Monday, August 23, 2010

Reach the Beach Race Report

For the past year, I’ve patiently waited for Friday August 13th to arrive. I made a promise to myself last year after completing the 2009 Reach the Beach 5K in Port Stanley, Ontario. The promise was to return healthy and in condition to “humble the hill” in 2010.

A year ago, I experienced my first running related injury in mid-July. The symptoms initially indicated IT Band Syndrome but further diagnosis by a physiotherapist determined my problem to be a lateral hamstring inflammation of the biceps femoris at the knee. I could walk pain free but was unable to run for four weeks. When I began to run again it was very short distances and it was anything but pain free.

Since I was already registered for the Reach the Beach Race I decided I’d go and see how the leg felt. I had been training for my first attempt at a 15K race when the injury occurred, and I felt confident that I should be able to handle the distance, the unknown was the hill. The wild card was the left knee. I knew I could always walk (if forced to at gunpoint).

My first official 5K was the Retina Run 5K in April 2009. It was also the first time I had run in an organized race since high school. That race was a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. We’re talking 1976 folks; many of you weren’t even alive yet. Nike was making waffles, and it was the 50th anniversary season of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Fast forward – Nike still makes shoes, and well the Leafs are well still the Leafs.

I was able to run the flats without too much of a problem, the first small hill tested my conditioning. I quickly discovered that the time off was going to be an issue.

The first part of the big hill wasn’t too bad. I was able to stay close to one of my running mates from my 10K clinic , James, but the second half of the hill did me in. I had to walk to the top, my lungs were about to explode out of my chest. Surprisingly, I was able to walk to the top just about as fast as those trying to run to the top. A quick, flat out and back of about a kilometer at the top got my pace and breathing back on track, right up to the point I had to look down that hill. Looking up is doesn’t seem so bad, looking down, you see how high you are gazing out over the country side.

My knee wasn’t capable of getting me back down the hill. I tried skipping, hopping, and finally resorted to getting as far off to the side as possible (to the point of getting on the sidewalk) and walked down the hill. It was my only option. Once on the flat again, a quick pass through a generous local spraying his garden hose over anyone who wanted a quick cool shower and back to the finish at the beach.

I finished a respectable 38th. My time was 5 seconds slower than my first 5K race. Puzzled, confused, and a wee bit humbled, I promised I’d be back.

Flash forward to Friday, August 13th, the rematch. This year I’m injury free. A bit road weary from marathon training but quite likely in the best condition of my life. I wanted this race. On Tuesday night for my 10K training run, I ran the first 5Km at my 5K pace. It was hot and humid and the air was thick, the hills were familiar but persistent. It was a good test; I held back just enough to ensure it was a training run. My time clocked in at 23:30, a minute faster than last year’s RTB and half a minute quicker than my Retina 5K time. PR’s in training don’t count, so I took it as a sign of good things to come.

I ran hill repeats on Wednesday night. Slow and steady, don’t leave it all on the training hills. Thursday was a rest day. My maintenance appointment with my (new) chiropractor occurred on Friday afternoon, she checked my back, and could see my hips were tight. This time it was my gluteus medius on both sides were causing the problem. Oy Vey! There was some very deep breathing involved in getting them to loosen up. My right STJ was stuck (as usual) and that was adjusted as well. I was as ready as I was ever going to be for the rematch that night.

My wife and oldest son joined me for the evening. We arrived early enough that I could get some pictures of the hill and I took some time to test my steep downhill running technique. Running down a steep hill has its challenges. The steeper the downhill the further back on your foot you land. Striking with your heels on every downhill stride not only loosens your teeth but slows you down as you brake with each step. Shortening up your stride length, keeping your turnover quick, landing on your toes, all help to keep you under control on the descent. The best advice is not to overstride, if your center of gravity gets too far forward … well let’s just say in downhill skiing its known as a yard sale.


Arriving at the start, I was happy to find fellow Mobsters Marty and Bob and Linda. The boys lined up at the front, waiting for the gun (siren), which celebrity false started a couple of times before the pack finally just ran.

Marty was off like he was shot out of a cannon. I’m figuring, he knew there was real beer after the finish of this race and was parched. The opening kilometer flew by in 4:15. The end of kilometer two gets me to the top of the hill. Still behind Marty, but not by much, we’re still moving along at 4:39 pace. A simple out and back begins at the top of the hill, slightly downhill to the turnaround, I count the number of runners ahead of us. Marty was ninth, I was tenth. WTF? Really?

Finishing up kilometer three has me back to the top of the hill. I’m feeling good. Marty has fallen back a bit and the first women runner has passed me, the only person to pass me since the beginning sprint from the starting line.

Now I’m ready to race, me and the hill mano-a-mano. There’s no walking this time. No braking, short quick strides, heels up, lean in, arms moving just enough to keep balance. I pass a guy on the downhill. Sorry dude! In no time on to the flat and stride it out. Past a water station and for God’s sake in to the back end of the 2.5Km competitors. Strollers, kids, people running and walking 4, 5 and 6 across. “On your left!” does not mean take two steps to the left.

My pace at the end of the fourth kilometer was back to 4:15. I’m huffing and puffing like a steam engine. My hamstrings are tightening, quads are burning.

One to go, people cheering, a quick glance back over my shoulder, it seems no one is close. Coming up to the final turn, I ask a young race marshall, ”Anyone close?” No answer, I suppose what she heard was something more akin to “Huff Puff Annahwhunclothes? Wheeze”

I see someone ahead, focus, pass this guy. I open it up, for the first time in very, very long time. I have a kick, a real kick. I pass this guy like he’s standing still (it’s a 2.5K runner, who knew). I charge across the line, smiling from ear to ear. I don’t need a time. I beat the hill, I raced my race. The final kilometer was 4:07. My watch said 21:56. SportTracks tells me I was running 3:00/km down the stretch. Look out MarathonQuest, there’s another CouchtoKenyan coming.

I got out of the chute and back to the finish line. I saw Marty come in, and then Bob. There weren’t too many in between them.

The Mob rocked this race. The boys all age grouped.

Afterwards, the beer tasted great.

On Sunday, the Mob tackled Port Stanley again with a 32km SweatFest. After all we own the place.

From Mob -Aug PS Run

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