Monday, March 3, 2014

RRCA Club Challenge race report

Every year, local Maryland running clubs get together to race each other for the glory of taking home the "Club Challenge" trophy. And every year, it seems to boil down to the rivalry between Falls Road Running and Howard County Striders - with Falls Road having the upper hand in the last few years. However, new scoring rules had been implemented this season and with the announcement that Georgetown Running was going to show up, Falls Road' chances of taking the win seemed slim.

For me, it was my first time running the Club Challenge. Having only started training with the guys at Falls Road last summer/fall, this race would be the first time I ran for our team and with so many of my teammates. A few weeks prior, we had gathered on the course for a practice workout. Even with scouting the course, I didn't see the challenging hills after mile 5 coming. It wound through residential streets in Columbia MD, and only after looking at my GPS watch did I notice that the first half was a net downhill. With all the ups and downs in-between I would have never guessed it!

Since I arrived only 45 mins before the race I wasn't entirely happy with my warm-up but still managed to put in a solid 2 miles and some drills. Topped off my energy levels with a bottle of Hammer HEED just prior to toeing the line. At the start, the weather was ideal: no wind, warm enough for shorts and singlets and just barely overcast. We went out with a 5:20 downhill mile which felt pretty smooth, and I soon found my teammate Tim Burns beside me, and was glad for the company. We locked in a mid 5:30 pace for the next miles, and tried to stay connected with the pack ahead of us consisting of my teammates Steve and Ed as well rival club members. Tim and I kept passing each other as he would surge ahead and then drop back - in hindsight we should have worked together seeing as how we were so close for most of the race. We picked off a Howard County Strider early, though he'd ultimately catch us on the way back and finish just ahead of me.

As opposed to my marathons, I barely glanced at my GPS pace but instead opted to race by effort - which came down to trying to hold on to the pack directly ahead of me. This seemed to be working until the hills rolled around, at times I would find myself just a few seconds behind the pack ahead. However, during the second half of the race I encountered two weaknesses in my running which I plan to address over the next weeks: a) my downhill performance - I didn't feel like I was able to roll down the hills whilst recovering from the previous uphill and b) having done no hill work this season the effort of pushing up really cost me. Thus, mile splits at miles 6, 7, 8 were approximately 10-20 s slower than I would have liked - seconds which ultimately caused me to loose connection to the pack ahead (which by this time was pretty strung out anyways). Fortunately, I kept the rival Strider that had passed me earlier in my sights, and was able to pull it together after the final hill for a 5:35 last mile. The cost was that I had nothing left in the finish, and so couldn't match an unexpected move by teammate Dan who came out of nowhere (I thought it was Tim) with less than a mile left to go. He quickly caught up to the Strider, who hung on for dear life to finish just seconds ahead of both Dan and myself. I came in 17th with time of 57:10 and was the 6th scorer for Falls Road.

Races like these really showcase what I love about the running community: positive energy, enthusiasm, team-spirit and friendly competition. What's more, all of this for a mere $8 entry fee (which was kindly paid for by the team), including: chip timing, numerous course marshals and water stop volunteers, access to a heated gym pre & post race, and a deep field (at least 40 runners under 60 minutes). A big thank to the
Howard County Striders for hosting us and the other clubs and putting on such a great race.

In the end, thanks to an awesome showing by our team and many great performances by my teammates, Falls Road not only won the Women's and Men's, but also the Overall competition!

In sum, I really enjoyed this race and the lessons learned. Add the nearly 5 minute PR (previous best 61:49 at the Baltimore 10 Miler in 2013) and factoring in a handicap accounting for hills I think I'm in a good spot 6 weeks away from my goal marathon.

Moments before the finish, I'm going wide to take a sharp right turn before crossing the line. Thanks to Jonathan Michel for taking the pic.