Trolley Run 2015 recap
Do I have a correct sense that my long, detailed race reports are a bit tedious? I have the notion that you’re getting bored with them, and here in the middle of spring racing season, they keep coming. (I have a half marathon in a week and a half, and I’m thinking of running another half the week after that, which is insane and brutal in itself and probably isn’t too kind to you, gentle reader.)
But this was my third year doing the Trolley Run, and it’s a kind of personal tradition for me, so I hope you’ll indulge my indulgence here (even as I try to keep the account short).
Since this was my third time for this run, I felt confident. I’d just run those two half marathons back to back and well, and I think I may have turned yet another running corner. (I say I’ve turned so many corners that I’m back to where I started.) Yet last year at this run I had done much better than I had expected, and better than on any comparable run since. It was as though the running gods had granted me that one day of speedy legs.
So, of course, I had to do better this year.
Four miles. Most of it on a gentle downhill. My training runs lately have been good. My shoes were broken in. I did a shake down run earlier in the week with the kit you see above (also, long-sleeved shirt, compression shorts). All the pieces were in place. I got to the start early, just before dawn in the 43 degrees with overcast skies and 93 percent humidity, and started looking around for coworkers (since I was company team captain this year). I only found one — by boss — though I saw two more in the faster waves later. He and I shivered in the cold, and I gave him what tips I could since he is new to the sport (and he is, well, my boss). Time passed. Crowds gathered. Clouds gathered. People were migrating to their wave corrals. Again this year I was in the Green wave, which challenged me a bit, and that is a good thing for me to do. I crowded to the front of the wave not out of ego but as a practical measure. There were 10,000 of us, shoulder to shoulder in the start chute, and I’ve had my frustrations with clots of runners ahead of me that are hard to get around. (I wanted to run this year as hard as I could, and if I could get ahead of the crowd maybe that would help.)
A drone buzzed overhead. An announcer chatted up the crowd. Runners huddled and shivered. We were told there would be a delay because of an “issue” on the course. They never said what that was, and I never saw anything tell tale on the trail. But eventually the first wave was let go, and they flew. The second wave then shuffled up to the start and, apparently, several of them decided not to wait for their official start but just took off. The announcer tried to call them back (!) and chastise them, but they’re runners! (The point of staggering the waves is, in part, to reduce congestion on the run but also to spread out the finishers so they’re not crowded and jostling as they try to get those last few hundred feet done. On a run as short as this, that’s a valid concern.) Soon enuf the second wave was let fly, and my wave stepped up.
Plenty of people must have shared my front-of-the-pack strategy because though I was about two people behind the front before, by the time we stood at the starting mat, I was twenty people back. We waited the few minutes before we were sent on our way. I got my watch going. And soon, we were off!
A common mistake I make at the start of timed runs is to head out too fast. I exhaust myself and just stagger through the rest of the run. Recently I’ve gotten good at reining myself in and keeping my pace reasonable so I have enuf energy to run well throughout.
I did not do that this time.
As I said, I intended to run this hard and do better than the year before. I took off and was squeezing between runners to get ahead of them. Eventually I just went to the outside of the four-lane road devoted to us and hustled along in the more open space there. I could feel the burn in my lungs, but I wanted to get ahead of the pack at least until it began to thin naturally and opportunities to move ahead would be more plentiful. I made the mistake of glancing at my watch to see my pace, and I was pulling down a number that amazed and startled me. I knew I had to throttle back, and I did. And as soon as I did, people began passing me. Even so, I could feel (without looking at my watch) that I was going faster than my usual fast pace. My hope was that I could sustain it.
I say that the Trolley Run is four downhill miles, but the first half mile includes some slight inclines, and there are a couple more in the last mile. I could feel my pace slowing as I met those first hills (hardly hills, but my mind is a strange place to live in). I heard myself saying that I was going to have to start walking soon. There was really no way I was going to be able to run all four of the miles (despite having run two half marathons continuously in the two weeks before). Shame is a valuable motivator. I didn’t let myself walk, and though I knew my pace had slackened on those hills, I vowed to step it up on the flat stretches.
And then we were out of the inclines and on Brookside Boulevard, the wide street that would take us nearly all the way to the finish arch. The flag for Mile 1 loomed ahead and I thought maybe I could actually do it. I was still pushing, though I don’t know if I was doing well or just exhausted. It didn’t matter. People were passing me. Little children on the sideline were holding out plates of bacon. (I passed.) The usual cheering and encouragement was shouted, and I was pleased to see so many people out braving the brisk morning temps. All of the children were begging for high fives from the runners, and one man held his dog’s paw out as well. Since I was running down the middle of the road (flatter pavement), I missed all of that.
I also missed the first water station. I was nearly upon it before I realized it was there, but the pack had thinned, so I was able to dart over to the side to grab a cup. Unfortunately for me, they were handing out bottles of water. All I needed was a sip, and I didn’t want to carry a bottle with me just as much as I didn’t want to throw a mostly full bottle on the ground. So I blew through the water station.
We were into the “downhill” portion of the run by then. It’s a gentle slope, and you could easily not even realize you were going downhill. (You would realize you were grinding uphill if you were going in the other direction.) I wasn’t hurting, and I wasn’t really exhausted, but I could feel my drive to keep pushing fading. And then I heard something that made me chuckle. A girl (perhaps 7 or 8) was running with her father, and she asked when they were going to get to the downhill part of the run. I suspect she felt a bit deceived by promises made.
I’d run this race before, and I’ve run the actual Trolley Trail itself (that goes along Brookside Boulevard) several times, so I knew where I was in relation to the finish. I could not let myself think of that though. I was only about half way through and I didn’t think I had anything left. Except two more miles.
Somewhere behind me my boss was coming along. If he found me walking — if he passed me — that would be all I would hear about for weeks at the office. I didn’t relish that, so I kept throwing one foot in front of the other, reminding myself that I had done far better with far worse.
Mile three passed. I managed to get a cup of water at the second aid station. I managed to keep running. And not too far ahead, I could see the turn off of Brookside and into the Plaza where the finish arch was waiting for me. It was here, I had told myself before the race, that I would want to pick up my pace and finish gloriously. But I just didn’t have it. Or perhaps I didn’t have it yet. I’ve noticed that it’s at about mile four in a long run that I finally feel like the parts are coming together. I wasn’t there yet, and I had pushed hard already, so maybe it just wasn’t going to happen this time.
But run on I did, and when I made that turn into the Plaza and faced the last bit of downhill before the flat finish, I managed to find some energy somewhere and did the best I could with it. And this finish was different from nearly all I’ve ever made. I was running with a crowd. I guess because I had pushed, I managed to keep up with much of my wave. So there I was, approaching the mats, and dodging around people (though most were kicking it as much as they could too). With each step my growing exhaustion was being pushed aside by my growing certainty that I was going to finish well.
I ran across the mats and turned off my watch. I expected to stagger or vomit or display some other kind of showmanship, but it didn’t happen. I slowed to a walk. I breathed evenly. I moved with the crowd to the volunteers who cut the chips off of our shoes. Then I walked beyond them, looking for my wife. I found a bottle of water that I didn’t really want. I had a cup of PowerAde. I moved closer to the tents where all of the yummy food was waiting.
The lines before those tents, however, were long. The after party area stretched for blocks, and these were the first tents. I suspected that the tents farther down wouldn’t be as thronged, and I was right. I had to pass the free pizza (meh, probably not good on a recently run stomach), and the bagels, and some of the fruit. But my certain destination was ahead, and it was staged so that lines didn’t need to form. I stepped up and helped myself to three cartons of chocolate milk which I then gulped.
My wife began texting me to find where I was. (Why not just use the phone?) We met up. And then we decided to leave. Yes, I was the team captain, and I probably should have been at the finish chute to shout in my team members, but most of them I merely knew as email addresses. Only a handful I would even recognize, and I knew two of them had finished well before me. Plus, I knew where there were bagels to be had without a long wait in line.
We skedaddled. The sun never came out (until the afternoon), and it never got warmer. Bagels. Some foam rolling. A hot shower. Warm, cotton clothes.
Also, I had looked at my times from the last two Trolley Runs, and I knew what my watch had reported about this third run.
Bottom line: I had beat last year’s time by nearly two minutes. That’s pretty good for such a short distance. And the first year? I crushed that by more than eight minutes. I had done well.
Now, of course, there’s next year, right?
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