Race report: Hank Aaron State Trail 5K
by on Monday, August 12, 2013  (7 comments)

There's something about this race that keeps me coming back. I always think I can conquer the course but I never seem to be able to. I always seem to run slower than I feel I'm capable of. This year, I planned a strategy that I thought would help me finally conquer the course and I decided to give it a shot.

Going into this race, I was a little unsure of my fitness. The racing year started off positive with a couple solid races in May and early June. Then I got sick in July and spent most of the month sick enough that my training was really thrown off. I was still getting in some training but I was, at best, treading water for at least 3 weeks. Finally, about 3 weeks before this race, I began feeling good enough to plunge back into full training. I put up a couple solid but not steallar weeks of training and my confidence was returning. With a solid race strategy for this course, was I back where I was in May and June, when I was already in sub-17 5K shape?

I set out on race day to go after that elusive (on this course) sub-17 5K. The first mile of the course is essentially flat, looping around the Miller Park parking lots. I got out fairly well and found myself settling into a large second pack while watching a lead pack of about 12 pull away. By about 3/4 of a mile, I worked my way to the lead of the chase pack and set out on closing the gap to the back of the lead pack, which was already breaking up a little. Some of that chase pack was going with me and I found myself in about 13th place with a couple of runners coming back. Through the mile in 5:28, I felt like I was on target. Now starts the challenging first half of the second mile, though. I wanted to push a bit but not bury myself. I was gaining on 12th place but, just before passing, got passed myself. So I was still in 13th. Then a few more guys passed me and I tried to hook on to their backs. I've never been a terribly strong uphill runner but I didn't want to give up too much on this climb. Still, I just couldn't hang with them as they slipped away from me.

Nearing the turnaround, I found myself leading a pack and somewhere around 15th place. The leaders began coming back and I was beginning to eye up how to make the turn. I moved out a little so I could take the turn wide and keep my pace up some. Someone was on my outside and another worked in to my inside. As I went around the turn, I had to go a little wide for the guy on my inside and the guy on my outside fell behind me. I did manage to keep my speed up fairly well but now it was time to hammer. The course levels out near the turnaround but I was soon to be going down the hill. Even though it was quite gradual, I had to take full advantage of this if I wanted a good time. First, though, I spotted a UW-Stout singlet worn by one of the lead women and had to give a quick Stout howl. Once it's in your blood, you can't get it out I guess. Down the hill, I just couldn't get my legs going. A few more people passed me down that stretch and I found myself near 20th place. Then, with cones separating the "out" from the "back" of the out and back course, some lady heading out crossed the cones right into my path. Maybe it wasn't as close as it seemed to me but I felt like I was barrelling down toward her at a pretty high speed and there she was right in front of me, seemingly with no concern about me rapidly approaching her. She did get back on her side of the road before I got there but not before I felt a little panic. I think that threw my breathing out of rhythm and I found myself gasping and making quite audible grunting sounds for at least the next half mile. Not what you want at around 2 miles of a 5K.

I went through 2 miles knowing that mile took a lot out of me and I was off my goal pace. I just knew I didn't have it in my legs to take enough advantage of the downhill to make up for the uphill. I heard the time, somewhere around 11:20, and felt pretty deflated. Then I reminded myself one of my reasons to be out there, to get a good solid effort in before the important races come up. You can do a lot of good things in workouts but there is no workout that simulates pushing to your absolute limit in the last half mile of a race on dead tired legs. You only get that on race day. So I kept pushing, kept digging, kept fighting. One or two guys passed me early in mile 3, then I held my position. I kept digging to get back up to them but couldn't. I could tell there were at least a couple of guys right behind me but I couldn't separate from them. One of them got me toward the end but I held off the other. Looking at the results, I actually held off the others. It looks like I led a pack into the finish line.

Final result: 21st in 17:50. Not the time or place I was hoping for but the best possible effort I could give on that day. In retrospect, I don't think I was fading when I gave up the net of 8 places between the 1 mile mark and the finish. I think, when I took the lead of that large chase pack and set out to run down the stragglers of the lead pack, a good portion of that chase pack went with me. As the pack broke up, some guys ran off the front and those were the guys who passed me.

Whatever the case, it was what it was. This course got the best of me again. It seems like nobody gets the time they expect there, though. Everyone seemed to be short of their target times or what I would expect of them. As an example, Andy Ruffalo always runs sub-16. Usually in the 15:40s it seems. Even on courses that, on paper, look more difficult than this one. He ran 16:21. There was some speculation from some that the course was long. I can't say one way or the other. I know that long, grinding incline in mile 2 takes its toll on me all the time. Whatever the case, maybe I need to adjust my expectations on this course if I go back to this race in the future. It seems like it is just a slow course for whatever reason.

In the end, I got a good workout in and I got some good practice pushing hard on tired legs, even while dealing with some demotivating events. I'll build myself up from this experience and move on. Next up: Stout Alumni. Looking forward to pulling out the spikes!

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7 comments
Double

To the spikes!

I like you need to start doing some barn burners if I want to get close to 30:00 for Al's.
I'm at about 31:30 shape now.

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Diane

This sounds like an incredibly hard race. I can totally relate to this experience. The ATM race is exactly the same for me. Every yr I sign up for it. Haven't set a PR at that damn race in forever. Usually get injured. I want to PR so badly but for whatever reason, I have a mental block at difficult passages along the route. I'm not giving up on it. Some day I'll get the time I want and there will be much rejoicing and imbibing!

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Ryan

Double, if there's one thing I know, it's that you'll be ready to go at Al's Run. If there's another thing I know, it's that I can be ready as long as I don't overthink this or try to do too much in the next month.

Diane, it's those challenges that keep us coming back. There has to be a way to overcome those obstacles, right? Every year after the race, I say there is no way and I'm not coming back to continue beating my head against the wall. Only one year did I actually not go back so far. It's that challenge that keeps us coming back and it's that challenge that makes it so sweet when we do finally figure it out. I'm already thinking of new strategies that might work for next year. Of course, the primary strategy being getting myself in better shape.

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cesar

Great race Ryan!! forget about the time, the most imporant thing is that you gave your best!

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Lighty

Great race, Ryan! That just sounds like a hard course so the time isn't really an indication of the effort. I love reading your race reports. They always inspire me. Some day I'll run another race.... when I finally graduate from my "jogging" phase. :-)

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Andrew A.

Sounds like a (relatively) tough course, on balance. Not the most ideal time of year for distance racing in the Midwest (or just about anywhere in the Lower 48), either. I have been feeling a bit run-down due to the past months of warm weather (yes, even in the Rockies), felt flat and in-the-well to start my workout on Tuesday, so cut it in half and then took the next couple days (plus today) off to find a rebound point to carry through two tough cc races in the next six weeks with a planned week or two off from training in early October. On top of all of life's other demands (work, family, domestic chores), training a lot in warmer, more humid weather can be the proverbial straw of strain that topples the camel's back. Even a shortened training block can still have amped-up demands with hot weather. Consider taking a cut-back week (reduced load in training) or two and see if that brings you back to life.

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Ryan

Thanks all.

Cesar, I definitely laid it on the line. I will not complain about my effort, just that the stubborn legs didn't seem to want to cooperate.

Lighty, thank you. I'm glad you appreciate the reports. You'll get back to it once things settle down and running can move back up the priority list a bit.

Andrew, there have definitely been challenges. I'm doing the best I can to find the balance between work and rest. Within the next 8-9 days, I'm going to be essentially coasting into the fall racing season. This past week was good, all things considered, and I'm looking for one more good week before I say the hard work has been done and it's time to freshen the legs up. I'm confident it will work out, I've been doing a lot of work this year to find balance instead of just beating my head against the wall and hoping I can hang on. I could get away with that when I was 20-25, not so much anymore.

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