Sally and I ran the Stratford YMCA Sweetheart Run over the weekend. The course is four miles of sharply rolling hills through the residential neighborhoods of northern Stratford, CT. It starts and ends at Booth Hill Memorial Park.
Of the two of us, I think I’m usually the one that puts more pressure on himself before a race, and Sally is the one who tends to take it as it comes, satisfied to do her best without any real expectations. This race was a little different, however, because Sally won her Age Group last year for the first time ever at this race, and during the weeks leading up to the race, I could see that she was keen to defend her title. Moreover, the Sweetheart Race is a four-mile run, and Sally is a runner. Meanwhile, I don’t tend to think of myself as a runner so much as just a guy who runs, and paradoxically, I think that makes these pure running races easier for me, at least mentally.
Anyway, as I wrote in last week’s training diary, I decided early on that I was gonna work through this race. So Sally and I ran a five-mile tempo run together on Monday, and then we ran separate easy three-milers on Wednesday, and I swam once early in the week and rode my regular commute ride into and out of the office on Thursday and Friday before the race. I wouldn’t say that that was a tremendous amount of work or anything, but it was still a more-or-less normal schedule for me for this time of year. Certainly it wasn’t what I’d have done for a race I was trying to go into rested.
Sally is an Arbonne Sales Consultant, and one of the reasons that she wanted to do this race is that she knows the Race Director well enough that he agreed to let her set up a table over by the check-in area. As a result, we got to the race early, and while Sally was setting up her booth, I headed to a little covered area and started doing yoga. I did about a half hour’s easy yoga and then went for a long warm up. Well, it was long for me, anyway—I forced myself to run easy for ten full minutes before doing a set of three thirty-second pick-ups, and after that, I felt pretty good.
I went inside, found Sally, forced her to go outside and stretch and start prepping for her race instead of just her sales opportunity, and then I sat down to wait for the race itself to start. I had maybe fifteen minutes of just hanging out, and it was very reminiscent of waiting in the green room of a swim meet before Finals. One of my goals this season has been to try to run a little more like I swim, so I suppose that on the “Waiting Around” section, I can go ahead and check the block “Complete.”
We finally lined up at about 10:00 am. The weather was overcast and right around thirty degrees, and lots of folks were trying to figure out what to wear. As I said, the course is hilly with a hard climb right at the three mile mark, so it’s easy to over-dress. Folks were grousing about the climbs even at the Start Line, but Sally and I have now run this race four times, and while I won’t say that I knew that I was going to enjoy that climb at Mile Three, I did at least know what I was in for.
As it happens, Sally and I found ourselves right at the front when we reached the Start Line. We wished each other luck, and then BANG! We were off.
I’ve been doing a lot of interval training this offseason, both on my own and as a member of the Woodruff Family YMCA’s Triathlon Club. I’m the club’s (volunteer) coach, and a couple of my folks were very enthusiastic when I brought up the idea of doing some interval training this season. So we’ve done halves together a few times already, and I’ve done them a few more times on my own, and when the gun sounded at the start of this race, I felt their impact immediately. The leading pack surged forward as a group, and I let it sweep me along, for once running fast but easy through the first half mile or so of the race. That first half mile starts as a moderate decline, but it quickly gets steeper until you’re practically flying down. Then you hit the bottom, and it turns up, and you’re running more or less up hill for the next mile and half or so. On the way down, I tried to keep a high tempo and let myself descend as easily as I could; then we hit the inflexion point, and I leaned in, working the hill but keeping myself carefully under control. Around me, I could see folks struggling with the change, but I checked my own heart rate and breathing and decided, yes, this is me, and I’m really running like this, and it’s really going to be okay.
I hit Mile One at 7:22, and I was happy. Then I hit Mile Two at 14:44, and I was excited. I’m usually about an 8:00 miler, and I knew this was a hard course. Being under 7:30 for two miles is very good for me, especially on a course with one weird descent and two short, sharp climbs in those first two miles. But the best thing was that I’d run fast but kept myself under control. In the recent past, I’ve been able to either run fast or run controlled but not both.
From Mile Two to Mile Three, the course has a long false flat ascent, followed by a short, sharp descent, followed by a bit of wavy flat. I felt myself starting to tire a little at about two and a half miles, and I let go of a little push, instead falling into the simple, steady rhythm that is my normal running pace. Not surprisingly, that third mile was almost exactly 8:00. And then we crossed Mile Three and got into the big climb.
What is there to say about that climb at Mile Three? The climb itself is only about a half-mile, but the first two or three hundred feet is probably a 12% grade. I was towards the front of the race, and I still saw folks I would consider to be very good runners breaking down and walking. I myself kept churning upwards, but like I said, I’ve run this thing four times and knew what was coming. Anyway, after that initial piece, the thing levels out, and it’s maybe a 3% incline, although when you’re running it, it feels like it goes on and on and on. But it doesn’t, and eventually we crested, and I found myself trying to find that same easy descending motion I had at the beginning of the race. By the time we came around the last turn, I was leaning forward and fighting to finish hard.
Stratford YMCA Sweetheart Four-Miler: 31:31 (7:53/mile).
--- 6/13 Age Group; 36/152 Overall.
I was satisfied with that. I was a touch slower this year than last year, but I felt a million times better doing it, and while I don’t think I’ll ever be more than a mediocre runner, I still feel like I’m improving generally. Maybe I could have buried myself on that third mile and finished ten seconds faster (and equaled last year’s time), but this year I felt like I ran a smooth, controlled, intelligent race. At this point in the season, that’s what’s important.
Sally, meanwhile, finished almost exactly a minute and half behind me. She came in at 33:03 (8:16/mile). That was good enough to earn her another win in her Age Group and 49th place overall. That’s also a good bit faster than she was last year, and considering how nervous she was beforehand and how distracted she was by all that Arbonne stuff pre-race, I’ll be honest and say that she exceeded my expectations by a goodly amount. Plus, she got another trophy, and she left happy, so what more can you ask?
I’m ready for the weather to warm up, I’m ready to get back on my bike, and I’m ready to start really training for triathlon season. Sally wants to do another four-mile run in March—the St. Patrick’s Day Classic in Fairfield, CT—but I’m personally gonna skip that one. The girls and I can cheer her on from the sidelines.
For me, I’ve got nearly two months until Brian’s Beachside Boogie, the first multi-sport race of the year, and I plan to put in some serious work between now and then. After that, theY-Tri is on May 12th, and that’s not only the first actual triathlon of the season, it’s also my Club’s home race. Even though it’s a short race, I would quite like to do well there. Then theShamrock Duathlon is the next weekend, and after that, I’m either gonna do the Pat Griskus Oly in June or the Litchfield Hills Oly in July. I haven’t decided which yet.
And that’s about as far as I’m looking right now. Guess we’ll see how it plays out…