Saturday, July 16, 2011

Race Recap: The Streetlight 5K by Dave Munger

(Originally posted on Mungerruns)

This summer I've been feeling like I haven't been performing up to my potential in training runs. I realize that it's partly due to the high temperatures and humidity, but it can be frustrating to feel exhausted after a run that wasn't even especially fast.

So I decided I needed to find a summer 5K race, to see how I could perform when running all-out in the heat. I picked the Concord Streetlight 5K, a 7:30 p.m. race that should be positively steamy in the North Carolina summer. Earlier this week, we've had temperatures in the 90s and even over 100 degrees one day. But for some reason the weather cooled off considerably today, so instead of 90-degree heat, at race time it was a comfortable 69 degrees -- almost unheard of around here this time of year. So much for seeing how I perform in the heat.

Oh well, I thought, I might as well give it my best race. Yesterday I previewed the race, finding this elevation profile of the course:

Note the large hill in the middle!

As you can see, the primary feature of the course is the large hill halfway through the race. What the profile doesn't show you, for some reason, is that the race starts with a short but significant downhill. And since it's an out-and-back race, you finish up the same hill. I much prefer flat or even slightly uphill starts, but clearly I was just going to have to suck it up and run the course I was given.

The plan was to run Mile 1 in 6:30, Mile 2, with its big hill, in 6:45, then see if I could hang on until the finish. At the start, the race announcer made the usual plea for racers to move to the front and more casual runners to head to the back. I was about where I wanted to be, in the second row, but a couple of girls clearly didn't think I was worthy, and pushed their way past me!

At the gun, we took off down the hill. The first challenge was a sharp left turn from the street onto a greenway -- nearly a hairpin turn. I was extremely impressed with a guy ahead of me who expertly negotiated it with a stroller! Stroller Guy ended up with a sub-19-minute time. Then the route was basically flat for the next mile. I passed a couple guys along this stretch and was breathing quite heavily. Could I maintain this pace?

We arrived at the Mile 1 marker, where a girl was calling out splits: "5:57, 5:58..." What? Had I really taken off that fast? I looked down at my own watch and saw it ticking 6:27, 6:28. She was a solid 30 seconds off, and I was right on pace. I swear it's more common for people calling splits in a race to be wrong than to be right. We ran through a playground and then finally hit the hill. It wasn't actually very steep, just a gradual incline, but it clearly was causing problems for some of the runners. I passed 3 or 4 people in this section. Then, before I knew it, the turnaround was 50 meters ahead. I sped up as I approached, knowing I'd get a bit of a rest on the way back down. Heading down, I saw quite a few runners walking on the way up this hill. Methinks some people need to get off the treadmill and run in the actual world, hills and all.

The next couple runners were about 60 meters ahead of me. Would I be able to pass them before the finish? I reached the 2-mile marker without gaining ground. "12:58, 12:59..." I looked at my watch and saw 13:15. Sigh. My Mile 2 pace according to Garmin was 6:52 -- pretty close to my target.

Now it would just be a matter of hanging on until the finish. I wasn't feeling like I could pick up the pace, but I definitely didn't want any of the guys I had passed on the hill to pass me. I kept it up and reached Mile 3 at a 6:50 pace. Now all I had to do was run up that steep hill to the finish line. Somehow I managed to pick up the pace, even with the uphill finish, and I stopped my timer at 20:39. My official time was 20:37 -- a definite PR for the 5K, beating my previous best of 21:30 by almost a full minute. The average pace per mile was a smokin' 6:37.

When I went to see the results posted, I grimaced. My time was listed as "Dave Munor." That's what I get for filling out my application by hand 30 minutes before the race instead of registering online in advance! Oh well... It was still good for 19th overall out of 330 competitors, and third place in my age group. Here are the official results. Here's the obligatory self-portrait after the race:

And here's the award I got -- pretty snazzy for a race with a $15 entry fee!

I also got a nice tech t-shirt, and the race was timed with D-tags, so it was a real bargain.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Firecrackers, Peaches, Bears, And More!

by Bobby Aswell, Jr.

Anyone that knows me knows that I love to race!  In fact, my wife says that I’m a ‘racer’, not a ‘runner’.  Needless to say, even I was a little surprised to see that I had 4 races scheduled the first week of July.  It wasn’t planned, it just happened!

Things kicked off on Saturday, July 2nd, with the Firecracker 5K at the Huntersville Family Fitness & Aquatic Center.  Always a fun race, it combines a competitive field of about 500 runners with a fairly fast course that starts and finishes downhill.

The race started at 8:00 am with the heat and humidity already taking their toll.  With the downhill start, most runners blasted out of the blocks to take ‘advantage’ of the downhill.  I started out conservatively gradually making my way through the field in the first mile, settled in the second mile, and picked up the pace in the third mile passing a few runners in the process finishing in 18:48, 1st age.  After a quick cool down, I signed up for a free massage, ate some goodies, and then attended the awards ceremony before heading home.

Kicking it in at the finish!
The adventure continued in Atlanta on the 4th of July with my favorite race of the year, the Peachtree Road Race 10K.  For each of the past 23 years, regardless of where I’ve been, I’ve always managed to make my way to Atlanta on July 4th to run the race, coming from as far away as Los Angeles, California.  Despite the challenging course and tough conditions, I keep going back for more and don’t plan to stop any time soon!

Starting at 7:30 am in front of Lenox Square in Buckhead, the course is very challenging!  The first 3 miles offer a combination of flat, rolling, and downhill before the real fun begins in mile 4 with ‘Cardiac Hill!’  It doesn’t look so bad but in the middle of a 10K in the middle of the summer, it’s awful!  You continue uphill in mile 5 before finally getting some relief in the 6th mile with a downhill finish into Piedmont Park.

The Big Peach!
My splits were slower than planned the first 3 miles and needless to say, didn’t improve any the last 3 miles.  I ended up finishing in 39:19 but did receive one of the Top 1000 finisher awards.  I was a little disappointed with my time as I was shooting for 38 minutes but due to the conditions, I guess it wasn’t too bad an effort.  I believe the winner, a Kenyan, summed it up best when he said, ‘It’s just too hot!’

Next up was a race I’ve heard about for years but had never run, ‘The Bear.’  My wife ran the race back in 2003 and raved about it!  She said that I definitely needed to run it so I finally took the plunge and signed up this year.

A ‘must do’ race, ‘The Bear’ is a 5 miler that runs from Linville, NC to the top of Grandfather Mountain climbing 1541 feet in the process.  It’s one of the few races where you’re in oxygen debt from the start!  The hills are relentless and seem to never end with the 4th and 5th miles being extremely brutal.

One unique aspect of the race is that is starts on a Thursday night at 7:00 pm.  For me, this worked out great because it gave me the opportunity to pick up another race during the week!  I left home at 3:15 pm and arrived in Linville 2 hours later.  Packet pick-up was under a tent in the parking area so I grabbed my bib number and t-shirt and headed back to the Jeep for a little relaxation before the ‘climb’ began.

Knowing the views would be fantastic, I decided to carry my camera and snap some photos along the way.  After a few announcements, all of the runners piled into the street for the start command and we were off.  The course starts on pavement but quickly switches over to gravel for most of the first 3 miles.  After entering McRae Meadows, runners run a partial lap on the track where the Highland Games take place before proceeding onto the paved road that leads to the top of Grandfather Mountain for the final 2 mile climb.

Awesome view after The Bear!
After finally making my way around the last switchback, I finished in 42:35 and received one of the very nice Top 10% finisher awards.  The views at the top of the mountain were breathtaking and well worth the climb!  After enjoying the view for a while, I took the shuttle back to the parking area to get ready for the drive home.  On the way, I stopped at McDonald’s and wolfed down a Big Mac, 2 apple pies, and large sweet tea, delicious!

Saturday morning brought the 4th and final race on the list, the Grandfather Mountain Marathon.  Even though I had run the race 6 times previously, I didn’t know what to expect this year having run ‘The Bear’ less than 36 hours earlier:  would my legs hold up?  would my body be too tired?  Only time would tell!

Each of the prior times I’ve run the marathon, I’ve stayed in Boone the night before.  This year, I decided to try something different and drive up race morning.  I definitely would’ve caught the worm as I was up at 2:50 am!  After a quick shower, some coffee, and performing a last minute gear check, I was out the door and on the road at 3:15 am.  The drive went by quickly and I arrived at Kidd Brewer Stadium on the campus of Appalachian State University a little after 5:00 am.  After a pit stop, I picked up my packet and headed back to the car to relax before the 6:30 am start.

With the starting temperature in the mid 60's, along with 100% humidity, it was going to be a tough day for racing.  One last pit stop and I was ready to roll so I headed over to the track for the start.  After 1 1/2 laps around the track, we proceeded out of Kidd Brewer Stadium and exited the campus thereby starting the nonstop climbing and descending to McRae Meadows and the finish on the track during the Highland Games.  The uphills wear on you and the downhills can as well.  One of the most difficult portions of the course occurs around mile 16.5, a long, steep climb up a gravel road.  I ran well to this point but was never able to fully recover from that hill.  I continued passing runners and did my best to hang on to the finish.

Nearing the finish line in Grandfather #7!

With about a ½ mile to go, I entered McRae Meadows and made the final climb to the track at the Highland Games finishing in 3:24:19, 2nd age.  Afterwards, I sat in a chair for an hour trying to catch my breath and recover.  During this time, both of my legs went into full leg cramps at the same time causing extreme pain!  Several medical staff worked on my legs for a few minutes and the cramps finally went away.  I finally recovered, picked up my award, and took the shuttle back to Boone for the drive back home.

All in all, it was a great 7 days of racing!  I ran with a lot of friends, finished each of the races healthy, and lived to race another day!  What’s next?  Who knows!  Maybe I’ll try to break my record of 5 races in 36 hours!  Wanna join me?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Huntersville Firecracker 5K by Mark Ippolito

Here's DARTer Mark Ippolito's report on the Huntersville Firecracker 5K

After re-injuring my left hamstring at the Pawz to Run 5K in Davidson in April, and then shuffling through Kings Mountain Marathon in SC one week later, I swore off all future 5K’s. I passed on Our Boys in Concord, Main Street in China Grove, Upgrade in Birkdale, and others. My friend Mark Schlegel asked me to do Upgrade (which I declined), and then the Firecracker 5K on July 2nd. He is getting back into running after a long layoff, and I guess he wanted me as a benchmark for his progress. I looked up the course profile, and noting that it is relatively flat, I decided to give it a try, even though I have Grandfather Mountain and/or San Francisco Marathons coming up. I don’t learn from my mistakes, and I signed up.

I peeked out of my back door on the morning of the race, noting that it was cooler with lower humidity, so it looked like it was going to be a good day for a race (this wouldn’t last of course). Packet pick up was easy on Friday, and onsite registration looked very well organized on race day. The starting line was on the east side of Verhoff, down from HFFA. I jogged partway down to the start and then walked the last part with fellow DART-ers Johane and Marc Hirschfield (Marc had photo and child watch duties for this one after running it last year), and my friend Mark (a potential BARF-er). As we approached, we saw some very serious looking Charlotte Running Company guys toeing the line, with our DART friends Todd Hartung and Bobby Aswell in close proximity. Johane and I took position in mid-pack. I wanted to stay a little further back so not to make the mistake of trying to chase down Bobby and Todd like I did at Pawz to Run before I limped home to the finish. Suddenly, without any build-up, the gun went off and the race started.

Serious looking crew there. Todd and Bobby have the CRC guys covered though.

One problem with being honest in your start position, is that you have to weave your way through the delusional people who should really be at the back of the pack, but I did manage to break through by the end of Verhoff at 21. This was mainly a downhill portion and I came in at 6:32 for mile one, which was a little faster than I wanted to go (but heck, it was downhill and adrenaline was going). As I turned up 21, I could see the lead pack WAY off in the distance, and realized that this was going to be a competitive event. They were even further away as we made the turn onto Mt Holly-Huntersville. I settled in to a comfortable rhythm and was trying to keep an even pace to break 21 minutes (I didn’t…oh well!). Marc had briefed Johane, Mark and I about mile 2 being a steady uphill climb, so we were ready for it. It was into the wind, which kept us cool too. But when the direction changed on this loop course, it seemed to jump 5 degrees per mile, and by the time the wind was at our backs, it was HOT. Mile 2 was 6:52.

During mile 2, I noticed that there was a boy running in front of me who looked to be about 10 years old. He was doing a pace equal to mine, which typically means he will fade as the race goes on, since most kids tend to blow out on mile one, incapable of pacing. The problem was, he wasn’t fading. Now I was facing the grim reality that I may get beat by a 10 year old. Ouch. I pointed out the boy to a runner my age next to me , whose one-word panting comment was, “depressing.” I pushed through mile three, overtook the boy prior to turning onto 115 (no, I did not elbow him or taunt him as I passed) and headed on to Verhoff. Mile 3 time was the same as mile 2. It was getting very warm at this point, and after turning back onto Verhoff, it was essentially downhill. The start mat was moved back to HFFA near the front doors to make it 3.11 miles. I kicked to the end and saw Bobby taking pictures of DART’ers at the finish line, and came in at 21:15, which was a PR for me by 3 seconds.

Look in the background. Those pesky 10 year olds trying to pass the old man. HA! Eat my dust!

As I looked around, I also saw Todd at the water table, working the room. We chatted about the heat, and I turned back to the finish line to look for the rest of our group.

Todd finishing strong. His best work, however, was yet to come.

Mark S. came in a few minutes later, followed shortly by Johane. Apparently he looked down at a water station to pour water on his head and rear-ended another runner who for whatever reason had completely stopped moving. He twisted his ankle and limped in in ~26 minutes. Johane came in right behind him, our top female DART finisher.

Johane finishing strong!

Afterwards, they had a nice selection of Powerbars, water, poweraid, fruit, bagels, etc. Results were posted quickly inside the air-conditioned building. I was 7th in my age group, 67th overall, last among the DART finishers. A little disappointing, BUT NO LIMP THIS TIME!!

At the finish. The nearest I got to Bobby all day. Johane looking fresh. Thanks Marc for taking the picture with me in mid-chew.

I stayed afterwards with Marc and Johane and watched Julia Hirschfield perform quite well in the kids fun run. A star may be born.


The next generation DART-er. Chad, get her a DART shirt! Look at that stride! I think I see a young Kara Goucher.

After I left, Todd rocked the house in the cannonball contest, winning his age group (is there anything he can’t place in?). Marc Hirschfield said it was a fantastic display of splash-prowess.

Overall, it was well organized. The course was very fair, easy to follow, and well staffed by volunteers and police. I’d do it again. Maybe next time in under 21 minutes?

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Ups and Downs of My Summer Vacation

by Chad Randolph

When my wife and I lived in southern California nearly a decade ago I used to run down to Laguna Beach from home and back.  That constituted one of my weekly long runs, though I didn't know the exact distance (this being before GPS-enabled watches).  On the way back home from Laguna I would have to walk up a good portion of Park Ave., as it's pretty steep.

Last week we were on vacation with our son and stayed in Laguna.  I figured that I'd recreate the route in reverse.  In addition to asphalt there is a healthy amount of fire road, which I especially liked.

A little slice of nature
A small section of Park Ave. heading inland and upland

Unsure if founded by Thurston Howell, III
Fire road leading down to Aliso & Wood Canyon
Taking a breather in 64 degree weather
On the downside, what I thought was 14 or so miles is only ten.  However, the total elevation gain of 1,578 made it a challenging run (and walk).  No wonder my legs were sore the following day.

Lung buster!