I call this PR unlikely for a few reasons. First, I haven't been doing much in the way of speedwork lately; ultra training has been more about teaching my body to move forward steadily for a long time, not quickly for a short time. Second, I wasn't even planning on running the race until the day before. Third, on the day before, I covered 30 miles, a "run" (the walk breaks became more and more frequent as the miles accumulated) that ended in 93 degree temps and that left me pretty severely dehydrated despite guzzling what seemed like a ton of water. Probably not the best recipe for success, but it's races like this that keep running interesting.
The race I'm referring to is Heart of the Hills, a 10.4 mile road race that starts in Hill City, SD and follows the old highway east to Keystone, which is the closest town to Mt. Rushmore (in other words, if you look up "tourist trap" in the dictionary, there should be a picture of main street Keystone). The race is 10.4 miles long because that's just how long that stretch of road happens to be. The race is also unique in that it starts at 6:30 PM. I'm not sure why this is, it just is. I've run the race twice before. In 2006 I finished in 1:28:29 after suffering mightily in the heat and on the hills (and seriously considering dropping at one point). In 2008, just six days after BQing at the Missoula Marathon, I ran a 1:17:15 and was pretty happy with it considering how tired my legs were. This year, after again running Missoula six days prior (albeit much more slowly than in 2008) and the aforementioned 30 miler the day before, I wasn't really expecting much, just hoping to get in a 10 mile run. I love being wrong in these circumstances.
The course is a fairly big downhill overall as Hill City is about 700 feet higher than Keystone, but there's more to it than that. There's one huge hill in the first 2 miles, a smaller huge hill in the next mile and then several smaller hills sprinkled throughout the course to keep things interesting. At several points, bystanders will tell you that "it's all downhill from here" and they are basically always wrong (unless they're along the last mile and a half or so). It is a beautiful course, as you might expect one so close to Mt. Rushmore to be.
My race strategy was pretty simple here. Start running and see what happened. I was totally unenthusiastic about this thing in the moments leading up to it. My legs felt tired from the 30 miler the day before, but not horribly so. I knew I would be able to run 10 miles with no problem, but memories of past misery at this race were lingering in my head. When the race started, I just went and tried to work into a pace that felt somewhat reasonable. Turns out that pace was faster than I thought it would be.
Right off the bat, I was moving faster than I thought I would be (or thought I'd be able to maintain). Heading up the first big hill, I could see the field strung out in front of me (the leader, a college cross country runner at South Dakota State, had already gapped everyone by that time and went on to win ridiculously easily) and counted 15 people ahead of me. As we chugged up the hill, barely moving at faster than a walk, I caught a few people and when I was able to drop the hammer and start running hard immediately after cresting the summit, I passed a couple of more. Eventually, I found myself behind a local trail runner, Andy, who I know is faster than me on trails, but maybe not so much on roads (at least when I'm rested). I would end up following Andy up and down the hills until I finally mustered enough momentum to pass him just past mile 4. At that point, it basically became a race with myself. I could occasionally catch a glimpse of the next guy in front of me, but he was never within striking distance. I wasn't sure how much of a gap I was putting on Andy until I finally snuck a couple of glances in the final miles. Basically, my goal became to maintain sub-7 miles and finish in the 1:13 range. Amazingly, the pace felt pretty good up until the last two miles when I had to work a little harder to maintain it. As I rounded the last bend and saw the finish line, I started pushing and realized that not only would I definitely break 1:13, but I was going to be really close to 1:12 as well. Alas, it was too late that I realized this and finished in 1:12:02, a PR of over 5 minutes, 8th overall and 3rd in my AG.
1 - 6:46
2 - 7:41 (big damn hill)
3 - 6:53
4 - 6:39 (chasing Andy down the hill)
5 - 7:22 (inexplicably slow, maybe let off a little after passing Andy)
6 - 7:00
7 - 6:48
8 - 6:44
9 - 6:51
10 - 6:54
10.4 - 2:21 (6:14 pace)
Total - 1:12:02
My AG award was a railroad spike. I've got three of em now (two from Heart of the Hills and one from the Deadwood-Mickelson half marathon). If I can place in my AG long enough, I can build myself a railroad!
So, the moral of the story is, if you wanna PR at a race, just go out and run 30 miles the day before. Guaranteed to work! (Disclaimer: results not typical).