Going into this one, I knew I was missing the necessary long runs, but given how flat and straightforward this race is I figured I could settle into a good rhythm and run a solid time, somewhere in the 1:15 (great day) and 1:17 (solid day) range. Tim and Linda put the pressure on me early by giving me bib number one - I guess I earned it as the defending champ thought. They did packet pickup a couple days early at Big Peach Running Co. in Suwanee, which was great for me since the store is about 10 minutes from my house. I was able to grab my number on Saturday, which made Monday morning a little more relaxing. Of course, I took that too far and ended up getting out the door a touch late.
When I got to Fowler Park where the race starts I got a very quick warm up in before making my way to the track for the 7:30 a.m. start. The earlier start time was perfect as the temperature was comfortable with moderate humidity. That's the sweet spot down here this time of year. In the mornings you get lower temps - low 70s - with humidity in the 60-70 percent range. As the temperature climbs it burns the humidity off, but around 10 am you hit this rough patch where it's hot and humid, so the early start meant a lot of people finished just before it started to get brutal.
On the starting line, I recognized Andrew Catanese who had beaten me a few weeks before at the Harbins trail half marathon, so I knew I was going to be in for a challenge. I also spotted a young looking kid in a college singlet. Turned out to be from Augusta State - a D2 school down here. At that moment I started to think about when I was the mid 20s guy at these races. Now I'm the old dude trying to keep up with the 20-25-year-olds. I figured they would either take things out very fast like Andrew did at Harbins or they'd wait and try to feel out the first few miles. Guess which one they went with?
Yup, they hammered. After about a quarter mile I was 15 yards back and glanced down at my watch to see five-minute pace. 'Okay, this is too fast' I thought and I eased off a bit. I thought on a great day I could run 5:45-50, 5:50-6:00 on a good day and 6:10+ on a not so great day. With that in mind, I told myself to relax and settle in. If they were going to run 1:10, I was never going to see them again but there was a pretty good chance that if I ran steadily I could close some ground in the second half of the race.
I was still a little quick through the first mile, 5:28 according to my Strava splits. The first mile is a little bit downhill, so I brushed it off as being a fairly normal first mile that wouldn't adversely impact the later parts of the race. After that first mile, I did a good job of settling into my own rhythm and just running my race. The course following the greenway/bike path for about four miles before you hit the first turn around. I rattled off 5:49, 5:54, and 5:56 for miles 2-4. At that point, I knew that's where I was going to be all day. I felt pretty comfortable - even with nine miles still to go - and despite being down around a minute at the first turn around I felt like my best racing was still in front of me.
After the turnaround, the course retraces it's steps back to Fowler Park before continuing to the 10-mile turnaround. Bolstered by all the other runners cheering for me as I ran by them I ran 5:47 for mile five then 5:54 for the sixth mile. Shortly after I went through six miles, the course drops into a massive open field. I could see the two leaders ahead of me, still a long way off but I could tell that the young gun - Noah Hulett - was starting to drift back a little. I figured if kept plugging away I might be able to bring him back since we still had more than half of the race to go.
|First race in the XTERRA kit but I'll always be Wild Endurance|
I kept grinding my way through the next couple miles - 5:59 and 5:56 - despite losing sight of both guys up front after we crossed over a road and started winding through the woods and back along the creek. The race basically breaks down to quarters.
1 - Fowler Park to Bethelview Road (turn around one)
2 - Bethelview road back to Fowler Park (halfway-ish)
3 - Fowler Park to 10-mile turnaround
4 - 10-mile mark to finish.
The first half of the race is mostly concrete with some boardwalk mixed in, while the second half in mostly boardwalk with some concrete mixed in. The boardwalk is nice on the legs as the race wears on, you get a little bit of bounce from it so it feels softer on the body. I was enjoying the first long section of boardwalk when I caught another glimpse of Hulett up ahead. I couldn't tell exactly how far up he was but I'd definitely cut into his lead. I ran 5:56 for mile eight and 5:57 for mile nine. At this point, I could see I was really eating into his advantage all of the time.
I told myself to focus on staying in rhythm and thought that if I kept at it I could pull him back right around the 10-mile turnaround. Mile 10 was 5:52, so the chase was certainly on. I drew within striking distance just before the turnaround and moved past him about 100 yards after we started heading back for the final 5k. I didn't waste any time as I felt like my best chance to distance him was to try and keep rolling. I immediately moved past him and tried to put in a little surge. I thought that if I could carry the surge to the 11-mile mark that it would carry me home.
Clipping off the 11th mile in 5:42 was pretty much exactly what I was hoping for. I dropped Hulett and stretched things out nicely. I really wanted to keep pushing because I felt like I'd run a really smart race to that point and that I had a chance to make my last 5k the best part of the race. I was 5:51 for the 12th mile, so I slowed a little bit but my tempo was still better than it was for the majority of the race. At that point, all that was left to do was bring it home.
Once I got off the final section of boardwalk I started to really feel the effort. I think the switch to concrete was the thing that did it. This left me in full on grind it out mode in the last mile. I made the turn back onto the access path that leads back into the park and was greeted with the cruelest short climb. I've run this course a ton of times and normally Amanda and I will race up it at the end (she's on her bike) but something about 12+ hard miles on your legs made it seem a lot longer and steeper.
I crested the top of it and made my way onto the track for the finish, with my watch beeping 5:49 right as I started my final point one on the oval. I tried to open up the legs a little bit and crossed the line in 1:16:39 for a very solid second place. I ended up a little bit more than a minute down on Andrew (1:15:30) but two more than two minutes into Hulett over the final 5k (1:18:47).
Full Splits (according to Strava the total time was 1:16:42)
1 - 5:28
2 - 5:49
3 - 5:54
4 - 5:56
5 - 5:47
6 - 5:54
7 - 5:59
8 - 5:56
9 - 5:57
10 - 5:52
11 - 5:42
12 - 5:51
13 - 5:49
0.1 - 4:51
I was really happy with how the race turned out. I knew I wasn't going to be able to run with Andrew. That was obvious after Harbins, but I ran my race. I ran smart, smooth, and consistent and that allowed me to hunt down second place even when things looked a little bleak after the first quarter of the race. Sometimes it's tough to be getting older and getting worked by young dudes but it's nice to use a little veteran guile to show that I've still got it.
Here's what things looked like on Strava:
After the race, I hung out for a bit chatting with a few of the regulars. I ended up with a nice haul for second, getting some Bai Black, a $30 gift card to Fleet Feet, and a free burrito at Barberitos. When I eventually made my way back home, Amanda had made some homemade donuts, chocolate frosted and maple frosted. They were delicious. We pretty much spent the rest of the day hanging out and eating. After the donuts, I made some bacon cheddar burgers then zonked on the couch. Not a bad Memorial day if you ask me