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Granville Firecracker 5 – July 2011

As I have started to document my running a bit more formally, I thought I should make note of last week’s race. It was the local, 4th of July five miler – a road race, my first in nearly six months. I have a history with this race, so I thought I should put it in context before reporting on last week’s adventure…

2004        30:59

2005        31:08

2006        30:29

2007        (out of town)

2008        31:28

2009        32:38

2010        32:47

2011        32:28

Above is the progression of my finishing times for the Firecracker 5 for the past eight years. Same course. Often the same conditions (typically hot and humid). Ever since I moved to Granville, this race has been something of a nemesis to me. Take 2004 for instance. I moved to Granville 4 days prior and was ready to “make a splash” in the local running scene. At that point in my life, every time I toed the line for a five miler, I had the goal of finishing in under 30 minutes. Unfortunately for that year, the stress of moving, combined with the physical exhaustion of having just completed the move, meant that I collapsed in the fourth mile and I missed my goal. The next year was about the same – I was in a bit better place, but less well prepared as adapting to the demands of being a professor had made my training inconsistent. Again, I fell apart in the fourth mile. Now, if you’ve run the Firecracker 5, this pattern might make some sense. The race begins with about 1.5 miles of fairly level roads. During the second mile, you begin a long, rolling uphill section that leads to a turn-around. It is then downhill until about mile 3 when you return to primarily level terrain for the last two miles. Oh, and miles 1 to 4 are on fairly exposed roads, so if there is no cloud cover, it gets hot. Each of the first two years, I went out hard,  and paid a price. 2006 was special year for me simply because it rained. It was cool and refreshing, and I went out slower than my previous attempts. I missed the race in 2007 – we were visiting family in Massachusetts, so I did a local 10k there, probably my worst race performance ever… I have been back running the Firecracker the last four years, but I have developed a bit different attitude towards the race. In 2008, I was coming back from an injury that had kept me from running consistently for several months. I just ran the race to see where I was at and to check in with some of the other runners I hadn’t seen during my hiatus. It went much better than I had anticipated, probably because I didn’t have any specific time goals, I was just running.

So, that brings me to 2009, and the astute observer will note that my times seem to slow at that point. I wasn’t trying any less, but my focus for running really changed prior to the 2009 edition of the race. That was the year I ran my first trail ultra (the first Forget the PR 50k), and I realized that I enjoyed running further as opposed to faster. I pretty much stopped doing speed work, and the bulk of my training miles were happening at a much slower pace (and in the woods) compared to what I had been doing for the previous decade. In 2010, I was running more miles than 2009, and I thought it would translate into a better finish, but I logged my slowest attempt to date. Even though the feeling that I was constantly stymied by this particular race remained, I just didn’t care so much. I was running more, getting injured far less, and I was enjoying running in a way that I hadn’t in the years previously. I just wanted to have a solid Firecracker outing…

So that finally brings me to my report on this year’s edition of the Firecracker 5. Not as hot as most past years. Good. Same course (despite a threatened last minute change). Good. Some intermittent clouds. Good. Decent night’s sleep. Good. Tried to run 40 miles with a couple of friends two days before the race, but fell apart due to heat and dehydration after “only” 30 or so miles… I wasn’t sure what that meant for running the Firecracker – my suspicions were that it was not going to help. Anyhow, I jogged over to the race start, signed up, pinned on my race number and attached the timing chip, and placed myself about halfway back in the crowd for the start. When the race began, I focused on going slow – but it wasn’t as if I really had a choice given the extreme ache I felt in my legs. As usual, the runners that took off at a sprint slowed quickly, and I began to pass groups of people. The neat thing was that I kept going – as others slowed down, I sped up. I sped up along the flat section and then sped up a bit more during the long uphill section. I definitely sped up on the downhill. My legs ached, and I could feel a deep down tired, but I was having fun – not my usual frame of mind heading into the fourth mile of this particular race. I passed the 3 mile marker (the first marker I noticed) in just over 20 minutes. This seemed just about right, I had expected to finish somewhere around 34 or 35 minutes, but I had felt better than planned to that point. As I sped along, I still expected the usual fourth mile collapse. It just didn’t happen. I kept passing people as my legs maintained their turnover. In the last mile, as we turned back in towards the village, I caught one last group of runners. I knew I wasn’t going to set a PR, but I felt good, and I thought I might at least snag an age-group trophy. Of course, in the final 50 meters two of the runners I had previously passed went sprinting past me, and I had no way to respond. I had been redlining it for the past two miles and just couldn’t get anything more out of my legs. Despite losing a couple of places, I was really excited to see the clock was only just moving past 32:30 – it meant that I had found a way to run under 6:15 miles for the last two miles. I had one last bit of disappointment though as they handed the last trophy for my age group to one of the guys that out sprinted me at the end. I had a little bit of redemption though when the official results showed that I had actually run faster than he had (starting back in the crowd of runners at the start of the race meant my timing chip didn’t activate until 4-5 seconds after the clock started, so even though he finished a couple of seconds ahead of me, I ran the race two seconds faster overall).

So, my time this year was pretty much where I have been the past few years, but it was a much more satisfying race. I don’t think I’ll get in the habit of running over 30 miles a couple of days before this race in the future, but I really liked coming into race with no expectations so I could just respond to and enjoy the race as it unfolded. I celebrated my finish by running another 5 or 6 miles on the trails before heading home…

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