This was such an epic event I had to post about it: last Saturday–the 25th–The Lady and I ran a local race called the Spring Thaw. It’s a neat race in that the track is a 5-mile loop around the park’s lake, and there are three distances running simultaneously: 10 miles, 15 miles, and 20 miles. One can register for any of the three distances, and can also change their mind in mid-race. Just keep running or pull up one (or two) laps early; your timing chip will record your respective time and put you into the correct race.
The Lady signed up for the 10 miler. I signed up for the 15, and was planning to run the 20. Let me tell you how epic this was. Follow along via my Garmin Connect data for the race!
The Lady and I were up and about reasonably late for a race day–the race didn’t begin until 10am. We still got up around 6:30 and walked to the local coffee shop (she likes to prime herself with coffee. I like to prime myself with not coffee), then started getting dressed. A couple of my classmates were carpooling with us and would be arriving by 8am. We were aiming to be at the race at 8:30, since parking is extremely limited, and with the freezing weather we wanted a good spot.
The Lady and I planned to run the first 10 miles more or less together, since the course consisted of a 5-mile loop everybody followed two, three, or four times. We both quite bit a bit more than we bargained for…
Hooray! Off to the races. It was pretty cold, but we were layered up: I was wearing compression shorts beneath running tights beneath running pants, plus cold gear Underarmor underneath my short-sleeve AF Marathon finisher’s shirt underneath an Underarmor outer jacket. Plus gloves and a hat. Normally I don’t bundle up quite so much, but on long slow runs my body temperature tends to plummet, and this was the first race in quite awhile for which I had no speed aspirations, so I needed to plan ahead. Spoiler alert: glad I did!
This stretch of the loop was very flat, but it ended at the start of a small uphill.
We’re both feeling pretty awesome; we were aiming for a 9min/mi pace (my easy pace, The Lady’s in-between pace) and hit that on the nose the first couple miles. This mile gave us a nice downhill to feel good on.
Still feeling pretty great. We entered our first turn, and the course spat us out at the bottom of the biggest hill of the track. It still wasn’t bad comparatively, but I knew this would create problems for me later in the race. Unfortunately, The Lady started having some equipment problems towards the end of the mile: her foot was going numb.
We had to stop a few times so The Lady could adjust her shoes and shoelaces. I stayed alongside to make sure she was ok; almost flagged down a police car when it seemed like it wouldn’t go away. In mile 4 we kept trying to truck along with minimal stops, but in mile 5 we walked a solid quarter of it to let her foot fully wake up. Toward the end of the mile, it was feeling good and we decided to jog it in under the assumption she would bow out of the race (since this isn’t really something she could run through). However, she finished the mile feeling exceptionally good, so we decided to continue; if it flared up again, I’d flag down a police car (they were patrolling the route with extreme frequency).
We flew through these miles. The end of mile 5 saw us crossing the start line again for a second loop, so these miles were repeats of the same path we took in miles 1-4. This time, however, we never stopped once, and in fact pushed and broke our 9min/mi goal. At first I kept pace–frankly, sub-9s feel really good for me–but I knew in the back of my mind that if I wanted to run another 10 after this, I’d need to conserve everything I had.
DISCLAIMER: This may be a relevant time to mention that until this race, I had never in my life conducted a single continuous run over 13.1 miles in length. My longest runs consisted of the few half-marathons I have done. Therefore, by registering for the 15 miler and shooting for the 20, I set my sights on–no matter which I completed–running further than I’d ever run before. So now was not the time to push that fragile goal by going faster than I knew I should.
The Lady really started pushing here, and I quickly realized a sub-8:30 pace was not going to do me any favors when I was barely halfway through my goal distance. So I wished her luck and dropped back to a more sustainable pace. She flew across the finish line with flying colors, having never suffered from a relapse of the bizarre foot-falling-asleep problem from the first lap.
Things thinned out considerably. Now I was into the long-distance portion, so there were many fewer runners out there with me. Still a pretty solid number, though: the whole reason for the 15-mile category was to give runners who signed up for the 10 and were feeling ambitious something to shoot for without being as brutal as a 20. I was feeling pretty spectacular, so I kicked things up a notch.
The miles flew by. Uphills felt great, downhills felt ok (yes, I know: I’m weird like that). I discovered I was cruising faster and faster without any conscious thought. Particularly after mile 12’s sub-8:30 average, I pulled it back a bit to the 8:40s. This was the point at which freakin’ Rob passed me, already on his fourth lap (point of reference: he finished the 20-miler in 2 hours, 11 minutes. what a beast).
At this point things started slowing down a bit. I still felt pretty good, but the fatigue was definitely starting to settle in. I’d already surpassed my previous all-time longest run by well over a full mile, and while I knew I was still well within my body’s limits, small warnings were starting to poke me for attention. I crossed the start line once more at this point and launched into the final lap of the race.
If I thought mile 11 was lonely, mile 16 was like an episode of Omega Man. There were only a handful of runners within sight at any given time; ironically though, we were even more convivial with one another, likely because we all knew how hard these last few miles were going to be. I vigorously thanked all the volunteers at every aid station for staying out so long.
Red alerts were definitely starting to go off at this point. The hills weren’t as easy or invigorating as they had been the last three laps. One of my hamstrings started sounding warning bells, though nothing locked up just yet. I slowed down a bit to a 9:3o pace, though it was largely an unconscious change of pace; I guess my body realized it couldn’t maintain 9:00 anymore.
This was, without a doubt, the beginning of the end. I had to stop when I hit the aid station, and in place of water I grabbed gatorade, and two cups of it instead of one. I’d packed no fewer than six packets of Gu (delicious, wonderful sugary syrup mix made of pure carbs) for the race, and while the first 15 miles only saw me consume three of them, I was now downing one packet every mile or two until what I had was gone.
The wheels were coming loose. My legs were in full-on failure mode: both calves, both hamstrings, and my right groin muscles were regularly locking up if I didn’t catch it right before it happened. I was down to a 10min/mi pace when I wasn’t walking due to a muscle completely locking up. Oddly enough, my quads were still in great shape (relatively speaking), so while the hills were still killing my calves, I actually felt better on them since I could somewhat rest my hamstrings and let my quads take the heat. But this was a minor victory in a rocky sea of pain.
Undoubtedly the most painful mile I’ve ever run. The last aid station came and went, as did my last packet of Gu, and I knew it just me and the final mile. Everything was falling apart: my quads and my lungs were the only organs still functioning close to something I could call “reliable”, but my hamstrings and calves were absolutely withering. I slowed my pace further to around 10:30 just to keep the muscle lock-ups from happening quite as frequently.
As the boathouse–and the finish line–came into view, I tried to give it everything I had left, and my right calf instantly seized, so I knew my usual kick wouldn’t be an option here. Instead, I tried to put more of my quads into it, controlling the force with which my feet hit the ground to try and give my calves and hamstrings a break and make my finish as smooth–and by proxy, as fast–as possible.
I crossed the finish line just under the 9:30min/mi average (since we started about 30 seconds later):
The Lady met me at the finish, congratulating me and helping me walk to the nearby cabin where pizza, soup, fruit, and drinks were being served in a warm indoors. Rob also met up with us to congratulate us both on solid runs, and we certainly reciprocated given his own kick-ass time. I tried to do some stretching but quickly realized my muscles had completely shut down for self-repair, so I left them alone. Instead, I feasted on bananas and gatorade, though in retrospect I should have had some soup as well to provide my system with some much-needed protein.
A creepy tingling in my extremities and my stomach came and went, and within 30 minutes after crossing the finish line, I felt good aside from being very tired. We made our way back to The Lady’s car, piled in, and went home.
This was an awesome race. Yeah, 3:09 and change isn’t a great 20-mile time, but the point is it’s a 20-mile time. I have it in me to go that long, and next time–after we’ve properly worked our way up to that distance–it will hopefully involve significantly fewer muscle failures.
Something which I had expected, and worthwhile to keep in mind: if things aren’t getting exponentially more difficult, then you’re still well within your limits. My years of football had already taught me this, so I was explicitly looking for it during this run, but the speed and ferocity with which it hit me was still surprising: the first 5 miles were easy, as were the second 5, and to an extent the third 5, but the final 5 level of difficulty grew (pardon me for a second) at least quadratically, if not exponentially. The difficulty curve with respect to distance is not linear. Keep that in mind when pushing yourself; it’s a nice way to gauge how far you’re pushing your system.
The Lady now has her own race report up, so I invite you to check that out as well 🙂
And now, a lolcat (one I thought was particularly spectacular):