I almost didn’t run this race today. In fact, if it was up to my wife I would have stayed home. I’ve been pushing myself really hard lately on my runs, and probably doing more speedwork than I should. After a 5K last weekend, followed by 2 miles barefoot the day after, and then a near full effort scouting of the Bridgton 4 on the 4th course earlier in the week, my legs were feeling absolutely shot. I tried an easy run on Friday, and was reduced to a run walk due to fatigue, and wound up finishing only about 4.5 of the planned 7 miles I was planning to run. Things were not looking good with a race looming 2 days later.
To make matters worse, after scout-running the hilly course in Bridgton at a sub-7:00 pace on Wednesday, I began to feel some soreness above the outside of my left knee – the telltale sign of ITBS. Unnecessarily hammering on the hills on fatigued legs was a very bad idea. I had a bad case of ITBS many years ago due to a bad pair of shoes, and I know how debilitating it can be, so I knew that I had to be careful or risk putting myself out for longer than I might be able to handle – hence my wife’s urging to skip the race. I’m pigheaded, and have been looking forward to this race for a long time – it was the first race I ever ran, and I was determined to try for a 4-mile PR, which stood at 26:04 and was set in the same race 2 years ago. After running some barefoot strides on the driveway with my son yesterday, the soreness seemed to have ebbed a bit, so I decided to go for it.
I woke up this morning to the hottest day of the week so far, but I was feeling ok. My dad and kids accompanied me to the race, which has always been good luck for me in the past (my 5K and marathon PR’s were both set in races where I met them at the finish). Didn’t have time to get in a full warmup, but I did a few strides at the starting line to break a sweat (wasn’t hard in the near 80 degree temps at 8:00AM), and waited near the front for the starting gun to go off. For those who might be wondering, I was wearing my new Brooks Mach 12’s for the second consecutive race – loving these shoes.
The challenging thing about the Bridgton course are the hills. The first mile is fast, but there are two significant hills at mile 1.1 and mile 2.1 (see course elevation profile above). My plan was to run the first mile at a low 6:00 pace, ease up considerably on the hilly middle miles, and then finish as strongly as I could on the final downhill with whatever I had left. As it turns out, I excecuted this plan perfectly, and the strategy worked.
I took off fast as usual and then eased into a comfortably fast pace for the first mile (split = 6:07). Once I hit the big hill at mile 1.1, I started to question myself – I wasn’t feeling good, and my mind was telling me to just stop. I told myself that I could just slow up as much as needed on the uphill, and save my legs for later in the race. Knowing the course well helped, and I knew that the pain would only last for about a third of a mile. I wound up finishing mile 2 in 6:51, which was more or less on target, so my pace was about where I needed it to be despite my feeling of impending doom.
In mile 3 I started to get comfortable, and the uphills didn’t seem as bad. I dumped water on my head at a few water stops to fight the heat, and plowed up some of the smaller hills at a good clip. I found myself passing more people than being passed myself, and I think the combination of hills and heat were taking their toll on a lot of the runners. I managed to shave some seconds off my pace in mile 3, and completed it in 6:38.
I knew that mile 2.5 marked the end of the big hills, and when I got to that point, I was happy to find that my legs were feeling good, and more importantly, there was no pain at all in my knee. I decided to let it fly and see what would happen. I managed to drop my pace back down into the low 6:00 range, and saw my average overall pace dip below the 6:30 min/mile mark that meant a new 4-mile PR. I was determined to hold that. About 3/4 of a mile from the finish, a runner passed me, and I was surprised to see that it was the same guy who passed me in the final mile last weekend to win the Global Benefit 5K – further confirmation that he’s a strong finisher!
Once I made the final turn onto the home stretch, I knew that I had a PR in the bag. I dropped my pace back under 6:00 for the final quarter, and crossed the finish line in 25:55 – a PR by 9 seconds! My final mile split was 6:10, so I executed my race plan to perfection – this may be one of the smartest races I have ever run. My time placed me 51st overall out of 1500+ runners, and 3rd in the 35-39 age group. The result was thrilling, and totally unexpected given my mental and physical state just 2 days ago, but is a testament to the fact that a race can bring out the best in you.
I met up with my dad and kids afterward, picked up my 3rd place AG medal, and watched the kids scoot for a bit in the skate park next to the finish line. Thankfully, the ITB soreness did not return either during or after the race, and my fears of aggravating an injury were unwarranted. Now I can relax a bit on the speedwork and focus on running easy for a week or so, then get back at it. Need to start looking for my next race!