Sunday, June 23, 2013

Searching for a 'W'

Talking about weekend plans with a friend on Friday I mentioned that I was racing a half on Saturday (nothing unusual there!) and she replied that it was about time I got a 'W', in other words a win. It's been a novel and motivating experience lining up at races here and having a good chance of a podium finish pretty much every week. I've had seven second or third places in 17 races since moving to the States. The two races in SA before leaving I was 40th and 51st. When I arrived I expected the standard here to be better than SA, especially in a run crazy city with Nike HQ just up the road. So why the difference? Portland is much smaller than Cape Town admittedly, but EVERYBODY runs or cycles. The main reason I believe is prize money and the vastly different demographics of the population. The fact is that in SA, if you win or place you could earn a week's wages. That ensures that at any given race in either Cape Town or Joburg you have 20-30 guys who are racing for their dinner, and that of their families, literally. The good running clubs in SA also offer incentives for their runners when they win or place. If you are a manual labourer earning say R150 ($15) a day, a run of the mill race might offer R500-750 for the win. That's a big motivating factor, to win a week's wages in 30 minutes! With age category prize money at similar levels, it ensures the fields are stacked against average club runners like me, who admittedly have the luxury of not having to race for our dinners. Here in the US, good runners are I guess on the track or targeting the few races with prize money. Ironically, trail races now offer better prizes than road races, a situation that seems very unlikely to happen in SA.

Beautiful countryside for the Bald Peak half marathon
So to this weekend's Bald Peak half marathon out in stunning farmland Hillsboro' way. I love these races. Generally a happy crowd, no real rabbits and the chance to mix it at the front. This was a tough little race, 600m of climbing with the first 2 miles uphill.

A cruel last mile. Spot the walks!

You get a feel for the race on the start line, and this race felt weak. No college kids bouncing up and down, no obvious sponsored kit and a field of only 146. As for almost every race here, it was chip timed (now I know where my $40-120 goes every race) via a disposable race number. We set off and I found myself at the front with a twentysomething who volunteered that this was his 'first race for 5 years'. Umm, bad tactical move as it gave me a bit of confidence. Up the first 2 miles climb of 300m and he'd dropped off the pace. So I was in splendid isolation at the front of a race for the first time for a long time. It was missing a motorbike or pace car with a clock on it (this was Hillsboro' not Boston) but otherwise it was kinda fun. The problem was last week's sub 3 marathon and a course that was NEVER flat, the hills just kept coming, and after 4 miles I heard the ominous sound of footsteps behind me, approaching at a rapid rate. The 'W' day wasn't going to be today. Although it's disappointing to be overtaken, its not like a skill sport where you can blame playing crap or your opponent being inspired, and berate yourself. In a race, especially where you at or near maximum effort, you are trying your hardest, you're in pain, you're leaving it all out there! Someone else is just better, fitter, less tired, then you. It's also rarely like a tennis match where you can come back from 0-2 down. Once you're passed, there's not normally a way back especially on the road where you are tapping out consistent km/miles.
The medal and trophy for third place
I was running hard! My flat and downhill kms were where they should have been, sort of 3,40-3,50 per km but on the ups I was struggling, and 2nd soon become 3rd when ANOTHER vet came past me. Now 3rd isn't great, but 4th is the pits, so I now had to ensure I didn't lose a podium spot. I don't look around in races and rely on listening as I go through water points, to hear the claps, cow bells, encouragement for the runner behind. I hadn't heard anything for a long time, then at the last WP at 11 miles the noises were only 30 seconds after I had gone through. That pesky twentysomething was hanging in there. Now the last mile was a 150m climb, which was just cruel, and my legs were jelly. So I broke both my rules of the road, never look around, and never walk in a 21km! Luckily the hill had curves, and around a couple I had a sneaky look and walk when I thought I was out of sight, and that restored enough energy to get home in third. The top three were all 45 or 46 years old!

The old 'toppies' reign!
Contego and CAPESTORM kit, Hi-Tec Luca road shoes
This was as near to the beauty of the local trail races you get here as is possible for a tar race. The after race refreshments here are also a step above the (half) cup of coke you get in SA. We had water, juice, freshly made pancakes, peanut butter sandwiches, bacon, homemade crunchies, all in abundance.

Next weekend is the altogether more serious Western States 100 miler, where I'm pacing a friend for the last 38 miles. At night. More on that later....

1 comment:

  1. I think I also need to start looking for that w.... Don't think it will happen on the road, I'm going to need a small trail race, but that said I will give HBTC and CTM a go.