Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Race Report: Bridge to Bridge 10 km run

I've been training for the Califoronia International Marathon (CIM) in Sacramento, California on 02 Dec, focusing primarily to this point on endurance. When two weeks ago I was able to do a 19.6 mile run then follow it up the next day with a 7.5 mile run, I decided my endurance was on track, and I could indulge in a race to check my speed. I saw the Bridge to Bridge had changed its traditional 12 km long course to a "certified" 10 km this year due to construction. I couldn't resist, as I've got a goal of breaking 40 min for 10 km (I guess 48 min for 12 km would also qualify, but that's less likely to happen): I registered.

The race started at the Ferry Building in San Francisco, around 4 km from where I live, so I decided to run to the start as warm-up. This is the most warm-up I've ever given myself in a running race: in the past I've taken the approach that miles running take more out of the tank then the advantage gained in priming the engine, so a "warm-up" run is counter-productive. But I've been feeling better in the middle of my long runs than near the beginning, so I decided to take a lesson from my training. In any case, running was by far the most convenient way there.

So I did a nice easy run out my door. It was nice running without the slightest pressure for speed. Indeed, the pressure was against speed. I felt good when I got to the Ferry building, an hour before the start.

I'd worn a sweat suit over my running clothes, so despite my slow pace I was feeling nicely sweaty on the uncharacteristically warm and clear San Francisco morning. The rest of my time I spent ironing out sort/tight spots in my legs with a massage stick I'd taken along in my small backpack, doing some light stretches and balancing poses, and a few very short running drills to work on my foot strike. I felt fairly ready.

I moved to the start line with 12 minutes to go. In the start zone there were anticipated pace signs, based on expected mile times. The first was 5 minutes, then they were in one-minute intervals. 4 minute kilometers are 6:26/mile, so I stood halfway between 6 minutes and 7 minutes. I was surprised only a few runners were ahead of me, the 5-6 minute zone almost empty. With five minutes to go the announcer asked us to move forward to fill the space. I ended up in the second row. This seemed too far forward for me given my running credentials, but I asked people around me what their target times were. A fast-looking guy next to me, registed 50-55 and wearing a Dolphin Southend Runner's club shirt, said 39 minutes, and some women said 6:40 miles, so it seemed good.

The start of a race is always a bit surreal, knowing the pain is about to begin, but a 10 km race is so short that I knew I'd be able to handle it without much worry. Indeed 40 minutes of pain is very simular to what I get in a typical Low-Key Hillclimb, so I have a lot of experience with efforts of this duration, even if I'd done only four 10 km races before.

KNBR's Gary Radnich finally counted us down from 5 seconds and we were off. The anticipated surge happened, and I was getting passed on both sides in the stampede. I know what a 4 min/km pace feels like and I knew I was running at close to that target, if not faster. A glance at my Garmin confirmed it: I was ahead of my 15 km/hr target. I thus knew many if not most of those passing me wouldn't be able to hold their early pace.

After a few minutes things settled out. I was following one of the woman, then my 39-minute friend, both of whom had been near me on the start line, I wasn't closing the gap, but they were no longer pulling away. I'd lose track of the woman but the guy would be a rabbit in front of me the rest of the way.

During this early, post-surge portion of the run I had three considerations. One was drafting: my cyclist's appreciation from drafting compels me to follow people if possible. The draft benefit in running isn't as big as in cycling, of course, but a back-of-the-envelope estimation yields the conclusion it could be 2%. 2% of 40 minutes is 48 seconds: that's huge. So I prefer following people.

But there's competing considerations. One is to avoid following people who are fading. With my relative lack of start-line sprint, if I'm with someone, there's a good chance I'm running faster than they are, having closed a gap to catch them. It's important to not let myself drift out of the pain zone on a run this short. Another consideration in tangents. Runners at this level seem remarkably inattentive to the old adage that a shortest distance between two points is a straight line. That means you want to, if possible, run towards the furthest tangent (corner apex) to which a straight line is on the course. If someone I was following ran a constant lane in the road, as is common, I had to balance the cost of losing the draft versus the advantage of running the shorter distance. I typically take the shorter distance unless there's an obvious headwind.

My goal was to keep my speed on the Garmin over 15: a 40 minute pace. As a fellow SF2G'er, Scott Crosby once said, "average speed is a cruel mistress". When trying to reach a given average, it's important to target being over that average, since delays invariably occur along the way. A few times I found myself following a runner, realizing I was daydreaming, glancing down at my Edge 500 and seeing a BAD NUMBER. It was time to kick myself out of my lethargy and pass. The body doesn't like a 10 km pace so it takes a degree of mental focus to keep it there.

At mile two was the first aid station. I saw only one runner of those ahead get water, and indeed it seemed way too early to be worrying about drinking, so passed it by. I almost immediately questioned this decision since I could use practice grabbing water at race pace, and resolved to take advantage of the second stop.

Despite my occasional speed transgressions I was feeling pretty good when I came to the Fort Mason climb which marked the principal challenge on the route. I run this climb a lot in training, and while it's not long enough to be a concern, it does come with a time penalty, a penalty for which my target time of a 41 minute PR hadn't provided. I knew it was important to hit the hill hard, since the grade, while well below the organizer-claimed "30 degrees" or even the likely intended 30%, was still enough that different muscles were involved. So it was good to take advantage of the opportunity to use fresher muscles, muscles which wouldn't be needed as much later in the run, by keeping a good tempo here.

My time on the Strava segment for the climb, 53 seconds, was only one second off my PR. Despite this others near me were much faster. I don't quite understand how people are able to so quickly power up short climbs. But my real issue with these climbs is what follows: the descent. Here the real runners are able to open their stride and make up some of the time lost. I can't do this: my speed only slightly increased on the descent. In all I lost 28 seconds on the kilometer including Fort Mason relative to the kilometers preceding and following.

After Fort Mason the course turned due west. First we headed out on a paved trail, then two sharp rights returning east, then a left U-turn back west, then a zig-zag left-right back west again which led to a dirt path. On this turn I accidentlly bumped a guy who, apparently drunk, lunged across my path, but this was only a brief part of my reduced pace here as I slowed from the 4-minutes-per-mile I had been able to hold on the flats. I'm not completely sure why. Tight corners are slow, the prevailing wind here is from the ocean toward which we ran, the dirt is likely slower than pavement, and since we were off closed roads at this point we were forced to dodge occasionally pig-headeded pedestrians who insisted on walking up to 4-abreast when they were obviously blocking an active race course. But it's possible the over-riding reason was simply that I was tired. Another runner with whom I had been closely matched through Fort Mason did not slow down nearly as much, as revealed by his Strava track.

At mile 4 was the second water station. They were lined up on the left side. I figured I could skip it, but as I noted I wanted practice. I grabbed the cup fine, but when I went to drink it, it went up my nose instead of down my throat. Not wanting to lose any more time fumbling, I dumped the rest down my sweaty back.

I saw Cara at mile 5, which was nice. She'd stopped during her ride around the city. I was not feeling good at this point: trying to constantly push my speed higher, ever higher, realizing the end was too close to worry about withholding anything. At this point the Golden Gate Bridge was looming large: we were close to the turn-around at Fort Point, which featured prominently in a scene in Hitchcock's great film, Vertigo. It's a popular destination on my long runs.

I only slightly flubbed my line to the turnaround due to confusion about which way we were supposed to go, and thus began the sprint back to the finish. Cara caught me again here before she continued on her way, cheering as before.

I was following a guy ahead of me, trying desparately to close the gap, able at best to hold the gap steady. My friend from the start line was just ahead of him. We kept that order through the sharp right turn leading to the finishing sprint, where I tried to get more from my legs when there was simply no more there. I crossed the line, tried to regain my senses, and slowly began walking towards the expo, where there were samples of bars and drinks and music. My time: 41:46, off my nominal goal of 41 minutes and my "reach" goal of 40-flat.

The music was quite good: a local band called "The Novelists". I had been handed a bottle of water at the finish, and I irrationally let my objection of the environmental impact of bottled water get in my way of drinking it. I gave it to an emergency response guy instead. I fetched my backpack from the start where I had a bit of water, got a bit more from one of the booths, but I really should have hydrated better.

After the band's first set, I decided I wasn't going to run the 10 km or so home from here, and moved to the long line for the shuttle buses back to the start. Eventually I got to the front of the line where I got on a bus for the trip back.

From the ferry building it was no longer a decision whether to run back or not. I didn't have a plan B. So I set off first in a trot, then in a legitimate run, and with my now-loaded backpack (it was way to hot for my sweats) I was able to do a credible run home. But this exascerbated my dehydration, and it took quite awhile after getting home before I started to feel normal again.

Overall it was a fun race. On one hand nothing I've done this year has really approximated the sustained pace of the day. But I had hoped for more. This was not a fast course: the idea that I would get my 10 km PR today was optimistic, while thinking about sub-40 was obviously ridiculous. But I still think a 40 minute time is within my reach. My speed has been improving in recent training, and not counting Fort Mason I was on target for this for the first 6 km. I'm not sure when I'll get my next chance, since my goals for November and December loom large.

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