Saturday, August 17, 2013

Reluctant Race Report: USATF Masters 1 Mile Road Championships

The race reports where I do terrible are always so much harder to write than the ones where I do well. Not only is there a tendency to not want to publicize a failure that most people would not have noticed if it had not been brought to their attention, but there is also a lot of self-examination that goes on when one has a performance of epically bad proportions. That pretty much describes my mile race last weekend.

I run with the Playmaker’s/New Balance Masters Women’s Racing Team. We participate in a USATF Team Grand Prix Series. These are a series of races at varying distances where we can score and get awards not only as individuals but as teams in our ten year age groups. If you follow the blog, you may remember that I reported on the final team championship race last year (and my first race with the team), which was the Cross Country Team Championships.  Playmaker's women’s teams typically do well in these events, with our 60+ and 70+ teams often winning the overall championships.

I am on the 50+ team. One of the problems with the 50+ team is that many of the women are still working or have other family responsibilities that keep them from traveling to team races. We often don’t have enough women for a team (it takes at least 3). I was excited that for the mile championships because we did manage to have both a 60+ and a 50+ team.

The mile championships were in Pittsburgh this year, which made it close enough for us to travel to. Anyone who follows this blog knows how much I love a road trip, so I was excited to go. However, if you follow this blog, you may also know that I am primarily a marathoner and ultra runner. I am not by any means a miler. In fact, the idea of driving 10 hours to run a race for 7 minutes or less is pretty much the literal opposite of what I prefer to do.  Still, the lure of hanging out with this really great group of women and doing a road trip to run was more than I could resist. Of course, I was in.

Again, if you have been following the blog, you may also remember that I have been in a running slump. I had a spurt of solid training in late April and May, a few good races, including a 5k PR in early June, and then I just kind of lost it. My weekly mileage hovered at a dismal 11 mpw average in late June, July, and early August. In my defense, though, I did do quality for those 11 miles each week (really – I even did two track workouts).

Well the trip to Pittsburgh was as much fun as I thought it would be. Our fearless leader, Ruth, had everything organized. We took off on Thursday afternoon for the Friday evening race so that we could drive halfway, get to Pittsburgh early on Friday to relax and check out the course, and get ready for the race. The ride up was pleasant and uneventful. We got to Pittsburgh early Friday, and except for a brief cloudburst as we arrived at the hotel, everything went fine.

It was too early to check into our rooms, so we went to the USATF room to see if there was any free food. (Hey, we are runners! What do you expect?  What? What do you mean you don’t have to carbo load for a mile?)  While we waited, I spent my time looking up the names of the list of competitors from my age group on Athlinks, did some quick calculations, and realized that the odds were pretty darned good that I would be last in my age group. That was not good news. Oh well, I was there. What was I going to do? I pouted for a few minutes, but then decided to just enjoy the experience. We had time to pose for pictures and do a little horsing around courtesy of GNC, one of the sponsors for the race.

Pittsburgh turned out to be a very pleasant surprise. We were downtown in a really nice Wyndham Hotel. From our room we had a most awesome view of the river and the stadium. 

We went out to explore the surrounding area and scout out the course.

Downtown Pittsburgh was very cool (who knew?), with parks, statues, galleries, theaters, and shops lining the course. It was obviously an artsy part of town.

The race was being run on two main streets in the downtown area, Penn and Liberty, and the finish area was in Market Square. After stopping for a slice of pizza, we walked the entire mile and were very pleased with the course.

We headed back to the hotel to get ready. I was pretty excited because we had just gotten new team singlets made by New Balance. They are awesome! Plus this one fits without making me feel (and look) like a sausage (which is how I always felt in my old one).  We were a pretty good looking group!!

Besides the USATF Master’s Championships, there was also an open public mile race called The Liberty Mile, and elite men’s and women’s mile races. Some of the best milers in the U.S. and a few international competitors were in town for the elite race. We were very excited to run into Owen Anderson, director of the Lansing Marathon and coach of a very talented runner named Chemtai Rionotukei who among other accomplishments had won the FifthThird River Bank Run 25k back in May.  Owen said that they were excited to be competing and that he expected that we would see good things from Chemtai.   

Nerves were high before the race. Except for Ruth, none of the women from our group who were there were short distance specialists.  I was really worrying about the whole being last thing. There were only about 25 women running in our race. The road was two lanes wide, a mile long, and lined with hundreds of spectators. It would be pretty hard to hide how badly I was going to suck. (Another reason to love trail running: When you are in the woods, no one ever sees how badly you suck!)

My friend and fellow 50-54 age group teammate, Sue, and I talked briefly about race strategy and the idea of running together, since we are usually pretty evenly matched, but she had been training hard for triathlons lately, and I had not been training much at all, so I was not optimistic.

Our little group finally lined up at the start and the gun went off. Just as I suspected, a pack of runners took off. Sue and I started sensibly a little behind the main pack. I was hoping to avoid the crash I had experienced at the only other mile I had ever raced (and the getting passed at the end that went with that) so was trying to control the pace. It was hard with the pack starting off like a bunch of greyhounds, but I did manage to go out in the realm of acceptability and hit my first split pretty much right on pace.

After that I am not sure what happened. In the second quarter mile, I kind of had a mental lapse and let my pace slide. Sue slipped away a few yards, but I had to let her go. I was pretty much doing all I could to do what I was doing. It is really weird, but I remember nothing of this part of the race except following Sue’s back and seeing the pack up ahead.

I do not even remember hearing the crowd, but I do remember feeling the pain. It is amazing how long 7 minutes can feel when you are running at your max. When I hit the split at the half, I was so mad to see that my pace had slipped to over 7. That was going to make it super hard to get the 6:50 that I was hoping for. I picked it up and tried to hold on.

Finally my watch beeped to tell me that we had passed the ¾ mile. I was not dead at the end (like I had been in the earlier mile I had raced) and for a few seconds I entertained the idea of trying to see if I could catch Sue who was still a few yards ahead of me. It was then I saw the best thing of the entire weekend.

As I was looking ahead at Sue to see if she looked like she might be getting tired, I saw her posture change. I thought, “Dang, she is picking it up.”  Just then I saw why. In USATF competitions we all wear a bib with our ages on our backs. Over Sue’s shoulder, I could see a woman who had fallen off the back of the main pack, with a big 50 on the back of her singlet. She was in our age group!  I watched as Sue ran her down and passed her. It was a beautiful thing!

“Go, Sue!!” I was yelling inside my head, as I struggled for air. I also tried to pick it up, hoping to catch the faltering woman, but it was not to be. As the finishing clock approached, I watched it tick past 6:50  (my goal pace) and 6:55 (my previous mile time). It ticked on toward 7:00. NOOO!! My “C” goal had been to be under 7:00. I crossed the line at what I hoped was 6:57 (but what later turned out to be 6:58).  I was not last in the race (there were women all the way up to the 70+ age group), but I was pretty sure I was last in my AG. How depressing!

I found Sue to congratulate her and tell her how awesome she was. Then we looked for the rest of the team. Everyone (except me) had run really well.  Most had PRd, and the 60+ women had won the team competition. It was awesome! Ruth also was 1st and last in her age group. (She was the only one in the 65+ group.)

Probably the second most amazing thing that happened that night was the performance of Chemtai. She finished third in a really tight race. She was just four seconds behind first and the third and fourth place runners were within a hundredth of a second of one another: 4:35.10/4:35.15, with fifth place at 4:35.90. Talk about close!! That is such an awesome accomplishment for her. I am sure we will be hearing more great things about her in the future!  I could tell Owen was really proud of her.

Owen and Chemtai at Playmakers to promote Owen's book Running Science

Chemtai with her 3rd place award at the Liberty Mile

I do have to say that I was pretty bummed out about my performance. Of course, my friends tried to cheer me up by telling me that I should just feel honored to have been able to compete with some of the best runners in the country. I was honored to do that, but I was also mad at myself for performing so poorly. If I had run well and been last, that is one thing, but to run so poorly and be last was what bothered me because I had nothing to blame but my own lack of training.

One of the things I love about running is I have always believed that “you get out of it what you put into it.”  I believe that saying is true when I have trained hard and done well, but the other end of the stick on that is that it also applies when I have slacked off and done poorly, like in this race. I have a screen saver on my laptop that says “You can have excuses or you can have results. You can’t have both.” I guess it is time to stop making excuses and start training!  


  1. I enjoyed reading your race recap and understand your disappointment at not doing as well as you had planned or expected. However, now that you have identified some things in your running - what are you going to do about them?

    That is the thing that I always look at when I have a bad race or fail to meet my expectation - what can I do to change the outcome next time.

    What would do if one of your coaching clients had this experience, what advice would you give them?

    We all have slumps, but it is what we do about them that makes us a better runnah. ;-)

    I look forward to reading more about your running story.


  2. Harold,
    Thanks for the comment. I am trying to remotivate myself. I definitely know what to do, but doing it... "Ay, there's the rub."

    It is so much easier to coach someone else than motivate myself. Part of the problem is that as I age, the "comebacks" get harder and harder. I am hoping that getting back into ultras and the big bucket list goal of doing the Western States 100 will getting me going and keep me going.

    I signed up to follow your blog. Maybe we can encourage each other!

  3. It's encouraging know that even the best have bad races. I know that is somewhat morbid...finding encouraging in your lack of success, but I now know that it can happen to us all and that what's done to change things in the future should become the next focus, not the "failure" of the past. Our past should only inform our future, not dictate it. Thanks for sharing.


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