Monday, July 4, 2016

Race Report: DC Road Runners Age Handicapped 4 miler, July 4, 2016

I ran the DC Road Runners Age Handicapped 4 Miler today, finishing with a gun time of 31:23, and a net time of 27:19.  This was good enough for eighth overall, based on gun time in this fairly unusual race.

This race is run a bit differently from most.  It uses a wave start, but the waves are ordered not by fastest to slowest, but rather by age and gender, with each five year age/gender group having a different start.  The youngest and oldest runners start first, and then the others are sent off, with the men in their 20s starting last.  The gap of time between when the race starts, and when your wave goes, is your "handicap."  Got it?  If not, the picture to the right explains it better.

It's a very casual, inexpensive, fun race.  There's neither chip timing nor bibs - one signs a index card marked with one's place after finishing. The prizes are donated by the runners and placed on a table, with each runner choosing their prize off the table during the awards - similar to a gift swap.   And the race course is approximately 4 miles - relying on the mile posts on the C&O Towpath, which are notoriously inaccurate.  The race was very clear about this up front, humorously noting that any world records set during today's race would be invalid.

To horribly misquote Animal Farm, all races are fun.  (Right?  That's why we do this.)  But some races are more fun than others.  And this is one.


The start of the race was a bit disconcerting.  Way back when, in my horse show days, I was used to being sent off into the ring one at a time; when I switched to running, I found it unsettling to be starting with all these people AT THE SAME TIME.  Over time, I've become used to it, and now I plan my race morning around the race's announced start time.  The staggered start time of this race was a flashback to my past, and also seemed odd in the same way a mass start once did.

[and in another flashback to my riding days, I lost track of time and was caught slightly off guard when it was time for my cohort to start.  Unlike riding, I couldn't ask the guy at the gate to let someone else go in front of me, so I just skipped my final set of strides.]

and...they're off
As I noted before, each age/gender group had its own start, resulting in a distinct second race, where you were racing against your direct peers.  It was pretty cool - in most races, I'm usually guessing who's in my age group - here it was pretty clear.  At 14:03 after the gun officially went off for the race, the 40-44 women were unleashed upon the sands of the C&O Towpath.

Two friends had given me advice about how to pace this race. The first noted that you really had to be careful about how you started - it was easy to get too competitive early on, chasing down those who started ahead of you, only to run out of gas later.  The second friend noted that the trick to winning this race was to start chasing down people from the very beginning - if you were too patient, you'd just be run down by the fast guys behind you.

I decided I'd just pace according to feel, and try to also stay conservative until the end.  Part of that is that running my own race generally works best for me anyway.  The other part was that I was test driving yet another new asthma med, and this was my first try at running hard while on Advair. Given that fact, the high humidity, and my crash and burn the last time I tried a new asthma med, it was better to be cautious.

Even with this resolve, I might have been a bit too aggressive in the first few minutes.  Due to the nature of the race, it's easy to pick off people at first, and that sings a siren song.  But I managed to reel myself in, and just held a relaxed, conservative rhythm.

The Towpath is a mild but steady climb going from east to west.  The race started just about halfway between mile posts 10 and 11, so we ran up to 11, then down past 10 to 9, before heading back past 10 to the start/finish arch (which was pretty impressive for such a bargain race).  My plan was to hold a careful effort until I had the finish line in my sight, at which point I'd pick up the pace if my breathing seemed OK.  Until I could see the finish line, I didn't want to take any risks.

Throughout the race, my lungs felt great, even despite the humidity.  Awesome.  However, my throat
Me doing fish face, with my two competitors.
was tightening up throughout, which is something I've noted the last few days  I think the Advair is irritating my throat and causing some vocal cord dysfunction - that's a known side effect of the drug.  Fortunately, though the vocal cord stuff is annoying, it's not dangerous, and I know how to deal with it.  

There are ways to breathe that encourage the vocal cords to relax.  I'm sure they have some technical medical name (and that name is on the handout that I'm too lazy to retrieve).  I just call it fish face.  So I fish faced my way through the race.  To the amusement of others, I'm sure.

The interesting thing about the race, because of the stagger start, is that it's very likely that most of the runners who started ahead of you are slower than you.   And many of the runners who start behind you are faster than you.  Which means that you do nearly all of your passing at the beginning of the race.  And any person who makes up the time gap and passes you is likely much faster than you. Towards the end of the race, I was passed by several of my teammates who had started behind me.  I knew that I didn't have a hope in hell of keeping up with them, so I let them go.

I did end up with two guys near me when the finish line first came into sight,  Since I was about 3.5 miles in, with no asthma, I decided to pick up the pace.   As it turned out, I had a lot left in the tank, running the last half mile at a pace significantly (20+ seconds per mile) faster than the rest of the race.  So now I know I don't need to be so careful next time.

And then I crossed the finish, in eighth place overall.  Looking at the results, I think I passed everyone ahead of me except two (both women in the 60-64 age group, who finished 1-2 in the race), and was passed by five men who started behind me.  Not that that matters at all.  But sometimes I think we race so we can stare at the results after.

Of course, one question that comes to mind is - how do they come up with the time gaps for the staggered start.  And is it really fair?  Decyphering what is fair seems challenging at first glance.  But in the end, it's actually pretty simple.   You review the overall results, and draw a line across the sheet at the eighth place finisher.  Anyone who finished below that line was handicapped appropriately. However, the handicap of anyone who finished above that line is suspect and should be subject to review.

Splits (per Garmin, and based on mile posts)

  • From start to mile post 11 - .48 of a mile in 3:14 (6:46 pace)
  • From mile post 11 to 10 - 1.01 mile in 6:51 (6:47 pace)
  • From mile post 10 to 9 - 1.02 mile in 7:01 (6:52 pace - includes me getting a bit stuck behind someone due to traffic on the trail)
  • From mile post 9 to 10 - 1.01 mile in 6:49 (6:46 pace)
  • From mile post 10 to finish - .53 of a mile in 3:23 (6:23 pace)

Other notes:
  • Temp 69, DP 68 (and no asthma - WOOO)
  • Took a salted watermelon GU in the morning for a slight bit of caffeine.
  • Brian and I have been cleaning out our kitchen, living room, and dining room in preparation for a major renovation that starts next week.  As a result, we had a lot of stuff to get rid of, and so I brought a cute decorative clay jug that we would otherwise donate to Goodwill (don't judge - that's exactly the sort of thing you were supposed to bring).
    I wasn't supposed to bring anything back, but I felt bad rejecting the prize table (plus, who says no to race schwag?) so I grabbed a CD of the Capitol Steps.  It's really small, so I didn't get in too much trouble.
  • My taper for this race was really a non-taper. I did my first hill workout on Friday, then ran 10 miles too hard on Saturday, and then lugged boxes and stuff up and down stairs on Saturday and Sunday.  Part of this lack of care was that this was such a low key race, and part was that I seem to be recovering much better now that I'm on asthma meds, and wanted to see how I'd race if I wasn't well rested.  Plus, I think Brian would have (justifiably) killed me if I had told him I couldn't move furniture this weekend because I was running a $5 race on Monday.
    My legs didn't feel fresh today, but they certainly didn't feel horrible, so that's good news.


  1. That's a crazy idea for the race, but sounds fun in a low-pressure way. I ran a marathon on the tow path once, but I actually have so many memories from there: I lived in WV growing up, and my dad would take us out for hours on Saturday mornings, cheerily calling our trips "death marches". Your descriptions and pictures bring waves of nostalgia!

  2. Sounds like a run race. I like the idea of knowing who I'm "competing" against. Will you be at the Leesburg 5k/20k this year? (I'm the guy you gave a "shout out" to in last year's race report)...