I had the opportunity to race today (2/4). The early plan had been to fly out to Mesa, Arizona to do a fast half marathon with next month as a goal marathon. Through workouts it has become clear that I am not in good enough shape for that trajectory, so we have backed off a bit and changed some plans. Today I raced a local 8K called Winterlaufe 8K. This event is part of a Bavarian themed race series that has been going on a while and takes place in the tourist town of Frankenmuth. As a kid this would be both a favorite (world famous food, water parks, ice cream shops, lederhosen, etc.) and least favorite (one of the largest outlet malls in the US) places to visit. We live fairly close now, and have gone a few times since moving.
The race was going to be interesting no matter what. I had a somewhat easy week (no long run prior, no weights, and reduced miles) but the race temperature was a degree. That is right one singular degree, and very windy. This is actually the first race I have not seen a single crazy person just in shorts and no shirt. Those people either found sanity or stayed home. I personally had a full head and face cover, insulated jacket, insulated long sleeve shirt, two pairs of socks, tights and running shorts on and wasn’t hot.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the race as there isn’t much detail on the race page, but it is well attended and seems to have a following. The plan was 5 miles easy warmup, 8K race, 5 miles easy. So I did the course for my warmup. I found some surprises that I was happy to know about ahead of time. The miles wouldn’t be marked and a large portion of the course is on country farm roads with no shielding from the wind. This meant that there was snow and ice in several areas of the course. The biggest surprise was the middle mile. Instead of continuing straight on the farm road, the race makes an inexplicable left hand turn onto a sheet, unplowed dirt road. Worse it goes through a narrow wooden bridge (let me tell you, if you haven’t run on an icy wooden bridge you are missing out) and then comes back through the same area with not enough space for everyone. Beyond that the course was really hilly 260 ft of elevation gain over 8K. (I honestly love racing hilly courses. It doesn’t always offer a good barometer of your current speed, but it does tell you real quick where your fitness is.
I finished warm up with 35 minutes to spare, jumped in the truck to stretch out and change some of my clothes. Everything felt good. My lungs were a bit rough from the cold but nothing bad. I knew I was going to need at least another mile of warmup prior to the race as I finished warmup to early. I took a few good luck hits of the inhaler, and headed out to race.
Have you ever been to a start line that was so cold you just wanted to ask the guy next to you if you could cuddle until the race start? No? Just me? Did some extra strides to keep the hip flexors from seizing, came back during the National Anthem (oddly none of the men were taking off their hats hmmm wonder why) 3,2,1 BOOOOOOOM cannon for the start 10 feet from the line, everyone jumps into a 2 minute mile for 10 feet before settling down. I am surrounded by college kids half my age. There is a group of about 7 mostly chatty guys settling into a 5:25ish rhythm. I don’t think I have much more than that in the tank, and the plan was to not go out to hard, so I settle in behind a few feet. The hills are rough only because my pace doesn’t seem to match the guys in front of me. I seem to both be faster on the ups and downs and they pull back in front on the flats. I finally feel good around mile 1.2, the pace is starting to fade, and there are way to many people in the lead pack. I bring the pace back up to keep the crew honest, and it quickly becomes a lead group of 3.
We get close to the turn onto the dirt road and MSU college runner asks, “Is this the turn-around”. I felt bad, as he didn’t know what was ahead. We finally turn onto the icy road, and both guys take the lead away from me with the reckless abandonment that can only be achieved by limber, young runners who can be carefree about a potential fall. I back off a bit and chose my steps wisely, and still end up in second place 8 seconds down at the U-turn. The lead runner slips, and almost falls around the corner, so I back off a bit more going into the turn. I also slip and almost fall going around the turn (smooth, very smooth) Regain my wits and begin the trek home into the wind.
The bridge is as bad as I thought it would be with everyone trying to find safe passage and runners going both direction. We navigate that but I am dropped to third place. Coming off of the dirt road third place passes me and I let him go as he tries to catch first. We are all within 10 seconds of each other. The last 2 miles was very uneventful. The two leaders flopped places and in the final quarter mile I almost caught second place before he put in a finishing surge I couldn’t match. I was at mile limit aerobically the final 2 miles, but my legs seemed like they had more to give. I don’t know if this was the cold or just where I am at. The course ended up being a bit short, and my tag didn’t read but I pace 5:29.
I am trying not to be too disappointed, again, this race was not a great barometers because of conditions, but to average the same pace for an 8K as I did for a half marathon after 3 months of healthy training to frustrating. It is taking me a lot longer than it usually does to get my speed, and its hard not to look at it and worry that its age, and I don’t have the ability anymore to get to that place. I feel more fit than I did late last year, and I think I am, so we will just have to see. I should have a hard few weeks of training before racing Woodlands as a Half Marathon on March 4th. Still not sure what to expect out of myself for that race, but I am excited for the effort leading into it. Lots of miles between now and March 4th.