Race: Raleigh 8000 (8k)
City: Raleigh, NC Date: 08/24/2013
Weather: 68, humid (85%), partly cloudy at 7:30 AM start time
Course: set by the runner staff of Raleigh Running Outfitters (RRO), so it was intentionally tough… and hilly
Summary: ok, ok… *this* is now my slowest 8k…
I’m a fan of the Raleigh Running Outfitter stores in the area. Although I don’t buy stuff in those stores often, I love the staff and they are always so helpful to me on the few occasions I did have questions. To me, a place like this – or for that matter Fleet Feet Carrborro and Fleet Feet Raleigh – is always better when staffed by people who do what you do, only have done it longer or are better at it and usually give great advice. They also tend to love a challenge, which speaks to me on so many levels. I have often said that I do some of the crazy things I do not because they are simple, but because they are difficult. I don’t always succeed, but I usually never regret trying in the first place, and I usually learn something from the experience.
So, in part, I chose this race because of the challenge of the course (and it was a challenge). In part, I chose this race because of the staff of the store. In part, I chose the race because of the distance. In part, I chose the race because proceeds go to the Autism Society of Wake County, a benefactor close to my heart. In part, I chose this race because I had 8 miles to do anyway today, and well, wouldn’t it be cool to have a race be part of that? It’s only 3 more miles after the finish – no biggie (I have a slightly different opinion about that now). I partly chose this race because I had a couple of hours alone this morning I didn’t expect, so I thought I’d fill it with a race. I hadn’t done a race since June and I was missing it. Soooo many reasons to do it, not enough to to skip it again this year.
My only concern was keeping with my Marathon training plan. I had 8 miles on the plan for this Saturday – somewhat of a step-back week – and I thought to myself: Ok, an almost-5-mile race means I’ll get at least that far, and I only have 3 miles after that, so it shouldn’t be too bad to keep going. I hadn’t done that before, but I knew others who had, so I thought I should at least try it.
Remember how I mentioned the rise of 8k events in the Raleigh area? This is one of the newer races I was referring to, and since I’ve been talking about it recently, this race was on my mind. This is only the third year for this race, and I had been intrigued by it since the first year. In the past two years, however, the biggest reason I had not done this race was because it is usually the same day or around the same day as my son’s birthday. This year is no different (we still had the birthday party), but this year, I got a few free hours before the party, so I decided to try the race.
I don’t usually do races in August around here because, in case you hadn’t heard, here are a few things about August in Raleigh, North Carolina:
- it is hot
- it is humid
- it is hot
- sometimes we get hurricanes
- it is hot
- it is hilly
- it is hot
Occasionally, we get a break (hehe) from the hot, but this time of year, rarely a break from the humid, …and the hilly – never a break from that. So, my thought is “who is crazy enough to organize a 5-mile hilly race for the end of August?” Then… I realized it was put on by my favorite running store, Raleigh Running Outfitters… oooh… yeah… *those* guys are crazy enough to organize a 5-mile race for the end of August. All of the sudden, I really wanted to be a part of the race. These hard core people ran the first one through the left-overs of a Hurricane – if they can do that, I can suffer through a little bit of humidity. Another good reason to run it: the size: 350 runners max. I don’t think I can remember the last time I ran a race this small – maybe my first ever 10k.
The packet pick up was at a restaurant/bar called the Sawmill Tap Room – added now to my list of “uh, what?” places to hold a packet pick up. They are a sponsor and at the time of day I went, it was not crowded at all, just seemed like a weird place to do it. Probably one of the more interesting things I noticed was that we actually got the physical shoe chip that we had to return for this race. It has been a while since I’ve had one of those! probably about 2 years! I’ve been spoiled! I had my boys with me, so I showed off the booty I got for the race (my shirt and my chip) and got them excited about possibly doing the Magnificent Mile race next month (emphatic, even).
I had a quiet night – took the boys back to their dad’s, finished some of the party preparations and packed up the car in case it took me longer than I expected to get back. I settled in for the evening at an early time and fell asleep quickly.
The kitty woke me up about 2 minutes before the alarm was supposed to go off around 5:30 (he’s getting better about that – it used to be 3 am… and in a few weeks, I may even be grateful for his attempts to get me out of bed early) – I got up, stretched out, cleaned up, got dressed and thought about making coffee, only to decide against it. I still wonder if that little break in my routine was a bit of a factor in my results. I set out around 6:15 for race start since I knew the parking lot of the small shopping center near the start would fill up quickly. I got to the shopping center where the start was to be and found a parking space quickly. I sat in my car a few minutes to pin my bib (crooked… yet once again), eat my banana, and send a few messages to a friend running in a different race to wish him luck. I finally ventured out of the car to go to the rest room for the last time, and walked around to loosen up until start.
The plan was that we all meet at the Six Forks location of Raleigh Running Outfitters, and then as a group, all 350 of us (because it was sold out), were to walk as a group to the start on Six Forks heading south. Raleigh PD could only block one lane of traffic on Six Forks, even at the 7:30 am start time, so they thought it safer for all of us to do the start this way. I actually kind of liked it – kind of like we were part of a team. To send us off, the DJ playing music for us all morning played the Rocky theme, which was a tradition he started the first year.
As we assembled on Six Forks, I picked out a place that appeared to be in the middle, which is where my registration said I should line up (another pretty cool thing about this race – organized by runners – so they gave us line up instruction – unexpected for such a small race). As we waited, though, many of the runners were self-adjusting, which I also thought was very cool. One guy got behind me and said “you just look faster”. I took that as a compliment. I traded spaces with a couple of people that “just looked faster” to me and we were all set. All we needed was for the clock to hit 7:30. As expected, the race started ON TIME – runners are notorious for their punctuality, so I would have been surprised if it started even a second late.
The course was supposed to be hilly. They said so on the website. Note my sarcastic comment on the Run Green 8k when I said “I wish RDs would stop saying ‘faster and flatter’ here” because they can’t do it. It is all relative. I mean, technically, if you are routing a course that is 5′ less of a climb, that is flatter, but overall, you’re still climbing 395′. That’s the part they tend to leave out. These guys did not write that. They wrote something more like “yeah, so you get a big down hill at the start, but guess what? You have to come back up that sucker on the finish.” I appreciated the honesty and I used that to my advantage when I was setting expectations for myself when others asked what my goal was. I said “as much as I’d like to come close to a PR, I really doubt I can do that and will be happy beating my worst time” (which I did not do). The best way to describe the course is as three tiers – you start and finish on the highest tier, you run toward the lake on the 2nd tier, around most of the lake on the lowest tier, back up to middle tier for a while, back down to lowest, back up to middle, then back up high to finish. The transitions between tiers are pretty steep, but once you are on a tier, the hills are shorter and rolly.
Naturally, the first mile was some kind of awesome for me: 7:45! That down hill felt good up to the point where we transitioned from the highest tier to the middle tier – and the first of about four very steep hills. I was actually a little scared going down that part of the hill because it was so steep and worried that I might wipe out. My quads were burning at the bottom of it, but I kept going because I wanted to make sure I didn’t give up my pace too early. The middle tier was a little hilly, but by this time, we were out of the sun for the most part, and the air was a little cooler, though, we had lost the breeze. By the time we got to the lower tier, the course (relatively) flattened a bit, but by this time (around mile 3) I was starting to hurt a bit and noticed my pace had slowed quite a bit. For some reason, by audio cues were not working on my phone, so I wasn’t hearing my pace as I went and had to go by feel and I felt very heavy. I was trying not to think about it too much and tried to just enjoy the greenway – it is pretty down there. We turned a corner and could see the sun coming through the trees and I could see the humidity in the air – ugh. That just made me feel heavy again.
I found a few things a little scary about this route – probably because I’m just not graceful: the two steep down hills (I’d much rather climb than go down a steep hill) and the dark tunnel. At some point, when I was feeling heavy, I tried distracting myself by finding someone to pass. One woman in particular had started near me and I was pretty sure she was in my age group, so I really wanted to pass her and I finally did so as we climbed the second of the four very steep hills – which was satisfying, but… climbing up a steep hill means we eventually have to go down it, so I few down the other side in the same way I did the first steep hill – probably more scared this time because I was already in pain from the first steep down. I made it down in one piece and was energized by the thrill of doing something that could have easily been a nasty spill for me and keeping my balance, so I got a tiny (emphasis on tiny) boost from that. The other scary part was the tunnel. On the approach to and return from the lower tier, we went through a tunnel that was pitch black. It was a short tunnel, but it was narrow and had rained the night before, so there was still a lot of standing water in it and since it was really dark in there, it was almost impossible to see where the puddles were. The organizers put lights in there and had volunteers guiding us – but you still could’t see all that well and I slowed considerably (as did a lot of folks). I was a lot more freaked out coming back than I was going in, probably because I was a lot less sure of my leg strength and I was very sore from the 3 steep hills I had already passed and knew the last of the four was still ahead of me.
I was beat by the time I got to the last steep hill – even though I knew I had less than a mile left, I was done. I was even giving myself reasons why I wasn’t going to run the three miles after this race: I’m tired. My legs are already sore and I haven’t even finished yet. It is hot. It is humid. This run is way faster than the plan called for, so it’s even, right? I’m hungry. I’m a little dehydrated. By the time I finished my list of reasons *NOT* to do the additional 3 after the race, I was at the bottom of the last steep hill, transitioning to the highest tier (notice I didn’t say the last hill… just the steepest of the main 4 steep guys). I climbed it and tried very hard not to pay attention to the guy grunting behind me because, really, I felt the same way he sounded and it made me hurt a little more. I focused on passing one more person (a guy who had been ahead of me the whole race) and rounding the corner to the “rest” before the last hill. I took advantage of the short rest, and then started up the last hill – almost there kid, you’re almost done. Then you can have a coffee! And then you can listen to music! and then you can stop! I got to the steepest point in the hill and felt queasy, so I had to stop for three seconds (I literally counted that) and started back up again, a little slower this time. I saw the clock and realized I was a good 20 seconds slower than my slowest 8k and was annoyed about it.
I crossed the finish line, walked up the stairs (which probably wasn’t the best idea for my quads) and walked around the parking lot to stretch things out a bit. I got an apple and a couple bottles of water and talked myself into looking at the results. Since they were preliminary, they were just showing overall finishers and I was low on the list, so I thought there was no reason to stick around. As I walked back to my car, I talked myself into continuing my 3 miles left on my plan. My best argument: I’m never going to make it to 26 miles if I quit at 5… and I was right. So, I put music on, started Runkeeper again, and headed up (told you I preferred the climb) yet another hill on Six Forks until I got to 1.5, and then I turned around and went back toward my car to finish out the 3. It was slow, and I was tired, but I felt sooo much better when I finished that 3 than I did after the previous 5. I noticed the awards and thought there was nothing possible for me, so I left and got the coffee I had craved for the last two hours.
As it turned out, I placed second in age group. What the what? You don’t win anything for that in this race, but wow! The first in age group beat me by only 6 seconds, which was probably that walk I had to do up the last hill. All the Masters winners were over 45, which made me feel like I still have some room for improvement. I have only placed 2nd in age group one other time, and I didn’t expect it then, either. I usually run in such large events that I just never expect to win anything because most of the larger events tend to attract the faster people and I’m not quite that fast. Even this event had mostly people who appeared to be life-style runners (as opposed to first timers, I mean) and the 30-39 age groups were super fast – like in the lower 30-minutes. I am still improving – slowly – but when I have a tough run or a bad experience, or I don’t reach a goal, I don’t think I did well at all, so I treat it as a mark on the “ho hum” side of things, learn something from it, and move on.
This time, I learned that even when you don’t think you did well – even if it is your slowest ever – it might not have been that bad of a race.