Saturday, March 17, 2012

Set your 5k PR with 100 miler training and Leprechaun power (Milliken 5k race report)

A funny thing happened on the way to the 100 mile race- I set my 5k PR (sort of). This is the second time this has happened. Last year, I set my 5k all-time PR running of 16:24 by myself on the track, 1 week into my taper for Old Dominion 100. And now, I set my road/cross country 5k PR of 16:30, 1 week into my taper for Umstead 100. Both times my speedwork was limited to marathon pace long tempo runs. World, I submit myself to you as proof that 90+% of running speed comes from base miles. If you want to set a 5k PR, run lots and lots of miles. Don’t worry about 200 or 400 m intervals or any Runner’s World 3-day-a-week training program. Just run base.

Anyways, today was the Milliken Earth Run 5k. It’s a very splendid cross-country race run on the gently rolling hills of the Milliken Arboretum in Spartanburg. It’s a natural grass course which they mow, meaning it’s rather lumpy and bumpy with a few trees and roots thrown in. The course is marked with some (very) faint white paint every 5-10 yards, which makes it exciting because you can’t tell which was the course will turn until you’re 20 yards away. I think it is the perfect location for a race. Weather was nice with a humid mid-60’s overcast day.

Last year, I ran 16:58 at RDT and 17:22 at Milliken. Based on my road PR 16:34 at RDT this year, I was thinking 17:00 was a good goal. But, there was one drastically different item this year- based on a strange confluence of the moon and stars, today’s Earth Run coincided with St. Patrick’s Day. Combine that with the power of my Green Shorts, and strange things were bound to happen. In addition, I found a small Leprechaun hat that my 3 year old wears. The elastic is tight when I wear it, but the hat stays neatly on top of my head. Green power x2 + St. Patricks day power.

Anyways, the usual suspects were at the start. Most people loved my festive hat, though I received some very funny looks from the high schoolers at the start line who I’m sure were thinking anyone wearing a holiday prop should not be at the front. The race began and I again started fast, settling into third between Mike (last name?) and Jim, my co-worker who soundly beats me at every 5k. The first mile was a speedy 5:03, just 4 seconds slower than my recent 1 mile race. A small surge took me past Mike and into the lead, Jim on my shoulder. We continued to push hard, with Jim retaking a 10 yard lead and Mike falling off pace. Mile 2 had a fair amount of uphill and was a slower 5:30. Just past 2 miles, I suddenly realized that I felt great- my breathing wasn’t as labored and my legs felt strong. Summoning the strength of the leprechaun, I pushed to catch up. A small surge at mile 2.5 saw me pass Jim, who held on for 30 seconds but then slowly faded back a bit. I gave it my all and stretched my legs on a long, gradual climb and then descent to the finish line. I smiled at the cheering crowd, pointing to the hat and yelling, “It’s the power of the leprechaun” (or something like that). Finished with 5:56 for the last 1.1, for a final time of 16:30. Jim was about 15 seconds behind, and Mike was just over 17:00 minutes. Had a good time at the finish, talking with lots of great people while they gave out tons of door prizes and winning two tiny cilantro potted plants.

If 5k races can predict 100 mile races, then I’d say I’m in the best shape of my life right now. My training over the past 4 months is the best ever (even higher mileage than before UROC), and I just set a road/off-road 5k PR on a lumpy course that includes 150 ft of climbing. But, I haven’t done many long runs, definitely my biggest weakness. And 5k races definitely cannot predict 100 mile races. So, let’s go race Umstead and see what happens.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Mind Over Mountain 15k race report

The Mind Over Mountain 15k is the second of five races in the Carolina Mtn Goat series and is the first race ever at the beautiful Jones Gap State Park.  The original course was scrapped due to excessive trail erosion and a more mild course was selected.  However, monster thunderstorms Friday night (2 inches of rain in 12 hours plus dozens of tornados, including 2 within 40 miles of the park) threatened to cancel the race.  Fortunately, the rain let up early Sat morning and the race was on.

I picked up Aaron and Barry for the hour drive.  After a pre-race briefing and shuttle to the start, we were off.  I was pretty determined to win no matter who showed up, and was equally determined to not get chicked by Amber Moran, a national-class mtn runner who won the first race in the series by 7 minutes over the first male.  Game on.

Jones Gap trails are occasionally smooth but generally technical, with an overabundance of rocks.  Especially the green, moss-covered type which are particularly fun to step on when wet.  Keep your eyes on the trail and don’t trust your footing.  Ever.  Add in lots of low-hanging branches (it’s not a trail run if you aren’t jumping and ducking at the same time), water crossings of all sizes, mud, and puddles and we had a true trail race.  No buffed out singletrack here.  The race was a lollipop route advertised as a 15k, was wheeled at 10.5 miles (including mile markers- awesome!), and was garmin-ed at 10.02 miles. 


Average footing on the Jones Gap trail.  This was the easy part, and it wasn’t dry on race day.

Dave Workman started off quickly, followed by me and Amber.  We were working hard and breathing hard right from the start.  The well-marked Jones Gap trail climbs a steady 1200 ft in about 4.75 miles.  I trailed Dave the whole time, though he was never more than 15 seconds ahead, while Amber disappeared behind within 2 miles.  I generally felt good but both of us were definitely working hard- I’d call it harder than half-marathon effort.  We averaged about 8:20 miles up the technical trail.  The climb included a large log crossing of a river, aided by a rope the volunteers strung.  Turning onto the Tom Miller trail, Dave insisted on running up the real grunt of a climb (300 ft climb in under .25 mile) while I was content to mostly walk the steep steps to conserve energy.  He held a slight lead when we reached the only aid station at mile 5, but I caught up as my handheld allowed me to skip it.  We started the final ascent with Dave still ahead but breathing noticeably harder than I was.  He glanced back once with breathless words of encouragement, which I echoed to him.

Mind over matter 15k elevation profile

Not wanting the race to come down to the last mile on technical rocks and wary of the competition, I passed Dave just before the last summit and immediately kicked it up to 5k effort for as long as possible.  I wanted to get out of sight, so pushed down the terrain with abandon, slowed only by my watering eyes and the occasional deadfall tree.  Though pretty muddy, steep, and rocky, I was able really open it up and saw Dave slowly fall back (though still close enough that one small mistake would allow him back in).  The downhill was a blast, skipping over rocks (never trust the footing of green wet rocks… wait, all the rocks are green and wet), ducking branches, and splashing through multiple shin-deep creeks.  The trail finally moderated a bit in steepness (though not rocky-ness), allowing a brisk 6:23 for mile 9 (garmin instant pace said 4:30 pace for a while… don’t believe it).  Finished the 10 miles in 1:22:23 including 2200 ft climbing and descending.  Dave was 3 min back, Amber 1 min behind him, then a fairly steady flow of finishers. 

15k log bridge

The finish line was enjoyable, chatting with the volunteers and the runners as they came in while munching on some food.  I won a mug as the King of the Mountain (their words, not mine).  The drive home with Aaron and Barry included the normal recounting of tales and saw us home by lunch.  A very fun trail race over a good course in the mountains- can’t beat that.