Saturday, October 20, 2007

Race Report: Blue Lake 15K
About three years ago I ran my first 15K, at Lake Merritt in Oakland: three loops around the lake, in 1:06:02. It was great fun, but I hadn't done the distance since then, mainly because there aren't a lot of 15Ks offered. More's the pity. It's a fine distance, a substantial run but not so long it wrecks the body.

So a few days ago I wandered onto the Oregon Road Runners Club site and saw a listing for the 33rd Annual Blue Lake Runs. I was jazzed. Not only was a 15K the marquee event, but Blue Lake is in Troutdale, an easy 20-minute drive from my home. And the race started at 11 a.m. No early wakeup call!

Race day today dawned drippy and dreary, par for the course this fall: our rainy season began about a month ago, and we've had rain 17 out of the past 23 days. The little twist to the weather today was the chill in the air. Highs had been around 60 most of October, but today the race-time temp was 48. I'd checked the radar before leaving home and it looked like we might get a break in the rain, but it was hard to tell. The skies spit on and off through registration and warm-up, then just before the start, lightened a bit. I took my rain jacket back to the car, leaving me with a long-sleeve technical shirt and shorts (no tights for me, baby).

I really didn't know what to expect. Pretty much all year—certainly since the Pacific Crest half-iron triathlon in June—I've been staying active, but not really "training." That means four runs a week, give or take, usually between five and eight miles, mixing in hills and flats. Plus, for the past several weeks I've been logging 60- to 90-minute stints on the bike trainer three or four times a week. What all this would add up to as far as racing goes, who knew? The course was advertised as flat, so I figured there was no risk in trying to run it at something near my previous 15K pace, just over seven minutes a mile. And if that proved too much, well, I'd make it home one way or another.

Off we went, beginning with a little half-mile out-and-back in Blue Lake Park. Never saw the lake, but the trees, even in the gray and wet, were beautiful shades of fall yellow and red. We exited and wound our way eastward to a bike path alongside Marine Blvd., which runs along the Columbia River. The Mile 1 marker came at .93 on my Garmin. When it measured a mile, I was at 6:41. I felt good, comfortable, but I knew I couldn't keep that up. Mile 2 offered a few puddles to dodge, a little rain and gusts of winds to endure, but I clicked off a 6:53. The Garmin and the mile markers were coming into sync.

As advertised, the course was flat, with no real "climbs," just a couple of mild, sparsely spaced rises that did no damage. After about three miles, we did a u-turn on Marine, and then turned north toward the Portland-Troutdale Airport. At 4.7 miles, we turned around and retraced our steps back to the start.

As I ran, I thought a lot about my pace. At Mile 5, I was still under the 7-minute per mile pace, around 6:58. I assumed the next few miles would do me in. We were turning back into the wind, which was gusting up to around 20 mph, according to the nearby weather station (I checked online afterward). And the rain began to pelt down hard for a little while. Indeed, Mile 6 was my slowest (7:18) and I lost more time on Miles 7 and 8, both 7:04s. My pace was now around 7:03. But I felt great! A younger woman had passed me after three or four miles, but now I was closing in on her. Well, maybe she was coming back, but either way, it's inspiring to pass someone. Now I consciously picked up the pace, though, I must confess, I didn't kill myself. I didn't suffer deeply. I just ran hard.

Turning back into the park, I passed the guy in the orange shirt who had been up ahead for the whole race. He said something that sounded convivial, although I didn't make out the words. I told him I was gunning for a seven-minute pace. "You'll have to hurry a little bit," he said. But soon thereafter the Mile 9 marker came up: a 6:40 mile had put me through at 1 hour, 3 minutes—smack dab on pace. I knew I had it in the bag then.

I gave, oh, probably 96.7 percent effort over that last 3/10ths, running it in a minute 48, a 6:13 pace. As I walked through the finishing chute I noted that it took me just a few steps to catch my breath. I should have gone harder!

Here's the Garmin data I studied as I squished over the soggy grass, heading toward the covered picnic tables for the post-race hoo-haw:

Mile 1...6:41
Mile 2...6:53
Mile 3...7:02
Mile 4...7:01
Mile 5...7:12
Mile 6...7:18
Mile 7...7:04
Mile 8...7:04
Mile 9...6:40
Last 0.3..1:48 (6:13 pace)
Total time: 1:04:48
Distance: 9.29 miles
Pace: 6:58/mile

I felt super, and wished it had been a half-marathon. I wanted another few miles! But food and drink sounded good, too, and the ORRC broke the mold with hot dogs. On a chilly rainy day, after a hard run, right around lunchtime? Hit. The. Spot.

This was a PR by about a minute 14, or eight seconds per mile. That's pretty satisfying because, maybe you didn't realize this, I'm older than I used to be. I was just shy of 42 when I ran that earlier 15K. Now, on 45's doorstep, I was able give that time a pretty good whupping.

OK, so it's not like I'm crazy fast or anything. But I get a charge out of the fact I'm getting faster in my 40s. And I have a theory as to why: I've continued to work out regularly, which has given me a rock-solid foundation of fitness—but I've avoided overtraining. It's a weird thing: when you make fitness a regular part of your life and enjoy measuring your fitness in races, it can be easy to fall into the overtraining trap. There's a constant nagging impulse to do more. A one-workout day? Barely enough to keep slackerdom at bay. Or so it seems. But the truth is, these stretches of moderation—interrupted occasionally by more intensity—are probably what have kept me fresh and injury-free. That and a lot of good fortune.

Still having fun...
The Data Don't Lie
I've lived in Portland for 123 days—three months of summer, one month of fall—and on 30 of those days there's been measurable precipitation. The most rain we've had in a single day is .65 inches. On 15 days—half of our "rainy" days—the bucket has delivered more than a tenth of an inch.

In the same period, my old hometown, Napa, has had nine days with measurable percipitation, totaling 1.58 inches. Maximum single day rainfall: .62 inches, with four of the days showing more than .10.

Conclusion: They were right; Portland is rainy.