Friday, January 28, 2011

Three Races in Fourteen Hours

A friend keeps pestering me (in the nicest way possible) to write about what he has called the Triple Crown, so here goes.

On New Year's Eve/New Year's Day a buddy and I decided we would jump in three local running races just to see if we could do it. They were sandwiched together over a little more than half a day. I don't know where I come up with this stupid ideas. Worst part is that I start blathering on about them and someone else thinks it's a good idea and then I can't back out. Oh well :)

I had a wedding to officiate at 4:00pm on the 31st, but the first race was not until 11:59pm so plenty of time for a little preaching and blessing, a couple of glasses of wine, some good salmon and then home for a quick hour off my feet.

I picked up Jason at about 11:00pm. We thought, what a cool way to spend New Year's. We headed to Cary and the R.I.T.N.Y. or Run In The New Year 5K. This was a great event with several of our local running friends also deranged enough to think this was better than being at home or at a bar. I had always heard about the NYRRC race in Central Park at this same hour and Cary is a lot easier to get to than Manhattan.

Here was my goal. Run tactically for each of the races and exert as little effort as possible, but still try to win each race. Truth is I had no idea if I could pull it off. If anyone running really fast like someone running 5:00 minute pace per mile showed up, I didn't have a chance. I figured I could run 17:30 pretty easily, but who knows how much it would cost me from one race to the next.

11:59pm--Gun goes off and we are all jazzed up for the New Year! YEAH!!! We meander around a Cary shopping mall and I hang back behind the first couple of guys, glad to see that we aren't running much faster than 6:00 minute pace. As long as no one pushes the pace, I thought this should be a good start. By the two mile mark I am tucked in behind one other runner and I can tell he is working pretty hard, so I was feeling good. We circle a bit more around the mall and about 15 minutes into the race I make a quick surge and think I've got it locked up. I ease up, almost too much, as a young kid almost reels me in, but I cross the tape with a two second gap. He was quick to point out that he almost caught me. I felt myself wanting to mention horseshoes and hand grenades, but I thought better of it. No problem--18:30 and legs felt good. It's always fun win and it had been a while so I was enjoying the moment.

9:00am--back in Cary, this time at Bond Park. I slept a quick 5-6 hours and I was feeling pretty good going into race number two. My suspicion was that the Saturday morning race might draw some quicker talent. I recognized one familiar runner and thought he might get in a hurry so my plan was to tuck in and let him set the early pace. We hustled through the first mile in about 5:15. I thought, this is not good. I don't want to keep running this fast. I pulled up for a little assessment and I could hear some pretty heavy breathing. Good sign that the pace was about to slow. I had thought I would use the same tactic as the night before, wait until the last few minutes of the race, but it didn't seem like the best way to go.

I made my move up a long but gentle hill shortly after the mile mark and had the hope that if I got a good gap I could slow down and he wouldn't try to close it thinking we were holding the same pace, but secretly I would slow down. Iy worked. I slowed to about a 6:00 pace for the next two miles and crossed the line in 18:12.

1:00pm--after a couple hours at home, I was not particularly looking forward to the third race. I knew the course for the Carolina Godiva New Year's Day 8K. It starts at the Duke School and meanders through Duke Forest. There are three tough hills on the course and I wondered if my quads would still be up for it. They seemed to discourage getting off the couch. Maybe I could still make a friend's brunch. But, Jason was waiting for us to finish our project and I couldn't back out.

Lots of folks were out for this race and great to see so many friends of the Tobacco Trail Church, Godiva, Trailheads, and Bull City Running Company. For all the good company, I was feeling rather business-like. I wanted to be celebratory and laid back, but I was tired enough that I had to get my game face on. This little three pronged project was starting to feel like a late-night Race Across America effort from back in June. Good thing was it would all be over in about half an hour. I knew who I'd be running with, Jim and Mole, so I let them know what was up. Luckily, they are the kind of guys who on another year could be talked into such antics, so they seemed to be good-natured about the whole thing, but I knew they'd be chomping at the bit to run my little legs into the ground. I made it clear I wasn't going to do to much of the work leading. That would be up to them. Jim seemed to think this would be fun and I knew he'd try to break my tired legs. Mole was a concern as well as his mild-mannered humility does not hide the fact that he is running himself into some very good shape. They both raced well a few weeks back at Cross Nationals in Charlotte so I was just hoping my legs wouldn't fall off.

A mile in and we were single-file the three of us heading up the big hill. I didn't push the pace a bit. We weren't going to go any faster than those two dictated. I knew any move I made would have to be late in the race, because I wouldn't be able to separate and drop either of them for an extended period of time. We navigated the second hill and then out again towards 751 and the turn-around. There was Gary rooting us on in his quiet way. I could tell he liked seeing a race. These events tend to get spread out and kind of boring, so I was glad we were having some fun. When we turned left to make the descent down the more narrow trail I got to thinking, "I wonder if I am going to make it back up this thing." It's a steep hill on the way back and if either of those guys had made a big move I don't know if I could have covered it.

We stayed together up the hill, but I could sense things were going to get interesting on the last big downhill. I was right. Jim stepped on the gas and I made sure that we did not have any separation between us. My legs were throbbing, but I made gravity do all the work. Hopefully, when it turned flat I would have more than overcooked pasta underneath me. If I could just hang on this steep downhill, then the hard pace might work for my secret plan.

At the bottom of a big hill there is often a let up in pace. I was counting on it. When we hit the wood bridge I turned my legs over as fast as they would go. Short and quick. Short and quick. As bad as it hurt, I planned to keep this cadence until we made the right turn off the fire road. From there we'd have about 600 meters and if I could just get 20 or 30 meters I might get lost in some of the final turns as we approached the school and the finish line. It worked. Mole was pushing hard, but my surge had worked. Jim faded, but no shame there. He had done all the pace setting and made the race very interesting by pushing as hard as he could on the steep downhill.

I pulled off the Triple Crown/Trifecta/Triple Threat. There were many names floating about at the finish line. After my unique achievement I promptly took off ten days from running. Probably a well deserved case of burnout. That will remind me to think twice or three times about such tomfoolery in the future.
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