Saturday, April 9, 2011

Race Recap: The Elizabeth 8K by Dave Munger

(Originally posted on Mungerruns)

With just three weeks to go before the Big Sur Marathon (my first), I wanted to do one last tune-up race to make sure I'm still firing on all cylinders. Ideally it would have been a 10K, but those seem to be harder and harder to come by these days, so I settled on the Elizabeth 8K. It's a race with a long tradition in Charlotte, so it's quite popular, with over 500 registrants (compared to just 204 in the St. Leo 10K).

I've never run an 8K before, so I spent some time yesterday coming up with a strategy for the race: I wanted to run 6:50 per mile for the first three miles, then slow a bit on the uphill Mile 4, and pick it up for the final .97 miles in Mile 5. Overall I was hoping for a 35:00 time or better — under a 7-minute-mile pace.

Race registration was cheerful and efficient, with a new kind of race chip I'd never seen before — a flexible strip of plastic that you slide under your shoelaces. It seemed similar to the in-bib chips they had at the National Half Marathon, but you still had to place it on your shoe.

Thankfully, the lines at the porta-johns weren't long at all.

The race was started by a guy in an Elvis suit, who was really getting into the act, waving a big "E" flag and interacting with all the runners. He saw my knee brace and pulled up his pantleg to reveal that he had a similar injury. Then we were off. I was breathing hard, but the pace didn't feel too labored. There wasn't a lot of passing at the start, so I think most of us had placed ourselves about right (I was about 15 feet behind the starting line).

The first mile was a very slight uphill, a total of about 50 vertical feet. I completed it in 6:28, a little faster than planned. I tried to slow my pace a bit for Mile 2, which was mostly flat. Garmin recorded it as minus 20 vertical feet, but I swear there was a little uphill too. I finished the mile in 6:42, still a little faster than I'd planned. On the plus side, I had banked 50 seconds in my quest for a sub-7-minute pace.

I had planned to get a bit of a breather in Mile 3, which looked to be downhill from the elevation chart I found online:

But Garmin elevation charts are notoriously fussy, and this turned out to be no exception. The first part of Mile 3 was actually uphill; the downhills don't really start until after about 2.5 miles. I did finally get my breather, but it didn't last quite as long as I had hoped it would be. My Mile 3 split was 7:03, so I still had 47 seconds in the bank.

Mile 4, however, was true to the elevation chart: It was solidly uphill. My Garmin record tracked it as 66 vertical feet; it felt like a fair bit more than that. Somewhere during Mile 3, a guy about my age wearing a sun visor had passed me, and I was trying to keep him in my sights. But Visorman stayed steadily about 20 meters ahead of me, now matter how hard I tried to gain ground on him. I thought my hill training might help me reel him in during Mile 4, but it was no use. My Mile 4 split was 7:27, so I still had 20 seconds in the bank.

In fact, I might have had a bit more than that: Unlike most races I've been in, my Garmin was tracking this course a little short. So my mile split was recorded a little farther past each mile marker as I ran along. I think this might be because of the large number of sharp turns in the course; the GPS can sometimes clip corners.

I expected Mile 5 to be basically flat with a downhill finish. In fact, it started on a bit of an uphill. I probably should have pushed myself a little harder than I did here, because I was so close to the finish, but I was still tired from Mile 4. I also think my lack of experience with 8Ks didn't help: In every other common race distance, the race is just a bit longer than a round mileage: 5Ks are 3.1 miles, 10Ks are 6.2 miles, and half-marathons are 13.1 miles. 8Ks, by contrast, are 4.97 miles. So the last mile isn't even a mile long, whereas when you start Mile 6 of a 10K, you've actually still got 1.2 miles left. In an 8K, I now realize, you can start pushing the pace sooner.

This all meant I was surprised to see the finish line when it arrived. I had plenty of energy left for a full-out sprint to the finish, as I watched the clock tick upwards starting at 34:00 flat. There was no question I'd break 35 minutes; the only question was by how much.

I crossed the line at 34:20, ten seconds behind Visorman (who turned out to be a very nice guy named Kent Walker, and he was indeed in my age group). I ran the final .97 miles (or .93 according to my Garmin) at a 7:13 pace. I think if I'd been a bit more aggressive on that final mile I might have been able to do it in 6:50, putting me safely under 34 minutes. But all in all, I'm happy with the result. I was shooting for a sub-35-minute run at a sub-7-minute pace, and I did it in 34:20 and a 6:55 pace. Here's the obligatory post-race self-portrait:

The race results have been posted here. I finished 5th in my age group and 27th overall out of 506 finishers. Although the results aren't broken down by gender, it looks like I was 23rd out of 233 men, which puts me in the top 10 percent—I think that's the best I've ever done. My 6:55 pace was actually faster than my 6:56 5K PR pace (albeit on an easier course). So even though I faded a bit at the finish, this is a pretty good result, and gives me a lot of confidence going into Big Sur.

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