Sunday, October 19, 2008

Race Report: Run Like Hell 10K
That’s it. (I think.) My last race of 2008. (Maybe.)

Run Like Hell is an annual mid-October event here in Portland, with – as the name suggests – a Halloween theme. (I saw people dressed as bumble bees, Ghostbusters and Dick Cheneys. I went as a middle-aged wannabe runner.) In the past, Run Like Hell offered a half-marathon and a 5K, but this year a 10K was added to the roster of races. That’s the one I picked, along with about 1,000 other people: the good ol’ 10K.

Once, 10Ks were the standard weekend-warrior race, right? My memory is a little fuzzy, but I'm pretty sure my first organized run, a quarter-century ago, was a 10K, at the Zucchini Festival in Hayward, Calif. And if you’ve ever been to Hayward, you’re as confused as I was then as to why it was home to a Zucchini Festival.

(That's the thing, these days. You can never leave a mystery a mystery. There's always the Internets. So here's what I found, after writing that last sentence: According to a 2006 Oakland Tribune story, back in the early 1980s, Hayward's politicos and power brokers - imagine that - had gathered to discuss ideas for raising money for struggling nonprofits. "When a plate of grilled zucchini offered during a brainstorming session led someone to jokingly suggest a zucchini festival, the idea got laughed off. But in the end it stuck, and the festival was born.” This was back in 1983, and amazingly, this summer Hayward celebrated the 25th Zucchini Festival. So the Zucchini Festival lives on, though without a race.)

There are still plenty of 10Ks, but there might be more 5Ks. And there are a lot more half-marathons than ever before. It’s as though the 10K runners graduated to longer races, like the half-marathon and the marathon, and the 5K became the more sensible race for the masses, a race pretty much anyone can do either walking or running.

A few months ago I myself couldn’t have imagined choosing a 10K over a half-marathon, but that was before The Injury Thing convinced me that short races might be a little painful, but long races could be dangerous.

* * *

I always try to go into a race thinking about how fast I might run it. That’s just the way I am. It’s part of what I love about racing. Having done a 19:41 5K last weekend, at Run Like Hell I thought I might have a shot at challenging my 10K PR of 41:35. Sure I hadn't been running much lately; but I think I needed the rest after a pretty busy season. And sure there was the injury; but as I've said, for short races it had been a minor factor.

Since it was held on typically busy city streets, the race began early, at 7:30, while most of Portland was sleeping in after staying up late guffawing at Sarah Palin on SNL, or hanging out listening to indie bands at clubs where 10 percent of the take went to Obama for President, or whatever it is non-runners do with their Saturday nights. I was out the door and into the darkness by 6:20 a.m., seeking the 6:30 Red Line train to Beaverton. It arrived at 6:32, a few scattered souls aboard but apparently not a runner among them, and dumped me out in the foggy, breezy, 40-degree downtown chilliness 20 minute later, a half hour or so before the race start. Just the right amount of time to hit the Honey Bucket a couple of times, jog for 10 minutes, strip down to shorts and shirt and check my bag.

I lined up near the front, hoping to avoid getting hemmed in by slower runners. It’s just the opposite of the strategy I employ for the swim part of triathlons, in which I go off to the side or the back in order not to get plowed over by faster swimmers. Getting to do this at running races doesn't quite cancel out the embarrassment that is my swim, but it's still kind of cool. The announcer guy said he would give us a 30-second alert before the start, then a minute of silence later he said, “OK, 15 seconds.” After a countdown from 10, off we went.

The course took us from Broadway, which runs more or less north-south seven blocks west of the Willamette River, down Salmon toward the river. It wasn’t a precipitous drop, but it was steady and real. Then we'd head north for a mile or so, staying near the river. We'd hang a left for a little detour into the north end of the Pearl District, and on through the the warehouses and industrial areas farther north. Then back toward the river, then south, finally retracing the opening 1.5 miles to finish the race.

Which meant we’d have to run up Salmon Street right at the end. Nice. (More on that in a minute.)

* * *

I’m always unsure of my pace until I start hitting mile markers. As we got off Salmon, maybe a third of a mile into the race, I figured I was just a little off my 5K pace from the weekend before – just right. And the first mile marker confirmed that (although you’re never 100 percent sure those markers are placed accurately): 6:37.

So I’m running along, working hard, trying to put in a performance that has meaning to me. And I’m thinking about things. I’m thinking about keeping it right there or maybe just a little faster, say, 6:35. I’m thinking about how this doesn’t feel too bad right now. I’m thinking about how it might feel after four or five miles and wondering what I’ll be willing to put myself through. I’m thinking that the damp morning air is cold, and we’re headed into the breeze, but it's not bad, it’s pretty good, it’s keeping me fresh. Before we make the turn at 9th I notice the 5K out-and-back turnaround. I deduce that we’ve now run 2.5 kilometers. One-quarter of the way. I was around 10:15 there. Often, my in-race calculating doesn’t work out too well; I lose the thread before I get a result. But this is easy: 10:15 times four equals 41 minutes. Shoot, I’d take 41 minutes.

I reach the Mile 2 marker in 13:10, giving me a 6:33 split. I’ve been hearing, barely, some runners behind me, and I periodically notice their steps, breathing and occasional words becoming more audible. And then they go past, four or five of them. I wonder if I’m falling off the pace. I am working hard. I try to concentrate on keeping my effort right where I want it – as hard as I can go while still ensuring I’ll be able to finish without falling apart. I pick my line carefully – What do they call it? Working the tangents? – and make sure not to get tripped up by railroad tracks and all the other hazards that come with Portland’s crappy roads.

There’s a bit of zigging and zagging, a turn here, a turn there. The couple dozen or so racers in front of me have woken up some homeless folk crashed on a loading dock we pass. I spend a few seconds wondering what they’re thinking, seeing us. Maybe they’re wondering what we’re thinking, seeing them. Fleeting and random, these are race thoughts.

Mile 3: I’m at 19:46, after a 6:36 split. I know 6:36 equals 41 minutes. I’m on that pace. Around 3 1/2 miles, we turn and head south on Front, parallel with the river again. Front morphs into Naito Parkway, a long crescent-shaped stretch that takes us all the way back to Salmon. I reach Mile 4 at 26:23, a 6:37 split. The woman in orange who had been 10 yards in front of me is now 25 yards in front of me. I feel like I’m hurting a bit. Well, I am hurting. I read somewhere that in a short race, if you don't constantly feel awful, you're not pushing hard enough. But this is a little different: My legs are beginning to tie up a bit. I tell myself to relax, run easy. It actually seems to help. Huh. Now I should be at Mile 5, but I see no marker. A good half-minute later, a lanky dude comes astride me. “Did you see a Mile 5 marker?” I ask. He says no, and speculates maybe we haven’t gotten there yet. I’m about to assure him we’re past five miles, but he’s already put distance between us. He’s gone.

Past the Fremont, Broadway and Steel bridges, I notice orange-shirt girl coming back to me. Ha! That’s what you get for trying to defeat Pete when there’s still so much race to go! But wait: We’re finally to the turn back up Salmon, and orange-shirt girl is continuing straight – with the half-marathoners. Ah. So she’s kicking my ass even though she’s running twice as far. Got it.

* * *

Up Salmon. And I do mean up. MapMyRun puts the climb at 100 feet of elevation gain. I’m not quite buying that. Still, it’s unyielding, and after nearly six hard miles, it’s a sinister seven blocks. I think about the Mount Tabor hill repeats I did on the bike on Friday. Those were harder and I killed them! I try to tell myself that if Obama loses a key state – Ohio, specifically, comes to mind – it will be because I wimped out on Salmon at the end of the Run Like Hell 10K. Do it for Barack, for the country, I tell myself. I push the button on my watch at the Mile 6 marker but don't take the time or energy to look at it. (Afterward, I saw: 39:40, so the previous two miles - remember, no Mile 5 marker - were covered in 13:17. Off the 6:36/41:00 pace by a few seconds.)

Finally off Salmon and toward the finish, just a half block after the turn onto Broadway. I go as hard as I can through the chute. Crossing the timing mat, I hit my watch and see: 41:01. I walk forward, catching my breath, and offer my left shoe to a girl sitting on a chair with a milk crate in front of her with a scattering of timing chips in it. “I need your other foot,” the girl says, giggling hysterically. You see, my timing chip was on my right foot! I guess you’ve got to pounce on your opportunities to be amused when you're clipping chips off a few thousand shoes.

Run Like Hell was a hell of a good race. Notice what I didn’t talk about much? The Injury Thing. Barely noticed it – and, in fact, at the end, it felt better than it had in two months. Maybe the cure for what ailed me was a hard 10K. I think that’s pretty funny. May it always be the cure for what ails me.

The official data...
Time: 41:01
Pace: 6:36
Age group (M45-49): 3/21
Men: 24/266
Overall: 25/751
Full results here.

(By the way, isn’t it interesting that there were 485 females in the race, and 266 males. I don’t even have a theory about that.)


Darin Swanson said...

NICE...2 weeks, 2 PRs. It was a great day for racing.

Steven said...

Excellent job! And congrats on 3rd in the AG, too.

Dan Brekke said...

Amazing job, Pete. Beautiful writeup, too.