Sunday, June 14, 2015

Very Hot 4-Miler

Yesterday evening I ran the Potomac River Running Twilight Festival 4-miler. I've run this race twice before-- in 2007 and 2008.

When planning my summer race schedule, I heavily debated between this race and the Lawyers Have Heart 5K occurring in the morning. Initially I was leaning toward the 5K because it would be cooler in the morning and there'd be less distance. Plus, I could compare it to all my other 5Ks this summer. But then I thought I might do the 4-miler for a "change of pace" because it's closer to home, logistically easier, and the "festival" atmosphere is fun. Both races attract a competitive field, so the opportunity to win an age group award wasn't part of the decision.

I knew the 4-miler would be more challenging because it's a longer distance, it would be hotter, and I'm very much of a "morning runner". This challenge was actually part of the appeal. Instead of shying away from difficult racing situations, I am seeking them out. It's not always about the time on the clock-- it can be about pushing through tough conditions and staying mentally strong.

The weather forecast was for 85 degrees, with a "real feel" of "90". I knew that these conditions could potentially be unsafe for me, as I had nearly passed out on several occasions in cooler temperatures. I decided I would be conservative and run the first two miles on the slow side-- so that they didn't feel like a race. And then, at the halfway point, I'd turn it on and try to pass as many people as possible.

I thought that 7:45 would be a safe starting pace for the first two miles, and then I would see if I could speed up from there. I figured I would be lucky to run it at pace of anything under 7:45.

A few weeks ago, I ran a workout of 5 x 1000m in hot weather. The first rep felt easy. I tried to maintain that pace for the the rest of them, but the 4th one was 10 seconds slower than the first and then I was completely beat, unable to do the 5th. This is just one example of how a pace can feel really easy for the first 5-10 minutes, but then quickly become unmanageable in the heat.

Given my desire to not pass out or completely bonk, I thought I had a solid plan.

Before the Race
Figuring out what to eat during the day for an evening race is challenging. I ate bland food all day long and then my dinner at 5:15 consisted of a banana and a bagel with peanut butter. I drank A LOT of water throughout the day and took a salt tablet.

As expected, it was around 85 degrees, sunny and humid. I did a very short warm up (only 0.9 miles) because I didn't want to go into the race too hot, and the first two miles would be a bit of a warm up anyway. Greg and I brought a cooler full of ice, and I was holding the ice cubes on my wrists and on my neck before the race started to stay cool.

Even just standing around doing nothing, it was ridiculously hot, so I had no idea what to expect from the race. At the Lawyers Have Heart 10K that morning, people were running up to a minute per mile slower than they would on a cooler day, and I was wondering if that would be the case for me for just 4 miles.

Mile 1: 7:30
When the race started, a ton of people passed me. I probably lined up too close to the front for my
Gunning toward the finish line
planned starting pace, and it took a lot of restraint to stay back and not get pulled out too fast. My plan was to start at a pace of 7:45-8:00, but it was a net downhill mile so I ended up logging a 7:30. It felt surprisingly easy to be running that pace (about half marathon effort) but I know that what starts out feeling easy gets hard really quickly when it's 85 degrees!

Mile 2: 7:45
I kept my effort level about the same for this mile, but it was a net uphill right into the sun so it was harder. I started to pass some of the people who passed me at the beginning of the race. I told myself that once I hit mile marker 2, I'd turn on the gas and pass even more people.

Mile 3: 7:21
I didn't look at my Garmin much during this mile, so I was really shocked to see how much I was able to speed up. It actually felt great to be pushing and working hard. Finally I felt like I was racing! Even though it was super hot, I had saved up energy from the first two miles and I was able to run really strong.

Mile 4: 7:01
With just one mile to go, I felt like I could push even harder, so I did. I passed a lot of people during this mile. I was hoping to pass a bunch of women, but mainly they were guys. As I approached the finish line I had one woman in my sights who I passed during the last 0.05 mile. According to my Garmin, I ran a 6:04 pace for that last 0.08 mile.

Average pace: 7:23 for 4.08 miles

I was really, really surprised by this. Granted, 7:23 was also my "Garmin" pace for the Reston 10 miler last winter, but I thought there would be no way I could run that in the heat, and I've never negative split anything in the heat. It's always been bonk, bonk, bonk!

I also regularly run 4-mile tempo runs at a pace faster than 7:23, but that's in temperatures below 50 degrees.

Knowing how well I did, I think I probably could have run this race faster if I started out a little faster. At the end, I felt like I could have maintained my pace for another half mile or so. Of course, there was no way to know that before actually running the race, which is why "experience" like this is so valuable. Now I know what I am capable of.

I was also pleasantly surprised to learn that I won 2nd place in my age group. This race attracts a competitive field so an age group award was unexpected. I won a Mizuno running visor!

My official time was 30:08. A little annoying that it wasn't sub-30 when my Garmin pace was 7:23 (and I did run the tangents) but that's what happens in races. It's technically a PR, but I have run faster 4-milers in training and also as part of a 10K.

This week will bring a continued streak of abnormally hot weather, so I'll manage through it the best I can as I continue to build my speed.

An ice cream truck at the finish?!  Yes, please!!!

1 comment:

  1. Woohoo! Congratulations on your negative splits, and in the heat too. You have the pacing down and that's really neat, it is hard not to go out too fast and the strategy seemed to work for you. That's a good thought about certain paces not feeling too bad in the beginning, then the heat gets to ya.

    We have a 4 miler coming up here, and it's a trail run. It would be an insta-PR for me as it's the first time I've ever raced a 4 miler.... but I do agree, it is fun to run a race that's a different distance. Also there's a ton of evening ones here and I hate having to eat bland all day and wait to work out. I have more time all day to think about the race and don't like that.