Monday, August 29, 2011

Golden Heart Trail Race and Flint Hills Series Musings

We'll start with the finish, "Roger, you're getting too old for this," quipped a bystander as I staggered through the chute after being outkicked by a college freshman/cross country skier over the last 30 meters of the 5K race at Birch Hill on Saturday.

I've had two top 4 finishes at this race (2008 and 2009), but not this time. From the start I had no zip at all. A lead group of six split off after the first (of 10) hills on the two lap circuit and I quickly fell to the back of the second pack, maybe 15th place through the first 800 meters.

Managed to pick off a few of the guys and moved into the top 10 by the mile which seemed appallingly slow at 6:00. Just me and three recent high school grads. I had been warned by a spy that one of them was determined to outkick me. So I put the push on in the middle of the race. I shook two of the three with my surge but by 3K (11:20) I was the one hanging on. Feeling it.

Got dropped just after 2 miles and shortly thereafter the one who had planned to take me down was right there. This did not bode well. He was determined and I was tired. We did a bit of cat and mouse for a km or so, and with 600 to go on the flats in the stadium I ran as hard as I could manage and pulled ahead by 5 seconds or so out on Warm Up Loop. But the Birch Hill course is cruel--especially to a lame age grouper who has no kick--with the final 300 meters uphill. I had nothing left and could hear him coming along with about 80 meters to go. I tried to find a reserve gear but could not hold him off.

So 9th place in 18:44 (compared to 18:32 on a muddy day in 2009; course was much shorter in 2008). So with that my 2011 Flint Hills campaign is over.

Then I put on my coaching hat and helped out with the West Valley team, which performed very well (taking 2nd) in spite of missing most of their top runners. Look for some exciting races at Palmer (Sept 10), Regionals Sept 24), and State (Oct 1).
Despite going six for six in the series races I ran (skipped the Gold Discovery Run to do the bike trip) I'll barely eke out an age group win this time. There are no time bonuses so it doesn't matter if you are 1 second ahead of someone or 6 minutes. 1st is 30 pts, 2nd 25, 3rd 21 and that's that. So I needed help, and got it as someone else slipped into 2nd place on Saturday, leaving me with a small cushion.

With a point system like this (no byes or lowest scores thrown out) you take a risk if you miss a race or two. In past years this hasn't made much difference for my age group, although one year I did one or two fewer races than Wayde Leder and so we finished just a few points apart at the end of the season.

That said, my overall series ranking--4th with 305 pts--is probably tanking and I could finish as low as 7th overall. Chris Eversman (285 pts) plans to do Equinox and he'll certainly pass me, even though he'll have done only four races (those 1st and 2nds add up quick!).

Kyle Emery (275 pts) has done all seven races so far and has raced consistently. He'll pass me if he does Equinox and gets top 15. Likewise Charlie Mahlen (283 pts) has missed just one race and he's been only a couple places back of my tired old legs through this season. With a sub 3 hr marathon at Boston this year, he'll likely place top 10 at Equinox.

Signs of the times: on years that I've aimed for the series/not had an injury ('04, '05, '06, '08, '09) I've done five or six races (I might have done 7 in 2008) and have placed on the podium in the top 5. This year the series was a primary goal, but it the field seemed deeper/more competitive at the top 10 to 15 level, which is great. It's wonderful having these guys like Eversman, Steve Chu, and Devin McDowell--with up and comers like Emery and Sam Viavant in there to make things interesting--in their 20s hammering at each other. A new generation!

But to conclude while I may have done okay as an age grouper I simply didn't get the job done this weekend or several races this season. Too old is about right. Nevertheless, I'm happy to have made it though six races without an injury. That was my primary goal this season.


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