Last time I did this race, I got a personal best (P.B.) of 43:59 minutes at a pace of 4:04 which is pretty damned good given the long climb that this course has. But that was four years ago. I'm older now and my last running race was four years ago. It seems I've lost a step (or two). I've also put on a few pounds. Did I mention I'm older now?
I wasn't confident on race morning. My training runs with Leo (the dog) have been all around 6:30 min pace which is pretty slow by anyone's standards. Leo is old himself now. He likes to run but he also likes to stop and smell the roses (or pretty much whatever smells are out there) and he doesn't like to run fast anymore and he let's me know it. From that perspective, he's probably smarter than I am. But I've got this new goal of running another marathon and qualifying for Boston. And, of course, I can't be happy just qualifying; I want to give myself a shot at winning my age group. Today's race was to be a test of how well my training is going. I wasn't expecting to be anywhere near my P.B. of four years ago but I was hoping to be within reach of most of my other times which were mostly around the 45 minute mark.
The weather's been pretty good so far this Winter such that there's been no snow on the ground so I elected to run with my "Newtons". I debated racing in my trail runners but given that most of the course is on asphalt, I thought the "Newtons" would give me an edge of the trail shoes so I went with the "Newtons". I also debated wearing shorts and t-shirt but -5 C felt just a bit too cold; I've become a bit of a wuss these days when it comes to cold. In the end, I wore my warm running tights and layered up with a t-shirt, long sleeved running shirt, vest, a decent pair of Winter running gloves, a beanie and a running hat. Other than the shoes, I pretty much nailed it with my choice of clothing.
My warm up consisted of 1.25 k following the race course down the hill and another 1.25 k to come back. A light snowfall had begun but it wasn't really of much significance and I didn't give it any thought. My warm up was probably a bit slower than I expected because they were already announcing the race start by the time I got back and I barely made it in time for the National Anthem. But I did make it back in time. I looked around for Amie while waiting for the race start but didn't see her near the front of the pack where I'd lined up. "Maybe she didn't make it this morning," I wondered. No matter, with one minute to go, I had my own race to run.
The Egg Nog Jog route, starts with just over a mile of downhill. It's important to go fast on this section to bank some time against the time that's going to be lost on the much steeper uphill that comes midway through the race. So I set out at a fairly fast pace. I wasn't the only one. There were probably around 20 or so others going at least as fast or faster which put me right about where I expected to be. I found a comfortably fast pace that allowed me to draft behind someone. The wind coming from the South wasn't too much of a factor but always better to be in the draft than not. Up ahead I saw a pony tail that looked like it might belong to Amie but wasn't sure. But after making the turn onto the flat section along King Road, I was sure; it was Amie.
The guy I was drafting behind and I passed Amie just after making the turn and she slipped in behind us to also benefit from the draft. We stayed like that along the short flat section until making the turn onto the start of the rolling section where Amie passed me and herself tucked in behind the draftee. I managed to stay on Amie's heels all along the rolling section but probably making a lot of noise with my heavy breathing. Amie must have been wondering whether I was going to have a heart attack. I started to lost Amie and the draftee once we made the next turn. The snow was becoming more pronounced making traction difficult in the "Newtons". I tried each side of the road with the hope I'd find more traction on the shoulder but no go. Amie and the draftee slowly pulled away. I was able to more or less stay in touch with them on the downhill into the valley but lost ground again on the flat leading up to the climb.
The climb comes about midway through the race. It's what gives this race its character. It curves steeply up gravel road for about half a kilometer which doesn't sound like much but with gradients of up to 17% it's no walk in the park. I struggled going up the climb, my pace dropping way off. In years past, they'd have a guy playing bagpipes towards the top of the climb. It was probably intended to be motivating and it kind of was. But there were no bagpipes this year. Instead, there was some guy who seemed to be playing what sounded like a gazzoo. Better than nothing I guess but it didn't help me much getting up the hill. Once the main climb has been crested there is still more climbing for the next couple of kilometers but the worst part was behind me. Still, a number of people passed me over this section putting me at least half a dozen more runners ahead of me. Finally, at around the 7.5k point in the 10.8k course, we made the right turn onto Ballinafad Road which not only was flat but also put us back onto pavement.
The snow wasn't accumulating on the pavement so I was able to get up to a decent pace and started to close the gap back up to Amie who I could see about 50 m ahead. For the next 1.3 km, I gradually closed the gap until I was almost up to her. But, alas, we made the right turn back onto Winston Churchill and back onto gravel which meant once again back onto snow and my traction issues returned. Over the next 1.2 km, I was passed by close to another half dozen runners until finally getting back onto pavement with 800 m to go. There's a very steep downhill at this point and I just let fly passing at least one runner and closing the gap back up to Amie. I caught her just after the turn back into the park with about 200 m to go and we basically ran in together. Well, not quite together, I guess, because I managed to out sprint her to the line. Hey, it's a race! I glanced at the timing clock as we crossed the finish line, 48 something or other, and my heart sank. I had a feeling my running wasn't quite what it used to be but having it confirmed didn't feel good. But I gave it my best effort and was glad for that. Next stop the "Boxing Day 10 Miler". Amie's planning on doing that one too. I wonder if I'll be able to get the drop on her in that race also :)