Monday, July 20, 2015

Rejuven-8-tion; Getting Back my Mojo at the Stowe 8 Miler

I step out of my car and the humid air of this hot July morning quickly envelops my body. It’s been a fairly cool summer thus far so this heat and humidity combination makes for an extra dramatic transition as I escape from my Ford Escape into the great outdoors.

I’m at the Stowe 8 Miler in Stowe, VT.  I haven’t done much testing of my speed since my lackluster performance at the VT City Marathon (see my blog post Exposed to Kryptonite) so I am unsure what to expect. However, I’m hoping to at least equal my performance from 2012 (the last time I did this race) in which I ran a 52:57, averaging 6:38 per mile. Today’s toasty conditions may work against me though.

As I walk towards the registration table I hear a whoosh sound overhead. As I look towards the sky my eyes are greeted by a dozen or more hot air balloons, spanning from almost directly overhead to Mount Mansfield in the distance.  I’ve been to races where there have been flyovers by military jets, but never has there been a hot air balloon flyover.  Today’s race happens to coincide with the Stowe Balloon festival. Hence, the sky full of balloons. Regardless of the reason, it makes for quite a festive start to the day.

Going into the day my mind had been filled with clutter and mental gunk from a busy, stressful week. The demands of everyday life and running a business had been weighing on my mind. I was excited to run today but I was still, nonetheless, slightly distracted. The impressive display of balloonery, however, helped put me in good spirits.

I arrive at the registration booth, after completing my form and submitting payment for the entry fee I am handed a free jar of Bove’s pasta sauce(one of the race’s sponsors) and a lively colored orange race t-shirt. I return to my car equipped with my race booty, then proceed to suit up and warm-up. I still have 50 minutes until the start so there is plenty of time to prepare.


At last the time to report to the starting line is at hand. The start is on a gravel road in an athletic field.  I line up a few rows from the front. I’m not going to win this thing but I do intend to run fast enough to require being able to separate myself from the pack as soon as possible.

5….4….3….2…1…. Go!  We are off and running. The first tenth of a mile (approximately) of the course remains gravel before turning onto a paved road. I stay within the pack while on gravel, but as we turn onto the paved road I look for areas to run more freely. The left side of the road allows me to do this as there is more space between runners.  So, that’s where I steer myself. 

Going into this race I decided I was going to enact the strategy of having a controlled start, running the first mile at a slower pace than my 6:38 target.  This would allow for additional warm-up and enable me to feel out what my capabilities are. The number 6:45 entered my mind as a good target pace. After crossing mile one and hitting the “split time” key on my watch I see that my time for mile 1 is; drumroll……………….6:45. Right on pace! 

I’m loosening up and feeling good. These facts combined with the fact that mile 2 is flat makes me decide to increase my pace a bit. I cross mile 2 with a split time of 6:25. Mile 3 is one of the tougher ones because it has a short but steep hill as Luce Hill Rd turns onto Barrows Rd which goes by Stowe High School. Therefore, my goal is to just maintain a sub 7 minute pace, then make up any lost time on the back side as the course goes downhill through mile 4 after the high school.

Upon reaching this section, I find the downhill to be very refreshing.  My pace increases almost effortlessly while the trees are making for very helpful spectators, providing substantial amounts of shade.  I cross mile 4 in 26:30, pretty much at my pace for the 2012 race. The upcoming sections of the course are rolling, with no major inclines. However, there will be little relief from the sun, which is now beating down more intensely with the humidity rising, causing a double whammy (pardon me for incorporating fancy meteorological Therefore, even though I’m feeling strong, maintaining this pace is by no means a sure thing.

As I continue along at what feels to be a consistent pace I gradually reel in runners who I have seen in the distance ahead of me. I’m not sure how many runners are ahead of me, but it doesn’t seem like it could be a large number. I’m also curious as to how many there are ahead of me in my age group, which is 40-49. When I ran this race in 2012 the age groups were in 5 year increments so I took home a plethora of goodies as a result of finishing second in the 45-49 division. Doing so again this year will be significantly more challenging with the larger range in ages within the division.  Really that’s not a major concern though. Today’s race is primarily against the clock.

At mile 5 I begin to feel some heaviness in my legs, the heat and humidity are taking their toll, causing some effects of mild dehydration to make my pace feel more laborious.  As the course turns left off from the Moscow Rd and onto the River Rd there is a short, yet steep feeling ascent.  There is a runner who appears to be in his early to mid twenty’s who has stopped to walk up this hill. He has the leanness of a fast runner. He must have been done in by the heat.  “Just keep the legs moving Moe”, I think to myself, “and then open up your pace again at the top.”

Upon reaching the summit of this mini-mountain I see water.  Water in cups! Water from hoses!  This is no mirage. There is a hose perched atop a ladder raining water down to the ground below, enabling runners to run through and cool off.  I, of course, am happy to partake. This water is perfectly timed, I think to myself as I run underneath this makeshift rain cloud.  Ah, sweet exhilaration!

Immediately following the hose is a water station. Now that, for the time being, my external need for water has been satisfied I can deal with my internal need. I grab a cup and drink it down.

Upon consuming the water and discarding the cup I spy yet another hose perched above the course a few feet ahead. I capitalize on what will most likely be my last chance for cooling off and run through this second rain station.  All this water has enabled me to feel some rejuvenation. I charge forward to make my assault on the final 3 miles. 

As a result of the water I’m able to pick up my pace a bit and I feel stronger too. The remaining miles don’t have any major terrain changes so my plan is to put myself on cruise control and then unleash whatever I have left during the final mile. This current stretch is flat and on a dirt road, so aside from the heat it makes for good running. I steadily make progress on some of the runners ahead of me and end up passing several.  

At mile 7 the course enters Stowe village before turning up the Mountain Road for the final stretch. Here is where I shift into a higher gear to give everything I’ve got left.  As I exit a short stretch of bike path that connects with Route 100 in Stowe village I see another runner about 10 seconds ahead of me. This guy has been in front of me the entire race, I’d love to finally pass him but I need to do it strategically so he doesn’t pass me back. 

The turn from Route 100 onto the Mountain Road is upon us. This means there’s about a half mile to go. I hang back and, for now, avoid additional acceleration as the course takes us across a bridge over the Little River. Immediately after the bridge, the road turns right. At this point the road has a gradual but constant incline. This is where I choose to make my move. With only about four tenths of a mile to go I know that I can kick it in all the way from here.  I pass this runner I’ve had my eye on for several miles and never look back.

I dig deeper into my fuel reserves and pick up my pace. I know that very soon I will round a bend and see the turn for the finish by The Golden Eagle Resort.  However, I still need to make sure I don’t begin my final sprint too soon. I round the first bend and see another runner potentially within striking distance. With each foot strike I move closer and closer to him. I’m reeling him in, but even so, there may not be enough distance between us and the finish line to catch him.

After rounding the next bend I hear an increased amount of cheering and spectators are lined up on the right side of the road. I know the finish is right there, a short distance ahead.  I see the runner in front of me turn left onto Eagle Ridge Rd where the finish is located, which means that I will be unable to chalk up another victim. All I can do is just give whatever I’ve got left and finish as quickly as I can.  I cross the finish line in 53:58.

I ended up with a slower time than my 2012 race, however, I learned that overall I finished 9 places higher (24th vs 33rd). The heat and humidity definitely took their toll resulting in most people’s times (even the top runners) being 1-2 minutes slower than usual. The realization of this fact made me feel  ecstatic about my performance, just what I needed to push myself out of my funk.  Age group-wise I performed better than expected, finishing 5th out of 57 competitors (just 26 seconds shy of taking home a prize).

The stresses of life (aka the clutter) that consumed my mind at the beginning of the day were now completely replaced with happiness and a sense of being at peace; Thereby, proceeding to further emphasize the importance of incorporating challenge into our lives and stepping off of our normal well beaten path of routine.  It’s through challenging ourselves and stepping outside of our comfort zone that we gain a renewed appreciation for what is really important in life. Our threshold for discomfort is raised, which brings about a greater enjoyment of life as a whole. Additionally, we find out that we are capable of much more than we think.

As I sit on the deck at the Rusty Nail Bar and Grille with the sun beating down on my face and a Smuttynose (another race sponsor) Old Brown Dog Ale in my hand, I reflect on how important it is to celebrate.  For life is best enjoyed with balance. Work hard and challenge yourself, but take time to celebrate your accomplishments and life itself.


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