Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Arlington Co-Op Downhill Mile Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 2; 19th Edition
365.52 miles raced in 2007
Race: Arlington Co-Op Downhill Mile
Place: Arlington, VA
Miles from home: 2
Course Difficulty: 1.5
Course Enjoyability: 10 out of 10
Weather: 100 friggin degrees
Finishers' Medal: N/A

Let me set the stage for this. (Come on, it’s a mile. I need some back story or the recap will be 87 words.) On Saturday I ran one of the tougher races of my life in the North Face 50k. On Sunday, knowing I was taking Monday off and my usually hard track workout was going to be replaced with this one mile race, I decided that I would not rest but put some miles in the morning. I got to bed early on Saturday and got up to run with my club. I did 8 miles with my buddy Tom (recovering from an injury) and we stopped 3 times (miles 2, 4 and 6) for water. At the 6th mile, if he had said “Let’s walk back” I would not have argued. I was exhausted. Not sore from the previous day’s race but flat out spent. I had less than nothing.

Monday was a day of complete rest as was Tuesday. No running at lunch and nothing but sitting at work. I had seen a flyer for the Downhill Mile a week earlier and thought: “Five bucks to run a race 2 miles from my house. I am there!” As I have mentioned repeatedly, I love running downhill. Even if I was exhausted and it was hot I knew I would have fun.

So Tuesday sped by at work and the next thing I knew it was time to run. With all kinds of planning for other races I didn’t even really check out where this race was, why it was a “Downhill Mile” or anything else about it. SO, not a Dane move. With a little time to kill I found a brief description of the race and its course. I quickly use a website to calculate the downhill grade of the course and literally laughed outloud. This was going to be interesting.

In addition, I saw there were seven (yes, 7) runners in this race last year. Here were their times:
1 Charlie Mercer 4:29
2 Ted Poulos 4:55
3 Peter Blank 5:25
4 Bob Weiner 5:43
5 James Scarborough 5:57
6 Jay Jacob Wind 7:03
7 Tim Ramsey 7:20

Now, I did not know who Charlie Mercer was but holy crap was that a fast time. I did know who Ted Poulos is and that made me think this might be a fun race. Ted is a local legend and a world-record holder for the most races run in a year. If I recall correctly, it is 222. Normally, streaks and records where someone simply has done a great deal of something completely underwhelm me. But Ted, who I think is in his mid-40s, continues to pump out VERY quality races at every race he runs (e.g., earlier this year when I ran a 5k a week and a half after my 100 miler, I took 3rd. Ted beat me by a minute and won). So I figured if Ted could go sub-5, so could I. I was hoping if he showed I would just stay with him and surge at the end.

It took me a little while to find the tiny entrance to the Donaldson Run Trail which was the start of the mile. Only one person awaited me; one of the race directors. Hmmm, perhaps I was running this puppy solo. It did not seem inconceivable since even at 7 PM the temperature was still 100 degrees. Dear lord.

Medium story short, a few minutes after 7 PM, there were 5 of us ready to toe the line. Included in the mix was no Ted Poulos, but last year’s winner Charlie Mercer, me, Jay Jacob Wind, James Scarborough and Tim Ramsey. Tim had actually ran in a local race called the Snowflake 5k in December which helped raise money for Fiddy2 (yep, remember that ole fundraiser I was doing for L’Arche Mobile). Charlie joked that he was supposed to be the only young guy there (everyone else was in their late 40s or into their 50s) and said he did not want the competition. I told him I was still exhausted from my 50k and would not be a threat. His eyebrows raised and he told me he ran the 10k at the same locale on the same day and was shocked I was still standing after the race.

The starter said go and away we went. There was only one clock (at the finish), no markers of any sort, and the dunderhead that I am, well, I forgot my watch. So I just decided to go with all I had. Down a 50 meter path we took and then immediately began what I can only described as an absolute controlled fall for the remainder of the mile. The only thing that kept us from approaching light-speed were the hairpin turns we encountered in the first quarter-mile or so. While leading at first, I soon lost the overall position about a 1/3 of the way through to Charlie who obviously knew the course better than I.

I could only guess what speed we were running at but I knew it was ridiculously fast. More than once I had a feeling I might just fall ass over tincups and break my neck. The race course left the trail for once second and quickly crossed one street and then another. Both neighborhood streets with little traffic, I am pretty sure I could not have stopped for a car if I had needed to do so.

Cutting the corners as sharply as I could and trying to keep Charlie in site for a last second push to possibly win the event, I all of a sudden noticed that I was not only completely bereft of energy but also there was the familiar red glow of a ticking clock ahead of me. No time (or distance, rather) left to catch Charlie I simply coasted in for second place overall.

...in a time of 4:10. HOLY CRAP.

Charlie had ran a 3:53 and was just standing there dumbfounded. We immediately began to discount the course and thought there was no possible way it was correct. I asked Charlie if it was the same course he ran last year and he nodded. “Well, if it was right last year I doubt the Earth moved that much this year to discredit it!” I said. He nodded his head again and said, “No one was pushing me last year and I ran a 4:29. It only makes sense that with your quick start you made me run even harder.”

When I got home, the first thing I did was check the map provided. Click HERE to see it. Then I went to runningahead.com and recreated it myself. Not only did it mirror the amount listed (a solid mile on the nose) I utilized the elevation chat on this website to see what sort of loss we had on this course. Get ready: ~250 feet in a mile! I am sure one of my loyal readers knows of some mathematical equation which can estimate what a 250 foot drop (and virtually not a foot of gain) does to a person’s all-out mile time. So, please, if you know or care to figure out, let me know.

The final results for the race:

(1) Charlie Mercer, Arlington VA, 3:53
(2) Dane Rauschenberg, Arlington VA, 4:10
(3) James Scarborough, McLean VA, 5:25
(4) Jacob Wind, Arlington VA, 6:11
(5) Tim Ramsey, Alexandria VA, 6:49

Without a doubt, I am not normally capable of a 4:10 mile. Not even close. Then again, running 2 days after a brutal 50k in 100 degree temperature has to even it out a smidgen right?

Regardless, I am imploring them to hold this race again and hold it soon. If you join the Arlington Co-Op for $10 the race costs $1. If and when it is run again, come join me. Noting helps the ego quite like flying like the wind.

ADDENDUM: As always, I can count on my good friends to find info for me quicker than I can ever hope for. An article about the effect uphill and downhill grades can be found HERE.

So if you take my fastest (proven) mile of 5:00 by the formula presented in the article, I should have only run a 4:33. So either the course was short (I really do not think it was) or I REALLY love a downhill.


klottey4 said...

Very cool! Somehow I feel like there is no way your recap would only be 87 words...ever. You just couldn't do it.

CharlieM said...


Great to talk to you last night before and after the race. Like you, I just love downhill running, and this is indeed the perfect freefall race. Still can't believe you ran 52 26ers in 52 weeks, that is awesome. Best, Charlie m.

Dane said...


Might do it just to prove you wrong!


I am doing my best to get a proposed rematch scheduled. We are both breaking 3:50!

Jamie said...

I know you hate me, but:

If I recall correctly, it is 222. Normally, streaks and records where someone simply has done a great deal of something completely underwhelm me.

Fiddy 2?

Dane said...

I don't hate you Jamie. You give yourself far too much credit.

However, it appears your insinuation is that Fiddy2 was simply me showing up and not running fast. Is that a correct assumption given your juxtaposition of my quote and yours?

Brian said...

I think you should try that course as an uphill mile and compare the times. I think there might be a slight difference.

Dane said...

Charlie and I have already discussed that. If the winner did it in 6:30 we would be surprised.

dave-o said...

While I can't call BS on your time since I know nothing about the course, I will say this: Don't you think its a little fishy that everyone that ran the race last year ran significantly faster times this year?

Mercer went from a 4:25 to 3:53, a 32 second improvement.

Scarborough went from a 5:57 to 5:25, a 32 second improvement.

Wind went from 7:03 to 6:11, a 52 second improvement.

Ramsey went from 7:20 to 6:49, a 31 second improvement.

I guess its not impossible that all 4 improvement by more than 30 seconds in a year, but I certainly have a hard time believing that. It seems 4:30-4:40 would have been a much more reasonable time for you, which falls right in line with your comment that the downhill would have translated to a 4:33 based on your past times.

Of coure, I'm sure you think I'm an ass for posting this.

Dane said...

Nah i don't hate you. this blog has become a curious human experiment completely unintenitonally. However, I do find it interesting that there is even a slight need or desire or whatever to "call BS".

That said, whatever the distance is, right or wrong, it is exactly the distance that it was the previous year. The race starts at the curb of one street, runs through a nondeviating path until you more or less run into the middle of another street. There is nowhere else to go.

Having not been there last year I am unsure why people were faster this year. In my query, which I quizzed Charlie at the end of the race repeatedly, he mentioned that he undoubtedly ran harder given that I pushed him and also, that the course was exactly the same. Perhaps our "speed" pulled the others along with us. I am unsure. Can only speak for myself.

And speaking for myself, I can all but guarantee that knowing this course and with a little more rest, I could run the exact same time that Charlie ran if they run it again in a week and a half. That would be a 17 second improvement in 2 weeks. Who is to say the other chaps did not experience the same loss over the course of a year?

As for my comment, it was based on a calculation that I found in an article which I am not sure I even agree with. Human effort and heart and spirit cannot be calculated. Personally, I think that a downhill will give me, on average, a much greater advantage than it will most people. Why do I say that? Because I base it on any race I have ever run that includes significant downhills and how I have outperformed myself in a flat race of the same distance.

Similarly, any race which I have run in the evening, regardless of temperature, currently holds my PR at that distance. Without fail, from a mile race on up, if there is an evening counteropart to a race I ran in the morning, my evening race has been momentously faster. I function better in the evening.

However, if I win the 111 million Megamillions jackpot on Friday, one thing I will pay for is a certification of that mile. Even if it requires yo to stop at the street (finishline) and make a 90 degree angle left turn to run on the sidewalk for 100 feet more to make it a true mile, I will insist they unr it as such because nothing feels better than running far faster than you know you are actually capable of in normal circumstances.

But if someone asks, I am about a 5 minute miler.

dave-o said...

My only motivation in posting was to point out a statistical irregularity. As a self-professed data lover, I thought you might appreciate my observation.

In my opinion, I find it very odd for 4 runners to improve in the 1 mile by more than 30 seconds in a one year span. Besides how massive of an improvement that is from a percentage standpoint (roughly 20%), what jumped out at me is the uniformity of the improvement. It's not just the lead runner that you pushed improved, but all 4 improved by the almost the exact same time.

So the way I see it is that either every person that ran the race the last two years cut an astounding 20% off their mile time or that the course was somehow 30 seconds short. I think most people would go with the course being short

But in the end most people's opinion doesn't matter, as long as you believe that you ran a 4:10 mile.

Dane said...

I noticed the uniform change in time. Hence the questioning by myself as to the similarity of the course from this year to last.

Most people's opinions are irrelevant if the fact (which is not necessarily verifiable as none of those asked were under the pnelty pf perjury) were true that the course did not change.

Once again, we will find out in a few weeks if I somehow manahe to know even more time off of what I ran this week.

CharlieM said...

Hey guys,

I know the course is the same as last year. I think the reason everyone's times improved was familiarity with the course. Which is why Dane will run under 4 the next time he does it. If you don't go gingerly at the upper paved curvy portion, and just let it fly, you can just pound downhill the whole mile. That said, I think some runners won't take as much off their regular mile time. You have to be a strong downhill runner, and being bigger actually helps - with momentum and power, etc.