Thursday, March 19, 2015

Gate River Run 2015- My Experience as a Masters Competitor

March 17 2015. It is a USATF Open Championship, not a USATF Masters Championship, but I ran the Gate River Run on Saturday, March 14, 2015 as a prep race for the Boston Marathon a month from now.

Road Trip. I made it as a road trip, taking it easy on the way down from Indianapolis, Indiana to Jacksonville, Florida--2.5 days down and a bit harder on the way back-1.5 days. Kind of fun driving through Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia and then Florida, seeing the varied terrain and the gradually changing flora. In Georgia I started to notice redbuds in flower peeking out from between the forest along the roadsides. They aren't usually in bloom in Indiana until the 1st or 2nd week in April. Other blooming trees were visible at a Georgia rest area:
Blooming tress in central Georgia


Pre-Race. So what was the pre-race like? It is pretty well organized. It is easy to find the race site which is where you pick up your pre-race packet. The Fairgrounds is right next to Everbank Field (home of the Jacksonville Jaguars NFL team). Actually it did take a little navigating to get into the area so if you're going for the first time, it would be a good precaution to drive there the day before the race at least.  Once you are there and parked, just follow the crowds streaming into the fairgrounds to pick up packets.

It can be pretty hectic in there. it was easy to get to the packet pick-up, just inside the entry area. The pleasant person there handed me a nice gym bag with the bib inside. If you are not  the most observant person, me for example, you might not have noticed the boxes of safety pins along the table to your right and you might have picked up your bib and packet assuming there were pins inside. Then I was directed to the t-shirt area. When I picked the t-shirt up, I asked the person there if there were safety pins included in the packet with the bib. She said, 'Yes, sure they are." But I should have gone back and checked; I learned later you had to pick them up and place them in your gym bag. So that was an extra trip back later in the day. On the plus side, I became more and more familiar with the route to the race.  :)

The morning of the race I left plenty of time, leaving the hotel at 6:10 am for what was supposed to be a 20 minute drive to the site. The race starts at 8:30 am. I figured it would be even faster at that time of day. Was I ever wrong, and glad I had allowed for extra time. Things started to go wrong when I ran into the tail end of a line of stopped cars at a drawbridge. It took a l-o-o-o-ng time for some boat to get through. I suppose 6:30 am is a good time to be going out into the ocean for fishing?! And then once I got within a half mile of the stadium, it was very slow. By the time I was in my parking spot it was about 7:10, so about an hour instead of 20 minutes. But everyone was parked around the stadium so it is very convenient in that one can use one's own car as a staging area. I usually switch shoes and socks about a half hour before race time  Except for that, it was all very organized and easy. I parked the car and walked over to the corral area, found that I could walk into the Wave 1 area  and drink a cup of water. There were also lots of portolets and a bag check. I could also take a nice picture of the starting area and send it out over FB.

Starting area for the Gate River Run 2015. The yellow area was where the runners in the Open Elite Championship congregated before the start. The area right behind that, in blue, is where Wave 1 (my group) congregated.
I also thought to take a picture of the cool sunrise.

Sunrise viewed from the Wave 1 Pre-Race Corral
With in/out privileges I went back to the car and started my warm ups (jogging and stretching). Then I switched into my racing shoes and new pair of socks and returned to the corral. There were more runners now but enough room to continue warming up and even work in some pretty good stride-outs. I was on the lookout for some Atlanta Track Club guys I knew but did not spot any. I did spot a Masters age runner from Shore AC, whose first name (read off his bib) was Wallace. We chatted briefly, wished each other good luck, and returned to warm-ups. At 8 am we were invited to move from the corral onto the road. All very orderly and still plenty of room to feel comfortable for stretching, although a little tight for jogging and certainly too close for stride-outs. [But anyone who needed to do stride-outs could go back into the corral area.] There was no problem of moving up within the corral toward the front, at least not until 8:20 or so. Chip timing of course so most were assuming that people would reasonably self-seed, but it did not make a huge difference.

Conditions. Before the race I was concerned when I read that the relative humidity would be between 98 and 100%, at the same time the temps would be in the upper 60's during the race. So I went online and learned that humidity is definitely considered a factor to contend with. One should be more conscious of hydration because it is harder for the sweat to evaporate off your body and have a cooling effect. But I also went to the National Weather Service's site for Heat Index and learned that having 66 degrees and 99% humidity results in a heat index of 67 degrees, so not really much effect. That level of Heat Index didn't even earn a 'Caution' about the danger of a heat disorder due to strenuous outdoor activity. And it did not feel oppressive or odd. A year earlier I had run a half marathon in Melbourne Florida with similar temperature and humidity readings. But there had also been fog so all of the runners were absolutely drenched. It must have been like running through a cloud. It was as if water droplets were in the air but, unlike if it had been raining, they were just there, not falling. But nothing like that today. Still, I resolved to be more careful about taking water than usual.

The Race. Eighteen months ago in fall of 2013 I had run 1:01:35 but that was pre-injury. Knowing I was not at peak fitness, still recovering from an upper hamstring injury, I did not even push to the front of the Wave 1 group. My goal was to try to run close to a 7:00 per mile pace. I had run an 8K three weeks earlier averaging 6:50 per mile so a 7:05 to 7:10 pace was what I was thinking for the first part of the race which is pretty flat. If I could stay in that range, I could at least break the 69-year old's record for the Gate River Run which was a tick or two under 1:07; that would be about a 7:10 pace.

Here's a Speedy Banana [from their FB page] picture of my wave [1] starting. I am in about the 10th-12th row back, probably obscured by the cannon smoke or the green Gate River banner. I ran past the starting line with the 'Present By Chase' banner to my immediate right.



The race was on and quickly I found myself easing into a comfortable pace that I hoped was close to 7 minutes per mile. As I looked around, though, I realized this was a group I don't always race with. There was one young fellow who definitely had a sizable spare tire around his middle and other runners who seemed a little gangly and uneven in their pace. But I needed to run easily and this seemed to be the right pace today. Somehow I missed the mile and 2 mile markers, being in the midst of a bunch of runners. We went over the first bridge, which is a relatively quick up and down compared to the Hart Bridge between miles 7.5 and 8.5. Coming off the bridge we were funneled through a narrow lane to the left of the main road and, despite a little closeness, everything went okay.

 This is what it looked like coming off the first bridge--for those in later waves--glad it wasn't this crowded where I was running! :)
Eventually we hit the 5K mark and I was brought up short by my time, 22:40 by my watch. A quick rough calculation said that was about a minute slower than 7 minute pace and 60 secs divided by 3 was 20...so I knew I was running closer to 7:20 than 7:10 pace.

Could I speed up a bit? Maybe. I started looking ahead about 50-75 yards or so to pick out runners who looked like they were maybe slowing some, to see if I could pick them off. I also said I should try to speed up a bit when a runner passed me to see if I could stick with them for a bit. In any case I was moving up in the field overall but doubted I was really accelerating much. Pretty soon we turned off a main street into a Park area and I could see a water station up ahead. I had picked up a drink at a couple of these but wasn't sure if I would this time. I wasn't sweating overly much so maybe could have skipped it. We were about 36 minutes in so I figured around 4.5 to 5 miles in. So there would be plenty more water stops. But when I saw a young man on the left side, eagerly holding out a cup towards the end of the line, I made a sudden decision to go for a grab. I had slowed slightly to pick up the cup and was raising it to my mouth when all of a sudden I felt this arm in my back and heard an '"A-a-a-a-gh!" Someone had plowed into me, I took one more stride forward with my right foot and then my left, thinking I might be able to maintain momentum and right myself but no luck, down I went sprawling on the pavement. Luckily I took the main weight of the fall with my palms, which were pretty bloody,  but no chin or head impact...so scraped palms and right forearm and a surface pain on the right side of my chest...but nothing more--scrape yourself up off the pavement and get running. I never saw who it was and no one ever apologized, but several young runners (and at my age almost everyone is a young runner) around me asked, "Are you alright, sir?" Very respectful, but I was not feeling particularly sociable and hope I did not have too much opf a snarl on my answer--"Not alright but I can run, thanks!"

Of course the other thing I was worried about was my upper right hamstring. In early November I had  recovered back to 90% from my first upper hamstring tear, but I ripped it again at at a national cross country championship race. It was only about a hundred yards from the finish so somehow was able to finish that and help my team to the age group championship. Now I was worried that I would have trouble with that upper hamstring from this fall. It was certainly  sore now in a way it hadn't been a few minutes before. I knew I hadn't torn it-you don't miss that searing pain. But I was worried if the pain got worse I might have to stop. Luckily it did not. I know I lost about ten seconds just from the incident itself as I looked ahead to the group of runners who had been right ahead of me. They were now 50  yards or so ahead of me. The tightness in my upper hamstring probably reduced the effectiveness of my stride, not sure by how much. I was probably grabbing less real estate with each stride now.

We headed out onto a wide street, Atlantic Avenue, and after a bit on there swung to the left to go onto smaller streets through another residential area. I passed the 10K mark in about 46:30 so had clearly slowed down-no chance at a record. I was now in 'hang on' mode. My 2nd 5K, a quick calculation told me, was about a minute under 8 minute pace--so around 7:40 per mile. Soon after that an old guy with white hair went past me and I wondered what his age group was. A little after that another old guy with white hair under a cap went by. I knew the age group prizes went 5 deep so had originally figured that was pretty much a sure thing. Now I was worried I might not even get one of those.

Now we were approaching the Hart Bridge--just grind it out I kept telling myself--remember it's all downhill on the other side. With my somewhat shortened stride it seemed to take forever to get up,  but eventually the slope decreased and leveled out and I could feel my stride lengthening. I wasn't going to kill the last mile but I figured I was maybe running at sub-7 for the steeper parts, around 7 where it was starting to level out and not too much over 7 for the last flat quarter mile to the finish...Later I learned that was about right. They timed everyone's last mile with the prize to the top 2 fastest mile times in each age group getting a pair of Skecher's shoes. My last mile time, I learned later, was 7:03. And as things went this day, just out of the money. The guy who won the age group did 6:24, and the 2nd place finisher hit 6:35; I ran it about ten seconds faster than each of the 3rd-5th place finishers. Overall time--1:10:48 by the gun but about 1:10:40 by my watch (which I later verified as being the same as the official chip time). I had run 4-5 minutes slower than I had originally hoped for but I was very glad to be done.

We got a bottle of water right away and our nifty top ten finisher's caps--at least I wouldn't go home with nothing to show for it! Oh, and a finisher's medal that was very substantial. Because the race is so huge, you have to walk over to the Fairgounds on the other side of the stadium for refreshments, about a quarter mile from the finishing area. There they had all the water, chocolate milk, bananas and muffins you could possibly want--no bagels & no cookies but plenty of the 4 things I mentioned. Maybe there were oranges too--I can't quite remember. I do remember one of the aid stations had oranges...which I did not pick up. I remember telling myself that was a mistake and if I saw more up ahead I should grab one. And, of course, never saw oranges at any other aid stations.

Well that was it. After tanking up on the chocolate milk, bananas and muffins, I headed back to my hotel for a quick shower and was back on the road. That evening I looked for results and they had some posted. I verified my time and, according to what was posted at the time it looked like I had snuck into the top 5 in my age group with a 5th place finish. Unfortunately those must have been preliminary results because when I checked again a day later I found that I had actually finished 6th, 3 seconds out of 5th place. They must have updated their results and found some error. I guess the second old guy who passed me in around mile 7 or so was the 5th place guy.So five age group prizes and I finished 6th out of 178 old guys; two prizes for the fastest last mile, and I was 3rd. It was that kind of day.

Oh well, at least I know the race if I decide to come back next year, and I have the incentive of redemption. Add it to my list: Alexandria Virginia, New Haven CT, Jacksonville FL. It's a good race course although certainly no pancake. The Hart Bridge is tough, but not a killer. The humidity probably didn't help but it wasn't the worst conditions I've run in for heat and humidity; both the Stratton Faxon 20K in New Haven in early September 2013 and the USATF Half Marathon Championships in Melbourne FL in February 2014, were worse. So despite the scrape and the humidity and disappointments, if I can regain the fitness I had before these upper hamstring issues, I will definitely come back with more lofty aims!

In the meantime I have to focus on the Boston Marathon. But I know the Utica Boilermaker is another 15K course of some fame--may try that this summer if my fitness continues to improve and it fits in.

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