Saturday, June 13, 2009

Longest Day and other stuff

EDIT June 13 - 5:34pm: Thanks to a comment, please substitute "the guy in the white shirt" with "Facundo", which is his actual name, not "white shirt." Thanks to Jeremy Hopwood for letting me know! Check the comments for the link to Facundo's blog. It sure was a fun race with him!

For teachers, the month of June is tangible and tactile. There is a distinct feel of it that you can reach out and touch. I am not sure if this is the same for other people, but the school year is so rhythmic and ordained that June has its own shape and personality. There is excitement mixed with stress and in some cases, melancholy. June is also very busy, many last minute assignments being handed in and report grades being compiled alongside exams. It has been busy and that has left me AWOL for the past week, although I have been out and about running around the city.

Last Sunday saw my long run out to, up, and around SFU reach 1:45. It was a good go and I am starting to feel comfortable again with long runs. Monday was another 45 minutes followed by a (very) short tempo on Tuesday, which was starting to feel tough as I don't think my quads had recovered from running down Burnaby Mountain on Sunday. Wednesday was off before VFAC on Thursday, which is where this story will pick up.

Getting downtown just in time to meet up with the group as they left for warm-up, I was suprised by the lack of people. I am not sure why I was surprised, I mean, most everyone was racing the 5k at the Longest Day Run the next evening; most normal people don't do a workout the day prior to a race. However, in defense of my seeming madness, I was racing the 10k at Longest Day and this was all in preparation for the Scotiabank Half-Marathon at the end of the month. So, it was with Phil, Paul, and a pick up of Patrick from another club that we ran the 5 x 800m hills at Stanley Park.

I believe I have mentioned this before, but the one great thing about repeating workouts every 8 weeks or so is it gives you empirical evidence of fitness gains that have been achieved. To demonstrate my lack of crazy, I only did 3 of the 5 repeats, but they were all the fastest times I have run in this workout, yet none of them felt stressed. I didn't reach into the tank to finish one out, which is good because I would need that tank the following night. Splits of 2:42, 2:38, 2:39 were great and I felt that I could have held that average if I needed to for the full five repeats, but I choosing smart over nuts, I jogged out to the car, picked up thai red curry from Tom Yum Thai and went home.

My first exposure to the Longest Day Run was last year when Sonja and our new BVCFs, Leanne and Damien, were going to run the 5k as the culmination to their training with a run clinic. I got to play "race mom" and cheer them on and carry their gear and generally enjoy the atmosphere without having to be sweaty. They all did amazing and I was very proud of them. The course also intrigued me as it was on both road and path, with some hills and a long downhill finish. It was a bit of excitement that I signed up for the undercard of the evening, as the 5k was the premiere race of the event - a Timex Series race with some good cash for the top 5. The 10k is just two loops of the 5k and is less well-attended. To say that I wasn't thinking about the possibility of winning the race would be to lie to you and me, but I was also well aware that for me to win two things are needed: me running well and faster people not showing up.

The 10k went off at 7:00pm, 45 minutes prior to the start of the 5k. This was also appealing to me as it would mean that my teammates would be able to see me racing during their warm-up and I would be able to watch them as they raced. The whole crew - Jay, Graeme, Phil, the other Phil, Peter, Paul, stealth training Ynuk, Mike and Capel - were racing the 5k, so it was going to be a fun evening. Sonja played the role of race mom this evening as we set up a beach towel in the shade of a tree along the finishing stretch, which became everyone's home base. Good people, warm evening, last day of teaching behind me, and I was feeling good.

Warm-up completed and I was on the start line. The hills from the previous evening reminded me that they were in my legs during my strides of the start line. A long downhill comprised pretty much the whole first kilometer so I knew it would be important to not blow out my quads on it in the first three minutes of the race. With the looped course, I wanted to take advantage of the hills, both up and down, on the second loop. And so a minute into the race I found myself about five places back from two guys off the front. Looking at my watch, I saw that I was running 3:12/km pace, which was fast enough. My goal was to come in around 34:00 minutes for this race - anything under that would be amazing, but too much over (34:45+) and questions would start to creep into my psyche. The two guys of the front must have been running around 3:00/km, which they were not going to keep up because there are only a few guys around that can, and they were not those guys. I chose to bide my time and run steady, bringing them back along the hills. The hills in the race, which are not too harsh at all, but consistent, felt good. I conjured images of Simon Driver and his little stride that allows him to float up hills and tried to match the his stride as he ran around inside my head. This seemed to work well as I started to draw the leaders back closer, moving into third place. After the cresting the hills, the two guys in front, were running about 20m ahead. The guy in the white shirt kept checking his should even the the younger kid (who turned out to be 17) was right there. My conjuring was of Jay and his light stride as the course opened up to a long straight away. I moved to the far side of the course and focussed my sight beyond the two of them and tried to be fluid like Jay. In my peripheral vision the two guys became larger and larger until I was alongside them heading into the first aid station at about 3.5k. This was going to be fun; I was working hard but knew I had enough in reserve to race.

Through the aid station I took some water as it was a warm evening and got back in with the leaders. A little downhill after turning right at the top of the course allowed the guy in white to make a little move and I stayed back a little, holding some in reserve, knowing that there was a lot of time in the race and a very long downhill grade leading into the finish area. We turned and start the trek back toward the start, and I moved away from the young kid with my sight on the leader. The top of the course is a little square and it was coming out of the square that I pulled up on the should of the leader. There was a very sligth headwind so I tucked in on his shoulder. This did not please him. Looking over his shoulder, we started to play cat and mouse.

An example of the cycling tactics employed during the race (and one of the most exciting stages of the Tour de France ever)

I followed him as he went side to side on the course, trying to get me off his shoulder. This is more of a cycling tactic as the draft is more significant on a bike, but I was willing to play along. I pushed the pace for about 20 meters and the slowed up to allow him to catch me. I knew that this was an important part of the race for first because there were only really three of us up front, and I didn't know about either of these guys. The young kid had a very fluid stride and looked smooth; I was concerned he would not know that he was tired and run through us both. This guy was not wanting me to sit on his shoulder and with the long downhill coming, I knew that I would be able to put in a pretty strong surge when the opportunity provided itself. We continued to jockey and try to figure each other out, but as we hit the downhill leading to the end of the first loop, and later the finish, he moved to the left again and this time slowed up, forcing me to either slow down or take the lead. As it was the downhill and I knew that the long downhill from the start of the race was coming, I decided it was time to see what I had in the tank. It was at 4.6k I made move. With him slowing down and moving left, I moved right and pushed into another gear. Using my strength in downhill running I silently challenged him to come with me for the next 3 minutes. Seeing Sonja cheering alongside a whole host of other people, knowing that I was going to see my teammates on the second loop, I prepared myself to run hard. I was told early on in my running career that looking back was a sign a weakness. If you look back, you are concerned about the people behind you, not in front. This is not good as now when I see someone look back, I know that I am going to catch them. As I took the lead, I was not going to look back. I pushed through the 5k mark (splitting 16:54), and then the long downhill. I was slowing down as compared to my first lap, but effort was getting higher. I ran as though the other guy was only 10m back. In my head I was trying to break him, especially once we hit the uphill section again. With Simon in my head, I knew that this would be the make or break part of this move. If he was able to maintain contact through the hills, he would be confident in the final 3k. If not, then he would have to start looking back and worrying about the young kid. The other thing about looking back is that there is nothing good that can come of it; if they are close, it is discouraging and if they are not then the urge to relax comes to the fore. It is for those reasons I ran as though he was 10m back the whole time. I sweat I heard footsteps the whole time but as I began to run through people still on their first lap, I began to listen to the clapping and cheering. Leading a race is not something that one gets to experience that often, so I was happy to take an existential moment to absorb it. Someone told me I had 15 seconds on second place, so I started doing math. With 3k left, he would have to run 5 seconds/km faster than my current pace to catch me. With each passing kilometer that number became higher and with 1k left and the long downhill I felt comfortable with my position, I saw Sonja cheering. It was a pretty cool moment.

I crossed the line in 34:06, essentially tying my personal best time for 10k, and taking 1st place. What followed was fun. I got to watch my teammates race the 5k and take every position between 3rd and 8th. It looked like a VFAC workout with Jay, Peter, Graeme, Ynuk, Paul (all under 16 minutes), and Phil (16:13) coming in in that order. Ian Druce (16:14) was 9th, Mike (16:26) was 12th, the other Phil was 14th - all of them under 17 minutes. Kapil finished in 17th with a PB.

It was a great night for the VFAC crew. Lot of fantastic efforts, and results, and this bodes well for us a group heading to Scotiabank two weeks from now. Lots to look forward to!
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