Friday, July 19, 2019

Race report: Harrisburg Mile, 40-49 mixed heat; July 17, 2019

I ran the mixed 40-49 heat of the Harrisburg Mile on Wednesday, running 5:48, which was good enough for top female in the heat, and the female 45-49 age group win.

The logistics for this race are actually fairly easy.  I take a mid-day "work break" and drive up to Harrisburg (thus hopefully missing most traffic).  Once there, I buy a day pass to the YMCA, which is located very close to the finish line.

The day pass lets me take advantage of the YMCA's rock star parking for the race.  It also means that I have access to a locker, a shower, a stretching area, and a lounge with wi-fi.  So...I just set up shop there for the afternoon - doing some work before grabbing my bib (registration/packet pick-up are also at the Y), eating my pre-race "breakfast" and stretching, and then heading out to race.

It's very convenient.  And the Y is also just a really cool building.
It's so pretty.


While I stretched in the cavernous Y gym, I noted heavy rain rolling through.  Hopefully that would be done by the time I headed outside, and perhaps it would cool things off as well.

The answer ended up being yes and no - the rain passed quickly, but did little to lower the heat or ease the humidity. Oh well - this was a mile, so the weather wouldn't be the same factor it would be in a longer race.

As I warmed up, I noted that the wind was coming from the south - meaning a moderate headwind for this point-to-point race.  That was unfortunate.   Since the race runs from north to south, I would expect a tailwind coming off of the Susquehanna River, as we had last year.  But this year, the tatters of Tropical Storm/Hurricane/whatever Barry were screwing things up.

It's also worth noting that, since it runs north to south, this road mile is a bit unusual in that it's a slight net elevation climb, gaining 20 feet over the course of the race from the start to the finish.   I suspect they run it this way, instead of the reverse, because this way they have ample space at the finish for a mini-festival, including a beer garden, moon bounce, funnel cakes, etc.  Additionally, if the wind is usually from the north, then you get a tailwind most years that balances out the elevation gain.

The elevation gain itself isn't much of a factor.  The first 1400m or so are basically flat; the elevation gain comes primarily in the last 200m, and isn't that much.  The final slight uphill does hurt a bit, but when does the last 200m of a mile race not hurt?  Despite the net uphill, this is a fast course.


For this race, I decided to try something new for my warm-up, based on something I had read on Letsrun.

Usually, I warm-up for a mile with a few miles of easy jogging, followed by two very hard 400s with long recovery.  Since I never feel good during the early reps of a workout, I like to get those bad sluggish reps out of the way before the rep that counts - the mile race itself.

This time, I went with:
1) 2 miles easy jog;
2) 3 minutes at tempo effort, followed by 90 seconds jogging;
3) 4x30 seconds at 5K effort with 30 seconds jogging between each, then 90 seconds jogging after the set;
4) 4x10 seconds at mile effort with 20 seconds jogging between each.

I finished this about 10 minutes before the race start.  Then jogging and some strides.   I felt fresh and ready to run - indicating that the warm-up did its job.

Of course, with all of this focus on the new warm-up I forgot to do any drills.  I belatedly did a few drills right before the start (a bit sheepishly), and then lined up for the start.


This race runs its heats like clockwork - counting each minute down to the start until one minute to go, when they give warnings down to "10 seconds to go."  There is no "ready set go" - just the 10 second warning and then the horn.

When the horn sounded, I tried to conservatively explode (if there is such a thing), letting a pack of men pull ahead.  Despite my conservative start, no women went with me - it looked like I would be racing men this time.

I noted the moderate headwind, but having about 15 men ahead of me gave me plenty of people to use.  For the first two quarters, I tucked behind one runner and then another, as those who had started too aggressively fizzled out like shooting stars.  Then I was on my own, just chasing those ahead, and reminding myself that the wind was slowing others more than me.

Things started getting very uncomfortable at the halfway mark, which told me I was doing this right.  As I started hurting more and more, I found myself mentally shifting from racing to surviving - if that makes sense.  Trying to hang on, rather than chasing down.

I've raced the mile enough to know that's not a productive thought pattern, so I gritted my teeth (metaphorically) and refocused.  There was a man not too far ahead of me as I approached the 3/4 marker, so I dug deep to reel him in, and then even deeper to pass him.

Of course, as soon as I passed him, he found another gear and passed me back.  I fought to stay with him, but just didn't have the leg speed.  By this time, we had only 200m to go, up the very-slight-but-seemed-much-worse-than-it-actually-is incline to the finish.    I focused on squeezing every last bit of power out of my legs, and then I was across the finish and done.  And satisfied with what felt like a solid, competitive race.


My official time ended up being 5:48, with quarter mile splits of 86/88/89/86  (taken via Garmin Autolap, so not necessarily perfect).

This was significantly slower than my Loudoun Street Mile time from earlier this year (5:37), way off of my PR (5:25), and even slower than what I ran at this race last year.  Being so much slower than my Loudoun Street time was a bit surprising, since I didn't think I ran very well there, and I felt lousy during that one, and much better here.  And I think the two courses are equivalently fast.  But I think a lot of the difference can be attributed to different weather and different fitness.

Despite the slower time, I feel like this was a pretty good race - much better than Loudoun Street.  I competed well, and placed in the top 10 runners of the heat (7 men ahead of me), which was better than last year.  I do think the weather slowed times some - the humidity might have had some effect, and this year's 9 mph headwind (as compared to last year's 7 mph tailwind) had to have affected times.  When I look at it that way, I think my 5:48 this year was probably a better performance than my 5:44 from last year in the 40-49 heat.

Additionally, as much as I hate to admit it, hill workouts aren't the best training for racing.  They're wonderful - they build a foundation of strength and power, and are good for long term development - that's why I've been focusing on them now. I've seen before, to run fast (not just strong, but fast) one needs track work.  Which is fine - I'll be turning back to that in the next week or so.

Other notes:

  •  I have two options for getting to Harrisburg from Arlington, VA, neither of which is a direct line.  The easterly route is to take the BW Parkway up to Baltimore, and then take I-83 to Harrisburg; the westerly route is to take I-270 up to Frederick, and then take US 15 to Harrisburg.  I made the mistake of taking the easterly route up this time (listening to my car's navigation suggestion, which I usually ignore).  Nope - bad idea.  Too much traffic.  Next time I'll stick to the westerly route.
  • Last year I did two heats of this race, with 20 minutes in between.  It was too tight a turnaround.  So this year I stuck to the first heat I was eligible for - the mixed 40-49.  I feel slightly bad that I didn't support their masters elite heat, but running the 40-49 heat gave me people my speed to compete against, and also meant that I was done earlier - important, since I had a 2 hour drive home.  It was the right choice.
  • The weather for this race ended up being less than perfect - temp of 81, dew point of 75, and the aforementioned headwind (which was at least cooling).  But...when you run a race in mid-July, that's to be expected.  At least I missed the storms that apparently pummeled the DC area while I was in Pennsylvania.
  • They didn't have an awards ceremony for the age group awards this year - if you won something, you just swung by the table and picked it up.  Which I didn't object to at all - I just wish I had known so I could have left a bit earlier.
  • As mentioned before, the finish line had beer, funnel cakes, and a moon bounce.  I don't do beer or funnel cakes, but I would have loved to have done the moon bounce.  Unfortunately, I think it was kids only.
  • I really liked how I felt after my experimental warm-up before this race.  I'm going to test it a few more times, but I'm thinking it's a keeper.
  • This is a really fun race, and one I think I'll make an annual tradition.
  • When you run a race on a weekday night, it's awfully hard to turn around the race report promptly.


  1. Love short, fast weeknight races. Unfortunately I'm missing all of the usual 2-milers we have here - scheduling conflicts plus a few were cancelled - but a quick Wednesday night race is always loads of fun, and usually has enough food afterward to count as dinner!

    1. One of the selling points here for most was that the finish line dumped right into the beer garden. I think very few people did a cooldown.