Thursday, February 4, 2016

(Finally) A Race Report: Newnan’s Lake 15k

One of my favorite parts of writing this blog used to be the race reports, as was evident by the number of those I used to post. Unfortunately in the last year or so, I haven’t felt much like doing race reports. A lot of that was because the races weren’t going well for me. Now sometimes when a race doesn’t go well, it can be entertaining (“I lost my left shoe in the mud at mile 10 but soldiered on to the end by wrapping a banana peel around my foot and securing it with duct tape”), but the type of bad races I was having don’t make for good entertainment. 

However, after some time off to regroup, I am feeling a little bit, just a twinge, like I maybe could get enthusiastic about racing again. When I recommitted to resurrecting the blog this year, I also committed myself to getting re-acquainted with road racing (while still keeping a hand in at the trail races I love so much).  One of my goals for 2016 is to run at least one road race a month for the year.  The only problem with that was that it was January, and I was woefully out of shape. 

So there I was, scouring the Internet late at night, looking for a race that was as close to the end of the month as I could get, preferably a 5k, when up popped “January 30 – Newnan’s Lake 15k – Gainesville.” Did I ever mention that 15k is my favorite race distance? Well, it is. Although I was nowhere near in 15k shape, I could not let a semi-local one pass me by. I clicked on the link.
“One of the prettiest 15k races in the state,” the site said. “Flat” it said. “Nearly perfect weather every year,” it said. Hmmmm.  It sounded promising.  “But wait,” the voice of reason in the back of my head said, “Hasn’t your longest run in like six weeks been only 6 miles.” “It is only three more miles,” my ultra voice said, “Piece of cake.” “Are you crazy?” my racing voice asked?  “I’ll think about it,” I said to the voices in my head.

To think about it, I went out for a run with a friend of mine from Michigan who is down doing the snowbird thing. He is also on the comeback trail and having similar ambivalence about both training and racing. You know what happens when you put two runners together, right? The next thing you know the race is entered and the plans are made. Nothing to do now but show up and hope I don’t die.

Race morning dawned cold (at least by Florida standards) and beautiful.  I bundled up in several layers and headed out at dawn to meet my friend Jim and head to the race site. We got to the site plenty early. The race was located at a boat ramp and park on Newnan Lake, which is outside Gainesville and close by the Payne’s Prairie Preserve State Park.  Headed to packet pick-up we got a taste of how pretty the race would be, as the sun was just rising over the lake.  

Jim and I met up with a friend of his and her friend. We did the obligatory selfie, and then we were off at a sprint for the last pit stop (the only warm up I did) and then the starting line. 

The race had that small race vibe that I love. The results show that there were 359 finishers this year, which for me is a good number – big enough that there are always people in sight, but small enough that it is not crowded. Even at the start, where the entire field had to cross the starting mats to activate their chips, there was not much of a bottleneck.

The course itself is an out and back, with a little connector section of trail included in the out section that you don’t have to cross on the back. The early part of the course is on the perimeter road for the lake, which made for a really pretty start and finish, just as advertised. It was a particularly enjoyable start, as we loped along the edge of the lake, with the sun coming up. The road was tree-lined, with Spanish moss hanging down from the trees arched over the roadway. Through the trees the lake, with the slight steam rising and the reflection of the orange and purple sunrise could be seen. It was enough to make me forget that I had not trained for a 9.3 mile race…

I was feeling good, running by heart rate and keeping things under control, right up until the time that we hit the trail portion around mile three and a half. We hit that sandy trail and my feet said “Whoohoo!”  I ignored the red flashing light on my heart monitor, picked up the pace, and let my happy feet take over.  I came out of the trail section breathing more deeply than I should have been (which is a polite way of saying I was sucking wind big time) and hit what was just a slight uphill to the turnaround.

And that is when the piper decided that he needed to be paid…  I definitely did not have the conditioning for that little stunt on the trail section. My legs started to feel like lead. Just then, the leaders started to come back down the other side of the road. That distracted me… for about 30 seconds. Then it was back to misery.  I wanted to walk. There was no doubt it was going to happen eventually.  “No… can’t let Jim see you walk.” That is what I told myself. So I focused all my attention on watching for Jim.  Did I mention Jim is fast? Even with him being out of shape, I was pretty sure he would be near the front. “Come on, Jim.”  I thought, as my legs got heavier and heavier.

Finally, I could make out Jim’s tall, lanky form in the distance. “Thank God.” I took every spare bit of energy left in me to pull my shoulders back, put a big smile on my face, and yell “Go, Jim,” as he went by. Then I counted to ten. Then I took a walk break. Finally!! But only 15 seconds – because despite how I felt, my time really wasn’t looking that bad.

By now the turnaround was in sight, and I got a pleasant surprise. Another friend of mine, John, from New York, who was also doing the snowbird thing, had come out to take pictures and cheer me on. Only problem with that was that he was at the turnaround, which was at the very tip top of what I had now decided was a substantial uphill grade (but which my lying Garmin says was like a 30 ft rise).  I managed a somewhat crooked and very fake smile for the camera, made the turn and headed back for the second half.

The second half was about survival. I put my ultra training to good use and did some strategically paced walking breaks of 15-20 seconds every .5 mile and managed to only lose about :20 seconds off my per mile average, which I was pretty satisfied with. I got passed by a few people, but I also passed a few back in the last half mile, where I had enough left to put on a final push.

The end result could have been worse. My goal was to try to run the race in a sub 9:00 pace, which I did (ignoring the fact that this used to be my long run training pace). I ended up 6th in my age group (out of 24), which also I was fairly satisfied with. We ended up having to stay for the awards ceremony, though, because Jim (who claimed to be as out of shape as I was) won his age group.

Jim with his award and my photographer friend John in the background.

All in all, the race lived up to its billing. It is a really pretty 15k. I would definitely go back and run this one again – when I am in better shape, of course.