Parking for this race is always a bear, with "Bear" being the best "b" word I could think of here. I arrived almost an hour early thinking that I could get one of the few close spots. No luck, I was told - drive up the hill to the secondary area. 1/2 mile away, I thought this wouldn't be too bad, until I saw that people were trying to pull out with as much frequency as they were trying to pull in; this lot was full too. The 3rd area - the RTA Park & Ride - is extremely far. So I finally got smart and simply parked on the shoulder of the parkway. Other than the parking, however, I do always enjoy this race, along with its spring version.
Expectations, Schmecpetations: the only one for today was that I wanted to avoid a PW at all costs. I think my PW is 1:41, and when I saw the temperature of 11F as I got out of my car, I thought that the cold, combined with my declining conditioning could put me in that kind of territory. On the other hand, it was bright and sunny, and all indications were that the temperature would rise quickly. It wasn't too windy, so the sun actually felt fairly warm. So if a miracle were to happen, there would be another sub 1:30 today. But I wasn't holding my breath... no, actually I was - it was too cold to breathe for that first mile.
That first mile was probably short, because it went by in just around 6 minutes. And I'm not capable of that - even in warmer weather. I did settle into a decent pace soon afterward. Most of the early miles were just under 7 minutes.
The familiar course is a double out and back on the closed-to-traffic parkway. You get to see all your friends - and I had many there - several times. The woods were very pretty with all the snow illuminated by the bright sunshine. Most of the course was free of ice and snow, but there were a few bad spots. The worst was the solid icy spots on the 1/2 mile of bike trail at near the half-way and finish area. I started the second loop at about 45 minutes - right on pace for a 90 minute run. But after all that ice, I never picked my pace back to where it was. I was now running miles that were slightly slower than 7-minute pace.
Somewhere in there I took an energy gel, and it helped a bit. At least I didn't slow down any further. But by mile 10, which I hit in 1:09:30 or so, it was beginning to look like 90 minutes was out the window. This was in spite of the fact that it was actually warming up nicely. A bit too nicely: my hands were so hot I threw my ski gloves off at mile 7, and picked them back up at 11.5. Of course this meant losing precious seconds. Those seconds weren't about to make the difference of a sub-90, but they had the chance of affecting my age group place. When I picked them back up, a fellow geezer (I mean that in a nice way - especially since I don't exclude myself from that classification) caught up with me. I'd seen the guy from time to time previously, and I had the feeling that he may be in my division.
I ran side by side with him for a half-mile. We were both too winded to talk. By about mile 12, I was beginning to pull away. But I had to keep pushing until the icy finish. I crossed the line in 1:31:57, a few seconds ahead of the other guy. They immediately gave me the first in age group award. I love those races with immediate awards. The other guy came in a few seconds later, and he did turn out to be the same age.
So it was another solid effort, but another one where, in retrospect, I would've liked to have done a couple minutes faster. At least it wasn't a PW.
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