Sunday, August 29, 2010

5,280' of Pain and Oxygen Debt

SoCal USATF Road Mile Championships at El Toro Airfield (Irvine, CA)

I have never run an official mile race other than HS or college gym classes. I don’t even remember my precise time. I think I ran ~6:00 in college. Not sure.

This Road Mile Championship is a brand new race for the SoCal area, and one that I hope will remain for years to come. Most any runner likes to know what they can run for just one single mile... no string attached... nothing but racing one single mile. And this was a true race. No one was thinking about just finishing. Everyone was thinking... how fast.

And the old El Toro Airfield was the perfect venue for this race... cool weather (even in August) and one flat, straight runway for takeoff. The USATF had done this event right. The course was measured to precision with time clocks at every quarter. There would be 16 races separated by age and gender... complete with computer chip timing.

Since I’ve been 5K training this summer towards the Santa Monica 5000 in mid-Sept, this race came at a perfect time on the calendar for me. I haven’t done this much high-intensity, short-rep speedwork in years... if ever. But unfortunately, 10 days ago, I bruised my ribs pretty bad and missed 5 days of running (including DNS’ing a 5K last weekend). My ribs are still sore, but not enough now to keep from running and racing today.

I wasn’t sure what kind of time to target for a race this short (especially with bruised ribs). I haven’t run a race shorter than 10K in years. I just knew it would be 5,280’ of pain... and some severe oxygen debt. I just didn’t want to make it any worse by going out too fast in the opening quarter.

My goal was to run sub-5:30... and my A-goal was actually 5:20. I figured I’d attempt splits in 80 and just try to hang on for the 5:20. But I still felt that’d be too fast. Maybe I better shoot for quarters in 82 and go for 5:29.

I warmed up by jogging down the runway to the starting line in the distance with my youngest daughter... one of my favorite parts of the morning... nothing like doing a warm-up mile with my daughter down a runway in the middle of nowhere. :-) As we ran that long straightaway, I thought... “Daggum, a straight mile is one heckuva long distance!” This was nothing like a mile on the track. I could barely spot the finish line from the start line. Sheesh!

After we got to the starting line, she walked on back to momma and her brother and sister while I jogged around waiting for the start of my race. It was really nice knowing I had my own little cheering section back at the finish line. Normally, they don’t go to my races because there’s rarely any race I run near home.

About 8:40am, it was time for me to line up with the Open Masters Men (40+). I wasn’t sure how competitive this race would be since there was also an Elite Masters Men race (QT was sub-5:30) after mine. I should’ve signed up for the Elite race, but I wrongly presumed that an official QT was necessary (which it wasn’t). So I wasn’t sure how competitive it would be in the Open Masters race.

The gun went off, and we took off. I was in about 6th or 7th place and by the quarter I was in 5th place. Coming up on the quarter, I see the clock ticking 1:08... 1:09... 1:10... 1:11... 1:12... 1:13... Ruh roh... a bit too fast! But I was feeling ok. Just keep steady.

I wore my GPS/HR monitor (mostly to analyze the data after the race) and glanced at it only a couple of times in the race... it was showing me running at a speed about ~4:56/mile. Yikes! Backed off the accelerator just a tad to prevent an ugly blow up at the end.

I saw the half and three-quarters splits as I ran by, and I remember doing the math in my head thinking... hang on and get that sub-5:20! In the last quarter, wow... oxygen debt... severe oxygen debt... seriously severe oxygen debt... breathe... breathe... breathe... I gradually moved on up into fourth place and then into the third. (Note: discovered in the results, I actually finished 2nd in my race.) Well... I don’t think it was so much that I sped up but that I just hung on better than two of the guys in front of me.

I could see the finish line approaching fast... run... breathe... run... breathe... hang on... here it comes... hang on... yes... 5:08!!!

Ok... whoa... slow down legs... stop... bend over... breathe... breathe... breathe... holy freakin’ cow... breathe....

Wow, I didn’t expect that at all. Seriously. Did I just do that? Wow. My wife and kids run over and congratulate me. They knew I’d be happy with 5:08... and yes I was.

After I caught my breath, I jogged down the runaway as a cool-down and turned around at halfway to come back and see my friend John Loftus finish with the elites. But I messed up and thought his race was 4 races after mine and it was only 2. As I was jogging back towards the finish, I looked to my side and here comes John. He was kicking towards the finish and I missed my chance to photograph him. Saw him finish in 4:57. That’s huge. Sub-5 and he’s ten years older than me. Huge congrats, John, on the PR. Sorry I didn’t get a pic of you.

Good day. After examing my GPS file, I realize I ran a much more even-paced race than I initially thought:

Quarter split, total time, avg HR, max HR, quarter distance (GPS distance):
0:00, 0:00, 110, 110, 0m (0m)
1:16, 1:16, 148, 174, 402m (413.7m)
1:17, 2:33, 165, 182, 804m (808.2m)
1:18, 3:51, 170, 187, 1206m (1204.9m)
1:17, 5:08, 174, 190, 1608m (1614.0m)

It felt really bizarre and surreal to run a race this short. Now I'm really looking forward to the Santa Monica 5000... and doing this mile race again next year. Thanks for reading.