This race report features double the fun after my double-header this weekend at the CASA Superhero 4 Miler and the Midland Mile. I don’t usually race twice in one weekend, but when I do, I do it in quest of a PR.
So here’s the back story. Back in June when I was planning my summer racing schedule I registered for the Midland Mile – a new one mile race about a 35 minute drive from home that would also serve as the USATF-NJ one-mile championship race. This was going to be one of my big goal races of the summer.
My other major goal for the summer was to PR in the 5 mile distance at the NYRR Team Champs event in July. While PRs are always fantastic, this PR was meant to be twice as nice as I planned to wear Tracksmith’s Waban shorts to snag myself $250 in Tracksmith store credit as part of their PR Bonus promotion.
Then, as I wrote about earlier this month, I was beset with a number of injuries throughout July and had to take time off. I notched three DNS (did not start) races. I could possibly do okay at the one-mile race, but a PR was unlikely given my need to work myself back in shape.
Given that, I had to sit down and re-prioritized. I decided since I already dropped $70 on the Tracksmith shorts (not cheap, but I really like them), I would prioritize the Tracksmith bonus. But in order to do that, I knew I’d have to target my weakest PRs. That meant finding either a 4 mile (27:20 PR – 6:50 pace) or 5-mile (33:35 PR – 6:43 pace).
As it turns out, the only 4- or 5-mile race within a reasonable distance of my home before the end of August was the day before the 1-mile race for which I was already registered. I didn’t want another DNS this summer, so that meant it was time for a doubleheader!
CASA Superhero 4 Miler
I registered for this race on the Wednesday before the Saturday event. Like I said, I had a number of DNSs this summer, and I didn’t want another one, so I was playing it safe.
My fiancé really wanted to go check out the final Summer Streets of the year in Manhattan, so I went to this one solo, taking our brand new car (this greatly expands the horizons for possible races!) out to Woodland Park, NJ for the event at the Garrett Mountain Reserve.
That’s right, I said Mountain reserve. This one was going to be hilly. I knew that going in. I had checked out the race’s USATF certification, which said that it was a two-lap course, with a 150 foot climb during each lap. Ouch. I was feeling good about getting a PR, if only because my then-PR was basically my goal pace in Boston this April, but it wasn’t going to be easy.
Race day served me up a trifecta of challenges. First and foremost, I’m still not in shape. I don’t know why, but it seems to be taking me a while to build back up even from a relatively short amount of time off. Second, of course, were the hills. And third, the humidity. I woke up on Saturday morning, checked my phone: 90 percent. Damn.
The drive to the start was pretty easy, check-in was seamless, and then I was off on a short warm-up jog and a preview of some of those hills. That revealed that things would be tough right out of the gate.
When it was time to line up, I positioned myself right up front. I knew from stalking past results that I should be up front. I had a minor issue when some middle-aged, slightly overweight man decided it was really important that he too be on the line and try to crowd me out. But I was good to go after some light re-positioning.
Once the gun went off, I took off and fell into 5th place going up the first hill. With so much humidity, I knew my breathing was going to be important, because it can be so hard to get enough oxygen when the air feels so thick and heavy. I’m pretty sure other people thought I’d fade right away because of the sound of my purposeful breathing.
Anyway, I focused on my own race, and on pushing that first hill. My goal was to ensure I didn’t dig myself too much of a hole on that first hill, because I knew I’d need those extra seconds later. The mile mark was near the top of the hill, and as I crested, I moved into 2nd place briefly before some guy flew out of nowhere. He quickly took the lead, and I could already sense the now-2nd place runner falling back to me. I hit the first mile is 6:53, just three seconds behind PR pace.
I knew I’d really have to work the downhill if I wanted to reach my goal, so I loosened up and let gravity do the work, but as you might have gathered from the above elevation chart, that wasn’t always easy. It can be hard to feel in control during particularly steep sections of downhill. Still, I was able to pass 2nd place on the downhill and to cruise through the second mile in 6:18, leaving me a 29 second cushion below PR pace. I was slowed slightly by some small, but still meaningful, rolling hills in the back half of this mile.
The problem with a loop course is you know what is coming for you when you reach the start of that second loop. In this case, I knew that meant revisiting that monster hill. This time around, I wasn’t feeling good with the humidity really taking its toll. About midway up the hill, I was so hot and my heart rate was so high, I just wanted to walk and put myself out of my misery.
Instead, I let Eminem motivate me, singing to myself (in my head, obviously, I couldn’t be wasting any breath at this point):
“You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow, this opportunity comes once in a lifetime.”
Maybe a little dramatic, but that happens during hard races. I somehow made it to the top, finishing the third mile in 7:28. This is why I needed that strong first mile. Now I was eight seconds behind PR pace, so I knew I needed to make that last downhill mile count. At this point, my body felt on the verge of giving up, so I focused on the number of minutes remaining. Five minutes, that’s nothing!
Somehow I managed to get up and over the final annoying climb at about mile 3.6 to clock my best mile of the day: 6:14. I finished second overall (first female) in 26:49, a 31 second PR and good for that Tracksmith bonus.
Knocking out that PR for the Tracksmith Bonus was a relief, but I was still feeling nervous for my second race of the weekend. The odd time of day for this race—6:20 p.m.—certainly didn’t help matters. That left me all day to sit around and worry!
By the time 4 p.m. rolled around, I was antsy and ready to go—particularly after checking the weather and getting a look at the radar. Storms everywhere! Not wanting to sit around any longer, I talked my fiancé into leaving half an hour earlier than planned, which just meant more time sitting around later, but whatever.
By the time we got to the race destination and found parking, it was pouring out. Luckily, I planned ahead and brought a hat. I don’t mind running in the rain as long as I have a hat to keep it out of my face. And in this case, rain was preferable to the nasty humidity we’ve had lately.
I started my warm up at 5:45, changed into my racing flats in the car, and then made my way to the start. I got to the line around 6:10, only to learn that they were way behind schedule on the heats. I stood around chatting with another woman for a while, but then, when we finally had an estimated start time, I had to head out for another quick warm up. Standing around in the rain for 30 minutes definitely doesn’t leave you feeling ready to race.
When the gun finally went off shortly at 6:40, I really didn’t know what to expect, but I was just going to go out hard and try to hang on. Turns out, my quads were more wrecked from the hilly Saturday race than I realized. I really struggled with my turnover and just couldn’t keep up any speed.
The course was a point-to-point road mile with some light rollers (~25 feet), but by the time I got to that hill, it felt like a mountain. When I got close to the finish, I was surprised to see sub-6 wasn’t out of reach and a put on the best burst of speed I could muster to cross the line as the clock clicked to 6:01.
I stopped my watch, and that’s when I learned my surprise was justified. It turns out the women’s heat managed to run through a gap is the space/time continuum! My official time is 6:01.66. My Garmin, which came in at exactly 1.00 mile, said 6:10.3 (only four seconds faster than my best mile in the 4-miler).
Four other women showed up on Strava FlyBy, and they were also between 9-12 seconds faster in the official results than they were on their watch. They had a timing mat at the start and finish, so this is a very big mystery to me! I still don’t really know what happened, or if it only happened to our heat.
It doesn’t really matter to me, because either way it was significantly slower than my PR, but I can see the situation being particularly annoying for those who were racing all out. On the one hand, the error was in the runner’s favor. On the other hand, it may mean a new “PR” for some that will be particularly difficult to beat in the future. After all, nine seconds is a lot in such a short race!
Regardless, I managed to survive the weekend, finishing that race as 11th female, 1st in my age group, and 82nd overall.