Note: this is the second part of a two-part series; part one is here.
It was raining when I left the house. By the time the race started, the sun was out. The perfect St. Louis recipe for … humidity!
But no one ever said the weather conditions for today’s Scorcher Four race in U.City would be ideal. It’s in St. Louis in mid-August, after all, and the “Scorcher” name was well-chosen by the race’s sponsors, Ghisallo Running.
I had everything pretty well planned out for this race, but the one thing I failed to set up was my music plan. I should have stuck a CD in the car of appropriate songs — something by The Who would have been nice — but I completely forgot, and was stuck with the radio. The last song I heard before arriving at Ghisallo was “Bad Company” — not exactly ideal music to have going through your head while trying to run a race.
After a short warmup and a little stretching — my right calf muscle, in particular, has been problematical lately — I was ready for the start. There were a lot of skinny runner-types there, and I could see early on that I wasn’t going to be competing for any prizes today. That’s fine. The starting crowd was a little strange; normally lots of people try to crowd up on the starting line, but most of this group held back, so there was actually a loosely populated gap for about 15 feet behind the “elites” at the line and the bulk of the runners. I placed myself in that gap, and when the horn blew started off at what I thought would be a comfortable pace.
The course was slightly downhill for the first quarter mile or so, and then there were some little up-and-downs until the one-mile mark, which was at the base of a short but steep hill. My split for that first mile was a very encouraging 6:38, but as we headed up the hill to start Mile 2, I knew that wouldn’t be repeated.
I used to love hills. I live in a fairly hilly area, and I would always attack the hills when I’d run. When I’d get in races, I’d consistently pass people on the uphills. Inevitably, they would pass me back on the downhills, because I never really stressed that aspect, but I’d always blow everyone else away uphill.
No more, though. The hills today were killing me just as much as everybody else.
“Bad company, ’til the day I die…” It’s a mediocre song to begin with, made unseemly by the fact that the band named the song after itself, or named itself after the band, whatever. Anyway, it’s never been on my list of high-energy running songs. I tried to get myself thinking of the song “Gettin’ in Tune” from Who’s Next; also not a high-energy song, but good enough. It worked for a while — that’s a pretty easy song to shift to, if you ever find yourself in that situation — but before long the hills were driving any thoughts of music out of my head anyway.
Mile 2 was much slower: 7:17. No surprise, considering it was net uphill mile by a wide margin. There was a very welcome water stop about halfway through, immediately followed by the longest hill of the race, up Delmar Blvd. By the third mile, it was just a game of survival: how could I make it to the finish without melting into the pavement? That Mile 3 split was 7:11, and should have been faster, considering it was slightly downhill.
At three miles, there was a feeling of relief, both that the race was nearly over, and from my memory of a year ago that it was mostly downhill from there. The field was pretty spread out by then, of course, and I was just trying to hold my own with the few people running near me. Up ahead I could see Charles K., who for many years has been the closest thing to a “rival” I’ve had in local running races. For a while we were so evenly matched that our names would almost always end up right next to each other in race result lists. These days, though, he’s comfortably ahead of me; I could see him up ahead for most of the race, but there’s a difference between seeing and catching.
Down a hill and a turn onto the “homestretch.” That last section was slightly uphill, but by then it didn’t really matter much. I didn’t really have a goal going into this race, but it now looked like I had a real shot at finishing under 28 minutes. I picked up the pace as much as I could — not really “sprinting,” but just a faster, steady pace — and rolled across the line in 27:58. Compared with last year’s 31 minutes-plus, it was a huge improvement — that alone is enough for me to consider it a successful race. I felt pretty good afterward, although drenched in sweat.
After a short cooldown run, I happened to run into Al B., a friend of my brother’s and with whom I’ve run a few races over the last year. Al completed the Lake Zurich Ironman Triathlon a few weeks ago, and we chatted about our summers and our future plans, but not much about the day’s race. Shortly after that, I took off and headed for home, not wanting to hang around for the awards ceremony.
But not long after I got here, there was a Facebook message from Al — we had both won awards in our age group. Cool! Now I know that age-group trophies for these races aren’t a big deal, but it certainly does feel good to win one once in a while. That definitely adds to the “success” level of the race for me.
So that’s about it. If you’re really a geek, try out this link: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/44467500?sms_ss=email. It’s the race profile from my Garmin GPS watch. Not only does it give speed and distance (it measured the race at 4.03 miles; a pretty small margin of error considering the inevitable weaving back and forth in a crowd of runners) but it also gives elevation and even my heart rate throughout. I don’t fully trust the heart-rate information, however; it consistently gives readings that are much higher than they should be for my age; if I hit 198 bpm like this data says, at age 51 I should be, well, dead. But the other info can be fascinating for us geeks. Hit the “Player” button near the upper right, and you can actually see my race played out in sped-up time. Make it full-screen, hit the Go button and watch my little red arrow zip around the course and up and down the hills, all the while with constant readouts of pace, elevation and heart rate. I love my Garmin.
For the rest of you non-geeks, TMI, I know, I know.