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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

2016 Navesink Challenge 15K




Author's Note (2/26/17):  Since posting I have been asked by several individuals how the crossfitters did. I debated whether to include the crossfit gyms' results compared to mine in this race report prior to publishing. I had decided that I wanted to close it out without it feeling like I was disparaging the performance of the crossfitters. I figured if anyone really wanted to know they would look up the full results, but they asked and so I shall deliver (full results). To quickly summarize, the fastest runner registered to a crossfit gym's team had a finishing time of 1:09:06.34.


I am confessing before even writing this race report that one of the motivating factors for me even registering for this race was to outrun crossfitters participating in it. I have nothing against crossfit or those that practice crossfit. I simply wanted to test myself against crossfitters in what I consider to be a mid-distance race. Since I have been focused on ultrarunning and endurance racing, I really did not consider myself trained for a 15K. Personally, and this is open to debate, I would in most ways consider an athlete who trains for 50 milers to be a practitioner of a different sport than an athlete who specializes in running 5Ks. Likewise, I would argue that crossfitters train for a sport other than running. So, after seeing some Facebook posts from crossfit gyms who were building up a bit of a competition between themselves about running this 15K, I thought it would be a great opportunity for me to test myself at a shorter distance against other athletes who do not specialize in those distances. Honestly, I saw it as an amature versus amature event. Me on one side and all the crossfitters on the other. I knew none of us would be near the winner at the finish. Let the marathoners and and half marathoners win this, I was here to test myself against the crossfitters. The second strongest motivating factor for me to do this race was simply the convenience of it. The race takes place at Bodman Park in central NJ, which is a short drive from my wife’s parents’ house. Which meant that we may even have a babysitter and we may even be able to participate in the same race.

Crafting a time goal was a harder task for this race than previous races. Reason being that my goal was to run it as fast as possible. With the given distance I had very little recent experience so I had few to no results to use to formulate a goal. Since my goal was “as fast as possible", it really became a question of where is the line between possible and impossible for my current fitness level and ability? I figured that the best way to determine this was to do speedwork trials and see where I stood.

I wasn’t extremely familiar with the course, but I knew it was an out and back with a small lollipop at
About 1 mile in and feeling fine!
the end composed of a mix of paved and gravel road with some elevation change. I wasn’t too concerned with the elevation changes given that the trail races I had been focused on had a far greater amount of elevation change. However, I was also aware of how much of an elevation change can have on the difficulty of a course and how much that can affect pace. Taking all of these factors into consideration, I settled on an 8 min./mile pace. Shortly after that decision and doing some speedwork, I realized that shooting for an 8 min./mile pace probably wouldn’t be enough to produce my goal of “as fast as possible”, therefore, I changed my goal time to a 7 min./mile pace for finishing time of 1:05:12.

With a solid goal in mind and the intention of going all out for the entire 9.3 miles, I arrived at the event about 45 minutes before the start time. For about the last two weeks before the race I had developed a bit of a chest cold and was battling it as best I could so it would not worsen come race day. I had managed to talk my wife into running this race even though she had not done much running since her first marathon about two months earlier. We got our bibs and swag: a pretty sweet neon orange long sleeve shirt, trial size deodorant sticks, and some Advil cold medicine (I know, strange but good for me). We were ready to run with the exception of making a final pit stop at the porta potties. I realize that the last minute bathroom visit is pretty much a race ritual for most runners, but with this race it was of particular concern for me. Reason being that the distance was shorter and the pace was, hopefully, going to be faster than what I had been accustomed to. Usually for an ultra event I expect to stop at some point to discharge some type of excrement. With this 15K distance I didn’t want to stop at all. In fact, I planned on not even taking any hydration during the race to avoid slowing down to grab a cup and drinking the contents.

So, this all leads to my only minor complaint about the event:  the limited number of porta potties. Long story short, there weren’t enough porta potties for the number of runners trying to use them in that last half hour before the start time. With the start time getting ever closer the lines were getting longer. Soon a hedgerow beyond a parking area became a popular spot and the lines began to disappear. Using the hedgerow option, I and many other runners were ready to race.

My wife and I grabbed spots near the starting line. After some short pre race announcements and a quick countdown, the race was on. I went out hard and faster than my goal pace trying to keep the leaders in sight for as long as possible. The course starts in the park and follows a short path out of the park onto a paved road. The paved section starts out relatively flat, but before the end of the second mile you are well into the biggest and longest climb of the course. Following this the course turns onto a gravel road at around 2.65 miles. There is a short climb left after hitting the gravel and although this felt like the steepest part of the climb, my Garmin data shows differently. After descending the majority of the elevation on the gravel, the course turns back onto paved road at the 3.25 mile mark. Getting over the hills and the elevation change in itself wasn’t so much of a challenge when compared to the elevation profiles of recent races I had run (my Garmin recorded a total of 576’ while Strava called it 533' of elevation gain for the entire course). However, trying to maintain a 7 min./mile pace while climbing them was quite a task for me. I felt like I was pushing to the max on the way out and questioning how I would be able to match this pace on my way back when I would have to run this climb again in reverse direction. With that bit of trepidation gnawing at me, I hammered down the backside of the hill. The course follows the paved road for about a mile until you make a small loop which forms the lollipop of the course layout.

Reaching the halfway point of any race is a bit of a turning point, whether it’s a 15K or a 50 miler. I did a quick assessment as I started the route back. I felt like I had been pushing hard since the start without totally red lining. I thought I had enough left in the tank to match the pace I had done on the way out for my return trip. My cold and congestion didn’t feel like they were affecting me too much. All in all, I was pretty much right where I wanted to be. With this positive outlook, I was pushing to get some faster miles in before hitting the hilly section of the course again. At this time I passed my wife who was on her way out to the turnaround. We exchanged encouragement which gave me a little bit of a boost to tackle the hills harder on my way back.


Around mile 7, near the end
of the unpaved section.
Once I hit the gravel road, I looked at my watch less and ran based more on feel. I pushed to the point where I felt like I was suffering, but could maintain the pace. I diverted my attention away from the pain by enjoying the scenery. The tree lined gravel roads may not have been trails (my favorite for running on), but they were about as similar as a road can be without being a trail. The hilly gravel roads stretched through heavily forested areas, giving the course a bit of a trail course feel and providing plenty of beautiful scenery. Given the time of year (late November), the majority of the leaves had already dropped. However, a good portion of the trees were made up of oak species. The majority of the always stubborn oak leaves still refused to drop from their limbs providing a reminder of the just passed beauty of the fall foliage colors.

With my mind wandering the majority of the time while running through the forested section, I was back on the paved road before I knew it. This was basically the home stretch, so I tried to refocus on pushing myself to the red line. I did a pretty good job of this until I came upon an unofficial pop up aid station where a guy was handing out cups of Heineken and Guinness. I had stuck to my hydration plan of no hydration up to this point, but when I heard Heineken with only maybe a mile to go I slowed down enough to grab a cup and down it. It was hard to say no as this was the first road race I had ever done where alcohol was offered during it. With a bit of Heineken gurgling in my belly, I pounded the pavement until re entering the park.

After re entering the park, the finish line was less than a half mile away, but a little (about 0.25 miles) past where the start line had been. In this extra little stretch through the park there is an extremely short section of trail, maybe five paces or so if memory serves. Being primarily a trail runner, I’m pretty accustomed to uneven terrain with plenty of roots and rocks to trip on. With this background, I found it kinda cute how they had marked all of the exposed roots on this trail section with flourescent marking paint. Getting a little chuckle from this, I cheerfully crossed the finish line at 1:06:19.75 a little more than a minute over my goal, but feeling like I had raced the best 15K I was capable of at the time. Was I disappointed I didn’t hit my target time? Yes, but at the same time I wanted to do my fastest time possible. If I had hit my target time, that would have meant that my goal time was not my fastest possible. I would rather set a difficult goal for myself and fail to reach it rather than delude myself with meaningless accomplishments by setting easily attainable goals. As Dean Karnazes said
The finish line!
“Unless you're pushing yourself, you're not living to the fullest. You can't be afraid to fail, unless you fail, you haven't pushed hard enough". With this quote in mind, I was pleased with the finish and my effort. I was also extra pleased upon reaching the finish because I had the opportunity to cheer my wife into the finish, which doesn’t happen very often just because she doesn’t race very often.

The finish celebration was festive with a pretty impressive spread of the standard race finish fare, but also had some pretty delicious grilled chicken soup. Although this was more than I expect at a standard race finish, it was the after party at a nearby Elks Lodge that blew me away. Between the one free draft beer per runner (that’s two for me since my wife didn’t want hers) and the baskets of Shipwreck Rum airliner bottles that were up for grabs, the pain from the run disappeared quickly. Add to the free flowing alcohol the live music and the full buffet of hot food, coffee, and cookies and I concluded that this was the most pampered race finish party I had ever attended. I realize that this is rather juxtaposed to most ultrarunning events, but so is running a 15K. Sometimes it’s fun to mix things up and get out of your comfort zone. Additionally, it’s also fun to be able to include your wife in the hobby that you are most passionate about and enjoy it together.
 

Scott Snell
February 14, 2017


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