Saturday, June 14, 2014

Hiking For Helping Hands 8 Miler (RACE REPORT)

I've been trying to tag as many different race distances as I can in 2014, and on that note I added 8 miles to my list this morning at a low key event put on by the Community Care Network of Nichols in near by Nichols New York. For the record, my list now includes 1 mile, 2.5 miles, 4k, 5k, 10k, 7 miles, 8 miles and 25k, with 15k, half marathon, full marathon and possibly an Ultra still to come in the months ahead. Today's race also included a 5k run and a shorter walking event.

In recent months I've been racing weekly, including both Saturday and Sunday events in some cases. With no area races on the calendar last weekend I took the opportunity to get a long run under my belt by spending nearly 6 hours on the local trails with some friends slugging out a 25 miler. The run went surprisingly well and left me with little residual soreness or fatigue, however a fall late in the day resulted in a small cut and a big bump. Exercising some caution, a rarity for me, I took the next two days off. The swelling eventually went down, but left behind a nasty bruise and some minor pain. I ended up logging just 4 miles for the week (2 Tuesday, 2 Wednesday) prior to this morning’s race. The knee ended up being a non-factor.

The 8 mile course (aside from its distance) is something of a rarity in the local running scene in that it’s a road course that isn’t completely flat. The route begins with a short downhill across the parking lot of the former Nichols Elementary School, but quickly takes a hard right up a long hill. I took the lead from the gun and charged up the climb. Two male runners followed, with one passing as we crested the hill At the top of the hill a yellow dog from a yard on the left also joined our lead pack (Guess we should name him “Bandit“) and ran with us for the next quarter mile as we hung a right onto a sloppy, muddy, awesome dirt road. I used my kamikaze trail skills to retake the lead on the corresponding downhill, only to lose it again as the road made a hairpin turn and immediately climbed back out toward the main road. Once back to the main road the course retraces itself back downhill toward the starting line. I pulled even with the other two runners on the ensuing downhill.

After passing the driveway for the former Elementary School the course continues on, joining the 5k route, where it immediately crosses Route 187 into Nichols. The 5k race was already in progress and we passed the leader on his way back from the turn around. I ran as part of the top 3 as the course wound through some side streets. After a couple turns we took a right onto another main road and began a long flat out and back. The two guys I’d been running with outclassed me as a road runner and quickly opened up a large gap that I would never close.

Whether because I am primarily a trail runner, or because I’d forgotten my Garmin, this section seemed endless. I was running hard, completely alone, save for the two bright orange shirts of the leaders bobbing along out in front of me (when I could see them). After passing the 5k turn around / water station there were no more course markings or water stops until the 8M turn around, and so I was beginning to wonder if a local hoodlum had removed the turn around marker. The entire race was to be 8 miles, but my gut was telling me that the outward leg of the out and back section felt like 4 miles in of itself.

I did eventually see the two leaders coming back toward me. The turn around was manned by an elderly lady in her yard with a sign and a small water table. I thanked her for being out there, tossed a cup of water over my head, and began the return leg.

The return leg offered me my first opportunity get a look at the rest of the race. The next runner on the course was the women’s leader, comfortably behind me. Luckily my body had begun to settle in, and although I was running hard, I felt more comfortable than I had and the straight stretch seemed less daunting than before the turn around.

The best thing about out and back courses is that they allow runners to encourage each other as they pass. I made it a point to cheer or say something to every runner I encountered, and before I knew it I was back in “down town” Nichols, retracing my steps through the town’s side streets on my way to the finish.

Once over the final main road crossing it was just a matter of bearing left and making the short climb back up to the school building.

I crossed the line in 3rd place with a time of 1 hour, 5 minutes, which seems about right when taking into consideration the climbs early in the race, although before having actually seen the course I was thinking I might be able to drag my body around the course in under and hour. Had I been wearing my Garmin Forerunner (and had the course not been between .5 and 1 mile long, according to some) I might have had a better grasp on my pace and may have been able to shave some time off the clock. Without GPS it can be tough to push yourself when you spend a significant portion of a run flying solo and don’t have anyone to gauge yourself against. All of my best finishes have come against competition. At any rate, I think this run sets me up well for the new 15k road race coming to the area in mid July.

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