The spring racing season got off to a nice start last weekend at Burke Lake. This location is one of my favorite training spots, with a forested trail that goes around the perimeter of the lake, most it unpaved. Every March, DCRRC sponsors a 12k race there, which basically goes about 3/4 of the way around the lake then turns back. I ran it once, back in 2008 and thought this year it would fit in very nicely as my final tuneup for the National Half Marathon, which I’m running for Team in Training.
On race morning the first signs of spring were beginning to make themselves evident. Morning temperatures were cool, but not cold (mid-40s) and there was no wind. By the time I got to the lake it was clear I would not need the long-sleeve shirt I was wearing, so after warming up I quickly switched to a singlet and arm warmer sleeves. I met up with Franco, a friend from the club who I often run with and we talked about race strategy a bit. We’re both at about the same level, so not surprisingly our goals were quite similar.
Pretty soon we were off and headed down a paved path towards where would pick up the trail. It wasn’t long before the lead pack of about 3 or 4 runners broke off from the rest of the field. That put us in the chase pack, not a bad place to be as we entered the forest. During that first, mostly downhill, mile I was concerned primarily about going too fast and putting the rest of my race in jeopardy. But for the most part I stayed calm; I don’t know what the splits were because there were no mile markers and I was wearing my Timex Ironman stopwatch rather than my Garmin, but I definitely felt like I was in control.
After about two miles my legs started to feel a little more relaxed and I opened it up a bit. To this point Franco had been doing most of the pacing so I surged ahead and told him to follow me for a while. As we came out into a clearing shortly before the turnaround I could see the other runners ahead. As the turnaround approached the leaders started heading back and it wasn’t long before I figured that I was sitting in 7th place overall. Moreover I was on a blistering pace at the halfway mark, well ahead of what I needed to meet my goal of breaking 50 minutes.
On the way back I finally started to tire a bit. Franco, who had been trailing behind me for a while, now caught back up and I let him go. At this point we had done our jobs of helping each other along, now it was “let the better man today win.” And with about 2.5 to go, he made his move strongly. I tried to go with him but the legs were just too fatigued on this day, no surprise really since I did not do any tapering prior to this race (I even ran 8 miles the day before). So I focused on just trying to finish strong and not leak too much time. Then with about 1.5 to go I got caught from behind by someone else, who was clearly running a negative split race. There was no way I could go with him, but I resolved to keep him close.
As we came back out of the woods heading back towards the finish, I knew the big hill we went down at the start was now a big uphill to the finish, and that I could get up it strongly even on tired legs. I dug a little deeper and started powering up it from my 9th place position. The guy who had recently passed me was now really struggling to get up it, and I was drawing closer to Franco again, too. But before could complete the comeback, I ran out of real estate as the finish line approached.
I crossed the line 9th in 49:20, which was both my first top 10 finish in a while, but also a new PR for me. by over a minute. That’s not bad at all for somewhat tired legs. I also got 2nd overall in the 40-49 age group. All in all, it was a great start to the spring races and I was very pleased with the outcome. I think it sets me up well for a great race at National. For that one, I’ll be rested and feeling confident. Now I just have to get through this little 10-day taper…