Yesterday combined one of my favorite race courses with one of my least preferred running conditions. I’m biased to like the Wildcat 10k course because it’s one of my regular running routes. I’m anti rain and normally will change my running days specifically to avoid running in it. Of course I wasn’t going to miss a race because of the rain and was just fortunate that it was very light and the temperatures were a lot warmer than they have been lately.
I met dad at the high school and we both played the “what to wear” game while we warmed up. The slightly warmer temps meant we didn’t need as many layers but not knowing if the rain would get heavier concerned us. We took a chance believing the rain would stay light and I removed my windbreaker pants and he removed his hoodie. It would turn out to be a smart decision.
We lined up closer to the front of the group than we did last year. I was determined to race the downhill first mile better than I raced it last year. I have been practicing running downhills faster and with better form. It helped that there was no slush/possible ice to worry about on the course this year like there was last year. It also helped that my dad said he would likely stay with me for the first mile or two.
The race started and we went out at a good pace. I was a bit nervous at first as I felt a little winded despite having ran a long warm up, but my breath quickly settled as we began the descent. We had to weave in and out of some people, but I stayed with dad. We hit the first mile in a 7:07 which worried me that it was too fast for me, but I felt ok. I let dad pull ahead a bit during the second mile as he paced and chatted with a small group. The second mile was a 7:35 which again seemed a little too fast for my liking as I didn’t want to burn out during the hardest last mile.
I settled into a more comfortable pace during the third mile and began to mentally enjoy the race. It’s an odd feeling to run such a familiar routine, but to be running it with so many more people. I realized there was a lot of the course I didn’t actually pay attention to because I was more focused on watching the other runners. I stayed this way through the fourth mile which was my slowest at an 8:45. At first that seemed a little too slow, but I knew it meant I should be able to push more on the hills. I grabbed some water at the water stop as it was more of a mental need to hydrate than it was a physical one.
I approached the S Park St hill with determination to really work the hill. I didn’t even glance at the top but kept my eyes low and my stride shortened. I was glad to see more people running the hill this year than last year, but still managed to pass eight people. When I finally reached the top and made the left turn I felt really winded. Even though the route became a downhill grade I needed a good portion of it to regain my even breathing. Two of the people I had passed on the hill came back to pass me. When I hit the five mile mark I was both surprised and proud to see an 8:26 – further proof that I am a real hill runner as that mile was tougher yet faster than the fourth mile.
I used the last flat portion to conserve my energy for the final climb up Blymire. I debated pushing the pace more, but figured I could push harder at the end if I had anything left in the tank. I passed an older guy within the first 100 feet of beginning the ascent. I began playing Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger” in my head to keep myself distracted. The hill felt a lot longer racing it than it normally felt running it which I can only assume is because I was more tired and because there were no people to catch. I finally reached the intersection that ends the steepest portion of the hill and the more shallow incline began. I found I actually had some energy to open my stride and push my pace a bit more. I saw a pack ahead of me and I tried to close the gap on them as much as possible.
I reached the school campus and Todd was on the corner as a volunteer directing everyone into the parking lot for the final .1 or so of the race. One final turn and I was striding strongly into the finish line with a final time of 50:56 – a nearly 5 minute improvement over last year’s time.
After getting some water and rehashing the race with dad who finished about a minute ahead of me I checked the results board and found I finished second in my age group which really made me proud given the course is “my course”. Coming into the race I was 3rd overall in the winter series so I’ll be curious to see if that great finish pushes me into 2nd. Unfortunately the woman leading my age group runs about 3 minutes faster than me, so I don’t anticipate being able to win it, but just placing in the top 3 would be an accomplishment since I didn’t place overall last year. I’m looking forward to the next race, the John Rudy 5 miler, since last year weather cancelled it and it’s ran on one of my favorite portions of the rail trail.