Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Kenwood Footrace
For readers flung far, Kenwood is a leafy little unincorporated town about halfway up Sonoma Valley, the 20-mile crescent that runs from Sonoma northwest toward Santa Rosa, bisected by State Route 12. Kenwood once would have been called a farm town, but this being Wine Country 2006, the price of admission for a 2BR/2BA cottage is probably a cool million. And the most common businesses in town are probably bed-and-breakfasts; there's one on every block, I think. So farm town doesn't quite work anymore. Nevertheless, on the Fourth, the small-town feel flows. There's a big pancake breakfast, World Championship Pillow Fights, parade, chili cookoff, fireworks – all kicked off, at 7:30 a.m., by the Kenwood Footrace.

This is a 10K with some history – 2006 marked the 35th annual running. The course is certified and certifiably about as beautiful as you can imagine, starting alongside the "downtown" park, heading past vineyards and pastures into the hills for a few miles, through more vineyards and woodlands, too, then back toward town through yet more vineyards and oak-dappled terrain. Quiet country roads, dirt trails, paved paths, it has a little of everything, and no cars.

The other time I ran Kenwood, in 2003, I was surprised and hurt by the hills. From about Mile 1 to Mile 3, the course climbs some 250 feet in elevation. (The second half of the race is mostly downhill, but with one more significant climb.) I hit the hills hard in '03, and my muscles weren't ready. My quads tightened into knots.

So this year, returning for the first time to Kenwood, I made sure to warm up well, running slowly for 15 or 20 minutes until about a quarter-hour before the race started. When I stopped I noticed I was sweating just a bit, despite the cool morning temps (around 60, sunny with a bit of scattered marine layer on the edges). Good.

The race start was a little frustrating; a lot of slow runners positioned themselves at the front of the pack. Why? Maybe they didn't realize what they were doing. Or maybe they're the sort who drive at the speed limit in the fast lane on the freeway. Anyway, it took about 10 seconds to reach the start line, then a couple of minutes to break free from the crowd and find my pace.

I ran 44:52 in 2003, and thought I might be able to cut a minute off that time this year, on account of the proper warm-up and just generally being a more fit runner. Of course, I am three years older and theoretically at least that ought to work against me. (But I don't feel any older, he said, defensively.)

I have to say this about 10Ks: After doing four marathons and 15 triathlons (eight half-iron distance) in the past four-plus years, a 10K is delightfully simple. I love triathlons and love training for them, but it's great to compete with a pure focus on simply getting out and running hard for 45 minutes. No wetsuit! No transition setup! No flat tires!

I used my Garmin on the run and despite some tree canopy issues in the hills, it mostly kept its bearings. Despite the crowded start, I managed the first mile in 7:01. Then came the hills, and for the next two miles my pace slowed to 7:30. The only mileage marker on the course is at three miles, and I hit that in 22:01. I felt good, really good. Nothing hurt – not the Achilles, the knees, no aches, no pains. I can't emphasize enough how fun it is to run in a race and not have anything hurting.

We dropped 120 feet from Mile 3.3 to 4.4. Running those downhills, I thought about the signs Caltrans has for truckers coming down I-80 from the High Sierra: "Let 'er run" (or "ride," or "rip," something like that). I lengthened my stride, letting gravity do as much work as possible. I completed that 1.1-mile stretch in about six minutes, still feeling fairly frisky – which was good, because right when we bottomed at the 4.4 mark, we had a 100-foot climb over the next 0.8 miles. I knew it was the last climb, so I went at it hard, staying well under 9 min./mile pace.

The last mile was great: 120-foot decline, first fairly steep then leveling out a bit. I went hard, using runners ahead of me as targets. (I was passed once on the second half of the course, but came back and got that guy, an amazing runner who must have been well into his 60s.) Down the final straight, a few hundred yards maybe, I passed a younger woman and wanted to make a run at a younger guy up ahead, too, but the effort finally began to get to me: It wasn't the legs or the lungs; it was the ol' lower GI. I felt like I could make it to the finish without having a major incident, but no farther. I'm not sure if anything disastrous would have occurred had the race been a tenth of a mile longer, but I'm glad I didn't have to find out.

Final time on the Garmin, from gun to finish line: 43:52, a 7:01 pace. Considering how challenging the Kenwood course is, I feel good about that: One minute faster than three years ago.

Afterward, I had some time before the noon Germany-Italy match, so I did an easy 1,500 yards at the pool. Now, with the match over, why not an easy spin on the bike? A "triathlon" day after all.

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