2 or 3 seconds. The gap was growing but I still didn’t feel safe. What if he has a kick? So I kept pushing. Around a hairpin turn with about 200-300 yards left, I knew I had a clear path the rest of the way in so I gave it all I had. I actually ran the next 100 yards so hard it may have been faster than my last 100 yards, just because I ran out of gas a bit down the final straight. But it didn’t matter. I managed to blow the race for 4th open in that last mile just like the race for the top 3 was blown open in the first half mile.
In the end, I finished 4th in 29:05. Hardly the time I was hoping for but the heat and race strategy played a big role in that. I was 43 seconds slower than I was at this race last year but I moved up from 7th place last year. The guy who finished behind me commented on the heat and, in the local newspaper race story, I saw that all the race winners were commenting on the heat. I’m far from the only one it affected out there. I’m not going to complain about my time in this race. I thought top 5 would be a stretch and I did that.
Next up: I don’t know. Taking some down time to recoup and refocus for the fall season.