2012 Race Reports: Tarheel 10-Miler

Race: Tarheel-10 Miler City: Chapel Hill, NC   Date: 4/21/2012

Distance: 10 miles

Weather: nice, yet humid (mid-to-upper 60s), cloudy, at times a little sun.

Course: Around the campus of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill – an aptly named town… and longer than advertised…

Summary: did not make my goal and was late to start… (sigh).

Pre-Race

After a little hunting around, I finally found (and transferred) the race report from 2 years ago for the one and so far only race I have not finished. As I admitted to a friend recently: I don’t let go of things easily. I wish I did, but I don’t. I acknowledge that I do it. I try to let go, but occasionally I am reminded of things that burn me and it gnaws at me, even when I later succeed. It has been two years and I have even done this particular race successfully since, yet, that damn Fleet Feet 4-Miler from 2010 *still* haunts me. And, unfortunately for me, I took it a little too close to the vest this year. I did well and I enjoyed the run itself, but there were factors about it that reminded me of the Fleet Feet Four Disaster, as I’ve come to call it.

If you’ve read my post from the 2011 Tarheel 10 Miler, you may remember how I referenced the debacle of the “Fleet Feet Four Incident” – everything from almost taking out a pedestrian to ending up lost on the campus with bloodied feet. I rectified that last year: I had a successful run, inside of my goal and I didn’t get lost on the course or on campus (although, last year I was with someone who went to school at UNC and knew his way around, so I just followed him). This year, I wanted to improve even on that. I knew most of the course, because I had done it before. I knew when I could speed up. I knew when I should slow down. I knew better how to pace myself overall, and have practiced and worked hard at it. I felt ready. I even carb and hydration loaded appropriately before.

I was ready. Physically, at least.

I enlisted friends to join me because racing with friends is always more fun. So, luckily for me, a couple of my friends joined me at the race: One a “virtual” friend that I met in person for the first time who lives in a town a few hours away, the other one of my regular run buddies. I knew it was unlikely that we would be running together the entire race, but it was still nice to have the experience of doing the same race, someone to look for on the course, and have some folks to compare notes with after all was said and done.

The three of us are all part of a virtual running group – as I call it – which has yielded many friends for me, and I have raced with several of them in Virginia Beach, New Orleans, Las Vegas, a few locally, including an 8K Green Run, and now this race. All have been wonderful people and it has been a pleasure putting a face and personality with a screen name. For that reason, I was delighted when one of the locals in our virtual group that wasn’t even running the race organized a pre-race dinner to meet our traveling race buddy and get to know him in person. Due to scheduling, only four of us were able to go, but it was great meeting (and probably scaring) my friend that traveled here to run this race as much as it was great reconnecting with a couple of friends I have not seen in a while.

After dinner, I headed back home. It had been a long, stressful week in many ways. Thankfully, my local running buddy that was also running the Tarheel 10-miler (his longest so far) was kind enough to pick up my packet for me the day before, so that was just one less thing to stress about. I came home and prepared my clothes (NCSU Red shirt, of course), set up the coffee maker and crawled into bed, ready for a restful sleep.

Race Day

A restful sleep – for the first time that week – was what I got. I don’t think I moved all night. I woke up and got out of bed at the second alarm – around 5:15 – and went through my usual routine of shower, coffee, hydrate, stretch. Unfortunately, a big dinner the night before with a dash of anxiety and a side of stress means no morning appetite for me, so I didn’t eat at home, though, I brought a banana, just in case. In my usual OCD way, I checked, rechecked and checked one more time all the stuff I had and wanted to bring, made use of indoor plumbing one more time before I left and was out the door and on the road by 6:15, about the same as last year. I was thinking about the most direct route I could find and decided that one of the back highways up to I-40 would be the best way to go – most direct – and there would be no traffic at 6:15 in the morning on a Saturday.

I was right until I got about 2 miles in on Highway 54 in Chapel Hill… which had become a parking lot by the time I got there. ugh. I sat in traffic for about 10 minutes before it occurred to me that my local running buddy was also coming into town and that I should warn him that it was a nightmare. I sent that message at 6:59 – I was there in PLENTY of time to park as the race didn’t start until 7:30. I kept saying to myself: I don’t remember this mess last year, so maybe it’ll move fast.

It didn’t.

Eventually, at a little after 7:20, I did get to 15-501 and then onto the south side of campus where I eventually parked in one of what I later found out were *several* S11 parking lots on campus. I rushed out of the car, still swallowing the banana that I crammed into my mouth and hoping that I put my car key in the right slot of my pink “luggage” that I carried with me and ran up to the start.

As an aside – in addition to admitting I can’t let go of things easily, I also admitted that my sense of direction, sense of elevation and sense of distance (though this one is improving) are – let’s be charitable – lacking. so… I have no idea exactly how far it was from my car to the start, but it took me over 10 minutes because I ran through the gates of Kenan Stadium at 7:33, according to my Garmin. And, my friends, I ran most of that – up a hill (warm up, you know).

After running through the gates, I ran (literally) into the bathroom and cut a girl off for the next available stall – I feel bad about it now, but my frenzied logic was that I was late and she didn’t even have a bib on. I emptied the tank, washed up, and literally ran out of the bathroom and down the stairs of Kenan Stadium. To this moment, I cannot tell you how I did not fall and bust my ass doing that, but (thankfully for me) grace prevailed and I was on my way. I rounded the corner, got my Garmin ready and ran across the start line – shouting a well known expletive starting with the letter F as I started because my Garmin didn’t lock and I paused it accidentally. Once I got it started, I looked up and there was my local running buddy! yay! I ran up beside him and, because he’s a lot like me in personality, I figured he was stressing out as much as I was. We chatted for the first two miles, then he had to make a pit stop, so I told him I’d see him at the finish and went on.

I did not have time to prepare for the use of music, so I didn’t have any this race, which turned out to be a good thing, I think. It made me more aware of my running, and of the course. I got past the three mile marker and then I zoned out, just enveloped in all kinds of thoughts about the stresses of the week, letting all my worries – temporarily at least – seep out of my pores as I started picking up the pace a little. However… I started to notice, shortly after I split from my local race buddy, that my Garmin was over on distance by .25 of a mile. Hm… Maybe a small blip that will sort out once we get farther out in the course.

Because I was running a faster pace than most of the people I encountered at this point in the race, I was passing folks a lot. It wasn’t terribly crowded, so passing wasn’t as annoying as it can tend to be up front – lemonade, my friends. This also gave me an opportunity to seek out a few NCSU fans – emphasis on “few” at this point in the race. I did pass one girl in NCSU stuff who looked like she might actually still be in college who was walking – I gave her the wolf and a ‘you got this’ and made her smile which made me feel good. Then I passed her. A lot of the spectators were calling out the Duke fans, and just ignoring me. haha. That’s Tobacco Road Rivalry for you…

Then, I got to Franklin Street. This is the scene of my failure 2 years ago, and despite my successful passage of it last year, it still haunted me. I don’t remember Franklin Street’s hills as much last year, but this year, I felt them. It made me push harder on them, though, to pass the spot where I gave up two years ago. As a result (and not of any surprise to me) those were my two fastest miles (it is between mile markers 4 and 5 on the route so the anxiety leading to four and the exhilaration of coming out of it on 5).

Once I passed that spot, though, I started to relax a little and actually enjoy the run. I let the sound of my race partners’ shoes be my music and I focused on preparing myself mentally for the hill I knew I had ahead. I went through the first neighborhood, looking for my virtual running buddy as I went in (I didn’t see him) and then looking for my local running buddy as I left (I didn’t see him either). Then, on to the second neighborhood – where I looked for my virtual buddy going in (didn’t see him) and my local running buddy as I left (I did see him and cheered him on!). Excited that I knew he was doing well, I moved on to Laurel Hill Road… still over on mileage, though, by as much as 1/3 of a mile at this point. HHHmmm…

My friends… I didn’t have time to worry about the mileage though… I had a hill to think about. I have discussed this road before. At this time last year, this might have been the toughest hill I’ve run. Here’s what I wrote last year:

Thank God, THANK GOD, we drove it the night before. I had dreams about this hill and I had anxiety about it the entire first 8 1/2 miles of the race. I even thought at one point that ignorance might have been bliss for me – not knowing what was ahead so I didn’t have to dread it… that is until I got to the bottom of it I looked up it. Had I been blissfully ignorant of it, I might have thought that it was a shorter or less steep hill (it curved so you really can’t see how long or steep from the bottom) and taken it way too fast and had to stop or hurt myself. But… when I got to it and looked up, knowing what I knew, I found it daunting, for sure, but I knew how long it was and I said to myself “just slow down – you only have 1 1/2 miles to go and you’re on target for time” and I took it. It was very tough – very steep at the start (you should see the elevation charts for it) and then it fakes you out with a “flat” part only to be followed by yet another steep (maybe even steeper than the first – who knows, I was so out of it by this point) hill behind a curve. Just mean. I have never, ever, ever been so happy to see a smaller hill in my life as I was when I climbed the hill right after (yes, I said right after) this hill. This is going down in my books as one of the tougher runs I’ve done.

Since then, I’ve run on California, Filbert, Hyde, and Lombard Streets in San Fransisco – and could hardly walk the next day – so I felt like I was ready for what Laurel Hill had to give to me because, to me, in comparison, this hill was but a bump in the road.

My friends… I’m sad to report that it was still daunting to me and I let my ego get the better of me. I took that hill way too fast at the start… I even had the same kind of pep talk with myself about it “just slow down, you can do this”. I can, if I had listened to myself. As my parents unfortunately are aware, I don’t listen to anybody… including myself. Because I thought I was ahead of the game and I had the time, I ended up trying to keep my pace at 9 minutes and burned out about half way up. I did walk twice – though it was just yards each time – but the walking at all was a little bit of a blow to my ego and I got annoyed about it. How could this hill hurt me this year when it didn’t last year? How could I be so good at pacing myself the whole damn race just to blow it here?

SIGH.

I knew as I rounded the corner of the pseudo crest of the hill (I knew it wasn’t the end of the torture because I hadn’t yet seen the final split mat for the Laurel Hill Split) that I wasn’t going to beat my time from the previous year and was upset about it. I knew I wouldn’t beat my time because I knew I was carrying around an extra .25 mile and it pissed me off because my pace was actually lower than last year throughout – .25 mile might not seem like a big deal, but it really is. At a 9 minute pace (close to what I was doing, just under that, but for round numbers to make the math easier) that’s an extra 2:15 – not insignificant. When my goal is to shave off 00:30, an extra 2:15 worth of mileage means I have to run much, much faster and I just didn’t have it, especially after getting my ass handed to me by Laurel Hill Road.

I felt deflated.

I perked up a bit as I rounded the corner to the stadium and could hear the band playing and people cheering – I finished with a gun time of 1:41:48 (after a 13 minute late start, can’t complain about that too much…) a chip AND Garmin time of 1:30:04 (that hardly ever happens to me), though, Garmin had a distance of 10.28, so something between was actual.

My out of town race buddy finished first, then me, then my local race buddy, who completed his longest race yet and inside his goal! We got food, water and compared notes on the race and then headed home… when I got lost on campus looking for my car. Again. (sigh).

Learnings

As far as training goes, 90 mile months have worked well for me. Other than the incident on Laurel Hill, I felt really good the vast majority of this race. I have been working on my core, and I can tell it is starting to pay off. The one key thing I need to learn now is how to work within, while trying to gradually stretch, my limits – and to keep doing what I’ve had success doing in the last couple of months.

Otherwise, I could stand a geography lesson for the town of Chapel Hill, the campus of UNC specifically. I am *sick* of losing my car and my way around that campus, especially when there are no restrooms… grr.

Next year. Just wait. Next year…