Monday, May 5, 2014

Race Report: Mighty Cow Challenge, Redding, CT

The format was a 5K followed by an opening ceremony, then a half marathon. The road laid to waste wound through the punishing terrain of Redding, where dirt roads are thruways. The weather was poetically beautiful for running, a hint of sun peeking through fluffy clouds with temperatures in the low 60s, a slight gust of wind chilling the beads of sweat on the brow for relief from the internal engine heat.

We began the 5K with few of us knowing quite how to pace ourselves - run a true 5K and hope the break is sufficient to recover? Run at half marathon pace and treat it as a warmup? I did a hybrid, starting out conversational with a new friend I'd met through local training and shifting gears to running comfortably quick, but not all out. Good, long strides at tempo heart rate. Turned out pretty smart, because the course finished on an abruptly steep incline that if taken at full speed would have burned a few matches for the longer leg ahead. The watch said I ran a 7:10\mm pace, the official results say a 7:20 for 22:41, and I overheard the timer say he started the clock late for the 5K because he was confused. I was happy to be in the mix up front, with everyone ahead of me within sight and therefore within catch the whole time. I, the charging rhino with a body that has never screamed to be a runner's body, was running nonetheless, and I was thrilled with the first leg.

We started the half marathon portion with a quick loop around the farm, where I should have busted through the corral and moved up to the pace group, but I enjoyed myself instead by whooping it up with the sizable and fun crowd, clapping along and yelling like a loony. From there I don't remember much until about mile three, where I had scouted that it would be a good time to take a gel for a caffeine boost to conquer some coming hills. I was moving along pretty well at my goal (7:30/mm) pace and the hills weren't giving me any trouble. Some runners with more typical running physiques were not getting ahead of me, and some were falling behind. I decided that I belonged in the group, and that I was out for a good race, not just an extended training session.

Around mile nine came the longest hill of the day, and a twinge in my calf was enough to slow me to a walk for thirty seconds to crest it, knowing there was a long downhill on packed dirt coming up to cushion me for a while of recovery. Something in my head was reminding me that I was quite near the end of having run an actual half marathon already, and that the remaining miles were going to be some uncharted race territory, as I've never raced anything longer. I tired quickly and began to take short walk breaks more frequently, about four of them if memory serves, for about three minutes total. I was convincing myself the fatigue was too much, the hills too brutal, the course too long. I finally fought back against the devil on the shoulder with a mile to go, hills be damned (why were there so MANY?) we're going to run this out. My mind was back in the ballgame but the reality was I had tired significantly, and the best my body could manage for a kick was an 8:00\mm pace. I was toast indeed, and miles 10 through 12 had brought my average pace above 8, which mentally beat me down. Where once I felt I was racing, I was beat up. I crossed the finish line with very little in the tank physically, and of that I was proud and happy. The course had its way with me, and I gave it mental applause for a job well done.

I drank some chocolate milk and water, chatted with a few friends, and took a peek at the results to learn that the course was not merciful to anyone; no one crested 1:20, and only four crested 1:30, which is not a 'fast' half by any measure. I place 71st overall of 480, an achievement for me. The race was hard, the festivities and organization masterful, and I'll come back to see if I can do better.

A strong day. No reversion, pushing the mean.

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