This past Sunday, my wife Sally and I ran the Westport Minuteman 10K, a race that we’ve run several times in all kinds of different weather conditions. This being an early spring race in coastal Connecticut, you’d sort of expect to see nice days with temps in the mid-50s, and for once that’s what sort of what we got. And since the race is located on one of my favorite beaches in Fairfield County, that meant we had a pretty nice morning lined up.
The Minuteman was our third race together this season. Both Sally and I have focused our early season’s training on the Fairfield Half-Marathon at the end of June, so this particular race served as a sort of checkpoint. With that said, Sally’s been much more focused on running than I’ve been, especially since I became the coach of the Milford YMCA Triathlon Club. Where Sally’s been putting in three or four runs per week, I’ve been running twice and riding when I can, hoping to then pivot my training to more of a run-focus after the Milford Y-Tri.
I can’t speak for Sally, but for me the week prior to the Minuteman was a deliberately scheduled Rest Week. I train on a four-week cycle, ramping up my mileage over the course of a typically three-week period before cutting back and resting in that fourth week to avoid burning out and/or basically breaking my body down too far in-season. The weekend prior to the race, April 21-22, 2012, was a Week 3—and therefore a burner. I put in a forty-four mile ride with Ben from my tri club on Saturday and then ran seven-and-a-half miles in the rain on Sunday the 22nd. Not surprisingly, I then felt like Hell on Monday the 23rd, and after that, I didn’t do much. I rode my bike into work on Wednesday and then swam really, really easy with my team later that night, but beyond that, my main goal was just to recover from hard training over the course of the preceding weeks. The day before the race Sally and I took the kids out to one of Connecticut’s state parks and hiked around a little bit, and I think that was a good pre-race exercise, but even then, really, we didn’t do much.
We woke up Sunday at six, got ready, got the kids, and headed down to Compo Beach. I wound up eating a banana and a Cliff bar pre-race—standard pre-race food. Sally ate a Cliff bar as well, and we pretty much split a bottle of Gatorade on the drive over.
Once we got to the beach, we parked, checked in, dropped the kids at the playground with Sally’s mother, and then started doing yoga. At that point, we had about an hour and fifteen minutes to go before the race started, and I think we must have done at least thirty-five minutes worth of yoga. I have a regular pre-race routine that I’ve used for a couple of seasons now, and of course, Sally was an accomplished practitioner long before I met her. Afterwards we dropped our mats and whatnot, changed shoes, warmed up with an easy half-mile of jogging, and then had a discussion about what we were gonna wear. When we’d arrived at the beach, the temperature had been in the mid-forties. By the time we were ready to head to the start line, it was in the low-to-mid-fifties, and we were dropping layers left and right. In the end, we both wore long sleeved tee-shirts with shorts and running caps. I eventually wished I’d gone with just a short sleeved tee shirt, but it was still breezy and more than a little chilly when we were headed to the start line, so at the time, the long sleeved shirt had seemed the way to go.
One thing we didn’t do that we both wished we’d done later was to take a bottle of Gatorade with us down to the start line. I know I felt thirsty all during the race, and Sally said she felt the same way. I don’t know that it affected our performances, but I was certainly sweating a lot and could’ve used the pre-race hydration.
In the pre-race email, the race directors specifically warned about crowding at the beach parking lots, noting that they expected up to fifteen hundred race participants. Certainly, this has been a crowded race in years past. However this particular year it seemed like more people ran the 5K race than ran the 10K, and in fact, when we all lined up, I marveled to Sally at how few people there were. As it happens, there were barely over two hundred-twenty actual racers in the 10K event, though to be fair, the folks who showed up could all run pretty damned well. What’s weird about that is that it’s been like that in every race so far this season. Only eighty-eight people total showed up for the Stratford YMCA Sweatheart Run this year—though granted, there were snow flurries that day—and Brian’s Beachside Boogie also had very low turnout. I don’t know what that means, but it seems like everywhere we go these days, Sally and I are seeing the hard core racers while the casual crowd is staying home. Maybe that’s better for our overall times, but it’s given my ego quite a battering.
In any event, Sally and I lined up, and since there weren’t a lot of folks there, we just got right up at the front. We were in the second row back, and I felt good about being there. But then the race director fired the starting gun, and the whole damned field just took off! Honestly, it was kind of unbelievable. At first, I let myself get swept along with the crowd. I’ve been training hard, and this was my first race of less than an hour in about a year. I decided to treat it like a tempo run and just lean into it and see what I could do.
That lasted for not quite two miles. At about the twelve minute mark, I realized that no matter how badly I wanted to race all of the rabbits, the reality was that I was running a little too hard. So I pulled back. Still, when I hit the two-mile mark, it was at exactly 15:00. I’d run the first two miles at an average of 7:30.
Compo Beach is a beautiful place. The Westport 10K leaves the beach and heads north, before turning left and winding around through a rather nice golf-course neighborhood. At about the two-mile mark, you turn to the right and start climbing, with the half-mile before the halfway point being the hardest part of the course. I finally started to reel some people in on that climb, but it only proved temporary. I hit the halfway point at almost exactly 24:00. I didn’t think I was gonna be able to even-split, but I was in high hopes of going under an eight-minute per mile average for the race, which is a thing I’ve only ever done once in my life, way back when I was in high school running with my dad.
Unfortunately, the next mile or so were a study in pain management. I’d gone out hard, and at just past the halfway point, it was starting to catch up with me. Emotionally, I started trying to deal with the fact that I might crack before the finish line. But I was lucky with the course. The fourth mile of the race was an easy downhill, maybe 2% grade, and I just tried to relax and breathe. I promised myself that I’d pick it up at the end if I had anything left, but in the meantime, I had to just run as loose—and hopefully as fast—as possible.
At the bottom of the hill—right around the 5-mile mark—we turned left out of the neighborhoods and onto a stretch of rolling highway that’s totally exposed to the sun. Fortunately, it wasn’t too hot, and actually I started to feel a little better. I hit the five-mile mark at almost exactly 40:00, meaning I was still right on pace for my 8:00/mile average. Granted my fourth and fifth miles were at something like an 8:24/mile pace; given the fast start, I was still more or less where I wanted to be.
I felt like I struggled on the last mile and change, but for what it’s worth, the clock shows that I was able to hold it together and finish strong. My last mile was back in the 7:45/mile range, and I crossed the finish line running hard.
My total time was 49:14; that’s an average of 7:56/mile. That put me in the bottom half of my age group (Men 30-39) but somewhere around the top third of racers overall. What that means, I have no idea. Probably not a lot besides that there are a bunch of fast folks living in Westport, CT.
I grabbed the kids and headed back to the finish line to watch Sally finish. In the past, she’s been anywhere from 51:00 to 54:00 at this race, so I figured we had a minute or so before she actually ran by. As it happens, however, Sally came in almost exactly forty seconds behind me, at a blistering 49:56. That put her easily in the top third of her age group, at a total pace of 8:05 or so.
How awesome is that?!
I was sore as all Hell for the rest of the day on Sunday and then again on Monday, too. I blame that mostly on dehydration and just pure physical exertion. I’ve also not done much tempo or interval running, which means that my race pacing was more than a little rusty. Still, I’m happy with my performance, and I’ll be honest, a little intimidated by Sally’s, but as a checkpoint, I feel like we’re both running well, and bottom line, that was what I came out to see. Plus, I rode to work on Monday, and I felt like I rode pretty well, so it's not like I was laid up in bed or anything.
As I said, my next race is the Milford Y-Tri, and at this point, I’m looking to do well there. After that, Sally and I are running the Fairfield Half together, and after that… who knows? My season may well get cut short by events at my job, but if it isn’t, I would very much like to run an Olympic Triathlon at some point in August and then finish up with either the Westport Kiwanus Triathlon or the ITPMan Triathlon in September. You ask me, that’d be a pretty nice way to wrap up the season.