Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Race Recap: 2011 Kannapolis Nutrithon

by Charles A. Willimon

On August 20th, the Kannapolis Rotary and many other area sponsors of all sizes held their second annual Nutrithon.  This race had three events: a 5k run, 8k run, and a duathlon (5k run, 25k bike ride, 3k run).  Having run several 5ks and 10ks, and preferring the 10k distance, I registered for the 8k.  I had a couple of factors to help give me an edge in approaching this race.  First, the 8k course kept mainly to the area of Kannapolis in which I teach school, so I knew the route well.  Second, I had been spending the last few months training for my first marathon with several seasoned DART runners who inadvertently had me stepping up my game week by week.

Two weeks before the race, I went out to preview the course and run at my target pace.  Still being not too long off an injury, I decided to set my goal at 37:30 for an average pace of 7:30 minutes per mile.  The preview gave me a great summary of what to expect: two fast miles in the beginning, a fairly challenging hill in the third mile, and a flat, straight last two miles.  I started out the preview at closer to my 5k pace, and I paid for it after the third mile.  It was all I could do to keep up with my projected splits after that.  Average pace on the practice run: 7:29 (and sucking wind).

Race day came and I felt informed and prepared.  The race was to start and end in front of the main building at the new North Carolina Research Campus that now stands where the old Cannon textile mill (for which Kannapolis is named) once stood.  It was a great day for running; there was nice cloud cover, and the air was still cool from some rain earlier in the morning.  I was the first runner on site—a product of my stubborn punctuality—which afforded me a lot of walking around and loosening up time.  Here, I should mention that I was operating on five hours' worth of sleep.  Being a part-time musician on the side, I played a gig the night before the race and did not arrive home until after midnight.  Hopefully, the race would be over before the sleep deprivation set in.

Among the other early arrivals were some runners with whom I ultimately would interact during the race.  There was Mike (from Charlotte Running Club), Phillip, Carly, Jean, and another lean, game-faced runner who I will call John Doe.  Sorry, John Doe, but I never got your name!  I could tell even before runners started warming up that these early arrivals were to be my primary competition.

I timed my race preparation to the minute.  At 15 minutes prior to the start, I downed a gel with a cup of water and started some dynamic stretching.  I got some strange looks as I was doing some tangle-footed drills I had gleaned from a workout with (two-time Olympian) Anthony Famiglietti to open up my hips and set my balance in order.  At 5 minutes prior, I worked in a half-dozen strides to get the rest of the cobwebs out.  As I walked to the starting line, I noticed I was the only DARTer in the field of about 45 racers for the 8k.  Naturally, I politely worked my way to the front of the pack, toeing the start line.  Mike, Phillip, Jean, Carly, and John Doe were all either shoulder to shoulder with me, or right behind me.  Yep, these were the ones who came to compete, alright.

At the starting gun, Mike and John Doe tore ahead at what appeared to be a sub-5:00 initial pace.  I knew I would watch them for a mile or so, and they would disappear for good after that.  In the first 200 yards, Phillip passed me with long legs and a long stride.  I had half a mind to try and keep Phillip’s pace, but I was already running faster than I had planned for the beginning of the race, so I let him go and kept him in least for a little while.  Around the first half-mile, Carly crept up on me and passed me.  I had seen Carly last spring at a 5k, and kept pace with her for a little more than two miles during that race, but she eventually pulled away.  This day, she was looking faster than last spring, so I let her go uncontested as well.  This would prove to be a wise decision.  As we left the Research Campus property, crested a short hill along the Loop Road, and then turned right onto the surface streets.  From here, there was a steep downhill for about 600 yards leading to the Baker Creek Greenway.  My Garmin sounded off the first mile as I entered the greenway.  I paced 6:41 for the first mile.  While I felt I could have gone faster, I reminded myself to save up for the hill I would see after about another mile.

The wide, smooth greenway was shaded by a nice canopy of trees, and the sounds of a babbling creek were a nice compliment to the cadence of shoes on asphalt.  As I was locking in to a good pace and letting the mind relax a little, I heard a “WOOOOOO,” from somewhere not too far behind me.  “WOOOOOO,” the booming voice yelled, “I’m comin’ to get ya, DART!  WOOOOOO!”  As I said, I was the only DARTer at this race—at least the only one wearing a DART singlet—so I assumed this boisterous taunt was directed at me.  I resisted the urge to glance back at my pursuer and focused on maintaining my pace in the low 7’s.  I still cannot tell you what he looked like, because he never did catch up with me.  At 1.5 miles, Jean came shoulder-to-shoulder with me.  “Use me,” she shouted, “and I’ll use you!”  I should mention that Jean was at least twenty years my senior, so I was determined not to let her break ahead of me.  Before we left the greenway, a short sprinkling of raindrops gave us some nice refreshment.  There was a water station just before the two mile mark.  Feeling good, I passed on the water, but Jean screamed for a cup and scared the volunteers half to death in doing so.  Mile two chimed off (at a 7:05 pace) just before we stepped off the greenway and back onto the Loop Road.

The first half of mile three was the hill for which I had been saving my energy.  The initial slope was the steepest, so I dug in and pumped my arms.  Jean certainly felt the effects of the hill right away.  She dropped in behind me, single-file, but she stayed right on my heels for the length of the hill.  After we crested the hill, we took a sharp turn on Allen Street for a block and then a left on Ridge Road to start a long straightaway.  Mile three went by at a 7:34 pace, which was a lot better than I had planned considering the elevation gain.  At this point, I was nearly a minute ahead of my goal pace.

Judging from the sound of her breathing, Jean was still fairly close behind me, and she had fans on the sidewalk in this neighborhood.  They shouted, “C’mon, Jean, catch this person!”  I smiled to myself, but I still did not glance back.  Ridge Road was relatively flat, with a gradual downhill after another half mile or so, but this lull in the race was fairly uneventful.  After intersecting the Loop Road yet again—it’s called “Loop Road” for a reason—we did a 180 around a short block and got on to Main Street, headed back the way we came parallel to Ridge Road.  The aforementioned gradual downhill was now a gradual uphill.  Here, Mile four chimed off, for which I managed a respectable 7:21 pace.  After another 500 yards or so, the domed top of the main building at the NC Research Campus came into view, so I had a nice visual of my destination.  At this point, I stole my first backward glance.  Jean was about 25 seconds behind me, and it looked as if the gap was widening.  Behind her, there were no other runners in view.  I knew the rest of the race was going to be solitary.  I still had gas in the tank, so I focused on gradually lengthening my stride and opening the throttle to avoid getting too complacent and slowing down.

Mile five sounded off at a 7:29 pace, but I had yet to round the corner back into the campus for the final straightaway.  Since 8k is a hair under five miles, this particular race was long by about a tenth of a mile.  Upon turning into the campus, I came into some other foot traffic from the 5k race, which started five minutes after the 8k and ended at the same line.  I dodged around a couple of 5k’ers and settled into a sprinting stride for the last .08 miles, which I took at a 5:49 pace.  My official time was 36:40, which was nearly a minute ahead of my goal, and sufficient for a PR pace of 7:13 for an 8k.  This was enough of a victory for me, but my results granted me first place in my age group as well, so I got to bring home a little hardware.  Jean finished about 45 seconds behind me, which earned her second place overall for females.  Carly had taken the first spot in that category with a time that flirted with 33 minutes.  Boy, was I glad I did not try to keep pace with her!  Carly had overtaken Phillip, who finished in the mid 34 minute range, but Mike and John Doe blew the top of the event.  Mike won the overall race at a blistering 28:32, and John Doe clocked in at 30:38.  John Doe’s goal was to break 30 minutes, which I am sure he would have done if the race were closer to eight true kilometers.

I was surprised by the amount of swag offered by the NC Research campus, Dole Foods, and CMC Northeast for such a seemingly small event.  Being a third grade teacher, I loaded my goodie bag full of dozens of giveaways for my classroom, and I enjoyed a very fulfilling pancake breakfast provided by the Kannapolis Rotary.  The clouds broke and gave way to bright sunshine as I collected my medal and made my way back to the car, anticipating a much need nap.  Overall, I was very pleased with this race, and I think I might just put in on my race calendar for next year.  Hopefully, some other DARTers will come along and help me represent!

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