Monday, May 29, 2017

Race report: Loudoun Street Mile, May 29, 2017

I ran the Loudoun Street Mile in Winchester, Virginia today, finishing in a official time of 5:25.4 - this is a mile PR for me, as my previous PRs on both the road and the track were 5:30 (the 5:08 at the Main Street Mile last month doesn't count).

This is my fourth time running this race.  (Previously I ran 5:31.5 in 2012, 5:30.0 in 2013, and 5:36.7 in 2016. 2014 was missed due to injury, and I skipped 2015 because I was tapering for a marathon.)  So I'm familiar with the race, the course, and the logistics.

Getting there is pretty easy - it's an 80 minute drive on a fairly scenic route, and it's pretty cool to fly down Route 7 through the morning mists, blasting Underworld on the stereo.

(until you remember that stretch of Route 7 is where you got your first speeding ticket back in the early 90s, and you back off the gas.  Fortunate timing, as I hit a speed trap soon after)

Once there, I parked in my standard spot (Cameron Street at Boscawen - very close to the finish line and packet pick-up), and then grabbed my bib.  Then I returned to my car and extracted my yoga mat, laying it on the sidewalk next to my car.
Over the past 18 months, I've refined a brief 15 minute routine that gets my hips stretched out, my glutes firing, and my abs engaged.  So I do this routine before any key run, and a shortened 5 minute version before easy runs.  Problem is that a long car ride undoes most of what I've accomplished with the routine - my glutes go back to sleep and my hip flexors shorten.   So, this morning I did my pre-race routine before driving out to Winchester, and then reprising part of the routine on the sidewalk. Yoga in front of an antiques store, essentially.

Did I look odd? Yes.  But running and racing are full of odd behaviors - what's one more at this point?


Then I was off to warm-up.  I jogged two miles easy, followed by 75 seconds VERY HARD, another few minutes jogging, and then another 30 seconds VERY HARD.  I've found that in order to race a mile well, I need to run one, maybe two segments of 150-400m long at a very hard effort - harder than I intend to run during the first part of the race.  I plan to finish up these segments about 10-15 minutes before the race starts, which gives me plenty of time to recover and recharge before the race. Then just jogging, drills, and relaxed strides in the remaining time before the race.  3 miles total.

This routine obviously doesn't work for everyone, and might be detrimental to some.  But for me, I feel that it primes the engine - I've tried racing a mile off of just easy jogging and strides, and I never feel quite as good.  I'm sure this is all related to the fact that I always feel better at the end of a track workout than the beginning.

I was feeling very slightly crunched for time.  I had left my house about 10 minutes later than planned - 6:10 instead of 6:00 am, which meant I arrived at 7:20 am for the 8:30 am race.  Bib pick-up and stretching had taken some time, and thus my time for warming up was tighter than I would like.  But as it turned out, the race was delayed 15 minutes.  It wasn't the race's fault - apparently the police (responsible for managing the road closures) had shown up late.  It was serendipitous for me, as the extra 15 minutes gave me enough time to use the bathrom (twice) and get some extra strides in.

Then we lined up.  As a contender for a masters placing at most races, I should be starting at the front of the race; as a very slow starter off the line, I despise being there.  So I compromised by lining up very slightly behind my teammate Susanna.  That way I wasn't a road block to the women toeing the line, but I also knew that Susanna, being much faster than I, would start much faster, so there was no chance of me being blocked in.

Thus arranged, tasting that tenseness that's unique to the mile race, I awaited the start.  The starter announced "on your mark" and then pulled the trigger.  And....nothing.  No bang, nothing.  All the runners twitched, and then shrugged and nervously glanced at each other.

The starter apologized and fiddled with the gun.  Then we gave it another try.  "Ready..."  No shot, nothing.

Cue a delay of about 15 seconds while the starter extracted a second pistol from his +5 backpack of wonders.    He fiddled with it some, and then cued us again. "On your mark.." and this time the gun fired.  It was hard to believe, but we were finally starting the race.


As I noted, I've run this course several times before, and so I know how to run it.  The first quarter is downhill, the second is uphill.  About 50m after the halfway mark, you crest the up hill and then hit a nice downhill.  The final quarter is more or less flat, with the final 300m run through the town square.

So, to run this race well, one needs to start out controlled, and let everyone drop you.  After the first quarter, start to build effort, while still saving some in the tank.  In the second quarter, many many many will fade and fall back on each side of you.  After the halfway point, start building as you crest the hill and then slingshot down the back side.  Keep building pace, but don't kick too early - the finish line of this race always looks deceptively closer than it is, and I've seen many people start kicking when they enter the town square, only to mis-judge and tie up before the finish.

That was my plan.  Of course, I did go out slightly too quick anyways, but I realized that within about 5 seconds and pulled back.   Then, as runners slowed, I began to build, with restraint.

I noted a top masters runner, Alisa Harvey, in front of me as I worked my way up the hill.  I focused on her, using her to pull me up, but as I got close, she pulled away again.  As we crested the hill, I began to build momentum, reeling her in.  I pulled close, and then she pulled ahead again.

I don't do sudden surges or radical changes in pace well, so I knew it wasn't a good idea to trade surges with her.  Instead, I stuck with my steady slow burn (well...relatively slow- this was a mile), and reeled her in yet again.

And then I was beside her.  And then, as I continued to build, I was in front.  With 500m to go, I just barely had the lead in this road mile. In front of a woman who has broken 2 minutes in the 800 (albeit a few years back).

There was no way I was going to win this if it came down to a kick with 200m to go.  She unquestionably, even at the age of 51, had me beat on leg speed.  My only chance to win it was to keep building momentum and use my strength to burn the kick out of her with a very hard last 500m.
So that's what I did.  Not a sudden surge, but each second was just a bit harder than the previous.  I poured everything I had into that last 500m, as I heard the crowds cheering her behind me by name (she's well known in this area).  Every single step, I tried to give just a little bit more. And a little more after that.   All the way through the finish line.

And then I was through the line, and I had somehow pulled it off - finishing ahead of a multiple Pan-American Games medalist and winning the masters award.  I couldn't even process it at first - I was too trashed.  I just really needed to sit down.

I set my Garmin to autolap each quarter for this race.  It vibrated exactly at each quarter mile line, giving me accurate splits.  My splits were:

.25 mile - 1:19.24
.5 mile  - 1:25:43 (2:45.07)
.75 mile - 1:22.49 (4:07.56)
last quarter - 1:17.80 (5:25.74)

So, I ran a negative split of 2:45.07/2:40.67, with my last quarter the fastest.    Woo.   Pretty happy with how I paced this one.

For my work, I ended up being 9th female overall and top masters female.  Since this race was also the "RRCA Virginia State Mile Championship" that means that I am the RRCA Female Masters Mile Virginia Champion for 2017.  Which is a mouthful to say, a lot of typing to write, and also amusing, as I don't consider myself a miler.  Yay.  For 5 and a half minutes of work (plus some other stuff, of course), I got a medal, a check for $75, and a nice backpack.  Not bad.

Other notes:

  • As I noted above, I left my house at 6:10 am, arriving there at 7:20 am for the 8:30 am race.  This left me feeling slightly rushed - I need to leave a bit earlier next time.
  • While I'm psyched about the PR and the performance, I had thought I might be able to run a few seconds faster today.   It seemed like all of the women ran slightly (by few seconds) slower than anticipated.  I'm wondering if the multiple delays of the start - both the 15 minute delay and the gun mis-cues - sucked away from our collective adrenaline, resulting in very slightly slower times.  (I want to be clear though, I don't blame the race - I think it was just a Murphy's law type day).
  • My team ended up having a really good day, with wins in the women's overall, women's masters, and men's masters awards.  I think we also won the women's grand master awards (there was a bit of confusion there).  So yay Capital Area Runners.  


  1. Awesome job and great finish!

  2. This is so awesome. If I ever do decide to run this race I will come back and read your report. It sounds like you have a really good strategy for these mile races. And that's awesome about your title as Virginia master's woman miler! That's huge!!!

  3. I won the women's senior grand master award, so Capital Area Runners had a sweep--I didn't understand the confusion on the podium. Pat

  4. This is great one-mile race advice. I appreciate the way you've broken it down and managed to inspire us at the same time!

  5. Wow, fantastic job pressing down on the throttle to outlast the star!! What a fun report to read! Do you mind sharing your 15 minute hip routine? Or maybe you've shared it elsewhere on the site and could point me to the post?