When I get lost on a hike, the first thing I like to do when I get home is dig out the appropriate USGS map and figure where I went wrong. I call the exercise a topopsy. Similarly, after a race I like to take a few minutes to figure out what went right and what didn’t. Thus, a few minutes looking back at Saturday’s River Bound 15K at the National Whitewater Center in Charlotte.
Right Good positioning at the start, in the third row. Trail races are tricky: ideally, there’s a funnel start where you can, quickly, jockey for position and fall in with runners of similar pace. Once you hit the singletrack opportunities to pass can be rare and dicey. Thus it’s crucial to make the most of the 200 yards or so of double track before the trail narrows and disappears into the woods.
Wrong At the 1 Mile mark I glance at my watch: 7 minutes, 24 seconds. Yikes! At best, I’m a 9:10- to 9:20-minute miler on trail. Throttle back, buddy.
Wrong In theory cutting back is be a good idea. Yet here I am, at 57, bounding through the woods with a bunch of 20 and 30somethings. I feel great!
Wrong Mile 2: 14:48. Really, It’s hot, humid and I’ve got more than seven miles to go. My training has been OK, I tell myself, with three or four runs a week and four over 10 miles. But this pace: can it last?
Wrong Mile 3: 24:14. Better, but still just over 8-minute miles. It occurs to me that my 9:20-minute pace is for a six-mile training run. For a 10-mile run I was flirting with a 10-minute pace. I shouldn’t worry about the guy who’s been on my tail the last half mile: ease up and let him pass.
Wrong Mile 4: 33:18. Hmm, that guy’s still on my tail. If he’s half as spent as I am, he’ll drop soon.
Wrong Mile 5: 42:14. I can’t remember the last time I walked this much in a race, at least in a shorter race. True, most of it was an intense hill — Goat Hill, I believe it’s called. I’m sure I walked it faster than I could have run it. Still, walking … . Shoulda let that guy pass a mile and a half back.
Wrong Mile 6: 52:53. In trouble. Walking anything exceeding a moderate incline. My hill training was pretty good; this feels more like a nutrition issue. I haven’t bonked in a long while, but I’m sensing that that peanut-butter-and-banana toast I had more than four hours ago is long gone. While it’s not crazy hot — probably only the low-to mid-80s — it is crazy humid. I’m drenched, my glasses keep slipping down my nose and I can hear my feet squishing in my shoes. I don’t feel so well.
Right Mile 7: A friendly woman and her son are manning the water stop. “You look great!” she says. I cough out a laugh. Unlike the previous three water stops, where little plastic cups were flung aside 20- 30- 40-yards up the trail, the only cups here are right at the stop. “People making this a rest-stop?” I ask. “Except for the fast ones,” she says. “They don’t even need water.” At 57, stopping is risky because it’s so hard to get the body moving again. Still, I need water. I drink one cup, ask for a refill, down that and take a third. The woman who will win the 20-24 age group comes from behind, slows, takes a cup, keeps moving. When she’s 40 yards down the trail I rev up the machine and lumber on.
Right Mile 8: The water has worked wonders. I’m not flying; in fact, my sweat-stung eyes make it hard to read my watch, so I have no idea how I’m doing, timewise. But I have run the entire last mile, including a gradual climb, and it’s felt pretty good.
Right Mile 9: We emerge from the single track and there is Kimberley Hefner of Rock Hill, S.C., who finished about 10 minutes earlier to win the women’s overall division in 1:15:17. She’s returned to yell encouragement — well, selective encouragement. “You go, girl!” she yells to Catherine Quinn of Matthews, the soon-to-be 20-24 women’s winner who I’ve somehow managed to keep in sight. “Don’t let these boys catch you!” Hefner adds. Quinn explodes in a comic sprint.
Wrong Mile 9.3, the Finish. I finish strong, too strong. I once boasted about finishing strong in a race and was told, “Guess you didn’t leave it all on the course. You should finish with nothing.” Well, shoot: I have to finish with something — I still have to walk to the car and drive to Cary.
In the end I could have trained more, but for a 15K I was pretty comfortable with the number of miles I put in (between 22 and 36 per week over three months). But I certainly could have trained better. I have no training plan: I just go out and run, my distance typically dictated by how much time I have. Nutritionally, I may have been slack on race morning, and I certainly needed to do more to hydrate before the race and stay hydrated during the race.
With a smarter training program I could have shaved a couple minutes from my time. But 3 minutes and 51 seconds — the amount I would have needed to edge out Ludwik Zon, who won our age category (55-59)? Ludwik, I’m guessing, takes a different approach to training. It turns out he’s an accomplished ultra runner; last year he completed the Leadville Trail 100 [mile] race, much of which is above 10,000 feet, in just over 29 hours. A year earlier, he completed the mountain biking version of the Leadville 100 in just over 11 hours.
Standing on the podium looking up at Ludwik a thought occurred: This guy probably doesn’t wake up and decide on a whim whether he’s going to run or ride that day.