Club Challenge 2012 race report
Sunday I ran what is known as the Club Challenge, a 10 mile race on the roads in Howard County. It’s hosted by the Howard County Striders and is for all of the Maryland (and nearby) running clubs to get together and see who’s the best. Because of the club aspect, it’s free for members of the various clubs and pretty much every good runner in the area comes out, making it an unusually competitive race, especially for the end of February. I ran it last year, only a few weeks after returning to running from an extended layoff to deal with a myriad of injuries and pseudo-injuries. I ended up running a 1:02:30 which really surprised me because I didn’t think I was in very good shape at all and I wasn’t particularly running all out during the race. It was a good way to start what was a sort of up and down spring of racing that culminated with a 59:07 10 mile PR at Broad Street in May.
This year, I’m living five or so hours south of Baltimore and until early in January figured I’d be missing Club Challenge. And then I went ahead and re-upped my membership in the BRRC JUST so I could register for Club Challenge and have an excuse to visit and see a bunch of people who I miss. The timing wasn’t ideal, in that I had a work retreat that went Friday overnight into Saturday morning so I would be driving up on Saturday afternoon, running the race Sunday morning, then driving home. In my mind, it would be worth it. Going into the race, I didn’t really know what to expect from myself. This year has obviously started much better than last year, but for the past few months my focus has shifted from shorter distances to ultramarathons. My goal races are the upcoming 100 miler and some 12 and 24 hour races later in the year. I’ve done a handful of runs that could be considered workouts, and those were mostly half-assed or lacking any sort of focus. I knew I was in pretty good shape but had no idea how my legs would respond if I tried to run about an hour or so quicker than normal. Last Tuesday’s 9 mile sorta-quick run on the super flat ATT made me think I should be happy if I could run the same pace for 10 at Club Challenge because I remembered the course being pretty hilly last year.
Enough backstory. I got to Baltimore early Saturday evening. Johnny and I jogged a little 4 miler around his neighborhood in crazy cold wind and went to get some dinner. I got to sleep around 11 and the couch cushions on the floor were surprisingly comfortable to sleep on. I woke up a little after 6, feeling better than expected, small bowl of cheerios, and I was ready to go. We got to the community college where the race started and finished a little after 7. Bib picked up, caught up with some BRRC people I hadn’t seen in a while, went to the bathroom, and then headed back out to the car to finish getting ready. Went with a t-shirt because while it was a little chilly, there wasn’t much wind and the sun was kinda warm. Johnny and I jogged a little 15 minute warm-up and headed to the start just in time. Having no delusions of winning the race, or even coming anywhere close (seriously, some REALLY fast people run this!) I lined up a row or two off the front just as the starter was saying, “Runners set, GO!” And we were all off.
My goal for the race was primarily to run fairly hard but under control and even. It would be a bonus if I could beat the time I ran last year, despite having A LOT more volume on my legs this time and not even close to fresh. With that I allowed the mad rush of people to dart off the line and I settled in to what felt like a good rhythm. I knew the first 5ish miles are mostly downhill with a few ups and the second half of the race is much more uphill, so it’s easy to go out hard and pay for it later. After the first minute or so I settled in a few meters behind a group of about six or seven guys in Falls Road Running singlets. Falls Road sponsors Team That’s What She Said, which comprises basically every good runner in the city. I heard someone mention they were aiming to run right around an hour and I figured if it felt good, I’d just hang here for the time being. I also saw Serge Arbona a few seconds up ahead. Serge is one of my ultrarunning heroes, having already accomplished some mind-boggling things (like holding the world record for distance run in 24 hours on a treadmill). He’s also running Umstead next month which is part of why I decided to sign up for that. I think it’s such a cool aspect of the sport that you can run right there with the best of the best (albeit not for very long but still!).
It’s well-known that the mile markers along the course are kind of off so I was happy to have my Garmin to get at least an idea of what I was running. It appeared that I was running right around 5:55s for the first few miles which was cool because I felt like I was expending less effort than on Tuesday’s run. Of course, there were some nice downhills where it felt basically like cheating. Around mile 3 we crossed over this bridge and began a loop of some neighborhood. I went by one or two guys here and at this point I had a literal wall of five Falls Road guys in front of me, and Serge and another BRRC runner tucked into that group. We went by a few people but that group essentially stayed together for another mile or two.
We hit what is close enough to the halfway mark so I’ll go with it in about 29:30. Right after the sign, the course turns left and begins climbing a decent hill. To that point, there had been a few rises but nothing terribly substantial. I had noticed that on the ups I didn’t need to really push much harder to maintain, and I seemed to be stronger than the people around me. When we hit this rise, Serge kind of took off ahead. I was feeling really good, definitely not like I was racing yet, and figured if I pushed here I wouldn’t have far to go even if I got tired. So I did. And I ended up going by everyone in that little group, catching and going pass Serge too. By the top of the hill I had caught up to two other runners and one of the Falls Road guys had caught back up to me. We turned and wound around some more neighborhood streets, me, the Falls Road guy, and a Howard County Striders runner. Back over the bridge and into some other development right around mile 7. The uphills had slowed me some, but I was still right around pace to finish in about an hour. It was around this point that I entertained the thought that it would be realistic to do just that, break an hour. Last year, the hour 10 mile seemed like this giant goal that would be real tough to achieve on the flat, fast Broad Street course. And here I was running well within myself and thinking that if I just maintained, I’d do it again.
A little before mile 8, the course turned onto a larger road that ran by a school. I remember passing some fading runners here last year. No longer tucked in neighborhoods to protect us, there was a headwind for most of this stretch that kinda sucked. It was at this point it stopped feeling like a tempo run and felt more like a race effort. My legs were also starting to feel the cumulative fatigue of 120-130 mile weeks. 2ish miles to go, mentally I knew I could dig in and gut it out. The Falls Road guy was a few seconds ahead and I just locked my eyes on him and tried not to lose ground. The course turned back onto some side streets, there was a downhill that I let loose on and then another short climb. A few more turns and with about a mile to go (probably less), I recognized the street I was on as leading back to the college. I made the final turn onto the street the race had started on, which meant there was about half a mile to go. I thought about going all out to try to catch the Falls Road guy but was a little worried how the hamstring would react so I just tried to accelerate gradually to the end. Two quick turns in the parking lot and it was a short downhill to the finish line. When I turned and could see the clock I was a little surprised to see it reading 59:22, :23, :24,… I sprinted that last bit and crossed in 59:29.
That’s a 3 minute course PR and only 22 seconds slower than I ran Broad Street last year. I was also 37th overall (last year I was 57th) and the first finisher for the BRRC. This was about as big a confidence booster as that Saturday 44 miler was. I ran almost the same time for 10 miles on a much harder course, feeling relatively comfortable for a large portion of the race, despite not having focused on running fast or short races at all. Progress! Falls Road ended up crushing skulls and winning everything (individual male and female, team co-ed, male, and female). I was able to see Johnny finish up in a big new PR, crushing his under-70 goal (66:14)! Success and great days all around!
Til next time, RUN HAPPY everyone
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