2nd Annual Wa Wa Wally Waddle 5K Race Report

This past weekend I took a trip down to Poughkeepsie, NY with Josh and his wife Lisa. Josh directs the Wa Wa Wally Waddle 5K, which takes place at Vassar Farms Park. The race proceeds are used to fund scholarship for campers at Camp Wa Wa Segowea in the Berkshires. This piece of info explains most of the race’s unique name, with the only missing detail being that “Wally” is the camp’s turtle mascot. I had won the race last year and sought to defend my title. I was running quite well last year at this time, and I’ve been starting to feel stronger the past few weeks, so my secondary goal was to break last year’s time of 16:34.

 

I customarily wear a watch during road races, but for this one I decided to go watch-less–I planned to key only off effort level and the surrounding competition. This is something I’ve historically done mainly in XC, but I’d like to get used to it on the roads as well.

 

On race morning I woke up around 8am to some light drizzle. Fortunately, the rain did not persist, as the skies were overcast but rain-drop-free following my bagel, coffee, and short drive to the park. The course was quite flat,  and it was set on on a fine cinder road with about 400 meters across a fairly bumpy grassy field.

 

 

Despite the rainy weather, there was a nice turnout at the starting line—over 100 runners—significantly more than last year’s race, including a few serious-looking runners, which was good to see. After a few instructions from Josh, the race began, and I quickly bounded out to the lead. The pace was quick for the first 300 meters, and then I eased up for about 200 meters across the bumpy field back to the cinder road. Back on the road, I hammered quite hard for the rest of first mile. I don’t really have any interesting numbers to report here due to the no-watch thing (I was later told by another competitor that the first mile was somewhere between 5:10 and 5:15).

 

I could hear footsteps about 8 to 15 seconds behind me for the entire race. This was somewhat surprising, because usually when you’ve got 20 to 40 meters on someone, they either catch up or fall further behind eventually. That statement might seem tautological, but I am just trying to say that it’s rare for a gap of that size to be constant throughout an entire 5K.

 

The race finished with a 400 meter loop around the field again. Coming into the loop, Josh shouted “You’ve got about 10 seconds on him!….Er…actually only about 7 seconds!” I knew I had plenty left in the tank to kick it home, so I accelerated along the remainder of the cinder trail and coasted the last 200 meters on the bumpy grass to the finish. I took the win in 16:31. It was also nice to feel quite strong throughout the race. This was a confidence builder after coming back from some Winter-related Achilles issues, showing that my training is starting to take off. I believe that I’m ready to take another stab at breaking 16 minutes at our track 5000m on May 30.

 

 

I’d also like to say a huge thanks to both Lisa’s and Josh’s families who were incredibly generous throughout the entire weekend. Race results are here.

 

Johnny’s Running of the Green (5 mile race, Rochester, NY)

Since Josh will soon make a post about his own 5 miler and steal my thunder, I need to attempt to take the limelight for now. Yesterday was Johnny’s 5 mile race in downtown Rochester, which serves as the unofficial beginning of the road racing season in town. Last year I ran a huge PR in 27:14, which at the time was a breakthrough race for me. I have been feeling pretty fit lately (although my mileage is only now getting back up to where I’d like it to be), so I was hoping for some moderate improvement.

The field was noticeably less strong than in previous years. Aside from a handful of elite-looking out-of-towners, the only people who I might hope to compete with were Dave Bradshaw, Derrick Jones, and Master’s extraordinaire, Jim Derick (note that I’ve never been very close to beating any of these guys in any race longer than 1 mile). I hoped to keep pace with whichever of them did not start uncomfortably fast (faster than 5:15 for the first mile) for as long as I could.

 

 

Gun goes off. The few elite out-of-towners bound off to the front, and I quickly tuck in behind Dave Bradshaw and Derrick Jones because there’s a slight headwind as we run South towards the University of Rochester . The race is an out-and-back with its turn-around point nicely placed at the traffic circle on campus. The three of us and Jim Derick trade positions a bit through the first half mile.

 

 

The pace feels fast but controlled. At some point Derrick Jones disappears (I later found out that he dropped out) and Bradshaw opens up a small gap between me and Jim, off of whom I am drafting shamelessly. I’m feeling great and the pace still feels under control, so I make a quick move to close on Bradshaw. It’s fun to be running with the big guns. It almost feels like I belong up here. I run behind Bradshaw for a few hundred meters but quickly realize that I’m in over my head because he’s accelerating. I let him go. Jim Derick comes up and I let him pass me on the Ford Street bridge so that I can restart my shameful drafting (in my defense, he’s a far more accomplished runner than me!).

We come through the first mile in 5:18 and I’m feeling OK. Jim noticeably accelerates after seeing the split. This became the most crucial point of the race for me. Maybe it was a moment of weakness caused by the extra effort required to climb up and over the bridge, maybe it was the constant headwind that still had some measurable impact despite my drafting, or maybe it was just me being too scared to say “screw it” and compete, but I made a conscious choice to just let him go. What was I thinking? I know I can run that pace. I have run a 4:36 mile on zero speed-work and a 16:07 5K with very little mileage base. Lately, I’ve been nailing some fast workouts while slowly upping the distance. My fitness is there. Perhaps I can’t quite sustain it for five consecutive miles, but I need to at least find the capacity to take a risk and put myself in that position.

 

 

As Jim slowly drifts away from me, I realize that there’s no one else nearby, and as I start to battle the wind solo, a sinking feeling sets in: A mediocre-at-best race is unfolding. I don’t even bother checking my second mile split (but I do press the lap button to satisfy my post-race curiosity). I make half-hearted surges, trying to convince myself that Jim—now well over 20 seconds ahead—is no longer increasing his lead. Sadly, this just doesn’t hold true.

A small hill leads up to the turn-around. I see the elites striding down as I’m just barely starting the ascent. Ryan Pauling is in the lead car with Eric Boyce and the other USATF folks, and he shouts at me to “FOCUS MIKE!” I know he’s right, but UGH, I already regret putting myself in this position. The turn-around provides an opportunity to see the competition behind me. Matt Roberts is about 15 to 20 seconds back, and a few very strong looking women are 15 to 20 behind him. For most of the third mile, I run opposite to the masses who are still approaching the turn-around. They shout words of encouragement like “You’re almost there!” and “You’re still in it!” At the time, this exacerbates my feelings of defeat, but I know they mean well. I happen to check my split for the third mile: 5:43. Ugh, UGH.

At this point, my effort level really begins to disintegrate. I’m coasting, drifting, and floating through the last 2 miles. I start to hear bystanders cheering someone behind me, which is rather irksome. Am I going to have to fight off someone down the stretch? (At the time, this is not a welcome realization, because I am “running weak,” very opposed to Josh’s catchy slogan “Run Tuff”) I come through mile four in 5:38. It must have been the tailwind, because my effort level surely had decreased, if anything. By now, I’m actually feeling somewhat relaxed because I’ve been running tempo pace for three miles after actually racing the first one.

Coming back over the Ford Street bridge, I start to hear footsteps. I don’t look back, but I know it’s Matt Roberts. I traverse the bridge and enter a mild downhill section of the course. Something clicks, and I start to pour on some speed. But I’m still hearing footsteps and cheers behind me. As I run by Corn Hill landing, I estimate that there’s about a half mile to go. Now, due to the substantially increased pace, I am genuinely starting to feel some pain. I can still feel Matt back there, only 15 or 20 meters behind. I really drop the hammer. It hurts but it feels good. Why didn’t I do this earlier? This is why I’m out here. To race. To compete.

 

 

Matt never closes the gap, and I finish in 27:36 with a 5:17 last mile for 8th place. I thank him for pushing it at the end, and he tells me he was “running his face off but couldn’t make up any ground.” It feels good to hear that, and at least I’m not left with a completely sour taste in my mouth. It was satisfying to race hard down the stretch, and it was a much-needed wake up call regarding what I need to do to road-race at a level at which I believe I am capable.

Results are here, a video from the lead car of the start (where you can see me slowly falling behind the elites) is here, a complete set of race photos are here. Next up is the Spring Forward 15K in three weeks at Mendon. Josh will be there, too, and since we are accustomed to working together quite well, I am really looking forward to it.

Annapolis, MD

It is a bittersweet reality: The next five months of running and racing in Rochester will be my last. Since October, I have been working very hard not only on the roads, trails, and track, but also on my butt in front of my computer. As this is the final year of my Ph.D. program, it is also my “job market year,” which has required incredible preparation, hundreds of applications, and dozens of interviews. Earlier in February, my employment-seeking journey came to an end when I accepted an offer to become an Assistant Professor of Economics at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD. I am very excited to begin my new career in August, but I will miss many aspects of the running scene in Rochester: the Spring and Fall season, the Erie Canal, Mendon, the Park Ave/Cobbs Hill area (where I live), and many of the fantastic races that are now very familiar to me. But most importantly, I’m going to miss running and training with some really great people that I’ve been lucky to meet the past few years. Without good friends like Travis, Pauling, and the RKR guys, all those miles would have not been nearly as fun. And of course, I have Josh to thank the most…without the countless hours of brutal speedwork, long runs in the bitter cold, and time spent thinking and talking about running (in general), there is no way my racing abilities and love for the sport would be even close to where they are now.

But great memories aside, this is a nice opportunity to spread RKR to a different part of the country, and I need to make sure that when I come back to visit, I’ve still got what it takes to compete in Rochester races! I have not yet done much research on the running scene in Annapolis, but I am confident that I can find some like-minded racers down there. If any of this blog’s readers have suggestions, please send them my way. Until the big move in August, I’m going to keep up the intensity (Josh and I rocked some really great speedwork sessions in December and we have been quickly rolling back into things over the past few weeks) and get my mileage back to 55 to 65 per week. There are many fun races to be run this Spring: Johnny’s 5mi, Spring Forward 15K, Flower City Half Marathon, McMullen Mile, and of course I have to defend my Wa Wa Waddle title! Until then, I just need to keep telling myself that Winter is almost over….isn’t it?!

Premature end to Indoor Track season

Unfortunately, a couple of different forces have compelled me to cut my indoor season short. Shortly after the 5K on December 30, my Achilles tendon flared up, which is an injury that I’ve never experienced before.

It really started to hurt after a tough outdoor track workout at UR with Josh, and then I left for a job conference in Denver, CO the next day. The conference was very hectic, and I spent a lot of time walking between hotels to attend interviews. The Achilles problem made this quite painful during the first two days! These interviews were the first step in my job search for positions for newly minted Economics Ph.Ds, and they will hopefully lead to a number of (more comprehensive) fly-out interviews.

Although my Achilles is starting to feel quite a bit better, my upcoming schedule remains a question mark, so I’ve decided to back off the training until my employment matters are settled (this could be until anytime between late January and late February). In the meantime, I’m going to try to enjoy the Winter with easy mileage and maybe a few long runs when I can fit them in. My long-term plan following the break will include a one-to-two-month long mileage buildup during which I’ll ease back into some good workouts and races. I still need to think about which Spring races on which to focus.