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Monday, September 20, 2010

My Vic Matthews Open XC Run Recap

Ah Cross-Country running....the sound of spikes and wood chips...the labored breathing...the rotting leaves....the grey I love thee.

This past Saturday saw me hit the lovely Guelph Arboretum trails for a 7.5km Open Cross Country race. The race, The Vic Matthews Open, is run in memory of Vic Matthews, a well decorated Gryphons cross/track coach from the 70s/80s that passed away in 2004. This was my first XC race in 7 years and I was excited to hit the trails.

We arrived with about 50 minutes to spare before the 12:00 start time, and just in time to watch the women race (including three LRDC women) as I warmed up. This was Melanie's first time at a XC race and I was so happy to have her with me before and after the race. She made the entire nerve wracking experience much more bearable. I had not managed to find my teammates yet and was slightly worried about getting my chip and bib in time for our start time, but I trudged along the unknown trails getting in an easy 4km warmup.

I eventually found my team, got my singlet (I'm official now baby!), my chip and my bib number. Got suited up and then headed over with the boys to do some easy strides before the race officially got under way. A quick survey of the starting line culminated with a few observations:

  • Steve and I were pretty much the only guys wearing flats, and not spikes. Hmmmmm...
  • I was well above the average age of 13 for the entire field. These kids were young...or I was old. Whatever.
  • I'm not nervous at all. Weird.
 And bang the gun goes off and we're off! Let's see if I can remember much from the race, which consisted of a 2.5km loop we get to run on 3 times.

1st 2.5km Loop

Steve had informed us that the first two loops were to be a hard tempo effort, at about 85%, and our last lap should be a HARD effort during which we play the 'pick people off' game. That sounded like a good idea to me, but we all know how that changes as soon as you toe the line.

So I started the race off at a relaxed pace, not really jostling for position, unless you really wanted 4th last at the first 200m, of which I am your man! I didn't realize I was so far behind while I ran, but if you look at the picture to the left, you'll notice that there was nearly no one behind me coming off the line. Maybe I should have sprinted a tad more, I blame my lack of recent racing experience.

The start of the race, the first 150 metres or so, are slightly uphill and the course takes a sharp 90 degree right into a path that is much more narrow than the start. I felt like I was moving at a good pace, somewhere around 85% as Steve instructed. Based on my recent workouts and my 10km race 3 weeks ago, I felt that I could probably crank out 4:20 pace as an average, across the entire course. This was my pace at the 10km road race, and since then I've had a hard time really digging into my speed and since this was XC I also made the assumption that it would cause me to be slower than my road race pace.

The first km in the 2.5km loop is slightly downhill and it makes for a nice and relaxed, fast pace.  I have no idea what my km markers were, and since my watch had somehow reset to miles it was telling me my pace in minutes per mile.  I realized this during my warmup and had realized that I wanted to run sub 7min/mile, and settled on 6:30 per mile. What I didn't realize is that 6:30 per mile would equate to a 40:00 10km over XC, and I haven't run sub 40 since 2003. Heck, my current road pb is 43:27!

So expecting to be at about 4:30 per km I was absolutely startled when I came up the final hill of the loop, a gruesome 300m hill, to see the clock reading under 10:00 (about 9:55) as I ran past it. I ran my first 2.5km at under 4:00/km and I was feeling surprisingly good...

2nd 2.5km Loop

So I just finished a nice and relaxed 2.5km loop, but as soon as I saw my time, doubt started to settle in.  Did I go out too fast? Can I maintain? Will I have enough to pass people on the 3rd loop?

I quickly surveyed my physical and mental states and decided that I was feeling good enough to try and maintain this pace for my second lap and then let my guts run the last. So away I went on my second lap, passing people, tucking in behind people when we got in windy spots and trying to cruise down hills while attacking uphills without exerting too much energy. I felt pretty good on this loop and I found myself passing at least 3-4 people, and tried my hardest to maintain that 4:00/km pace I had set in the first 2.5km

I came up to that stupid 300m hill again and truly started to feel laboured. I didn't want to push too hard on the uphill as I wanted to carry my speed across the top of it and then back down for the slightly downhill km that followed.  I came through the second lap in 20:10 (10:15 for that lap) and at this point I started concentrating on my form and letting my mental toughness take the reins. And so began my last and final lap...

3rd 2.5km Loop

The final lap.  I knew I had 10 minutes left and I found it to be a perfect time to work with as I visualized this as the final 10 minute tempo for the day. Much like the last leg of a workout, I decided to leave it all on the course.

I turned the heat on considerably on the slightly downhill first km and worked my way up the pack some more. I would say I passed about 2-3 more on the first half of the last lap and I was feeling pretty good. The last km has two hills, one that is short and steep, followed by a nice downhill section which I capitalized on to drop a Humber College runner, and then a long steep 300m hill into the finish chute/sprint.

Coming up the last hill I had no idea how close the Humber College runner was.  400m back he was breathing down my neck after I passed him, and I did not want to look back so I just kept pushing the pace until I could no longer do so.

Sprinting for 100m after a 300m climb is no fun. 300m hill climbs on their own aren't any fun, let along tacking on a finishing kick after 7.4km of grueling XC racing. But I did. Somehow. I felt strong and smooth and Melanie validated my hunch. I was smooth and strong throughout the race.

I came across the finish line at about 29:55, which meant I ran a 9:45 last lap, a whopping 30 seconds faster than my second lap.  I had originally hoped to finish the race in the 32 minute range (4:20/km) and apparently I had severely under sold myself as I was able to run under 30 (3:59/km). I didn't place well, but good grief was it a competitive field. I finished 92nd out of 103 (though I don't show up on the official results) and I ran my heart out. The runner ahead of me was in 9th grade and I had to chuckle when we chatted and he asked what University I ran for...

My overall time bodes very well for my current performance based goals, I think I'm capable of obliterating them any time, but I need to keep that in check. I'm running to stay healthy and build a solid base.

A 5km cool down, a friendly farewell and we were off to downtown Guelph to find us a bistro to enjoy a lovely lunch. We ended up at Artisanale Cafe & Bistro and we had a delicious meal that included Kronenbourg beer on tap. Yum!

My next race is the Halloween Haunting 5km road race on October 31st. It should be a fun one, considering the whacky costumes it brings out.

1 comment:

  1. Congrats on return to the XC scene! Running negative splits is an art. Well done.


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