In the spirit of full disclosure, I'll kick this report off with a image of the course profile, via my friend PJ's Strava.
|Yes, we ran it from left to right|
Getting to Westminster was a bit of headache - while only 70 miles from my home, it's still a tough drive. The first half of the drive involves the Potomac River crossing on the Beltway, followed by Interstate 270 - both are major clog points during rush hour. The second half traverses MD Route 27 - a two lane state highway that can be fast if you're not stuck behind a truck or school bus.
As it turned out, I wasn't able to leave until just after 2:30 pm, which meant that I caught the beginning of DC rush hour (in DC, evening rush hour lasts from 2:30 to 8:00 pm...) . And then once I hit Route 27, I was one of the lucky ones to be caught behind (yup) first a truck and then a school bus that was apparently also going to Westminster. And that's how it took me 2 hours to drive 70 miles.
Fortunately, the race didn't start until 7 pm, so arriving at 4:30-ish still gave me plenty of time to grab my bib, head over to the local Golds Gym to stretch out my hips, and then park at the race finish before starting my warm-up at 6:15.
I knew that my friend PJ from Baltimore was planning on running this, and fortunately I ran into him and a friend at the very start of my warm-up. Our warm-up consisted of running up the course, grateful that the race itself would go the other way. Once at the top, there were some side roads to jog back and forth on to complete warming up. Consistent with my plan for mile races, I did 60 seconds hard about 15 minutes before race start (my first interval in track workouts always sucks, so I like to get that one out of the way before I race). Then I just did a mix of jogging, standing, and strides to keep my blood up while not wasting too much energy.
The city did not close the road until right before the race was to start, so there was no clear indication of where the start line was. I wasn't quite sure where the finish line was either - it wasn't marked when we jogged up to the start. So I programmed my Garmin to auto-lap and vibrate every quarter-mile. I wasn't planning on checking splits during the race, but I wanted some sort of cue to let me know where I was on the course (and more importantly, how far I was from the finish).
At around 6:59, the police closed the road down and we entered the street. Still no formal indication of a start line and no timing mat, just a race official pointing at a place on the road. And then we were off.
PJ had run this race several times before, and had advised that the first quarter mile was very fast, and that it was best to try to cruise it. OK - I could do that - fit very well with my usual (and coach-driven) strategy of "start slow/finish fast."
I didn't follow my plan very well. I think part of it was that I was impatient to get the race over with (I had spent way too much time driving up to and hanging out in Westminster at this point). Part of it was that everyone went out fast. And lot of it was the screaming downhill start (see graph above).
I realized fairly quickly that I had gone out too fast, and started to pull back some - I already felt the first bits of lactic acid. It's a downhill course, and so I still had a shot of saving it.
And then my watch pulsed for the first time, and I realized I still had most of the race to go. While already feeling the burn I normally associate with the third quarter. Ooops.
Nothing to do but try to hold it together. It was a downhill race, which would help. But this one was going to hurt.
The next four minutes were some of the longest of my life. When people call the mile a "middle distance" I think that should be caveated - it's only a middle distance if you pace it well. If you go out too fast, it's a very long distance.
I held it together by ignoring how far I had to go, instead concentrating on holding my form together. Stretching tall, keeping my core engaged and shoulders relaxed, and not overstriding - the downhill could do the work for me if I could just keep from tying up.
At one point I started to lose focus - on the "uphill" part of the course in the third quarter (which was actually a nearly flat section that felt uphill because it wasn't downhill). Fortunately, PJ and I were running close together at that point, and he said something encouraging - I can't remember what it was, but I refocused.
Then my Garmin buzzed wonderfully for the third time, and I knew I had less than 90 seconds left. I just closed my eyes and focused on form even more, if possible. I was tying up, but if I could just keep loose, the downhill finish would save my race for me. And it did.
I did open my eyes enough to a) steer into the finishing chute and b) note the clock. It was still reading 4:xx when I first saw it, which was surreal. But I was hurting so much that I didn't really process it. I just wanted to be done. And then I was.
Official time: 5:08.87. (it was 5:10.84 on my Garmin, but I didn't hit stop until I crossed the second timing mat, and I also had to fumble at my watch some).
Splits (per autolapped Garmin) were 71/80/83/76. So, I flagrantly violated the "start slow/finish fast" rule, instead kicking off the race with a 71 second quarter. To put this in perspective, I don't believe I'm capable of running a stand-alone 400m on the track in 71 seconds.
(I could probably do 76 seconds from a flying start. Or 90 seconds if I used sprinter blocks.)
But that's the power of race adrenaline and a steep downhill, combined with a momentary lapse of judgment. It's also worth noting that I don't necessarily know if I would have run any faster if I had gone out more conservatively. Start slow/finish fast is my mantra, and it's always worked well for me. But in a super-short downhill course - perhaps that's the one time that it works best to go out hard and hang on.
The time and the "PR" is all sorts of asterisky - the downhill nature of the course definitely helps one's time. Especially if you're a really fast downhill runner, as I am. (I know some others would disagree with me on this - and that's why they call them "personal" records.) Additionally, I suspect the course may have been slightly short of a mile - it's not a certified course, and the informal nature of the start reduces my confidence of the accuracy of the distance.
But that asterisk doesn't detract from the fact that this was a really fun race, and I'm glad I finally got to do it.
- I had shown up at the race with hopes of earning the cash prize ($25) for top masters female. As it turns out, I finished third female overall, and won $30 instead. The race did not allow "double-dipping" in awards, so another woman got the $25 for masters. Too bad - it would have been nice to leave with $55. On the other hand, I've benefited many times from the no double-dipping rule, so I can't get too upset about its application now.
- Wore my Takumi Sens for this race and loved them - those shoes are awesome for mile races, where I'm running on my forefoot
- A friend of PJ's was handing out Halls cough drops after the race - absolutely inspired.
- Eating for evening races is always a challenge, and is one of the reasons I hate racing at night. I ended up going with my normal pre-run "breakfast" at 1:30 pm, complete with caffeinated gels (Maple Bacon and half a Triberry). It worked well - I had plenty of energy and a clear gut for the race. The only downside was the insomnia on Wednesday night. Which would have most likely happened anyway - evening running screws up my sleep. Another reason I hate running at night.
- The drive home only took 80 minutes since there was no traffic. So much better.
- Despite the very high pollen, no asthma issues (I did take my inhaler before just to be safe). I was coughing after, but so was everyone else.
- This course is definitely faster than the other road mile I've run - the Loudoun Street Mile. How fast exactly? I don't know. Hopefully it's not 22 seconds faster, as I'd like to break 5:30 at the Loudoun Street mile next month.