Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Li'l Rhody Runaround 2014

Every once in a while I run a race where I feel that I've truly given it my all.  Often I enter a race in great shape and with lots of quality training under my belt, but feel a little underwhelmed with my result - not necessarily my finishing time, but wondering if I had really "emptied the tank".  I believe this is a flaw in my racing, or at least an area that can be improved upon.  Maybe it isn't realistic for every race, but I certainly see other runners who seem to be better at it than I am.  There's an extremely short list of races that I feel I've achieved this, with the best example being this year's Big River Trail Half Marathon.  I can now add the 2014 Li'l Rhody Runaround to this list. 

I didn't have as many pre-race jitters leading up to this race as usual.  I know that I am faster than last year and expected to better my PR of 48:59.  I thought that 48:30 or maybe even low 48's was possible, but I knew I couldn't be "greedy" and expect minute plus PR's every year.  I also wasn't sure that I put in the consistent speed work that I had been the previous two years.  Most of my workouts take place on trails these days.  Luckily (?), most of my running frenemies would be in attendance.  This will help, but who could I realistically finish ahead of? 

The morning of the race I was still feeling good albeit a little antsy to get started.  I picked up my brother Greg and arrived over an hour early at registration.  Already, the field was looking stacked.  I grabbed my bib and the orange technical singlet I had been anticipating.  The weather was chilly, but great for racing.  A large group of us headed out for a two mile warm up.  My body felt really good.  I returned to my car and stripped down to the orange singlet, shorts, and a hat, and I was ready to start this thing.  I toed the line up front between my brother and Mike Galoob.  Also in attendance were my targets for the day (Bob Jackman, Steve Brightman, Muddy, Ryan Davenport, Chris Garvin) and other surprises like Ben Nephew and Ryan Carrara, and probably others too.  I'm always impressed with the number of fast people who show up for this trail race.  Time to run hard for the next eight miles! 

Front and center at the start.  Photo by Jana Walker. 

The race begins on a gradual down hill on a dirt/gravel road.  The start is always fast and this year was no different.  I tried to find the balance of allowing the adrenaline to propel me without falling victim to early fatigue.  Greg was leading the charge with Galoob a few seconds behind.  There were three guys following him (including Ryan Carrara and Ben Nephew) and then it was myself and Steve Brightman.  I wanted to stay with Steve.  He beat me last year here and ran 48:30.  I made sure to not let him get away, while worrying about going too hard.  We hit the short single track section before the campground.  I was looking for some relief from the hot pace, but no one was letting up.  We popped out into the campground and I passed the first GPS mile in 5:35 - very similar to last year.  I knew there was a train of fast guys right behind me, and this motivated me to not let up.  As we approached the halfway portion of the campground I was gaining on Steve and another unknown runner.  I picked up my pace and went by without saying a word or looking back.  I wanted to appear strong.  I maintained my 5th position as we re-entered the woods.  With Greg, Galoob, Carrara, and Nephew ahead of me, I knew my race was with the people behind me. 

As I ran along this easy straight trail I could feel a runner right on my heels.  I believed it was Bob Jackman.  My goal was to not let anyone pass me at this juncture and I made the necessary surges to stay in front (mile 2 GPS 5:39).  I was anticipating the upcoming technical sections, hoping that would be a strength for me, rather than racing the fast guys on the easier stuff.  I was really pushing and seemed to create a bit of space.  I also was now gaining on Ben Nephew.  This seemed really strange, and I worried I wasn't racing smart, as I was sure he was.  Still I ended up right behind him on the very long bridge section.  I joked to him that the race was now one long bridge (since he hadn't raced here in a few years).  I'm not sure if he acknowledged my admittedly lame attempt at humor.  He seemed to slow even more, and I made the decision to pass once off the bridge.  This was right before Klondike Road.  Passing a trail legend (at least in my mind) seemed crazy and reckless, but again filled me with a rush of adrenaline.  The terrain continued to be challenging, but I was making quick work of the obstacles.  Someone was on my toes again, and I believed it was Bob. 

This section of the race is where things seem to start changing.  I was afraid of hitting the wall, which happened last year.  I tried to push every small up hill and then make sure to not let up on the descents.  I felt like this was working - I was keeping the pack behind me directly off my heels.  GPS Mile 3 - 6:19 and Mile 4 - 6:10.  I reached the water stop and jumped onto Buckeye Brook Road.  I told myself I was feeling better than last year and I was already halfway done.  Still, I didn't like being exposed on this 1/4 mile of road section.  I was sure everyone would catch right back up to me. 

I re-entered the woods and immediately felt a slow down.  That makes sense because of the technical terrain under the ledges, but it is mentally deflating.  Footsteps behind me getting closer again.  I never glanced back, but since I didn't recognize the breathing/footstrikes, I assumed it was Ben Nephew.  This validated my theory that he was running smart and I was foolish for the aggressive start.  I tried to pick it up, carelessly running over anything - jagged rocks, roots, no matter.  I've run this trail a hundred times and never had taken some of the lines I now was running.  I was taking the straightest, shortest route.  I was holding off "Ben", but I felt the inevitable pass coming.  GPS Mile 5 - 6:21.  On the rooty spot before the long climb I was finally passed.  To my surprise it was not Ben, but Chris Garvin!  This made me feel better for some reason.  He is the most disciplined trail racer I know, and the fact that he was only passing me now made me think that I was running really well.  I didn't really expect to finish ahead of him anyway today.  I was still ahead of Ben, Muddy, Jackman, and Brightman.  I couldn't hear anyone else behind me at the time.  I kept Chris close as we climbed the long hill.  I felt rather slow doing this, but somehow Chris and I tied for the Strava segment CR for this hill climb (even 5 seconds faster than Galoob who set the LRR course record today). 

Here comes the 47 minute crew.  Photo by Gail Ornstein.

Finishing up our Strava CR hill climb. Photo by Gail Ornstein.

One more.  Photo by Gail Ornstein.

At the top of the hill my in-laws were there snapping pictures and cheering the runners on. I got to hear how much space I had on the runners behind me, and unfortunately, it wasn't much at all.  This was a low moment mentally.  I vocalized a motivating phrase to myself (it would have been funny if Chris could hear this).  I dug down and pushed onward.  Except for a quick steep descent, the trail is rather flat and even for a bit (GPS Mile 6 - 6:29).  I was determined to stay ahead of whoever was now tracking me down.  Unfamiliar footsteps - must be Ben Nephew for sure this time.  I was happy for the trail to get more technical near Schoolhouse Pond Trail.  I was going to make the trail legend work to pass me, and I continued to take calculated risks over questionable objects.  For as tired as I felt, I knew I was closing in on the end of the trail.  I was proud of myself for holding off Ben at least until we got to the road.  Okay, let's finish this thing.  GPS Mile 7 - 6:37. 

I popped out onto the road with about 3/4 of a mile left.  I could hear Ben's Inov8's slapping on the pavement behind me.  Now I was gaining in confidence.  I knew I could hammer the road home.  I had enough left to do it.  Pretty quickly I could hear a gap developing.  I kept pushing and pushing, especially up the modest hill.  It was here I finally looked at my watch (I did peak at it at the first mile too).  It read 45:30's.  How much was left?  Half a mile? 3 minutes?  I knew I was PR'ing.  Garvin was ahead of me, but never got within striking distance - not that I could go any faster.  The slapping shoes sound had faded and I finally peeked back as I made the turn into the campground to confirm.  I was shocked to see the clock read a tick over 47 minutes when I got a visual.  No way!  But my watch confirmed when I crossed the line (I stopped it late at 47:08, somehow SNERRO had my time as 47:10).  GPS final .75 miles averaged 5:06 pace and my second fastest 1/4 mile recorded by Strava (over 2 years of data) in 67 seconds!! 

Finishing up.  Photo by Jana Walker. 

I was elated!  I knew I had just run one of the best races in my life and somehow knocked off almost 2 minutes from my great performance last year.  It doesn't seem possible.  After holding off the initial impulse to throw up, I gathered my breathing and watched the finish behind me.  Muddy was right after me - it wasn't Ben.  In fact, I learned afterwards that it was Muddy gaining on me on the final mile or so in the woods.  After the amount of time we've spent running in the woods together, I can't believe I didn't recognize him.  There was a sizeable gap and then Ben finished with Jackman right on his heels.  Brightman was another minute back. 

31 runners finished sub 56 minutes.  What a stacked field! 

  I continued to chat with other runners and watch friends and family finish up their races.  I then joined another big group on a 2.5 mile cool down run.  I then was beginning to bonk.  I ate some soup which helped and hung out with my kids during the awards.  It was then time to meet back up at my house for celebration. 

Me and my son.  Photo by Gail Ornstein.

Post race thoughts:

I still get excited days later thinking about the race.  My time this year was faster than everyone's time last year (a field that included Ryan Woolley, Mike Galoob, and Chris Garvin) except my brother's. 

Speaking of Mike, I didn't realize that he had set the course record.  I thought it was 44:05, but that was done when the race was 7.9 miles long and in the other direction. 

On the trail conditions topic - it was a great day weather-wise, and trail-wise no doubt, but erosion over time cannot be discounted.  The trail is not getting faster over time (despite the increased amount of bridges - I don't feel like I can even run them as fast as the terrain below them), it is the runners getting faster. 

Running an 8 mile race with the first two miles in the 5:30's and the final mile in the low 5's makes me think I have an excellent shot of a sub 17 minute 5K before the end of the year.  Might have to be a track time trial, but I should do it. 

Can't wait for the first race next month in the 4th Season winter trail race series! 


  1. Awesome race and report, Jonny! Seems like you could run 16:30-45 on a flat course right now. You Rhody guys are all in monster shape. You're training like the Keenyans did a few years ago when we were all super motivated and getting lot's of pr's. Great job! Makes me proud!

  2. You ran an awesome race, Jonny! Great job with the PR, and you're right - totally stacked field for a local trail race, which should make you even more proud of your efforts!

  3. Most impressive, Jonny! All that hard work paid off. Well done.

  4. nice run Jonny - maybe without the hat you would have run faster
    I got you thinking didn't I
    You did awesome

  5. AMAZING!!! I love reading your write ups. INCREDIBLE job! WOOO HOO!!!!

  6. Fantastic write-up, Jonny. (And I'm not just saying that because you gave me the biggest running compliment I might have ever gotten.) You pushed me to my limit; I hope we can continue feeding off each other in future races.

  7. Great job Jonny. You're looking lean 'n mean in those photos, like an old grizzled, trail wolf! I can't wait to race here again with you guys.