Julie recommended this 20 miles Clarksburg race near Sacramento. My friend Terry at work, who used to be ranked 32 in the world for Marathon running, used to do this event as a professional. She thought I might like it since it was flat and low altitude. I thought it would be a good training run for our forthcoming 50k (31 mile) race in Mojave in December, which I'm doing with Scott Sager.
I set out from Nevada in not great weather at just before 7am. I hadn't checked the map but I thought the event would be just over 2 hours away. It turned out to take a bit longer than that. I registered for the event at 9:27 and was running by 9:35. Not the most laid back start to a race but I was extremely glad to have made it and to finally get running. Pinning my number on and my timing tag under time pressure was a little frustrating when I would have rather been stretching.
The field was pretty packed and I unconsiously ambled towards the back of the pack. This is a bad habit which probably cost me valuable time at the start of the race. It took some time before I crossed the start line which is probably not accounted for in my race time. I quickly noticed that I could cut through the crowd and gain tens of places by running up the sidewalk whilst almost everyone else was on the road. This was pretty satisfying but still slow I thought.
I was very surprised when my GPS watch beeped to tell me I'd done the first mile in 7:07. This was too fast and I think was partly due to the GPS losing connection in the trees or something. I had set my virtual partner on the GPS to pace at 9 minute mile pace, so I was doing well against that! I think I convinced myself that 7:07 was a GPS mistake.
I ran on, running light like Terry and Dave do, and feeling GREAT. Starting near the back gave a very motivating opportunity to pick off the next person in front, and then the next. Sometimes crusing past people who are only a little slower is disrupting because it's tempting to fall into their pace when you could really go quicker. One such group were discussing their pace and it became clear they we're moving around 8:10 pace. I couldn't believe it, these were slow people in front of me and they were going faster than I usually do but today I was cruising ahead.
A couple of miles passed with more gradual overtaking. Then someone drew up on my shoulder, a lady in her 40s. She looked strong indeed and seemed keen to pace a bit faster than the folks in front of me as well, so we both cruised past them.
For mile after mile we stuck together in that strange way that runners sometimes do when they find someone running at just the right pace. Sometimes she would edge forward and sometimes I would. Mile after mile the GPS would beep and indicate a pace of 7:20-7:30. Each time it did I was really surprised at how easy it felt. I think this is the first time I have ever noticed such a huge difference from living at high altitude and racing at low altitude, I was hardly breathing at all. The pace felt like 8:30 min/mile pace.
After a while the folks in front got harder and harder to run down. I threw in a few 'pick-up' spurts to get one guy in front about 7 miles in. I was surprised that in doing so I seemed to drop my new running buddy. By the time we got to the next aid station I turned to throw my cup and nearly threw it at her - she'd caught up. We didn't talk much at all but I managed to point out that I was not surprised to see her again. We ran on and on through fields of tomatoes and vinyards in this flat countryside.
I was starting to feel quite elated realizing that if I continued at this pace I would be on for a staggering and very un-carl-like time. Even then, feeling good and moving fast I felt that I would probably not manage to run the whole race at this speed but as I crossed the 13.1 half marathon point I was staggered to see a Personal Best time of 1:42 or so (7:47 min/mile pace). I never thought I would be able to run that fast for that long.
After about 14 miles I noticed I was failing to stay with my new running buddy. I was constantly slipping back and then needing to do pick-ups to get back on terms. Eventually when I got back on terms I couldn't hang with her at all (I think she went on to win the Female 40-49 category). This was my hanging on phase. A couple of guys I'd recently passed got back on my heels. One made quick work of me, which was ok. The other was struggling to catch me. Each time he did I did a pick-up for a short stint and showed him my heels. After 5 or 6 times of doing that he finally caught me by the Red Bull aid station, where I had to grab a can of the draught and drink whilst walking.
About now I hit a kind of wall. I didn't lack energy buy my legs muscles were screaming at me, my gluts and thighs being particularly painful. My run turned into a painful shuffle and my GPS tortured me with readings like 9:30 for a mile. It's inaccuracies were painful enough but despite those, i was going slow. People I'd passed started to come by me again as I tried desperately to hang on to my pace when my legs were clearly saying stop.
The last aid station handed out water complete with bits of limescale amid wildly screaming teenagers - not the best to improve my mood as I gritted my teeth for the last 2 miles. Even the '400 yards to go' sign didn't lift me much but then I heard footsteps getting closer behind me. Someone was going to sprint me for the line. From somewhere my sheepdog instinct managed to buck me up and get me moving again. With a 100 yards to go I was flying towards the line. I think she pipped me at the post but someone later explained she hadn't run 20 miles (there were several races going on at the same time).
At the end it was all I could do to get myself onto the grass and lay down. My legs were extremely painful immediately. I saw Julie walking around by the finish line and it took a while to get over to her and say hi. She'd done a very consistent half-marathon taking 10 minutes off her last time. I on the other hand had positively flown for miles and miles and then reached the absolute limit of what I was trained for and suffered for it, deservedly so. At the end I was feeling slight sick and prioritized getting a massage over food. Julie was the other way around so we got food first and then a very helpful sports massage.
I think i'll need to start a bit slower on the 50k. This was a different race strategy for me than usual. I often try to save too much energy for later in a race. No danger of that today, it felt easy going fast ab ovo. Sadly, this was too much. I left with stiff legs but secretly pleased that I was able to run 7 something pace for so long. I think I was motivated over the last mile by thinking of many and various ways I could DESTROY my FORERUNNER GPS with all of it's inaccuracies and lies about my pace - sometimes those things mess with your mind.
It's nice to run but I do feel that this took a lot out of the tank. I'm going to need to take it easy for a couple of days, which will hurt in a different way.
Results of the Clarksburg 20 miler
: I was 65th of 292 entrants; 28th Male of 66 in 30-39 category. My official time was 2:48:12 which gives a pace of 8:25. If I had managed to hold my half-marathon pace of 7:47 i would have finished in around 2:35, been 14th in my agegroup and 29th overall. I used to think that thoughts like that were just silly but having run 13 miles at that pace I'm inclined to think I can train to do that pace for longer. The addiction continues...
Splits are interesting, albeit inaccurate due to Forerunner GPS problems with signal and thin tree cover:
--------10k approx 46.25 (1 minute 25 slower than my 10k Personal Best)
--------13.1m approx 1:42 (my PB for a half marathon - 7:47 pace)