Sunday, August 25, 2019

Race Report: USATF Masters Road Mile Championship, August 23, 2019

I ran the USATF Masters Road Mile Championship in Flint Michigan on Friday, finishing in an official time of 5:38 - good enough for 2nd in my age group and 7th master overall.

This was another one of my day-trip-to-run-a-race adventures.  These trips always sound a bit crazy, but there's some benefits to doing them this way - less time away from home and work being the biggest factor.

In this case, I had booked a round trip flight to Detroit from DC, packaged with a car rental.  Downtown Flint was anywhere from 60-90 minutes from DTW, with Google estimating the higher end, while the race website promised about an hour.  [I later figured out that this was because Google bases its travel time estimates on the posted speed limit, while the race organizers considered how fast people actually drive on Michigan roads]

My plan was to fly to DTW, grab the car and drive to Flint, buy a day pass from the local YMCA (about 3 blocks from the race start)  and hang out there until it was time to race.  Post-race, I'd jog back to the YMCA, shower, and then drive back to DTW to fly home.

So....Friday morning started pretty early, with a 5:20 am start for my morning shakeout.  Jogged three miles, then quickly showered, grabbed my backpack (which contained my racing clothes/shoes, my pre-race breakfast, and a few essentials in case I got stuck in Michigan overnight).  I was out the door for the second time by 6:20 am, which was plenty of time to catch my 7:40 am flight to Detroit.

Once I landed in Detroit, I hit a kiosk to print out my boarding pass for the return flight (I don't like to use my cell for boarding passes - Murphy's law dictates that the phone will crash at the most inconvenient time) and then picked up my rental.  I noted that at DTW, the rental car lot was nearly a mile away from the airport, with a shuttle between the two.  Good to know - I'd factor that into my return time tonight.

Then I hit the road.  Since I had nearly 10 hours to kill before the race, I drove around the area a bit - grabbing an early lunch and also checking out one of the Hanson's Running Stores for the heck of it.  I also had an issue pop up at work, so I spent some time in a random parking lot on my cell phone managing that.    And then I drove up to Flint.


 I was vaguely familiar with Flint from the movie "Roger and Me" and the more recent water crisis.  What struck me when I arrived was how much it reminded me of southeast Washington DC about 25-30 years ago.  The best way I can describe it is that there's a distinct taste to the air - a mix of kindness, wariness, and despair.  Clusters of boarded up buildings, with a few occupied and lovingly maintained homes mixed in, sprinkled with crumbling sidewalks.

I navigated my way through downtown to the Convention Center, where I picked up my double bib  - race number to be worn on front and a big green "F45" bib for my back.  Then over to the YMCA, where I bought a day pass.  Upon hearing that I was in town to run the masters race, the attendant offered me the senior discount for the day pass.  Non-plussed, I went with it.  And then ducked into the nearest bathroom to eyeball myself head to toe.

I hung out at the YMCA, stretching, reading, and eating my pre-race "breakfast".  Then I headed out around 6 pm to start warming up.


I felt lousy from the start.  Not sore, just tired.  It had been a long day, and the combination of air travel, car rental, and driving had ended up being more tiring than a simple 4 hour drive.  As I warmed up, I reflected that this day trip to Flint probably wasn't one of my better ideas, and this trip was probably one and done.

But, I was here, so might as make the best of it.

I warmed up by jogging the mile course twice.  The course started with an upward incline.  After a left and a right turn, we'd then cross a highway overpass.  That was followed by two turns to the left and one to the right as we reversed direction, and then a straight shot home with a descent to the finish after crossing the overpass a second time.

I noted that the road was fairly chewed up.  Lovely.  I tried to see if there was a specific line I could take that would maximize the good pavement, but I couldn't really map one out.  I did note that on the two left turns, the very inside of both turns was chewed up, with some gravel to boot.  I made a mental note to swing a bit wide on these turns - it'd be faster to run a bit more distance but not have to deal with that footing.

I did my standard warm-up (3:00 at half-marathon effort, 4x30 seconds at 5K effort; 4x10 seconds at mile effort) finishing up a bit after 6:30.  I still had about 30 minutes until the start of my race, but I knew the men's race would be starting at 6:45, and I wasn't sure when they'd be closing the course and/or where I could warm-up other than the course.   Then I jogged, did some drills, hit the bathroom, and jogged some more.  With 8 minutes to go, I did a few strides, and then lined up with the others.

I honestly wasn't sure where to seed myself in this race.  I knew I had a very low chance of contending for the win, and when I finished my strides, the front line was already set, including several women who I had heard of and was certain were faster than myself.  So...I set myself in the third row - close enough that I'd only lose a second or two of gun time.

As I lined up, I looked around, trying to mark all the other women with F45 bibs.  The unique thing about this race was that age group competition was very real, and a focus - another race within the race in the same way that masters competition is a race within a race normally.


Then the gun went off. sometimes happens, my legs suddenly felt fine.  "The gun goes off and everything changes."

Like always, going out at a measured pace meant that I was dropped by many other women.  But as we ran up the incline and then crossed the overpass, most of them came back, like always.  Including a number of F45s.

As we ran around the two left turns, I swung wide, per my plan.  Doing so allowed me to pass several more women who were hugging the curb and thus having to navigate the twin obstacles of the poor footing and each other.

Then we were heading back towards the finish.  I managed to run down another woman, and then eyed a pair about 2 seconds ahead.  I was running pretty hard, but still in control.

We passed a bit of pavement that I had told myself was where I'd start digging as deep as I had at Liberty Mile, but this time I just didn't.  Part of it was that the road was fairly rough, and I honestly didn't want a repeat faceplant.  I think also that I was mentally tired from the long travel day, and I just didn't have the mental reserve to find that extra sprint gear when I was already running so hard.  Perhaps if the two ahead of me had F45 bibs I would have gone.  But that wasn't the case.  So I just stretched up and elevated while staying relaxed, similar to how I close in longer races.

As I flowed towards the finish, I was picking up speed, but they were also, and so the gap didn't change.  I started tying up just slightly in the last few meters below the finish, so perhaps my lack of gunning it a bit earlier was a better decision than I'm giving myself credit for.

I crossed the finish, stopped my watch, and caught my breath.   In sharp contrast to an hour before, I was instantly happy I had run this race.  Funny how that happens.

After a few minutes of chatting with others I did a cooldown jog back to the YMCA, where I quickly showered.  [There was an awards ceremony for this race, which I would have loved to have attended, but I was concerned about making my 10:20 pm flight.]

By 7:40 I was in my car and pulling out of Flint for the drive back to DTW.  The drive back ended up being about 70 minutes, including a quick stop to top off the tank.  Then a shockingly quick pass through airport security - total time 15 seconds (credit goes to a combination of TSA Pre-check and a surprisingly empty airport).

By 9:20 I was at the gate for my flight, giving me time to confirm my official time (5:38 gun time) and placing (7th overall master, 2nd in 45-49).  I was happy with the age group placing, satisfied with the time on a slightly slow course, but slightly wistful about the 7th overall place.  Perhaps if I had gunned it per my original plan I could have caught those two and cracked the top five.

Or perhaps not.  No way to know for sure, but it's something to keep in mind for my next road mile, in two weeks.

Other notes:
  • Weather was great - temperature of 70 and a dew point of 67.
  • Splits per my autolap were 83/88/81/77 and then an extra 9 seconds.  So some Garmin error there.  Not surprising, given the turns on the course.
  • Got home just after midnight Friday night, and crawled into my own comfy bed.
  • Would I do this again?  Before the race, I would have said NO...but now....I'm thinking it wasn't so bad after all.  I'd just book a later flight in the morning, and not spend so much time touring Michigan before the race. So...maybe....
  • Some helpful links for anyone interested in contributing to Flint: Community Foundation of Greater Flint; Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Flint; YMCA of Greater Flint.

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