Monday, March 14, 2016

Gate River Run Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 11; 5th Edition 
74.9 miles runs in 2016 races
Race: Gate River Run
Place: Jacksonville, FL
Miles from home: 2936
Weather: 70s; 95% humidity

For four years I lived in heat and disgusting humidity of Washington, D.C. For four years I lived at the solid elevation of Salt Lake City.  I was mildly prepared to run in warm temps because of both (elevation somewhat helps you battle humidity.)

Now I live at sea level in Portland where the humidity is fairly negligible. Any sort of "immunity" I built up to running in sticky weather or in the mountains is now gone. Throw in recovering from the flu recently and I knew that taking on one of the warmest Gate River Run 15ks in history was not going to go well for me. That didn't stop me from still thinking that maybe, just maybe, I should go and try and crush it anyway. You can probably see where this is going.

My 15k is one of those very weak PRs that most runners have. I say that because I can think of at least six occasions where I have run a faster 15k in the middle of a longer race than what my PR for a standalone 15k happens to be. When I signed up for this race, I have every design to crush that time.  Then I had the setback of the broken hand on Christmas. But I recovered fairly well from that. Then a few weeks ago I was almost taken to the hospital with a 103 degree fever, pneumonia and just a whole lot of what Jon Stewart likes to call the "boubons."  I didn't run for eleven days. When I finally did run again it was as if I had forgotten how to do it. I was running like Phoebe from Friends.

When I got to Jacksonville, I was buoyed by meeting lots of new friends and seeing old ones as I did a book signing at the expo. I felt wonderful. Well, in reality, I didn't feel wonderful. But when you have spent so much time feeling like you are at Death's door, when you go out to Death's lawn to get the newspaper, relatively you feel like an Olympian.

Race Morning:

I was smart enough to realize, however, that this was not going to be my day. As such, I decided to get a little more running in on race day.  My hotel was two miles from the start so I figured a good way to get limbered up would be by getting a slow jog to the beginning of the race. This felt like a good decision as I had an idea that driving to the start would get a little dicey with all the runners.  About half of a mile into my trot, I crossed the Main St Bridge (the "Blue One" I heard some call them as they can't seem to remember all the bridge names) and a line of cars slowly trudged by. Looks like I made the right decision.  Having said that, the Jax cops were still actually doing a decent job of moving traffic. I still would have been worried.

Even jogging slowly, I got to the starting area WAY earlier than I usually do. I used the bathrooms (twice) and sat in my corral in the shade. It was already 95% humidity and the supposed cloud cover that would make the race at least not akin to suicide was far too rapidly burning off. I was doing all I could to stay as cool as possible. Having brought a throw away rag with me to at least wipe off the sweat from my two mile run on the way to the race, I now had a completely soaked and therefore useless piece of cloth. As we lined up for the start, I wiped my brow one last time and tossed the rag to the side.

First 3 miles:

This is a big race. Usually 15,000 people finish this 15k. I wanted to do my very best to stay in front of all but about 200 of them.  The previous year 209 runners had broken an hour. I wanted to be one of those this year even if I wasn't going to get the huge PR I was hoping for.

The first mile went rather smoothly. People flew around me from all angles, eschewing any idea of running any sort of tangents.  To this day it boggles my mind how bad so many runners are at reading a course, running the shortest distance possible, and simply just working so hard to make the race so much harder for themselves.  I hit the first mile in 6:14 and thought how were all these people going to expect to keep this pace up.  In fact, the pace surprised me (and if I had kept it I would have finished 99th overall.) I thought it would easily be 6:30 or more.  Unfortunately, that gave me hope for something which had little to no shot of happening.

The second mile, after going over the small rise of the Main Street bridge was slower than I expected.  Perhaps the first mile marker had just been a hair off  If so, the average of the two miles was right on the 6:30 pace I thought I might be able to hold for the day.

As I approached the 3rd mile, the wheels began to fall off.  The clouds were gone, we were running with a blue sky and full sun overhead and I was spent.  My buddy Andy Dutra passed me and gave me some words of encouragement but I couldn't hang with him.  I knew this was going to be a long six remaining miles.

To Mile 6

I have often told runners at expos that whatever you are planning to run that day, that is the furthest you can possibly imagine running. Running a half marathon? 13.2 miles seems impossible. Here, as I hit the fourth mile, all I could think about was how I was only half of a mile from being half way done. I couldn't fathom running a half marathon today.  Now usually, that is because if you run correctly, you are racing at the peak of what you can do that for distance. Unfortunately, I was running at the peak at what I could do for half of the day's distance. I was absolutely drenched from sweat. I felt lightheaded. If I wasn't running this race as research for a new book, I would have stopped and gone back to my hotel. (N.B., If I had really thought I would do myself actual harm, I would have also stopped. I vary greatly from some who like to think that toughing out every race regardless of potential harm is necessary. That's also why I am an injury free runner who has done things some people never will do.)

As I hit the 5th mile I was doing what I could to take in the surroundings. I was here to observe and report how I felt about the entire race, anyway.  Might as well get out of my tunnel vision and do just that.  Perhaps it would distract me from the exhaustion I felt.  I had heard about the thick crowds cheering people on and the boisterous atmosphere. The first three miles had been rather underwhelming. Understandably so give their location but I was still expecting more. In this area, however, the crowds picked up. In addition, there were at least eight aid stations throughout the course. For a nine mile race that is pretty darn impressive. I would have appreciated some ice in the water to make it cooler but the volume of aid stations alone was very well done.

The sixth mile was a nice winding mile through some very nice neighborhoods. The crowds were much more exuberant, sitting in lawn chairs and handing out mimosas. It was such a nice respite, with the occasional tree to provide some cover as we had just ran directly into the teeth of the unrelenting sun. The people were cheering and clapping with the usual assortment of funny signs.  One struck me as particularly original and I actually laughed inwardly.  However, for the life of me, I can't seem to remember what it said.

I was in pure survival mode at this point. Andy's wife Tracy passed me here. Now all the Dutri were beating me. Thankfully their child is only like a year old or so, or she might have passed me too.

Last 3.3 miles

After the trot through the neighborhood I could not have been more pleased to see the mile 7 sign.  I had actually picked up the pace by about ten seconds through the neighborhood and thought perhaps I could put together a nice push at the end. But I knew I was going to be running by personal worst at the distance so did it really make sense to push harder to run a slightly better personal worst which would still be horrifically slow?  Now sitting at home I can say I could have pushed harder. During the race the answer was "Hell, no."

I knew this race had a tough bridge to finish on. I heard some people say it was a killer. I heard others say it wasn't so bad, it was just the placement of it. To the latter, I would say then by definition it is bad because you don't get to pick and choose when you run over it!  In either case, I knew I was not very happy about it at all. As we turned north to the Hart Bridge, it curved out of sight. At first you couldn't tell how far it went. You just simply had to run it.

One of the nicest touches that his bridge had was a series of speakers set every 18 feet pumping music to try and help you get to the top of the bridge. I say every 18 feet because it was three strides for me. I counted. I wasn't running fast. I wasn't racing. I was just trying to survive. So I was distracting myself with things like counting speakers.

Twice in this climb I had to stop and walk. I was beat. There was next to nothing in the tank. I also remembered that I had a two mile run to get back to my hotel after this whole thing was done. As such, ten seconds of walking wasn't going to hurt.

Another nice touch this race has is the Downhill Mile. Starting at the top of the Hart Bridge, there is a timing mat that measures the last mile of the course. Normally, this is the type of thing I would eat up. I love downhills. I race them well. But there was none of that today. I looked at the long sloping hill, the curving off ramp and the finishing arch in the distance. It might as well have been 5 miles off. With 800 meters to go I saw one man staggering. I had already seen this on two other occasions earlier in the race. I so want to know these guys stories.Were they acclimated and just had a bad day?  Were they from colder climes and weren't ready like me?  I wish I could just download data on every runner I passed so I could hear their story.

Luckily, here, the runner had three buddies with him (or maybe kind strangers) who were helping him move along. One was forcing water down his throat while two others guided him. I have said it a thousand times and will say it again; runners rock.

I finally was able to pull myself together and stumble across the finish in a time of 1:08:52.  This was somewhere in the top 500 or so which was obviously no where close to what I thought was possible. Furthermore, to fill you in on what the conditions were like, as I mentioned above, the last person to break an hour the previous year was 209th overall. This year only 138 people had that honor. That should tell you something about the conditions.

I came to Jacksonville looking for a race to live up to all the hoopla. Rarely any race does but that doesn't mean it still isn't one you should put on your calendar. This is not only does but one that is going in my next book. Just hope for cooler temperatures when you run it!

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