Monday, June 25, 2007

Downers Grove 10 Miler Race Report

It never fails. Mid-June roles around and I can't wait to compete in the Downers Grove 5 & 10 Miler. I've been running this race as long as I can remember running races. And now that I live in Downers Grove it's nothing short of a reunion race for me; meeting up with friends and racing on the same streets I train on.

Most races I never look at the course ahead of time. I always took the follow-the-person-ahead-of-you strategy. However, a well memorized race course does provide a slight advantage.

It's 4am and I literally bounce out of bed this morning. I'm normally an early morning person. I know that freaks most people out, but I actually enjoy getting up early. I check my PDA which contains my schedule of things to do in the morning and a time schedule to follow. Yes, an early morning person and anal retentive. Are you scared yet?

Shower, dress and grab my gear bag. My first stop? Dunkin Donuts. The usual? Large iced coffee with cream and sugar.

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usRace check-in is all of 2 miles from my house. Arrival time: 5:20am. I get waved into the volunteer lot (certainly no runner would arrive this early!). I sip my iced coffee and enjoy the view as I watch the setup crews erect tents, put up the finishing chute and carry supplies.

The pre-race registration table not yet manned. Around 6am someone arrives and I'm the first customer of the day.

Fast forward one hour. I'm now sitting on a park bench just outside the Park District office. The registration tables are now crammed. Race day registration is out the door. An announcement is made that the port-o-potty vendor is running late and that the only bathrooms available are inside the PD building. Another line forms. I sip my coffee and slowly work on a Clif Bar.

7:10 and I take a quick warm-up and head over to the start line. By 7:20 the street is starting to fill. I greet several friends and get prepared for the start. I see a few friends that are first time runners and wish them well.

I've decided that picking a starting location is more of an art than a science. Even pace markers doesn't help with the qualitative decision of where to line up. Line up too close to the front and you get run over, elbowed, and provide a road block for the faster runners. Line up too far back, and you're the one elbowing your way to the front, cursing the walkers, and leaping ahead at every opportunity.

Once the gun went off I immediately knew I was too far back. I charge ahead the best I could sometimes leaping to the right-of-way to pass groups of people. But the race starts in an area with large trees in the right-of-way making this a not-so-easy task. However, the small rolling hills give me a good view of the large group of runners ahead of me.

Before the first half mile the crowd thins out and I'm able to settle into pace with plenty of room to maneuver. Next thing I know, Mile 1 is down: 8:10.

My goal was to keep every mile under 9:00 minutes. 8:10 is a good start, now I just need to keep it up for 9 more miles.

Before I realized it, Mile 2 was down: 8:40. I'm still on target. The miles literally fly by.

Between mile 2 and mile 3 is the infamous Downers Grove version of the Bermuda triangle. The course comes to a 3-way intersection with the roads forming a triangle-shaped island in the middle. Instead of taking the "short" section through, you must run to the far point, make almost a 180 degree turn around a cone and head back. I'm sure this is deliberate as if it was a matter of distance, one could simply move the starting line back 50 yards.

To make it worse, the second lap (for those of us running 10 miles) the cone is moved out another 10 yards.

While Mile 3 clocked in at 9:01, Mile 4 was here in a blink of an eye at 8:41.

Have you ever taken a trip where getting there seems to take soooo long? But after your vacation is over and you head home, the return trip speeds right by. Maybe because it's familiar territory...and that's the way is was with this race. Recognizable landscapes, schools, and streets make for a short run - I can't believe I'm at mile 4 already.

Just before the 4 mile mark, the crowd speeds up. I'm sure this wasn't an illusion. Half the group is only running 5 miles while the 10 milers repeat the same lap. I try not to get swept up in the kick too much, but I was feeling good and wanted to keep a sub-9 pace.

I realize the last 3 miles I have been following at old lady. I'm not sure how old this lady is--but I checked the 5 mile results and there is a 76 year old lady that finished around this time averaging a 8:38 pace for 5 miles. Hopefully I haven't offended anyone by calling a 76 year old lady old...but if it's any consolation, I only hope that when I'm 76 years old I can give some someone half-my-age a run for his/her money. On the bright side, it looks like I have 40 more years to set a PR at any distance.

Just ahead is the finish line and less than 50 yards in front the 10 milers turn and repeat the loop. I was surprised at the number of people going for 10. There is still a steady stream of runners in front of me.

The second half flew by quicker than first. After mile 6 (also 1) there is a house that puts a lawn sprinkler in the street for the runners to run through. In the 10+ years I have run this race, I can count on this house for a cool shower when needed.

Around mile 7.5 we come upon the Bermuda-Grove Triangle and, sure enough, the cone is another 30 feet into the intersection.

Before I reach mile 8 I realize I'm still feeling quite good and start picking my targets. Mile 7 would be my slowest of the day at 9:04.

Just after I passed two runners, a hear two people approaching from the rear with a similar strategy. They pass me for a moment as we reach the south peak of the Lyman Ave Valley.

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Mile 9.0 - 9.75 follows Lyman Ave which is probably has the most elevation change on the course. When standing on the far south side, you can look out 3/4 of a mile to the other "peak" with the road almost disappearing in-between. It's no Death Valley, mind you, but it is one of the most challenging stretchs we have in the area, and it's at the last mile of the race.

As we start the descent I use every bit of gravity available and shift into neutral. My speed is uncomfortably fast but this is no time to put on the brakes. I pass 4 people (including my the two that just passed me) before I reach the bottom.

As we begin the climb up the back side I downshift, taking short strides and doubling my cadence. With my head back and chest out I easily tackle the climb back out of Lyman Ave Valley and pass 3 more people.

At the upcoming right hander I'm able to pass a few more. I feel like I'm playing a video game, placing my crosshairs on a target, knocking them down and moving on to the next. No one has passed me (and gotten away with it) for the last 1.5 miles.

The left hander from Park Ave to Randall St is greater than 90 degrees and I had to swing this corner wide to keep my speed up.

I could just barely see the finish line ahead through the overhanging trees.

Three more people ahead of me and then a wide gap. I picked off two without problems. Number 3, however, had his own plans.

As I approach my final target, I noticed him give a passing glance over his shoulder to confirm someone was behind him. He picks up his pace to stay just ahead of me. I return the favor and speed up. The parry continues with #3 giving no more effort than required to stay a single stride ahead of me.

This continues for the final 1/4 mile and my frustration grows. The dark side of me wants to grab his shirt.

I have nothing left to give as we reach the tip of the funnel. I back off, pat my worthy opponent on the back and greet him with a "nice race."

My final mile would tie with my first mile as the fastest two miles of the race at 8:10.

My final time of 1:27 would be my second best 10 mile finish ever.

Props to Downers Grove Park District for hosting another successful running race. Aid stations were well placed and every intersection had someone with a traffic control sign.

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usDoug, Jenny, Kathy, Russ

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usMatt, Steve, Matt, Russ

Final splits:

Mile 1 - 8:10
Mile 2 - 8:40
Mile 3 - 9:01
Mile 4 - 8:41
Mile 5 - 8:58
Mile 6 - 8:43
Mile 7 - 9:01
Mile 8 - 9:04
Mile 9 - 8:42
Mile 10 - 8:10

Final - 1:27:05 for an average pace of 8:42

Everyone is an athlete. The only difference is that some of us are in training and some are not.
--Dr. George Sheehan, writer and philosopher


MJ said...

Congrats, Russ...nice race. Nice and steady. That's huge. I see big things coming from you this year!! Keep it up!

Anonymous said...

Great report Russ. You gotta love races like that. I felt that I was right there never seeing the course. Way to use the analogies. :-). Keep up the great work.