Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Texas Ten Series - Conroe Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 12; 18th Edition 
178.5 miles run and 8350 meters swam in races in 2018 races
Race: Texas Ten Series - Conroe
Place: Conroe, TX
Miles from home: 168
Weather: 50 degrees; sunny

We run races, or at least we should, because we don't know what is going to happen on race day. By and large, our training evens out in the end.  When a week goes by, most of the runs go moderately the way we think they will. But on race day we ask more of ourselves, often more than we should.  Sometimes our body responds; most of the time it doesn't. Racing is hard. Unlike virtually every other sport, there is no rest, no reprieve, no timeout. The clock starts and away we go. This is nothing new and I myself have waxed philosophic about it many times (or at least have tried to do so). But it is worth reminding myself to think about how taxing racing is, regardless of the outcome.

With only one official ten-mile finish under my belt, I knew this race was going to be one of two things - a personal best or a personal worst. On the Thursday and Friday before the race, I had two of the worst workouts I have had all year. The weather was unseasonably warm here in Austin but it wasn't horrible. Nevertheless, I was reduced to a shuffle on a few occasions. I had thought about not even going to the race. Then I saw the weather was going to be almost the coldest weather I had raced in all year. I figured that I had to at least taken advantage of this break.

Race Morning:
As I waited in the porta-potty line I was shivering just a bit in my singlet and quite happy about that.  Above use the sky was hewn in two with bright blue on one side and a cloudy haze on the other. I had never seen anything quite like it before in my life. The entirety of the sky, cut right down the middle was like this. I stood staring and finally asked out loud: "Anyone have any idea why the sky is like that?"  This one gentleman two people in front of me in line exclaimed “THANK YOU!” Apparently I was not the only one staring up at the sky in wonderment.  Third chap started to tell us what exactly it was but I can’t recall the explanation. I was just happy to be slightly cold for a race.

We had a bit of a delay to the start as the race organizers were kindly waiting for the bathroom line to shrink down in size. As the weather didn’t seem to call for any change of any nature over the next hour, there were only some slight grumblings of impatience. About ten minutes after our original start time, all runners in the chute, we were off.

First Loop:

I was really hoping to run this race around 6:30 per mile or faster. It is beyond frustrating how slow my ten mile PR is considering I have run many longer races at a faster pace. As some racers shot out like they had been launched by a cannon, I knew I wasn’t racing for any particular place today – only time. Leaving the school parking lot where the race started, we immediately climbed a small incline. Already this was a hillier race than the two others I have run in the Texas Ten series (I DNFd the first one I ran back in October after an abysmal run in the heat the day before. Read more here.) Evening out a bit, we made a right-hand turn and would run straight for the next mile or so. When we passed the first mile I was running hard but not too hard and hit 6:30 on the nose. I would have liked it a little faster for the effort I was giving.

Across an intersection and up ahead was the first of two 180 degree turnarounds in each loop. I know why these are done and each were on a wide enough turn that you didn’t lose much time slowing for them but I still dislike them. Already the leader of the race was more than a minute in front of me.  Good lord. I fell into a rhythm and was curious what Mile Two would show me. When it showed me a 6:52, I really hoped that the mile marker was off. I just had to wait until the third mile to see if that was the case.

Down a rather long and steady hill we ran making another right-hand turn to the other 180-degree turnaround. Another 6:52 mile presented itself on my watch.  Holy crap, am I going to actually run slower than my last race, I thought. The sun was just beginning to peak out over some of the treetops but the air was still crisp. We crested another rise of a hill and began a nice long downhill. I heard the footsteps of runner behind me and soon a grey-haired chap passed me. Good for you, old dude! The fourth mile marker was on another long sloping hill and produced another unfavorable time for me. To tell you the truth, I was more than a bit bummed.

As we approached the turn-around point at the five-mile mark, I heard a couple of pairs of footsteps behind me. Running directly into the sun I was a bit blinded, even wearing sunglasses. I wasn’t quite sure where the turn-around was to begin the second loop and soon a man and a woman were on my heels. It was clear that they were going to pass me but I thought they would wait the extra ten feet until we had cleared the cones on the turn. I was wrong. I almost ran off course trying to avoid the fast approaching runners and had to side step a cone. At the halfway point, I was one second faster than I had been at the Katy race a month ago. I had wanted to be about 90 seconds faster. Oh well.

Second Loop:

I was really hoping my energy wouldn’t flag too much. My legs felt strong but for some reason my lungs weren’t functioning very well. When I had checked the weather app on my phone that morning it had said “Bad Air Quality” but nothing seemed off for me. The couple in front of me had pulled ahead but then just sat there, a few yards in front of me. The thing about racing is that if someone passes you but then doesn’t continuing pulling ahead, it invigorates you. You draw from the fact that they couldn’t make a definitive move. I picked up the pace and was soon side-by-side with these runners. I felt assured my first mile of this loop would be the same as the first mile of the first loop. When it produced yet another 6:52, I was just beyond confused.

Up ahead I could see I was gaining on another runner.  I might not have been speeding up but at least I was making my way up the standings, as meaningless as that is in the higher tens of placement. I decided I would make my move here to begin to pick up the pace. We made the turn, went down a small hill and then made the right-hand turn onto the big downhill from the first loop. I might not be as fast as I want, and things might be up in the air as to where my racing is going, but one thing I can still do better than most of run downhill fast. Here I picked it up and passed this runner in front of me. I also kept my foot on the throttle refusing to allow him to keep up with me. Breaking his spirit also helped lift mine and speed me up. Regardless, as I passed the third mile, I had yet another less than impressive time. I saw that with two miles left, as long as they were both under seven minutes, I would at least not run a 1:09.

What slipped my memory was what my actual PR was at that Katy race. I knew it was around 1:08:30 but I did not know if it was under or over. That time didn’t matter because I didn’t think I would come close to threatening it. No matter what I surged or pushed mile after mile in this race they seemed to be the exact same time. The only outlier had been that first mile. With one mile to go, the same 6:52 popped up again.

Refusing to make it too close to that 1:09 I finally found a bit of strength and pushed as hard as I could. The past two miles had been the first time all race that my lungs finally opened up. I have a feeling I could have run five more miles at this pace and it would have felt easier than the first five miles of the race.

In spite of the undulating hills of the last mile, I was feeling strong. Buoyed by the downhill finish, I kicked it up a tick. As the clock was not exactly in sync with the actual race time (given our late start) I wasn’t exactly sure what the real race time was. I pushed hard nonetheless and finished in 1:08:37. Upon checking with my PR in the race from last month, I saw I missed setting a new personal best by two seconds. In other words, I had my personal worst. 

I did however, finished 18th overall and won my age group. But meh. The race was well stocked with an aid station every mile, even if I only took one sip from one of them. There were no crowds to speak of, as I think most Texans were freezing in the 50-degree weather. However, it was well-marked, with police manning the intersections and wonderful volunteers at all the turns. Even if I did spend the vast majority of the race alone (as I often do), the out-and-backs made it so you could see your competitors close behind and even some people you had spoken to on social media for quite some time and never met (Shout out to Laura who ran a new PR and was the female Master's winner!)

My struggles to race well since moving to Austin have been well chronicled on my website here. I don’t know if I am simply older now and no longer have a shot at setting PRs or if the combination of the heat here and my inability to train in it properly have just left me that much slower. A check on the weather for the next two weeks tells me I am going to have the most favorable two weeks of training of the entire year dating back to possibly January. The thing about racing is that we ride the highs and suffer the lows too much.   

We put too much stock in how well we do when we do well and how bad we performed when it doesn’t go our way. Unfortunately, my sample size of races hasn’t been large enough for me to make a definitive guess as to where I am right now. But I show up to the start of each race hoping to continue to run fast. I currently have no races for the rest of the year and while I love training, especially with the proposed forecast, I do know how well I perform when I race a great deal. So, there might be another race added before we pull curtain on this year. If so, I will toe the line and give it everything I have. 

Here’s hoping it doesn’t take as much as it has lately and doesn’t take as long.

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