Monday, March 20, 2017

Aurora Health Care Two Rivers 10-Mile Run - Race Report

It was o'dark thirty when five of my bestest running friends converged on my house for the long drive to Two Rivers, Wisconsin, so that we could take part in the Two Rivers 10-Mile Run. I was excited to finally have a chance to do this race as it had been on my radar for some years but the timing had never worked out. This year, though, it seemed to fall into place perfectly on my running calendar and I was quick to take advantage of that.

After an uneventful but slightly groggy drive we landed at Two Rivers High School, where the event was being staged. A lovely venue for the race, there was plenty of room to hang out inside the building, a fair number of bathrooms, and the cafeteria was large enough to handle packet pickup and some last-minute clothing adjustments and bib pinnings without feeling like you were bumping elbows with the person next to you. In fact, the high school was probably large enough to accommodate a decent length warm-up run inside the building if one were so inclined. (Needless to say, I was not so inclined.)

We had perfect weather on the slate for yesterday's run: 30 degrees at the start, mostly cloudy, and only a whisper of a breeze. Lining up at the start I was already regretting my choice of attire, which included a pair of tights and a thin merino-wool long-sleeved top under a light shell. With the humidity in the 90-percent range (and me not liking cold, damp conditions), I dressed for being cold. As it turned out, I was indeed a bit overdressed, but nothing that made me absolutely miserable.

As the gun went off, five of our little group started out together. Our lone speedster had lined up a bit further ahead of us, which was as it should be. Starting out with the others, though, was great fun. It's nice to have people to talk to, or just listen to, to feel a sense of belonging. I run so many of my runs solo that being a part of a group is a rare treat, and something I've really come to look forward to.

As with runners everywhere, we started out a tad too fast. I don't think anyone in the group had a solid time goal of what we wanted to accomplish in this event, but fast is fast and you know it when you feel it.

The group I was running with usually does a 2:30/:30 run/walk, but yesterday they decided to run the first few miles through before going to the run/walk strategy. While I have always been a huge fan of the run/walk, since starting my running streak I've stuck more to pure running. The more I have run, the more efficient I have become and it really isn't as hard for me as it once was. Couple that with better overall recovery from running, and I have all but abandoned the run/walk. That's not to say I would never do it, because I would in a heartbeat if I thought it would help me on any given day, but for yesterday I just thought I would run with them until they started their intervals. Then I would continue on and just see how things felt since I was not running with a watch.

So the first few miles would have remained non-noteworthy, filled no doubt with some laughs and good conversation and a solid attempt to not go out too fast, if it had not been for that one person who joined our little group. Now, I am not one to complain about others, and mostly I adhere to the policy of if you have nothing nice to say, don't say it.  However, yesterday's encounter with the It's-All-About-Me Runner almost sent me over the edge. I won't go into details, but I am taking it as a personal lesson. If I decide in the future to join a group of strangers on a run, I'd better be prepared to ask some questions and find out something about them, instead of just talking about everything I've accomplished up to that point in my life. Whew! Anyway, by Mile 3, I had passed her and life moved on. Back to the race...

So, apparently I was a little confused as to where this race actually ran. If I had looked at the course map ahead of time, then I would have realized that the route did not run along Lake Michigan the entire way - like I had pictured in my head for the past few years. (Not sure why I thought that, other than the town of Manitowoc is about five miles south of Two Rivers along Lake Michigan and I had just assumed this race took us to Manitowoc and back. Duh.)

While we did see the lake for a brief spell around Mile 4, the rest of the time was spent wending our way along the country roads near Point Beach State Forest and Point Beach Ridges State Natural Area. Although different from what I had anticipated, the race really did not disappoint. Except for the first mile and a half or so, the entire course was pretty and fairly well protected with large pine trees all around. The "protected" part is important, because while we had fantastic weather, I suspect that is not always the case. I dunno, something about mid-March and Northeast Wisconsin has me thinking that anything might be possible weather-wise at this event.

Around Mile 3 or so, the run/walkers in my group started their thing, and I decided to try my luck continuing to run. One friend decided to run with me and see what happened, which turned out to be great. It was nice having someone to talk to, and I suspect I was a bit better at keeping up the pace with her there with me.

On the whole, I felt very good for much of the run. On a scale between conversational and gasping, my breathing stayed somewhere in between the whole time. There were water stations with water and Gatorade every two miles, and I just focused on getting from one to the next and not much else. I tried to keep my water station stops to a minimum, lingering just long enough to grab a drink, walk through the water station, thank the volunteers, and then keep going once I'd reached the garbage can at the end.

Around Mile 5 I noticed my legs starting to feel a bit heavy, but I put that down to the faster pace than I was used to. Although, in retrospect, maybe it had something to do with only drinking water up to that point. I am not sure. I did take a Gu at the Mile 6 water station, for what it was worth. I don't know if it helped or not, but I tried to convince myself that it did. The good news is that the heaviness didn't really impact my pace too much. I seemed able to keep on trucking.

Around Mile 7, I started feeling ready to be done. I don't know how much of that was physical or mental, because it was around that time that we passed by the turn towards the finish. Before making that turn, we apparently had to do a little mile-and-a-half or so out-and-back section. It's always disappointing, I find, when I have to go away from a finish line late in a race.

Soon after passing our would-be turn, we passed through what would eventually be the Mile 8 aid station. I didn't want to stop, though, until after reaching the turnaround on our out-and-back, when it would really be Mile 8. It's good to have something to look forward to.

Around this time, my running friend said she thought she would go to her run/walk interval, so I pressed ahead a bit thinking she was going to start taking her walk breaks. Over the next mile, though, I continued to hear her footsteps behind me and I grew dubious that she was actually ever walking, but I decided not to look back. At the turnaround, I saw that she was indeed right behind me, but I didn't question it too much at that point. I was too distracted by how heartened I was to see the annoying lady from the first few miles a short ways behind me (#sorrynotsorry) and surprised and happy at the same time to see my other friends not that far behind her. (Not Schadenfreude happy this time, but truly happy. There is a difference.)

By the time I got to the Mile 8 aid station, I was ready for some Gatorade and pleased to see it was purple - my favorite flavor. It was also around here that I concluded that I wasn't going to lose my other running friend, because she had decided she wasn't actually going to walk after all. As we fell into step to run together again, I was actually relieved. Running alone had felt a lot harder than it did with her there. The next mile and a half passed by relatively quickly.

Right around Mile 9, we had a bit of a hill to climb, one we had come down in the first couple miles of the race and one that neither of us could remember as being that significant on the way out. After the hill, I was definitely ready to be done, so when my running partner started picking up the pace with a half mile to go my brain said, "Hell yeah!" Sadly, my body said, "Whaaaaa!?" Although I tried valiantly to put on the speed, my legs didn't cooperate. They were done. I still ran in to the finish, but I ended up being a good 30 seconds behind my friend crossing the line.

That's okay, though, because finishing in 1:33:35, I was surprised to learn I was third place in my age group, something that I have seldom accomplished.

After the race, food was set up in the high school cafeteria for runners to enjoy. There was chili and ham and turkey Subway sandwiches. For us vegetarians, there were cut-up bagels, peanut butter, cream cheese, bananas, oranges, and chocolate chip cookies, as well as chocolate milk, water, and Gatorade. Awards were given out at around 10:05 a.m. (after an 8 a.m. start) with first place age group winners receiving a trophy and second and third place finishers getting medals. Massage therapists were also on hand to rub away any aches and pains.

So, some final thoughts on this event - and this day.

- This was a nice race. I think the folks putting on the event do a very nice job with it. It seems like it must attract a lot of faster runners, given the times I was hearing for the winners. But with the mostly flat course, that makes sense. 

- Weather-wise, we got lucky. There's nothing else to say about that. It's bound to happen sometimes.

- My average pace ended up being 9:21/mile. This is funny because the only other race I have done this year was a 5K in January where my average pace was 9:18/mile. Curious.

- Despite my friends doing their run/walk strategy from Mile 3 on, they finished only about two-and-a-half minutes behind me. Just another testament to the fact that the run/walk doesn't really compromise one's race performance.

- I really feel excited about racing again. It's been a while since I really felt this way. Running a bunch of longer distances last year - 50K and higher - I never felt like I was racing. I mean, I cannot "race" a 50K, I can only try to survive it. At least at this point. For the first time in a long time I feel I can actually try to strategize my approach to an event, test it out, and then see how it goes. That's kind of fun. Anyway, next up - a half marathon.

So, that's my race report. Today I meant to go out and run a mile and walk two, but then things felt pretty good actually and I ended up running a slow three miles. The weather is gorgeous, though, with sunny skies and temperatures in the high 40s. It was nice just to get out there and enjoy the day.

Happy running!

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