Monday, February 28, 2011

Maryland RRCA Club Challenge: Race Report

First, the result: 14th overall, 56:55 (5:42/mile pace).   In 2010, I ran two half marathons with 60:00 10 mile splits and one hot, humid, and hilly 10 mile race in 63:17.  At the 2009 race, I ran a 66:33.  No matter how I look at it, I rocked this race.

The RRCA club challenge is a 10 mile race hosted by the Howard County Striders.  All the local clubs get their members to sign up and compete against each other in a team format.  Though my club, Baltimore Road Runners Club had no shot at winning, I was still out there to prove something.  Some of the fastest local runners show up to this race, and it is a really good indication of how one stacks up in the area.  I also like proving that it isn't just Howard County, Falls Road, and RASAC that have all the fast runners!

Temperatures at the 8am start were probably in the high 30s, low 40s.  There was a light breeze and overcast skies, perfect 10 miler weather.  My strategy was to go out at 5:40 pace and hold on as long as possible.  The course is notoriously hilly, maze-like, and very disorienting.  Every part of the course looks similar, and with so many turns a runner gets completely turned around quite easily.  Without the very helpful course marshals, I'd probably still be out there right now!

The start line was nice and wide, so I knew I could take a spot up front and not worry about getting stuck behind a pack of people.  I didn't need to pick out any competition for this race, I was completely surrounded by it.  There were two runners in particular I was looking to match up with, and they were both there.  I used to shy away from competitive situations like this but not anymore, I crave opportunities to go up against other runners of similar ability.

The starting gun went off and we all bolted off the line.  Most of the 1st mile was downhill and the adrenaline was really flowing.  The pace felt fast but manageable.  I was a bit distraught by the fact that most of the runners I planned on keying off of were all ahead of me.  We hit the first mile:


I was surrounded by other runners, there was perhaps a pack of about 30 of us, though we were slowly starting to string out.  Even though my targets were all ahead of me, I knew the pace was too fast and made the decision to dial it back just a hair.  I knew the course would only get tougher and that some of those runners would come back.  I probably bled about 10 positions at that point but was content with my position.

Mile 2: 5:39

That was more like it.  There were so many hills on this course that I can't even remember where they all were.  However, after mile 2, things started getting more difficult in a hurry.  Over mile 3 I was able to catch the last 3 runners to pass me while I dialed back.  I consistently gained the most ground going up the hills, so I knew right away the hills would work in my favor.  One runner stuck with me, a guy in purple.

Mile 3: 6:00

I knew that I slowed a bit on mile 3, but not this much.  I think the mile ended up being long, especially considering my next split.  Regardless, guy in purple stayed on my shoulder and would not shake off.  He seemed to be struggling to hold on, and the hills were making it worse.  Despite his struggles, I would not count him out and made sure to stay ahead.  We worked hard on mile 4, there was a pack of probably about 6  runners ahead of us.  They were slowly breaking apart, with one runner really fading.  The leader of that pack was also one of my targets, so I wanted badly to catch back up.

Mile 4: 5:09

Though I would love to have dropped a 5:09 in the middle of a 10 miler, I can guarantee you it didn't happen.  The average of those two miles, about 5:35 is more believable.  The fourth mile was definitely faster at any rate.  Guy in purple was still on my tail, though I stopped worrying about shaking him at that point.  We caught and passed a few runners, some fading bad, others trying to hold on.  Clearly, a lot of people got caught up in the fast early pace and were paying for it.  Though 4 miles, I had what I consider a rather consistent pace.

Mile 5: 5:34

The pace still felt manageable, though some voices and demons of doubt were beginning to creep into my head.  I shut them out as best I could.  Mile 6 was the hardest of the race.  I only know this because that's what everyone was saying at the end.  As far as I remember, it all sucked after mile 2.

Mile 6: 6:02

I don't remember exactly where I caught my first target, but it was somewhere around mile 6.  I continued to use the uphills to my advantage to gain lots of ground.  I lost guy in purple who told me after the race that mile 6 did him in.  I stuck with my new found running partner for only a little while before taking the lead.  I could see another runner far off in the distance, but couldn't make out who he was.  As we approached Mile 7, I continued to gain ground.

Mile 7: 5:32

The pace was really starting to hurt now.  I kept telling myself I only needed to hold on for about a 5k, but it did not make it hurt any less.  I finally realized the runner ahead of me was the same guy who had beaten me in 2 5Ks this year.  I've finished 2nd in every 5K I've run, and two of them were because of this runner!  Tempo pace is my strong suit though, and it was time to show that endurance can beat speed at these moderately long races.

I caught and passed him all in one move.  I really didn't want to linger but rather just go for it all at once.  I was struggling badly, each hill being more painful than the last.  Without much left in the tank, I had no interest in a sprint to the finish.  Despite taking the lead, I could hear footsteps and breathing right behind me for nearly the rest of the way.  I would find out at the end that it was the 2 runners I had picked out to try and beat who were on my tail.

We all got passed by one guy who was flying and probably went out too slow.  The next runner ahead of me was too far ahead to catch so it would come down to the three of us.  At least one course marshal told us we were running 14th, 15th, and 16th.  I was hoping for top 20, but had to fight thoughts of "good enough!"  I was not going to settle for 16th, I wanted to be there in my spot: 14th!

Mile 8: 5:55

Somewhere around mile 8 was the worst part of the course.  We were on a straightaway, the wind was blowing directly in our faces, and it seemed like the race would never end.  The wind gave me a chill, and helped cause that slow mile 8.  A voice in my head was screaming to give in.  I could still hear those other 2 runners hot on my tail, and it would have been so much easier to just back off.  "Why kill yourself, you'll still get 16th and a sub-60 to boot."

I couldn't let that stand though.  I had just run my ass off for 8 miles and had less than 12 minutes to glory.  I wasn't going to throw it all away because I was tired.  I redoubled my efforts and came through mile 9 faster.

Mile 9: 5:49

Not much faster, but seeing a 5:4x did wonders for my confidence.  I could still hear those runners behind me though!  I finally decided enough was enough, I was either going to separate myself from them now or die trying.  I kept thinking back to my last 5K, where I lost the race in the last 0.1 miles.  No way I was loosing 14th place after 9.5 miles of hell.  It was my spot and I was going to keep it!  I threw down everything and anything I had left with about 0.75 miles to go.  Little did I know that I was just maintaining pace, even though it felt like I was running 30 seconds per mile faster.  I truly was racing as hard as I could.

As we approached the finish, the breathing and footsteps slowly faded, and I was greeted by the solitude of only my own breathing and footsteps.  I kept pushing harder and harder, refusing to assume I had my spot locked up.  I realized as I started approaching the finish that I had no clue what my overall time would be.  I was only glancing at my splits the whole way, and never once noticed my overall time, or bothered trying to figure it out.

5:40 pace would be 56:45, but I would have been happy with anything under 57.  As I hit the final straightaway and saw that I would hit sub-57, I got a huge shot of adrenaline and blew through the finish line in 56:55.

Mile 10: 5:53

The two runners I had raced over the last 3 miles came in about 7 and 8 seconds after me.  I wouldn't say that I ever really faded, but rather took what the course gave me.  This was really a tactical race and not a time trial race.  Of course, now my half marathon and 10 miler PRs are on "tactical" rather than "fast" courses, but whatever.  It's clear to me that my strategy, and early gamble to back off paid off well.  I crossed the line spent, and ran the last few miles as strong as I could.

I ended up going for another easy 8 midday with some running friends, I just couldn't resist with the nice weather.  Overall, I felt a lot better than I thought.  I recovered decently quickly and don't feel completely dead today.  My pesky left ankle is bothering me a bit more than it had been before the race, but if I keep moving it around, it feels alright.

Ankle be damned, I had one awesome day, a PR and an epic race.

As so March begins....


  1. Fist off... congrats man. That's an INCREDIBLE time and such a big jump from last year, especially considering the course. I was actually thinking the same thing when I was writing up my recap about mile 3 and 4. They weren't quite where I was expecting and my times seemed way off. Mile 6 was DEFINITELY the toughest. It just felt like the whole thing was uphill and steep and never ending.

    I noticed after the race that I recognized the two names after yours and how close they were and figured you'd be happy about that. It's good to see plain old hard work pay off.

    PS... have you tried wetting a towel, putting it in the microwave for a minute or two to warm it up and wrapping your ankle for 5-10 minutes. It helps loosen up my ankle area when things are feeling stiff.

  2. That wet towel trick may be worth trying!