Sunday, November 1, 2009

Two Race Weekend - Larch Hill Classic and Dan Barry 5 Miler

5th Annual Larch Hill Cross Country Classic
Saturday, October 31, 2009
Bramble Hill Farm, Amherst, MA

3+ Miles: 19:2x Splits ? 4th Overall

I finished a solid week of training with a pair of low-key weekend races. I didn't go into either with high expectations. The goal was to ready myself for some key races: Talking Turkey in late November and in early December: the Northampton Hot Chocolate 5k and Club Nationals Cross in Lexington, KY.

The Larch Hill race is an unique event that doesn't get the attention it deserves.
My friend Nick Hopley started this race five years ago to support the Bramble Hill Farm and Common School while his son was attending.

It's a true old English style cross country race that is near and dear to Nick.
Nick sets up a course "around 3 miles" on the scenic farm land covering some gravel trail but mostly roughly moved grass and the woods lined trails on the perimeter of the farmland. The first mile was the hardest part. A short hill then some good old slop, mud before a small steeple jump into 3-4 inches of standing water that was unavoidable. The second, shorter interior loop returned up the short incline to a 4-foot-high hay bail to hop over before cutting thru the sheep field to a stile (a step ladder to climb over an wall or fence - yea I had to look that up). A true cross country course suited for strength runners. I could tell during my warmup over the primary 2 mile loop that this going to be a ...slow... grind. This course will easily eat you up if you don't run smart.

After my pair of warmup laps, I do some strides and wait for the kids race to start. My daughter Brianna runs after a little coaxing. She can run fast when she wants to - like when she wanted more popcorn. Good stuff.

I knew it was not going to be a stellar day. The remnants of Tues intervals and Thur's tempo was still in my legs.
I shed my stopwatch before the start knowing it would be of no use. There will not be any mile splits. The overall distance... 'around 3 miles'. Maybe 19 minutes for the fast runners. This will be a contest where position is more important than clocked time. Runners that can pace their effort based on feel and not mile splits will have the advantage.

When the gun goes off I take it as easy looking to seed myself in 4 or 5th position behind Paul Bazunchuk and some other guy breathing way too hard for less than one mile in. I pass them after about 5 minutes but not before first getting passed by Will Paulding.

I sit in for a while trying to relax and conserve some energy and let a big gap build between Will and myself. I work to pull him back within striking range but despite a conservative effort so far, my legs are toast.

I jog up the small hill for 2nd loop, jump roll and flip over the huge hay bail and muddled my way thru the final mile.

Course was longer than 3 miles. Who knows by how much.
I think my time was around 19:20, about 80 seconds behind winner Ethan Nedeau and runner-up Leigh Schmitt. An easy 4 mile shakeout on the treadmill later that afternoon and my felt much better.

Dan Barry Memorial 5 Miler
Sunday November 1, 2009
Hatfield, MA

1st Overall

I return to Hatfield for the 5th consecutive year. This may be a low key race but its very well supported by the Hatfield Lions. I first ran this race in 2005 as part of Empire One Running Club's Grand Prix series. 2005 was the year when I returned to racing. This is also the first race over 5k where I went sub 6:00/pace and along with the Monson Half, the only races I've made back every year since.
I finished 5th overall in '05 in 28:28 after running second for most the race behind winner Brain Donahue.

Being the low key race that it is, you won't find much, if anything, for prizes. Sometimes there's prize merchandise. Sometimes zilch. But everybody will get a bag of locally harvested potatoes and treated to a decent post race meal courtesy of the Hatfield Lions. With such a spartan prize structure you will not find any of the local hot shots swooping in to grab some loot. That's just fine since it has allowed me to add add some overall victories to the resume:
'06 (28:23 $15 gas card) and '07 (28:37 T-shirt). Tim Mahoney rained on my parade in '08 (27:20 to my 28:20 - we both missed out on prizes while out on our cool down)

I ran the 5 mile course for warmup and felt surprisingly good. I was breezing around 6:45 pace by the end. No Tim Mahoney here today. Rich Larsen who has been here the past several years and Peter Fratini were the other top dogs. I jump to the front immediately as we make our way onto Main St. I can feel Peter maybe a couple strides back. He's maybe 5 seconds back as I hit mile one in 5:25.

Each year I have run very similar times and mile splits. This year I was hoping to finally break thru the 28 minutes barrier. The best way to do that I believe is to get thru miles 2 and 3 quicker than previous years. Mile 2 has the race only hill of note preceded by a near equal downhill. But it also faces the brunt of the typical North to South winds that can blow hard down the Connecticut River valley accounting for the consistently slower splits. Sure enough the 5:52 and 5:47 splits are near identical to my previous best. The only consolidation is that I'm putting this effort in
entirely on my own - soon after starting the slight climb I no longer sense Peter right on me.

I finish off miles 2 and 3 strong however no longer up on my toes. Still I'm happy the legs are still holding up well. During the warmup on this section the tailwind was strong and was really pushing me forward. How strong? The wind was so strong that when I spit, it was flying a good 5 feet beyond it's projected trajectory under normal conditions. It has since died down some. Too bad. I was relishing the thought of putting in some 'easy' 5:20 miles.

My legs get heavy thru mile 4 and I drop down to 5:40 pace when in past years I have clocked low 5:3x. Never-the-less I seem to have a commanding lead and make an earnest effort to accelerate off the downhill the leads into the final mile. My legs get real lethargic on the final 1/2 mile. I keep telling myself that if I don't get my ass in gear I'm going to get overtaken right at the line. Nobody is that close but when your suffering the last 400 meters can seem like an eternity. So I manufacture the motivation I need to get to the finish line. A 5:33 final mile - a near carbon copy of last year. Collectively a scant 3 second improvement on last year's course best.

A solid finish to the week. I'll gladly take it. And my potatoes too, of course.

Race Splits 5:25, 11:17 (5:52), 17:04 (5:47), 22:43 (5:40), 28:17 (5:33)