Monday, February 28, 2011

Race review: Cowtown 5K and Ultra

I ran a 23:20 in the 5K without trying. I ran a 4:40:02 in the 50K with a lot of trying.

I finished my first ultra, but that's about the only victory I can claim. Otherwise I was 29th of 288 in the ultra (5th of 37 in my age group) and 103rd of 3812 in the 5K (9th of 160 in AG).

Saturday's 5K was just a warm-up for the ultra. I'd be running a few miles at home anyway, and entering this "race" allowed me to get a little more familiar with the area, where to park and so on. I went off at a comfortable pace and sped up a little on the downhill back half of the course but otherwise stayed in control. It was an easy run.

Now, as for Sunday, there's more of a story to tell. My plan was to hang with the 3:10 pacer as long as possible, just maybe long enough to get to 26.2 in that time before coasting through the last 4.9, perhaps coming in around 4 hours. This was a ridiculous plan.

It was warm, and humid, and windy, and not for a moment before the race did this deter me. In the corral, I told Greg, the 3:20 pacer, that I'd probably see him in a couple hours as I slid back, but I really wasn't resigned to this. After all, I'd run a half-marathon PR a week earlier in weather that wasn't much better, and a headwind in one direction means a tailwind in the other, right?

The horn went off and I trotted out with a pretty good-sized group of 3:10 hopefuls. The first downhill mile was a little quick, and a couple guys in the group started taking some shots at the pacer's credentials (sorry, I didn't catch his name and the Cowtown site is down right now so I can't look it up). He gave his marathon PR as 2:37. The peanut gallery was silenced.

I was already soaked in sweat but brushed it off. We passed mile 4 and headed up the hill across from Jacksboro Highway. "This is the second toughest hill on the course?" I thought. Piece of cake. We zipped downhill into the Stockyards and I ducked ahead to get a clean shot at the water station. It smelled like horseshit. One of my favorite segments of any race I've done, but hold your breath.

We ticked off a couple more miles, keeping the pace as a tight pack. This proved beneficial as we turned onto Main Street, into the real teeth of the wind for the first time. I ducked in behind some folks to catch a little bit of a break as we headed for the bridge, the part of the course I'd feared the most.

On this day, though, the bridge wasn't the problem. For several days beforehand -- actually I think this probably fired up during the Run the Line race and I didn't notice -- I'd been bothered by pain in my right shin. I figured it was something I just needed to stretch out, and counted on the adrenaline rush of race day to mask.

But no, stretching doesn't do a damn thing for tendinitis, and not long before the Main Street bridge, it started flaring up like a sumbitch. I fell back from the pace group, and in the span of a couple hundred yards the neon sign started to flash indicating that my day was over.

Well, over in the sense that I was not going to reach my goal on this day. And since that goal was out, and I was hurting, I very easily could've turned off on 7th or some other street and marched 2.5 miles or so back to the car. But I told myself after my first marathon, where I crapped out more than 8 miles from the finish, I don't plan on putting a DNF by my name, ever. Unless I actually break a hip or something, I'm finishing the damn race.

Someone ran alongside me downtown and said, "Let's go find that 3:10 pacer." And so I darted off for a bit before slowing again. And so it went for another 20 miles, with the darting eventually becoming jogging, and the slowing becoming walking, and more time spent on the latter than the former. The throng of folks cheering in the Fairmount area around mile 12.5 were good for a boost. The turn north at mile 19 finally let me use the wind that been steadily picking up. The folks blasting "Like a G6" pushed me through the water stop at mile 23 as I dumped a full cup over my head. (Hey, I like that song, I'll admit it.)

The ultra split from the marathon course just past mile 25, and all motivation was lost. The cheering spectators vanished, and the view of the Trinity from along the trail did nothing to distract me from the now-crippling pain in my leg. Every time I stopped to walk, it hurt more to start going again. The only time it felt better was when I realized how incredibly bad my lower back was hurting. Something was going on behind the levee that sounded like cars being crushed, but it smelled so awful that I longed for the manure of the Stockyards.

We rejoined the marathon course for the last mile, and I spotted another ultra runner who I'd been leapfrogging many miles earlier (there were a whole bunch of these guys; I think most of them leaped last). I decided that if nothing else was going to go right, I was going to pass this guy before the finish. (OK, he had a friend or significant other come out to walk him in, so he was defenseless, but still.)

Coming down Harley I heard all kinds of folks cheering for the guy running the ultra. For a few moments, nothing hurt. I remembered why I was doing this: to see if I could. Not to scoreboard anyone, but in a way, kinda yeah. I ran through the finish line like the race had just begun.

Obviously, I'm disappointed with the ultra finish. I should've had more modest goals. Would my leg have acted up anyway? Most likely, but maybe I could've gone a little longer before the pain set in. I was going to finish my first ultra and qualify for Marathon Maniacs no matter what; I should've been happy with that.

All things considered, the ultra course route is pretty terrific. It hits many parts of the city and mixes main roads, side streets and trails quite well. It's not a course for a PR, but I can respect the thought put into it to show off Fort Worth. On the other hand, many of the streets are in poor shape and provide a tricky running surface. Some streets had actual holes in them. And the out-and-back section that's shoehorned in for the ultra is miserable.

The support for the race was really incredible. The aforementioned Fairmount group was ringing cowbells and cheering at an ear-splitting level -- and that wasn't even a water station, just a crowd of dozens making noise. The water stops were well-manned and large enough to accommodate everyone, and several folks set up folding tables in front of their houses and made their own unofficial aid stations.

The expo was enormous. I bought a singlet and my 50K, 50 mile and 100 stickers for the car, and got a good lead on a medal display (I've outrun my current setup). Getting in and out was painless. I saved the 5 bucks and parked at the UNT Health Sciences Center; the walk was a little longer but plenty reasonable, and I easily made the time up on the way in by skipping the line.

For the 5K:
7:05 pace last .17

For the 50K:
8:16 pace last .18

Your mileage may vary, but for running both days I got both a cotton and tech shirt with the exact same design and sponsor logos. Is it too much to ask to make the cotton shirt some other color? The wedge-shaped finisher's medal is the 3rd in a 5-year series that ultimately forms one big circle with a star logo. If you missed the last 2 years, you can buy your way up to speed with a charitable donation. I'm all for charity but the idea of selling finisher's medals disgusts me. Medals are to be earned, not bought.

The finisher's tech shirts are long-sleeved and race-specific, and not white. I also got a small Cowtown Challenge medal for running both days. Folks who ran the 10K on Saturday got a third medal -- I know of no other 10K that gives a medal to all finishers.

Post-race food was satisfactory, with bananas, yogurt, donuts, peanut butter crackers and so on handed out as you walked through one of the livestock sheds. There was yet another long beer line that I didn't have the energy to stand in.

Dash Down Greenville (5K), Dallas, Mar. 12.

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