For the third year in a row, I spent my Father’s Day morning participating in the 10-mile race at the Towpath Ten-Ten event, put on by the Ohio Canal Corridor. I’ve had good success with the race and love the timing – early in the fall marathon training season – as it gives a good baseline for assessing fitness year-to-year and setting pace zones for the upcoming training cycle.
This race report actually needs to start from the packet pick-up on Saturday, where I hosted my first book signing. I was positioned at the registration table for those who had not pre-registered (serving also as the “veteran” to address runners’ questions). I thought I recognized one of the people who came to the table to sign up as Mike Boyer, who had bested me in a 3-way race for 4th at the prior year’s event. A quick glance at his registration form confirmed it.
I joked that I was hoping he would not show up this year (as he also smoked me at the River Run Half-Marathon last year). He didn’t recall the details of last Year’s race, so I handed him a copy of my book opened to the report from the 2011 Towpath Ten-Ten, and we chatted as he skimmed it. He asked what I was aiming for this year and I responded, “around 1:04, similar to last year.” He replied, “That sounds about right to me, let’s run together.” So the strategy was hatched. Oh, and then he added, “well, since I’m in the book, I might as well buy it,” and he asked for contact information to start inviting me to some track workouts at Case Western Reserve University on Tuesday evenings.
After a delayed and late-night anniversary dinner with my wife and her parents (who have the same anniversary we do), I was a bit groggy when the alarm sounded at 5:20. One thing I like about this event is that it starts at 7:00, which suits my early morning preferences plus gets the race out of the way so we can celebrate the holiday and avoid the worst of the heat. I opted for coffee and an English muffin after debating whether to eat at all, and I’m glad I did.
After arriving early and making my way to the starting area to take advantage of the portolets before the lines grew long, I ran a 2-mile warm-up with 4×10″ strides, timed to finish 15 minutes before the race. The 65 degrees / 65% humidity combination made for a bit of a sweat even on this warm-up, but with clouds moving in, weather wasn’t much of a factor for the race. I then did my abbreviated warm-up drills of walking deadlifts, leg swings, and the lunge matrix.
I settled into a position on the front row. Right before the start time, Mike finally made his way over and nodded. During the typical 5-minute delay to the start, I looked around and easily figured out who the winner would be, but was surprised by the lack of other obvious contenders. One nearby runner (Zach) was chatting with Mike and mentioned a 2:54 marathon and 1:21 half, so he seemed like a potential contender.
I had an odd sense of nonchalance about this race – not exactly confident, but not nervous either. I had little idea what to expect given that I’ve only been back to training seriously for ~5-6 weeks after my Achilles injury. When the race finally started, I tried to go out easily but quickly found myself in third (behind the “obvious” future winner and Zach) and pushing a 5:30 pace. I reeled it back in to finish the first mile in 6:22.
There is a 180-degree turn before the two-mile mark that gives you a sense of positioning. I was still in third and Mike was in fourth, looking strong, and there was already a gap to fifth. It seemed early on like second through fourth place might be in play. The presence of the other runners inspired me to pick up the pace a bit, as mile 2 passed in 6:13.
I remained in third through mile 3 (6:21), but I could hear Mike catching up. What I didn’t notice was that Zach’s lead was shrinking. Mike caught me right as we headed up the first of the two bridges that provide the only notable elevation changes in the race. As we headed down the second bridge, Mike said, “Stay relaxed (I’ve heard that advice before), he’s starting to fade.” And I replied, “Yep, we have plenty of time.” We passed Zach by mile 4 (6:21).
Those were really the only words we said as we continued to run side-by-side. Miles 5 (6:19) and 6 (6:18) were steady; between those two miles we had the opportunity to glance back after a ~135 degree turn into the north-end loop of the otherwise out-and-back course, and saw no one behind us except for the 10K runners we had started to pass. I started to fade a bit, and would have been fine if Mike had taken off, but he slowed too. I learned later that his Garmin had died somewhere around here, and he was relying on me to set the pace.
It also started to rain a bit at this point, which was welcome. What may have started to slow us down though was the need to weave around 10K runners heading the same direction and 10-mile runners headed north. A few times I had to run on the grass to get around a 10K runner. I also passed and greeted two of the pediatricians at the office we take our boys too, as well as a friend from Dailymile, Lisa K. We slowed to a 6:38 pace for miles 7 and 8, and approached the two bridges ahead of the 9-mile mark side-by-side.
At this point last year, Mike pulled ahead for good. This time, we stayed even on the uphill of the first bridge, and I used some short and quick strides on the downhill to pull ahead briefly. Mike pulled to even between the bridges, and we stayed neck-and-neck over the second bridge. At the bottom of the bridge, where we jumped off the Towpath trail onto West Canal Road, Mike started to pull ahead, and as we passed the mile 9 marker with a 6:39 mile, I didn’t have enough left to stay with him.
Having passed mile 9 at 57:50, I knew that 1:04 would be tough, requiring a 6:10 closing mile. I picked up the pace as much as possible throughout the last mile, as I felt I could at least set a new PR over last year’s 1:04:08. I saw Mike finish right at 1:04 (actually 1:03:59), and gave everything I had to step across the line in 3rd place overall at 1:04:07 (the watch and race timer matched exactly). I thanked Mike for pushing me along and we chatted for a bit before I put in a 3-mile cool-down run, heading south along the Towpath; the rain stopped shortly into this run.
Afterwards, I waited in line for the free breakfast buffet while awaiting the awards, but had to get out of the line as it was moving too slow and the awards were starting (plus, I wanted to get home to the family as soon as possible). The Ohio and Erie Canalway puts on a good event, but I would make one major complaint here – Mike won 2nd overall in the event and was the first Masters runner to finish. However, his 2nd place finish came with nothing more than the photographs the rest of the overall and age group winners received. Meanwhile, the “official” first Masters runner, who came in 4th overall, got the $100 Lockkeeper Tavern gift certificate for the Masters winner. Mike rightly observed that he should have sandbagged the race and come in fourth.
So, I guess this puts me at the same position as the start of last season’s marathon training. With last year’s base and experience and a bit of a more aggressive plan for this season, I’m hopeful for improving on the marathon PR this fall.
It would be nice to enter this race with a full spring season of training behind me, and to see if I can even out the back-end splits a bit. It’s almost as if when Mike’s Garmin died, I let my guard down and slowed us both. Plus, next year I’ll have to start contending with him for the Masters title. With smarter preparation and execution, maybe the third time will be a charm.