Yesterday was a different kind of racing experience. I did the Dana Point Turkey Trot. In the rain. Not just any rain, but a downpour. Rumor had it that over 10,000 runners had signed up for the event. Knowing how crazy traffic can be for smaller events, I got out of the house and on the road at 5:30 - an hour and a half before the 7:00 AM start time.
As I pulled off the freeway and into Dana Point, I was a little surprised by what I was seeing. Roads closed. Traffic (okay - that's kind of normal). But what was conspicuous was what was missing. Signage, volunteers directing traffic, all of the things that you would expect for a professionally run race of this size. Luckily I knew the area a little, so I made my way down to the harbor. Even there though, there was a traffic free for all. There were deputies around, but no one was directing any traffic. I made my way toward parking and found that there wasn't even any direction on which lot to use! After cycling through a full lot, I re-injected myself into the flow of traffic and found a spot in a lot down the street. Come on folks!
I still had plenty of time, so I wasn't too stressed. I put on the rest of my gear (Garmin and iPod) . While it wasn't raining yet, it was threatening, so I opted to put my cap on (wise choice later on) and my runner's raincoat (30 gal Hefty bag). I made it to the start line with about 20 minutes to go. That is when I *should have* lined up. Instead, I hit the porta potties, wandered around the exhibit area, and got my free cup of Starbucks (they were one of the exhibitors). I got back to the start line with about 5 minutes to go. Wow! Where did all these people come from? I ended up so far from the start line that I couldn't make out what the announcer was saying! I ditched the Hefty bag and milled around with the rest of the herd. The horn finally sounded (about 5 minutes late from the scheduled start), and I finally started shuffling toward the front. It took almost 3 more minutes to make it to the start line! I was finally off running (well, at least my feet were moving).
I wanted to use this race as a little test to see where my training was taking me. I had a goal of 55 minutes, which meant that I would need to maintain an 8:51 pace throughout. More importantly, I wanted to see if I could hit LT and maintain it. If I could do that, then I would receive confirmation that this heart rate training business was working.
Now for rant #2 - the problem with this particular race is there is no seeding, no corrals, nothing at the start. They put the "elites" at the start line, but after that starting sequence is first come first served. Runners and walkers of all ages and ability levels are on the course. I had no clear running room for about four miles. My race went like this - run, hop, skip, shoot for that gap, right to pass this one, left to pass these runners, stick my hands in here to move those people, speed up, slow down. Grrr...
To top that, about ten minutes after the start the skies opened up! Now, I don't mind a little drizzle or even some light rain when racing. Those are ideal race conditions. By the time we had turned from Dana Point Harbor Dr into Doheny State Park, the rain had gone from a light sprinkle to a downpour! By the time I had reached the turnaround and started back toward the harbor, water was *running* across the road. I had been able to keep my feet comfortable to that point, but by mile 2, my feet were squishing along with every step. Yech.
At this point, I knew my goal time was out of the question. I had not been able to get to my goal pace even though my heart rate was still not at LT. I had been passing hundreds of runners all this time. Finally, as I passed mile 3 and running back through the start line area, the trail widened out a little. I concentrated on speeding up turnover and picked up the pace a bit. I was finally at LT, and running an 8:15 pace. The rain had not let up, and at this point I was completely soaked. My feet squished with every step. My cap at least did its job and kept the water out of my eyes.
At this point, the course turned left and headed up over a bridge onto the harbor jetty. The course narrowed and hundreds of runners were once again funnelled onto half of the street. I had no choice but to slow down. I ran over the bridge and turned left to the next obstacle. Water! It was now raining so hard that the drains were having trouble keeping up. Water in some points was ankle deep (I know because I looked)! I was no longer concerned with saving my feet or my shoes, so I kept on going best I could between the water, the rain, and the people. I was still at LT, but my pace had been slowed to a 9:17 by the less than ideal conditions.
I finally got off the jetty turned left onto the open roadway and passed the 5 mile marker. With about 3/4 a mile left, I knew my goal was out of the question, but I thought a new PR was still within reach. I picked up the pace and tried to give it all I had to the finish line. I brought mile 6 in with an 8:48 pace, and the last 2 tenths at an 8:17. Watch said 56.09 (new PR). But alas - it was not to be. Obviously, all of the zigzagging on the course early on meant that I had actually run a bit further than 10KMs. My watch had stopped when I reached 10K, even though it was probably a few hundred yards from the finish. Official time - 57.11. Not quite the 56.56 set earlier this year.
Even though I didn't PR, I was still pleased with the overall effort. I learned a number of things from this race: (1) I can run at LT for an hour, (2) I was able to finish strong, (3) I felt good and strong post race. In fact, I had some friends who were running the 5K, and I was contemplating joining them for a "fun run". I really feel that I could have given more of myself during the race. I didn't even remotely feel like the tank was empty.
The bottom line here is I feel like I am making some big strides. It's been just over a year since I started running (last year's Turkey Trot was my first 10K). While my speed is no where near being competitive with the top dogs, I am soooo far from last year at this time it's not even funny. I'm looking forward to more training and my next 10K in two weeks!