Monday, April 13, 2009

Race Report: WWU Invitational

What a difference two seconds makes. This evening I achieved my second of four goals for 2009...I ran a sub 31:00 10,000m in a time of 30:58. How heartbreaking 31:01 would have been. But I was not to be denied.

[Full results here:]

The race was supposed to start at 9:15pm but was delayed until 9:45pm which made a late evening even later. It wasn't a big deal for me but my parents came to watch as did my wife and kids so it was pretty late for them.

The weather was simply perfect. 48-50 degrees. No wind and occasional light drizzle although by race time I think it had stopped.

There were about 15 people in the race. Western Washington University hosted the race in Bellingham. It is a D-II school and some of the other schools were CCs. So the competition wasn't top notch. The meet record for the event was 32:30 or something around there.

When I signed up to do the race a month ago, there were supposed to be five of us running it all with the goal of breaking 31:00. But three had to bail out so it was just me and Steve DeKoker, a WWU alum who also happens to run Brooks’ awesome Brooks ID program...something many on this board should check out. Great discounts and some get free gear and shoes.

Steve and I agreed on a strategy during our warm up. We would switch off the lead every four laps and just try and hit 74s the whole way. Unfortunately, we got stuck in the second row of the waterfall start. In hindsight, it would have been better to be way out in lane 8. The first 150 meters Steve and I were totally boxed. Just before the 200 meter mark, I found a small hole and went for it…just in time to see that the first 200 was in 40 seconds…WAY too slow. It should have been in the 37 range. By the 300m mark Steve had made it out of the pack and took over the lead as we had planned. Lap 1 was slow (76 seconds) but not as bad as it could have been. I didn’t get too uptight about it. Frankly, running a 76 was better than coming out in a 71.

By the 800 meter mark, the race was over in terms of place. Steve and I had gapped everyone and it was pretty clear that we would finish ahead of everyone. But neither of us was there to place. We wanted sub 31:00. The first 1600 came quickly (4:57) and right on pace. I took over the lead from Steve and led the next four laps which went smoothly but somehow a bit slower than we wanted (5:01). I’m not sure what happened because I felt great and was having no issues at all. Oh well. Steve then took over for his second set of four laps which we covered in 5:00 flat…still a second or two slower. I was back in the lead and carried us through the 5k mark, which is when I began to get a bit worried. We crossed the 5k mark at 15:38. Eight seconds over pace is manageable but not a gimme, especially with the hardest (at least mentally) part of the race yet to come. My goal at that point was to try and make up one second each lap. Mission accomplished as we crossed the 6400 mark (9 laps to go) in 4:56. That was more like it. We picked up three of the eight seconds with nine laps to go.

Then another bit of bad news…Steve began having GI issues and told me he was going to back off and couldn’t take over the lead for his third and final segment. Ugh. Steve is 6’4”. I am 5’8” with shoes on. I really enjoyed drafting behind him. Oh well. So with nine laps to go, I knew I was on my own in a race I had never competed in before and still five or so seconds over pace. First lap all on my own (#19) was in 74. OK, but I needed a few 73s or even a 72 to get back on pace. 20th lap (the 8k mark) went a little better in 73 crossing the 8k mark in 24:48, shattering my previous 8k PR of 25:03. That turned out to be a pretty huge confidence booster that I really needed with 5 laps to go.

I was really starting to hurt and have some doubts as I was doing fuzzy math in my head about what it was going to take to reach my goal. Lap 21 came in at 75. Not good. The first two hundred of this lap was in 37, the worst split I had had all race at the 200m mark so I knew the lap was going to be slow. So with four laps to go, I had given back another second. Ugh. But lap 22 I found some strength somewhere and pulled in a 74 with the cumulative clock at 27:07. So I needed to cover 1200m in 3:52 or better. Lap 23 was perhaps the most difficult. My sub 31:00 was still in jeopardy and I was running out of gas and had no help. I had lapped several people throughout the race and that serves as some motivation and help but nothing like having a 6’4” wind shield. Despite how hard lap 23 felt, I managed a 73. This was HUGE. With two laps to go, I was sitting at 28:30. In other words, I need a 2:29 final 800m to reach my goal. I knew I could do this. I began to pick it up a bit in Lap 24. I consciously made the decision to not leave any work undone for the final lap. So I kicked it up a notch. It turned out to be a smart move. Lap 24 was a 72, just the second 72 I had all race. With one lap to go, the clock read 29:46.

I still needed a 73 to get the job done and that was no gimme. The first 200m of the final lap was in a “blistering” :35. With 200 to go, I simply needed a :38 to break 31:00. With 100 to go, I could see the clock and just gave it everything I had. I crossed the finish line in 30:58…barely a second to spare. I was so thrilled. I think my dad may have been even happier. He was there at the finish to congratulate me which meant a lot.

As it turns out, the time was a meet record.

Some have said the 5000 meters is the most grueling distance. Maybe. But I found the 10,000 and its 25 sometimes monotonous laps to be pretty grueling.

One more thing about running in a pack. There are definitely very real and measureable physical benefits to running with a group at any distance. But there is a mental benefit that is every bit as meaningful. The key to any distance race is being able to break the race up into sections whether its miles, laps or even minutes. The 10,000 meters became much more mentally manageable to me because Steve and I broke it up into 1600m segments. There was something very powerful in trading the lead every four laps that really made the race one of segments not simply a 25-lap race.

So what can I improve on to do even better next time...

  • Lapping -- one of the challenges of such a long race around a track (unless you are running at something like a Stanford Invite) is you are inevitably going to lap people. My coach's estimate was that I lapped 25-30 people over the course of 25 laps. Unfortunately, many of those occured in the turns. I tried to avoid running in Lane 2 as much as possible but I spent more time there than I would have liked. Not sure what there is to do about that but it was a small factor.
  • Faster front half -- Only after thinking about my times more yesterday did I realize the huge differential in the 5k splits. 15:38 for the front half and 15:20 for the back half. A negative split isn't necessarily all that bad but one of 18 seconds is a bit much. Next time, I will go out in 15:20-25 and then try and hold that for the second half. It was my first 10,000m so I didn't want to do anything silly on the front half that would cost me later, but now with one under my belt, speeding up from the front 5k would be my first place to look to bring down my time.
  • Bigger Pack -- I outlined above the benefits of a pack. Laws of physics support this and real-life experience validates it. If I run a track 10k again, I will make sure it's at a meet where there is a larger group of guys to do what Steve and I did, but do it for the entire race. Losing Steve with 9 laps to go was noticeable and it could have only helped to have had someone else to trade off with for those final 9 laps.