Much like the majority of large races this year, the Utica Boilermaker 15K, typically held on the second Sunday in July, was moved to September, and then went virtual. The race window opened Tuesday, September 1st, so a group of other guys looking to run under 60 minutes and I met at the starting line to run the course at 7am that day.
After getting almost no sleep the night before, I was almost relieved when my alarm went off at 4am. After an uneventful two-hour drive, I arrived at the start with fifteen minutes to spare. I met the other guys (including Mike Brych, who was targeting his 22nd consecutive sub-60 time this year) and we started without much fanfare.
Immediately, I could tell that this was not going to be a walk in the park. My legs felt heavy and sluggish, and within half a mile I had lost contact with the group. I made a conscious decision not to go with them, as the pace felt too hot for me to maintain, and I knew I run this course best when I go out a little slower. So I let the other guys pull away and focused on my own race. I figured I would keep it around 6:20-6:30 pace for the first four miles, and then use the huge downhill at mile five to wake my legs up and pick up the pace. After all, that strategy has worked for the past fifteen years. Surely it would work this year!
Well, after hitting four miles just slightly over 60:00 pace, I started my descent, fully expecting to scorch a fast downhill mile, and feel my legs wake up and get ready to run fast. However, neither of those occurred, and this is where I started to get concerned. Since 2005, my average split for mile five is 5:30. Even during my slowest races, I still have managed to run 5:45. This year, I struggled to break 6:00, and did so just barely. That’s when I knew this was going to be a close one.
Luckily, my sixth mile was pretty good (just over 6-flat), but from 10K to 7 miles in the second, and in my opinion, nastier hill on the course. I knew this was going to be a slow split, and sure enough, I ran 6:37 up this hill. Still, it didn’t seem as bad as usual, probably due to the cooler temperatures and cloud cover. I knew the last two miles were a net downhill, so I wanted to run those fast and really make sure there was no doubt about breaking 60.
Again, my legs didn’t listen to me, and continued plodding along at their leisurely pace, while I frantically calculated how close I would be. Finally, I reached the ninth mile marker and realized I had three minutes until an hour. I kicked into higher gear (which still felt agonizingly slow) and crossed the lonely finish line in 59:18, where the other guys stood waiting for me. They all ran 55-58 minutes and looked like they had a much more enjoyable time.
While I am very glad to continue my streak of sub-60 Boilermakers, I have learned a few lessons from this year. First and foremost is I can no longer fake my way through a race now that I’ve lost my huge aerobic base from all my miles. I haven’t run consistent high mileage since 2014, and have been lucky to hit 30mpw the past few years. If I want to continue with my low mileage lifestyle, I really should supplement with more biking.
Secondly, I do think I could have run about a minute faster, if I hadn’t destroyed my legs a few days before the race. On Saturday, I planned a fairly easy tune-up workout of 3x 1 mile at 6:00-6:15 pace. However, I got carried away trying to nab a Strava segment course record on the second rep, and ran 5:45 into a raging headwind. It felt like a 5:25-5:30 effort, which is faster than my 5K pace right now. That took a lot out of me and I definitely was still feeling it on Tuesday morning.
Third, as the years keep ticking by, these are going to get more challenging. That is what both Paul Humphrey and Mike Brych have impressed on me. So a few weeks of half-hearted training isn’t going to cut it as I drift closer to 40. Next year, I will have to actually follow a plan and be fit and well-rested going into race day.