Today was my re-education on how to record the shortest time between two distances on such a course. It's not about laying out self-punishing, near-intolerable amounts of effort up every hill, but rather taking a Newton'esque conservation of energy and preservation of momentum approach.
This was my sixth running of this race and the only race I have done in every year since I started running back in 2005. In previous years I have relied on my ever building database of race splits and training logs to formulate a goal time and mile splits. This year a different approach. After a coming up short of expectations here at the Monson Half the past couple years and at last week's Franklin Park Cross Country race, I decide to abandon a rigid set of scheduled mile splits. Instead I will rely more on experience to dictate how just how hard and how much I'll be able to push myself.
There's some serious cash prizes - as road races go - for the top 5 male/female spots - $575 down to $75 plus repeat winners and course record bonuses. Plus $75 class for age group winners. That always brings a least a half dozen top guns from Boston and the some second-tier Kenyans from New York region each year. For that same reason, along with a bit steep $50 race day registration price tag, some local top dogs often will not be here - aware that to be 'in the money', as they say, will take a ridiculously fast time for a race this size. So despite weather that was a close to picture perfect for a mid November day turn out was a bit lower than normal. The sun was shinning a with a light and variable cool breeze keeping temps in the low 50's at most.
A couple of familiar faces are missing at the start line. I'm trying to anticipate what there will be for 2nd and 3rd tier groups after the elites jet off. The race starts and my fears of a 13 mile solo effort are quickly put to bed. I have a least a couple of runners close to my pace. Two Kenyans pass me before I reach the 1st mile marker in a comfortable 6:19 first mile. One of them for sure is in my 40 plus age group. My suspicion that it's Titus Mutinda is confirmed afterwards. Titus is a top caliber runner. A 6 min pace, easy by his standards, I suspect has little to do with that fact that he has run a couple marathons already this fall. More likely, he too, knows the score. Present today are two more Kenyans we are unfortunate enough to have in our Masters' age group and perhaps today he isn't feeling up to battle with. It appears Titus is going to run with this friend perhaps, pick-up a $75 check and get a good tempo workout in at the same time. Unless he's hurting I won't challenge him today. The top Master's age group money is claimed.
I settle in and focus on the other guy. He isn't running as well. It's cool but still warm and the serious runners are in a race singlet only. No gloves. No hat. This guy's wearing a heavier long sleeve tech short and not paying close mind to running the tangents sharply. He either isn't of the same caliber as Titus or simply isn't interested in running hard today, for whatever the reason. He's working harder than one should for the early miles and trying to keep pace with Titus. By the time we reach mile 3, the two are no longer running together.
Titus caught up to another runner about 30 seconds further ahead while this guy has stayed the same 15 seconds in advance that he had for the last mile. I feel good about my chances of closing down on him by day's end. I'm running relaxed and in my comfort zone. The miles are not clicking away as fast as in year's past but I'm sticking to my plan - no getting bent out of shape after each mile if I don't like the report my watch is giving me.
By mile 4 where the downhill and uphills become a little more severe I find a decent gear. I focus on not wasting energy going uphill hard only to be forced into letting off the throttle on the downside. Despite, or maybe because of, an even-keeled moderated effort on the climbs I'm making progress on the next guy. By the end of mile 4 I have him. My watch reports a 5:53 mile, but I suspect a misplaced mile marker. The 6:3ish next mile further suggest that's the case. There's a lot of disparity in the terrain, but my effort in relation to the grade changes is even.
I turn my focus on Titus and the other runner he joined up with. They are keeping the pace up. I close down a little here and there when I get the better side the the downhill / uphill equation, but lose it when it turns out of my favor. After a mile six downhill then slight incline, I hear the footsteps and breathing of someone closing in. I don't bother to turn around to inspect whether it's the return of the guy I past last, or a new runner. I never do. I figure he'll either pass me right away or sit on me for a while. If he passes, I'll to deal with him then. If he decides to sit on a while then I'll either fall back and force him to pace set awhile to size him up, or I'll put in an effort to drop him. Either way I'm not looking back. Why give him any indication that I'm worried about him?
I move thru mile 7 with purpose, but ease. A combination of knowing some one's on my tail combined with the fact that the last section of hard uphill has past has put a pep in my stride. I'm finding a groove that I have not had all day. I feeling that felling... a fluid, easy stride, a sensation of being propelled forward, a welcome lift in your feet when you feel to be floating over an even and sure footed slightest of upgrade after miles of hard up and downs. That little pace pickup was all the was needed to chase off whoever that was right on my tail.
Before the sharp left before mile 8, I'm able to see the two runners up ahead and they still are forward about 30 seconds. I'll have my work cut out for me if I'm going to catch them. That quick and fluid turnover I had just a mile ago has left me, if just a bit. I'm pressing to run through the last of the false flats and dips of mile 8 trying not to lose contact with the one runner up ahead - now that Titus has broke free. I clock in at just under 6 min pace which is a good indication that I'm holding up well and not going as slow as it seems. I ready myself for the next mile of harsh downhill. I move through it as best as I could. I'm not floating along as quick as I would like but manage to keep contact with the guy up ahead. Course knowledge helps as I efficiently navigate around the steep descent and sharp right hand turn that completes this five mile loop before it heads back towards the main Rt 32.
The quick decent and turn leaves gets me within maybe 20 seconds of that guy. Titus is out of sight. I was taken by surprise to pass someone I didn't see before. I zoom by him at a water stop as he pulls off for a drink. A casualty of the hills and a quick early pace.
A quick descent and railroad bridge crossing, and we reach Rt 32 for the final 5k. It's a fast, mostly gradual downhill or flat stretch to the finish. Titus is visible only on the longer of straight aways. Not that it's of much concern. I'm sure if I was to get close enough to threaten his paycheck, he would take off with ease.
So I put my effort into putting time into the next guy. However I just can't get the gap down. I would make some progress briefly than he would pick it up. Over the last mile I advance by maybe 10 seconds. In the final mile I'm getting the feeling it may happen. But that was as close as it would get. I clock a 6:07 for the the final 1.1 miles - a respectable 5:30 pace but not enough to make it an interesting contest for the 9th spot. But it was a pleasant surprise to see the finish clock ticking 1:19 as I wrapped up the day. I was expecting to finish in the 1:20x range with all those 6:20-6:30 uphills miles. Goes to show that with a little patience and perseverance it's possible to run a decent time.
Monson Memorial Classic Half-Marathon
Sunday, November 14, 2010, Monson, MA USATF Certified #MA98031RN
Timing and Scoring by: ACCU-SPEC (413) 467-7354 email@example.comPlace Name No. Age Div/Tot Div City St Time Pace
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1 MATHEW KIPLAGAT 262 28 1/25 M2029 NEW ROCHELLE NY 1:07:38 5:10
2 CHASE PIZZONIA 172 24 2/25 M2029 BRONX NY 1:11:19 5:27
3 ERIC BLAKE 263 31 1/50 M3039 NEW BRITAIN CT 1:11:25 5:28
4 JOSEPH KOECH 311 41 1/54 M4049 SOUTH CHELMSFOR MA 1:12:00 5:30
5 JOSEPH EKUOM 310 40 2/54 M4049 HIGH FALLS NY 1:13:41 5:38
6 BENJAMIN NOAYA 307 34 2/50 M3039 SOUTH CHELMSFOR MA 1:13:54 5:39
7 THOMAS O'GRADY 161 25 3/25 M2029 LATHAM NY 1:15:47 5:48
8 TITUS MUTINDA 318 45 3/54 M4049 LOWELL MA 1:18:32 6:00
9 MATTHEW BACH 143 23 4/25 M2029 JERSEY CITY NJ 1:19:00 6:02
10 ROBERT LANDRY 168 42 4/54 M4049 LUDLOW MA 1:19:11 6:03
11 DAVID NDUNGU 319 31 3/50 M3039 WORCESTER MA 1:20:46 6:10
12 TOM DAVIS 315 23 5/25 M2029 NEWTON MA 1:21:29 6:14
13 RAYMOND HOULE 124 44 5/54 M4049 SOUTHINGTON CT 1:23:50 6:24
14 EILEEN COMBS 246 32 1/43 F3039 SCHENECTADY NY 1:24:19 6:27
15 DOUG THEROUX 67 49 6/54 M4049 HOLYOKE MA 1:24:27 6:27
16 MICHAEL MERTENS 72 46 7/54 M4049 FARMINGTON NY 1:24:57 6:30
17 BRIAN DEBRACCIO 105 44 8/54 M4049 SCOTIA NY 1:25:59 6:34
18 CLAUDIA CARMARGO 257 32 2/43 F3039 HOPEWELL JNC. NY 1:26:49 6:38
19 MARK STAPLES 92 41 9/54 M4049 HOLYOKE MA 1:27:31 6:41
20 DONALD BURKE 27 54 1/31 M5059 MANSFIELD MA 1:28:05 6:44
21 KARI GATHEN 266 42 1/33 F4049 ALBANY NY 1:29:04 6:48
22 MICHAEL LESCARBEAU 191 39 4/50 M3039 AGAWAM MA 1:29:17 6:49
23 STEVE FORREST 154 46 10/54 M4049 BELCHERTOWN MA 1:29:35 6:51
24 MACKENZIE GRAY 241 20 6/25 M2029 HOLYOKE MA 1:30:49 6:56
25 DENNIS BARONE 249 55 2/31 M5059 WEST HARTFORD CT 1:31:07 6:58
26 WILLIAM WHEELER 188 30 5/50 M3039 BELCHERTOWN MA 1:31:38 7:00
27 MATTHEW HOOD 127 22 7/25 M2029 SPRINGFIELD MA 1:31:41 7:00
28 BRIAN JOHNSON 277 43 11/54 M4049 FLORENCE MA 1:32:31 7:04
29 JEREMY SEYMOUR 176 29 8/25 M2029 EAST LONGMEADOW MA 1:32:44 7:05
30 JASON DOMINICK 150 39 6/50 M3039 WILBRAHAM MA 1:32:57 7:06
6:19, 12:29 (6:10), 18:44 (6:15), 24:38 (5:53), 31:14 (6:36),
37:35 (6:21), 44:05 (6:30), 50:03 (5:58), 55:30 (5:27), 1:01:18 (5:48),
1:07:17 (5:59), 1:13:03 (5:47), 1:18:34 (5:31), 1:19:10 (36)