A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 2; 20th Edition
377.92 miles raced in 2007
Race: Leesburg 20k
Place: Leesburg, VA
Miles from home: 35
Course Difficulty: 4.5
Course Enjoyability: 5 out of 10
Weather: Mid 70s; humid
Finishers' Medal: N/A
When the weather for your last two races was either at, or close to, 100 degrees, the mercury only raising to the mid 70s at the start of a 20k sounds pretty darn good. Then you realize, a few miles in, this temperature, while undoubtedly better, is still too damn hot!
Having never officially ran a 20k before (I once paced a group of friends through a race and then popped out about 10 yards before the finish; yep, I was a bandit. But that was in my naïve days) no matter what I ran, my time would be a personal best. That said, I was hoping for a time that would be more than a de facto best time ever.
I, like many runners these days, check out stories and read running forums online. There are few that I have not been to at least once and a few I visit regularly. One is ruanago.com and on there I have “met” a few nice people. As I stated in my 8k recap from earlier this year, I often miss the local races as I have been traveling often for quite some time to destinations far and wide to run in races there. As such, I am without the same opportunitie that other locals have to meet those who live and run in the greater DC area. Luckily, I noticed a large amount of runango forumites would be attending the Leesburg 20k and so I would be able to put faces to names.
So just a few minutes before I lined up to race, I caught sight of a runner in a green running skirt and knew it had to be one of the runners who said she would be wearing it for this race. I introduced myself and sure enough I was right. In the next few minutes I got to meet a half a dozen new friends and share a few quick hellos. Then the bathroom came calling one last time and just as quickly as I sat down, I needed to egress and alleviate the problem. Soon, it was time to race.
A little late to the starting line I had to cram myself in near the front. I could tell by looking around me there were a few dozen people in front of me that had no business being there. With the advent of chip timing I still wonder (honestly, it is beyond my comprehension) why anyone would want to line up in a place where they do not belong. I feel the rush of starting in the “front” would soon be beaten down by the crappy feeling of having herds of people fly by you. But I digress.
When checking the race registration site earlier in the week to see if I was in fact registered, I noticed I had been given the bib number “3”. What the heck? I had not signed up early and I could see around me 5 guys I knew were going to run faster. So now I was saddled with an elite number when there was no way I was running that fast. Made me chuckle however and perhaps it pushed me a little harder on a day where, even a few miles in, I knew I was not fully recovered from my brutal 50k the week before.
The word “Go” was said, we were underway, and within feet I passed the vast majority of those who had been standing in front of me. After I publish the book on my 52 marathons my next tome will be on race etiquette.
My first mile felt good and I thought perhaps I could ease through the first part of the course and hammer it hard on the return trip. For all intents and purposes, this 20k is about 5 mile out on the W&OD trail, a narrow, paved trail almost entirely shaded by trees and almost entirely uphill. While the grade is not too intense, runners will go up about 300 feet in those 5 miles and one can definitely feel it.
This must have been Mess with Dane Day as I had a few instances in the first few miles that irked me quite a bit. One chap in particular would slow down to the point where I would pass him, and then he would surge ahead of me just enough so that he could pop back in front of me and slow down again. In a race on a road I would not have cared as much but the W&OD trail is narrow, as I mentioned above. Given it was not closed for the race, runners had to contend not only with runners on their own side, but runners coming back at you to finish the race and also had any other runner, biker or dog out on the trail for plain old exercise. Ergo, I had very little room to maneuver around this jackass. After he did this for the third time I said: “Are you serious?” and surged by. I did not want to run this fast this early but I assuredly did not want to deal with him anymore. Weighing the annoyances I figured surging was a better option.
When I didn’t seem him again I figured my surge had lost him. I later learned he was only running the 10k and had been playing this little game with me when he only had half the distance to travel. I hope he got a cramp.
After the first woman had passed me a few miles in, a runner I know pretty well passed me as well. Laura Turner, a local runner who is very talented, eased on by like it was nothing. I told her I hoped I would see her in the second half and let her go. I couldn’t keep with her pace.
Finally cresting the hill we passed an overpass to the highway and thoughts went backto the only other time I had run this race and the aid station which had been here. As I slowed to grab a water during that race (I know, bad etiquette in race you weren’t officially in; See, I know what is right and wrong!) a volunteer actually threw a cup of water on my shoulders! Granted the day was very hot but I was shocked at this brazen act. I heard the volunteer’s coordinator gasp and say “Don’t EVER do that again!” To the volunteer’s credit I think she was just trying to cool me down. Luckily, there was no aid station here today.
Down a hill and then another mile or so of slight downhill we raced until we reached the turn-around point. I counted the runners in front of me and I was exactly in 20th place. Not too shabby.
I was hoping the mile markers were a little better placed for the return trip home as 4, 5, and 6 had been rather haphazardly placed giving me splits of 6:43, 5:00 and 8:12 (I was running 6:15s at the time). They seemed much better for the first two miles and I was getting ready to push it from 8 on when the course became all downhill.
Lisa Thomas, another fast local female runner passed me right before we started this descent and I thank her for keeping me in check as I followed her easy stride for the next 3 miles. Two other runners passed me and now I was bummed. Twenty-third has no good ring to it. I had to move up to at least 22nd.
Soon, I had my chance as one runner pulled to the edge of the trail and held his side. An obvious victim of the day’s rapidly rising temperature, I counted one down. But it felt like a cheap victory and I wanted more. Unfortunately that was where I would stay. While I was in Lisa’s hip pocket for 3 miles, she began to pull away near the end and I could do nothing but stay the course. But without her I am not sure I would have averaged a 6:10 for the last 4 miles so I thank her.
We hopped off of the trail and turned left onto a city street and the cruel up-hill finish. Lisa and the guy between us were just out of reach. I gave my tired legs a little extra push to finish under 1:20 and hit the mat at 1:19:51. The pace for this race (6:26) was actually slower than the pace for my half-marathon a month ago (by 3 seconds per mile at a distance .7 of a mile longer) but I will take it. I can tell you that if it had been 1:20:00 I would have been furious. Funny what numbers can do for you.
Final stats: 18th male, 21st overall (I must have miscounted one) and if age groups had been normal I would have been third in the 30-34 division. Unfortunately, there was no cowbell for me (the race had a cow theme) as I was in the “open” division which was for 20-34 year olds. Ooof. Ironically, after this huge gap, age groups became normal again and increased by half-decades.
Kudos to my friend Will Schaeffer for his age group placing as he continues his return from injury. Will will (fyi, the past two words were considered redundant by my grammar-check) be the cyclist on the triathlon team I will be joining at the end of September. Also, many friends and acquaintances set PRs or were quite pleased with their results. I know my buddy Liz Jones was just as peeved that she didn’t get a cowbell either (damn big age group). We both might rethink the 45 minute drive, $3.75 in tolls both ways hilly and warm 20k until we both hit 35. Then look out!
ADDENDUM: They added another runner to the official times which were different at the race and he was a 30 year old ahead of me. So I was 19th male, 22nd overall and would have been 4th in my age.