Sunday, April 22, 2012

Tar Heel 10-Miler Race Report: 4/21

I picked the Tar Heel 10-miler based only on distance.  Ten milers and 8ks are kind of the black sheep of distances in running, but they are my favorites.  Therefore, the Tar Heel 10 miler appealed to my desire to race the 10 mile disance.  Later, it fit really nicely into my race schedule after I decided to run the Pittsburgh Half Marathon.  I liked the idea of having a 10 miler two weeks before the half as kind of a trial run.   The one major drawback of this race would be that I am not familiar with Chapel Hill's campus and had no idea what the course would be like.  I knew that it would start and end in the UNC football stadium, would incorporate a lot of local sights, and was famous for having a large hill at the end of the course, which didn't bother me.  I have a strange relationship with hills because I complain about them frequently, but in reality, they don't really bother me that much, and I kind of enjoy running them.  This is pretty evident in that I love running in Umstead Park, which would never be mistaken for Kansas.  However, I had heard horror stories about this hill that made it sound like something just shy of K2.

My Plan: I didn't have a firm race time goal.  Instead I wanted to see if I could hold a pace at or under 9 minutes over 10 miles.  My 5, 8, and 10k times recently all indicated that I can, but I haven't done it, so I wasn't confident in my ability.  My idea was that this race would be a great test of my ability to hold my half marathon pace.  However, as we lined up for the race, I wasn't sure where I wanted to line up.  The organizers did a great job of organizing the start by pace, and I had the option of joining either the 9min group or the 9:30 group.  I debated about where to go for some time before deciding that I had come to the race in order to test myself, and a 9:30 pace was not testing myself.

Meb greeting the runners!
The Race: As I said, I don't know much about Chapel Hill (the town or the university).  My guess is that this course was drawn up as to incorporate landmarks of the town and campus.  However, at times, I couldn't help wondering some comic genius hadn't let a sadistic 3 year old with a hatred for straight lines and flat surfaces map out the course. 

Doesn't it look like someone gave a kid a map, a crayon, and Red Bull and said knock yourself out.
The elevation changes were equally random and kind of sadistic as well.  The hills were plentiful, but only a few were tough.  The last hill called Laurel Springs Hill was the only one that really concerned me because I live too far away to drive the course before the race and still had no idea what it would be like.   I decided to envision of the worst of Umstead's hills as a way to prepare.  The first two miles had me so confused that I didn't know whether to scratch my watch or wind my ass.  We left the stadium, ran up and down some hills came back into the stadium, ran through the stadium and left again.  My Garmin, Old Bob, got so confused that at some point I ended up with two tenths of a mile extra.  Not sure if that was real or not, who knows, heck, it maybe they were just the two tenth's of a mile that the Cary Road Race shorted me late weekend.  Actually, I just think that it was a phantom from Old Bob losing signal in the stadium tunnels three times in under a mile.  In addition to being confusing the first two miles of the course had a lot of little hills, only one of which really seemed to slow people down.  I did the first mile in 8:41 and the second in 8:53.  I wasn't worried about going out too fast because I was feeling fine despite the hills.  Somewhere over the course of the third mile, I saw someone wearing a 9:00 pace sign and tried to keep her in sight for the remainder of the race.  I would lose her from time to time as the race went on, but we stayed pretty close until the big hill at the end of the race.  I wasn't trying to run with her, but when she turned up in the crowd of people near me, I took note.  If I had more knowledge of the city or the University, I am sure that I would have enjoyed this course on a different level, and reflecting back on it after the run, I actually did enjoy it.  But, at the time, it was a little maddening with all the twists, turns, and hills.
The course was hilly as Hades!

By Mile 3, the course seemed to calm down, and I was able to enjoy myself more.  I had my hand held water bottle, so I bypassed the water stops, which I think was wise.  The morning air was cool with a nice breeze, but as the day went on the humidity increased and turned the race into a sweat fest.  Miles 4 and 5 were strait runs through campus and down Franklin street, which are the only areas of Chapel Hill that I really know well.  I did mile three in 8:58, four in 8:50, and five in 8:53.  During mile five I took in a Goo, and noticed that I was doing well on my time.  At the five mile marker, I felt like I was running strong and knew that barring any mishaps that I would PR the race.   Mile six took us into some residential areas that were hilly, but nice and shady, which seemed an even trade.  I did mile six in 8:52.  One thing, I noticed was that the crowd support was somewhat thin, which seemed odd.  I thought there would have been more people out cheering, but there were tons of volunteers, and my guess is that many of the local were actually in the race.  I had heard that this year's field was over 5,000.

Mile seven was nearly all down hill.  Most people enjoyed this huge decline, which was a certainly a change.  I couple of times, on areas of the street that were on a sideways slope the unevenness of the hill and the downhill put a lot of pressure on my left knee, but once I moved to the middle of the road, the pressure eased, and I was able to enjoy myself more.  I resisted the urge to open up my stride and gallop head long down the hill like some people were doing.  Instead, I just tried to maintain my pace and control, which served me well later on the uphill portion.  I did gain some time on the downhill and finished the mile in 8:44.

At some point during the last few miles runners from the 4mile race merged with people doing the 10 miler, which I had been warned about in the past.  I didn't notice when it happened, but I started to see more people on the course, who were going at a slower pace during mile 8 and others, who were going much faster and smeed more fresh than the people that had been running near me, but I wasn't bothered or hampered in any fashion.  Miles eight and nine cover what is called the Laural Hill Challenge (special prizes are awarded to people with the fastest time up the hill), and there are timing mats placed at the foot and top of Laural Hill to time how fast runners are able to ascend the hill.  I made the climb in 8:27 and did mile eight in 8:51 and mile nine where the bulk of the hill is in 9:57.  The hill was no joke, but it wasn't harbinger of doom that I had herd horror stories about.  After Laural Hill my legs were burning, but I would have been able to have done better on it had I known what to expect.  I kept expecting on more massive climb with each turn, but that killer soul stealing climb never came.  I was able to recover pretty quickly from the hill and regain my stride and pace over the last mile, which found us making our way into the stadium yet again.  I didn't have much of a kick at the end of the race, which I take as a sign that I pushed myself throughout the run and didn't have extra energy to spare at the end.  But, I did the final mile, which was almost all down hill, in 8:38 making it my fastest mile of the day.

My Official Time was 1:31:15, which was a new PR.  As I mentioned earlier, my Garmin picke up some extra distance, but I am fairly certain that this time there was no real issue and the problem was just the result of Old Bob losing signal in the stadium.  At the finish of the race, we received nice reusable water bottles and a sweet little medal.  At the end, I was a sweaty mess but had a great time.  I am not sure it this race will fit into my spring schedule next, which like my fall schedule will be a bit smaller due to some impending life changes, but I know that I'll be running this one again in the future. Congrats to everyone who took part, and if you didn't next year's your chance!

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