Friday, January 1, 2016

Race Report: Fairfax Four Miler, December 31, 2015

I ran the Fairfax Four Miler last night, finishing in 26:35.  Despite the fact that this is a fairly slow course and I'm out of shape, I set a PR by over a minute.  Of course, the last time I raced a four miler was in 2008, so a PR was pretty much a certainty - my former PR was at a pace slower than my current half marathon PR pace...

And that's really the entire reason I ran this race.   Four mile races are not that common in this area - there's only four that I'm aware of.  And heck, what better way to end a year than with a near-guaranteed PR.

This was an evening race, starting at 6pm. And I hate evening running/racing.  For many reasons.  For one thing, I find it challenging to manage my digestive system for an evening race.  Morning running is easy.  My stomach is generally empty when I wake in the morning, and so I eat one easy-to-digest meal, drink some water, and I'm good.  For evening races I have to plan out what I'm eating all day, to make sure I hit that optimal balance of enough fuel to run but not so much that I experience a premature exit.

I also hate evening running and races because they screw up my sleep schedule.  Running after about 2-3 pm guarantees insomnia.  But was New Years Eve, and since I had some plans for later that evening, I knew I'd be getting little sleep anyway.

Finally, I hate evening running simply because I can't seem to keep my shit together (to put it in technical terms).  Tell me that I need to start running at 5 or 6 or 7 am, and I'll show up on time, with everything I need.  But when I run later, I get distracted by other things before hand, and stuff gets messy.


Messy pretty much describes my pre-race prep yesterday.  It all started earlier that day - I was enjoying a rather relaxed New Years Eve day at work.  Until I realized in the mid-afternoon that New Years Eve was also the end of Q4 2015.  And all the back burner stuff that was no rush, but just needed to be finalized by the end of the quarter, now had to be finalized TODAY.  Before I left for the race.  Because Q4.

Oops.  But I got it done, and only left about 10 minutes later for the race than I had planned.  And since I always build in some fudge time when getting to races, I was still fine time-wise.  After all, the race start was a quick trip out interstate 66....

And that was my next issue.  In the DC area, certain roads change directions or are limited to HOV (cars with 2 or more people in them) during certain times of the day.  It's one way we cope with having arguably the worst traffic in the nation.    Since I don't commute on I-66 much, I had forgotten that it was limited to HOV-2 from 4-6:30 pm on weekdays.  And just like that, my short drive on the interstate became a longer drive on backroads.  But it was OK, because I had, y'know, fudge time.

Getting to the race a bit later meant that it took longer to park, since more people were there.  And then longer lines at packet pick-up.  Compounded by the fact that they couldn't find my registration, resulting in the erosion of the last of my fudge time.   But it was OK - I now had my number and my race flats on.  Instead of heading back to my car to drop off my race "premium" sweatshirt (which is a fancier way of saying "the stuff we give you so the entry fee looks like a better deal") I left it at bag check and started jogging.  I generally need about 3 miles of easy jogging before I'm ready to do anything faster, and I had just enough time to fit that in, plus some strides.

Of course, that was assuming that nothing else delayed me. I discovered about a mile and a half into my warm-up, I hadn't executed my pre-race fueling plan terribly well.

Annoyed at my innards, I stopped running and joined the porta-pottie party line.  I have a list of race scenarios to avoid, and at the top of that list is trying to find a porta-pottie 15 minutes before race start. Fortunately, this was the rare race where there actually were enough porta-potties, and I dumped my excess fuel without too much delay.

Having made my offering to the gastrointestinal gods, I headed back out to finish my warm-up.  I had less than 10 minutes before race start, so I gave up on easy jogging and swapped to drills and strides.  It wasn't optimal, but at least I had been moving around all day, so I was a bit more limber than I would have been for a morning race.


I lined up, the air horn blew, and we were off.  This race started off with a decent uphill.  It also started with a large group of adults and kids charging off the line.  Any race associated with a Federal holiday, be it Thanksgiving, the Fourth of July, or New Years, seems to attract a large population of inexperienced racers whose ambition exceeds their aerobic capacity, and this race held to that pattern.  So I held back and let the wave flow past me.  About a minute or two in, the tide turned, and many of the runners started to flow back.

The course continued on, essentially following a path around the campus of George Mason University.  In the darkness, the campus really looked more like an office park than a campus, but that was fine - I don't race for the scenery.  The course was a loop of rolling hills, plus two little out and backs to add some distance.  I've run races here previously several years ago, so I was somewhat familiar with the terrain.  I knew that at one point there'd be a long downhill; there'd also be a series of smaller rollers that were net uphill.

By the end of the first mile the race had thinned out and I was running in a group with several others.   Trailing right behind me was another female masters runner whom I was somewhat familiar with.  Normally she's a bit faster than me, and so I was pleasantly surprised to realize that she was with me.   I didn't know how long that would last, as I also didn't know where she was fitness-wise.  Perhaps she was just taking the race out easy before killing the second half.  Or perhaps she was just coming off of long break.

Either way, I know that I'm a very good downhill runner, and not so great at uphills.  So when we hit the longest downhill of the course, I figured that it was my best chance to build a gap on her.  So I pushed it a little harder than I normally would like, this early in a race.

As it turned out, she hung with me easily, and then dropped me when the incline changed, demonstrating that she had indeed been biding her time.  Oh well.  It was worth a shot.

For my own part, I spent the rest of the race coping with the oxygen debt I had given myself early on.  It wasn't the most enjoyable two miles I've ever run, but that's racing.  Finally I was on the homestretch, and looking desperately for the finish line.  I knew it was there, somewhere, ahead, but I couldn't see it in the dark.  No arch, no bright lights.

Then suddenly there was a timing mat and a clock, and I was mercifully done.   I was surprised that the line was so hard to see, and I'm not sure why they didn't make it more visible and obvious.  I like to think I could have kicked a bit if I had seen it earlier.  Of course, I was in a lot of pain by that point, so who knows.

I clicked stop, and checked my Garmin.  26:35, which destroyed my old PR of 27:39.  Of course this new PR is still a slower pace than both my 10 mile and 10K PR paces, and also slower than some of my four mile tempos on the track when I'm in shape.  But I think that this just reflects that I'm pretty early in my training cycle, and also that hilly courses in the dark aren't terribly fast.  And heck, if I can just find another four mile race I can PR again.  (easier said than done.)

Splits were:
Mile 1: 6:35
Miles 2-3: 13:17
Mile 4: 6:42

Other notes:
  • 7th female, and 2nd master.
  • Weather was absolutely perfect for this - low 50s.  And obviously no sun.
  • Racing in the dark was interesting - I don't think I've actually raced in the dark before (my previous evening races have been in the summer, or on the track).  This course was mostly well lit by street lights, though there were a few portions where it was hard to see the road.   The darkness definitely added some challenge to this race, since it was hard to be certain where you were on the course, and what was coming next.  And as I noted above, the finish line wasn't visible until you were right on top of it.
  • Basically reversed my normal meals, and had dinner for breakfast, and then my pre-running breakfast for dinner, plus a Maple Bacon GU and half of a Salted Watermelon GU.  As I noted above, this didn't work out great..  However, the issue was easily remedied via toilet, so perhaps the real lesson is to allow plenty of porta-pottie time before evening races.
  • I used my Foradil inhaler 90 minutes before, and my rescue inhaler about 5 minutes before.  Despite both of these, my breathing was in pretty bad shape by the end of the race  What's more concerning is that despite all these preventative meds, I had an asthma attack about five minutes after the race ended (shout out to my friend Andrew for keeping an eye on me until the rescue inhaler kicked in).

    Post-race/workout asthma attacks always throw me for loop, just because I'm not expecting them at all.  Because I've already stopped stressing the lungs, y'know?  This was also the strongest attack I've had in a while.  I suspect part of it may be that the freakishly warm weather around here has triggered my allergies, and so I need to shift from the Foradil back to the allergy season asthma meds, which include steroids.  I'll give that a try and also schedule an appointment with the pulmonologist in a few weeks, in case things don't improve. 
  • I wasn't sure how to taper for this evening race.  For morning races, I usually do 6-8 miles two days before a race and 0-4 plus drills+strides the day before.  This time, my coach didn't want me to skip Tuesday's hill workout, so I did that (making sure not to crush it), and then did 6 miles with drills and strides the day before.  The morning of the race, I just stretched, foam-rolled, and did some easy glute activation exercises.  And used my normal running time to browse kitchen appliances at Home Depot.
  • Left my house at 4:30 pm for this race, which was too late.  Need to leave by 4:15 at the latest.
  • I really need to run another four miler.


  1. Congratulations on the PR. I ran fast (not raced) at night during Hood to Coast, and it's very disorienting. Plus you feel like you can't trust your footing. Then, turns come up so quickly when you can't see in front of you! So good for you to PR anyway.

  2. Sounds like you did a great job staying calm despite everything that got in your way of getting to the race on time. 66 is the worst. Anyway, congrats on the PR. It's a tough course, compounded by the challenges of running in the dark, and you nailed it!

  3. June 11, 7:30 pm in Ashburn. Potomac River Running 11th Annual Twilight 4 miler. Another evening race with the added fun of heat and humidity. :)