RRCA Club Challenge Race report
I am behind. This has been sitting in my drafts folder on wordpress for over a week now. I have a snow day so it’s time to finish it because I have another race report to write. I don’t think I really wrote a single race report last year. Part of the fun of getting into running, for me at least, was running these races and then sharing my stories about them with whoever cared. Back when LJ Runners was more active, that usually meant quite a few people. I don’t know how many people regularly read this blog but if nothing else, I enjoy going back and reading old reports. Aside from running every single day this year, one of my resolutions was to write more. I have been struggling with that one but hopefully positive goings on in my running will help to change that.
Club Challenge is a race close to my heart. While I don’t regret for one moment moving from Baltimore to Durham a few years ago I DO miss some of the inhabitants of that area. Club Challenge is an excuse for me to visit Baltimore and hang out with Johnny basically. Also to test myself on a fairly challenging 10 mile course. In 2012, I ran 59:29 which was the beginning of a VERY good stretch of races for me that culminated with the Umstead 100. I had no dreams that I would run anywhere close to that, nor that I am in the kind of shape to have a really strong racing season this spring. I just wanted to go up and run hard and hang out and have some fun.
The drive up was smooth sailing until we got near DC (Shuriah came with me for her first trip to Baltimore, woot!) Outside of Woodbridge, VA we began to crawl for the better part of two hours. After six hours in the car, we finally made it to Fells Point where we met Johnny and his girlfriend, Betsy, for dinner. Not really caring about proper nutrition for the race, I enjoyed a giant burger and a few beers. Back at Johnny’s we spent a few hours catching up and drinking the unofficial beer of Baltimore, Natty Boh. After more of these than I’ve had in a while, I passed out on the couch. 5:30 am came early and I groggily got ready. The four of us headed down to Columbia and snagged a parking spot right near the building where packet pick up is. I didn’t get the warm up I had wanted but maybe that was for the best. The week or so leading up to Club Challenge, my left calf had been tight and kinda painful thanks to running (and slipping, and sliding, and slipping some more) on the icy mess we had gotten the previous week. I got to the start line with only a few minutes to spare. Before the race, Johnny and I had talked about expectations. He mentioned he wanted to run about 65 minutes. That sounded so fast to me. I had run a flat little 4 miler two weeks prior in 24:08, but that was 4 miles and had no real hills. I hadn’t pushed myself that fast for that long in months. Really, the entirety of 2013 was a big frigging wash and my last race that I was truly proud of was the Potomac Heritage 50k in November of 2012. Anyway, I told him, and honestly meant, that I wouldn’t be surprised, and would be quite pleased, with anything from 65-67. I figured 63 would be a PHENOMENAL day.
When I got to the start, I couldn’t find Johnny in the mass of people, but I did find Shuriah for a quick kiss and a good luck and then we were basically off. I remembered the first mile is basically all downhill and the first half trends more downhill with the second half making up for that and running slightly slower. I just wanted to settle in to something that felt comfortably hard, like tempo pace basically. I didn’t look at my watch until the first mile. I saw some familiar faces up front, like Dan Miranda, and knew I should probably back up just a touch because I had no business being that close to the front runners. From the effort I guessed I was running right about that 6:30. Wrong. 5:40. I knew it was downhill but damn. Ok. Just take it as it comes. Don’t fight it but don’t push it. Legs felt fine, breathing wasn’t labored, all systems go. I settled in right behind a group of guys wearing Montgomery County Road Runners singlets. Aside: This race isn’t just a big early season road race, it’s called Club Challenge because all of the running clubs in the Maryland/DC area get together to test themselves, sorta XC style. I was running, as I always have, for the Baltimore Road Runners Club, of which I am still a loyal member.
The MCRR guys seemed to be running right about my pace so I keyed off of them and let my mind wander at times. The first few miles rolled and we crossed a bridge with some icy spots on it and headed into a different neighborhood. I kept checking my watch at mile intervals and noticed I was still right around 6:00 pace, even with some undulations — I was taking the downhills kind of hard and easing up a bit on the uphills, something I wanted to experiment with. In general, I was thanking myself for re-committing to doing heavy squats the past few weeks, as my quads didn’t mind the pounding one bit.
I hit the halfway in 29:43, which was pretty close to my 2012 split of around 29:30. However, unlike in 2012, I didn’t have the volume or the speed to maintain that as well and slowed some in the back half. I fought to stay near the guys who I had been running with all day. There is some winding stretches in the middle to late miles, and one moment where I had to kind of tiptoe through some ice across a greenway connecting to cul-de-sacs. All the while I maintained a pretty consistent speed. The last few miles were a bit of a grind, I was pushing when I could and just trying to hang with whomever was right in front of me. As we made the turn back onto the last street before the parking lot where the race finished I got a surge of adrenaline and picked it up. That was the only time the whole race I was really close to redlining. I could hear Shuriah yelling but couldn’t quite see her because my eyes were focused on catching the guy in front of me. I went by someone and heard spectators cheering for some guy behind me to pass me. All I wanted was to not let that happened. Last turn and it was an all-out sprint to the line. I held the guy off and just missed catching the guy in front of me. Still, I crossed in 1:00:46. Yeah, 2+ minutes faster than my “everything is awesome, this is the best day” guesstimate. I greeted Shuriah as I saw Serge Arbona cross the line about a minute later. Nothing really hurt too bad, just a little tired from the drive the day before and the effort and all that but not wrecked, which was a good sign. Only 75ish seconds slower than the year I felt invincible? Things are clearly headed in the right direction. To paraphrase John Stiner, back then I was close to peaking, right now I’m in the foothills. I like that, I don’t want to really peak until the fall. I have a lot of road ahead of me until then but it’s already a better year, racing-wise, than last year.