Saturday, August 9, 2008

The Hills Are Alive 10K

As I head out the door for my first true 10K race since high school (and first trail race this year), nearly everything is going according to plan. I say "nearly" because my blisters are still swolen and the marine layer has decided to stay away another day.

To warm up (and to get myself to the start of today's race), I run down to Ernie Howlett Park, my final half mile on the actual equestrian trail being used for the course. This gives my feet a chance to reacquaint themselves with the surface I expect will cover the majority of the 6+ mile course. Without even trying, I clock a nearly 8:08 legs are certainly ready to go.

I collect my race packet and bib number and meet up with my dad (who has brought his video camera) and my wife (who will take photographs of me today). I have been sticking to the shade and pre-hydrating all morning long, but, as always, I am concerned about hot it will be during the race. I do not want to carry my water bottle during the race, but should not have to since there are three water stations on the course. Still, I worry about the more exposed areas of the course...especially since the course map does not really tell me exactly where I will be running.

As race time rolls around, I warm up by stretching and doing short sprints and then find a spot closer to the front of the pack. The paper has reported that 700 runners are expected, but the crowd in the starting area seems significantly smaller than what the similar sized Palos Verdes Half Marathon. Of course, the competitors are also spread among a 5K run and a 5K walk which will start after us...and I suspect there are more participating in the shorter events.

The race starts shortly after 8:30am and, as usual, I am tempted to go out too fast despite starting with an uphill climb. I feel really good (don't even notice the blisters), but, after seeing that my pace is lower than 7 minutes per mile, I ease back a tad. Though a 10K is now among the shorter distances in my training routine, it is still long enough that I cannot expect to maintain a sub 8 pace...especially if the course features significant elevation change.

The first mile is entirely on nice (soft, but not too soft) equestrian trails, cutting under Hawthorne Blvd. I have run by this tunnel on a number of occassions, but never bothered to go through. Road apples are present, but easily avoided. At this point, the course is mostly uphill (only one downhill stretch right after the tunnel), but not so steep that I cannot complete the segment under 8 minutes.

The second mile continues along the trail, through another tunnel under Crenshaw Blvd, and then branches up towards Palos Verdes Drive North. From here, we encounter a mix of dirt and asphalt as we run along the street. Turning downhill at Rolling Hills Road, I open my stride and start to pick up the pace again...just enough to bring my average pace back below 8 minutes per mile.

The third mile takes place almost entirely within the South Coast Botanic Garden upon a looping asphalt path...and, making matters worse, the last half features the first steep uphill climb of the race and with decreasing shade. Thankfully, we twice encounter the water station within the garden before, but I am starting to feel the heat and have noticed my pace drop. That said, my average pace for mile three is almost as fast as my first (likely due to the initial downhill).

Unfortunately, mile four continues uphill. The course returns to the equestrian trails as we exit the garden, but it seems to be an eternity before it turns downhill again. My pace drops significantly. Somehow I confuse the tunnel under Crenshaw for the one under Hawthorne.

I am thrilled to increase my pace at the beginning of mile 5, but only because I think the end is near. Not long after I begin my descent, the surroundings become unfamiliar...and realize my mistake as soon as I reach the street. The course briefly runs alongside Crenshaw Blvd before crossing through gates normally closed to the public and continuing uphill upon a gravel road around the northern boundary of the Palos Verdes Landfill (at least now I know I could not have trained upon the course). The ascent is painful. There is little shade. I am getting passed.

The course levels out as mile 6 begins, but not for long. The turn up towards the Hawthorne tunnel is perhaps the most brutal of the entire race. Exposed. Steep. Long and straight. I am still on target for a 48 minute 6 mile split, but I am fighting to do it. The course volunteer marking the turn towards the tunnel encourages me to push on, but then yells, "Just two more uphill switchbacks and you are home free." Great. I have been looking forward to a final descent!

Sure enough, the course is not entirely downhill through to the finish line. Even worse, my watch displays that I have traveled 6.21 miles, but the finish line is not even in view. My goal of finishing this race under 50 minutes is now out the window.

As I reach the final turn, I see my dad and Valerie and make one final push, officially crossing the finish line in 00:50:38. Not bad, but is it good enough to earn medal?

From looking at past results, I knew I would need a time between 40 and 50 minutes to finish near the top of the 30-39 age group (and only the top 3 from each age division earn medals). This year's third place finisher completed his race in I would have been close if my race ended when my watch said it would. Still, I finished 33rd of 205 overall and a respectable 7th in my age group. Maybe next year?


Justin Monast said...

So far it sounds like it was hot and hilly. Good job on the race, looking forward to the rest of the race report!!!

bikuta said...

Congrats on the race! I'll have to join you at one of these things soon but only after I finish my new interval training/fartlek regimen. I had a nice time trial today though which surprised me.