Vulcan is Birmingham's oldest race and has the reputation for being difficult. Miles 2.5(?) to 4.5(?) are run on part of the Mercedes Half/Marathon course but in the opposite direction that is not as favorable to the runner (read: a gradual uphill). It's basically a grind uphill on Highland Avenue (beautiful area) with a teaser downhill and then a long, achilles-busting downhill onto 20th street which flattens/rolls into the finish. I get it, it's not easy but I really don't understand the hype (we live in a hilly city) and I still maintain that V2V is a tougher course. ANYway...
Even though I knew I would be running the race, I procrastinated on registering and finally did so at packet pickup the night before the race. Swag bags were pretty mundane (lots of paper plus a coupon for free Yogurt Mountain and a mini-Snickers energy bar) and we also received a s/s tech shirt. Shirts came in mens and womens sizing but the women's ran ridiculously small so I opted for a men's small (like last year) which fits just fine.
A little more orange, less "melon" than this picture would suggest
I had 8 on the schedule for Saturday so I ran 1.3 before the race and figured I would make up the rest by running back to my car (I intentionally parked further away with that plan in mind). I hesitate to say I had ZERO expectations for the race because of course I wanted to do better than last year but I have not been training with 10K paces in mind. The closest thing I have come to thinking about my 10K pace is this: my tempo runs. HH advises to run the tempo portions "at or near 10K race pace". Well...my last official 10K time was in January and when I set my paces for marathon training I thought "maybe I should subtract 15-20 seconds per mile...that's probably closer to my current ability level given the training load". So that's the pace I have been using for my tempo training. It's pushed me for sure, but not to the point of being stupid, so I've felt good about targeting that for my zone.
The weather was in the upper 40s at the start. I was wearing my usual capris, Buenos Aires tech shirt and new arm warmers that I had picked up the night before for 20% off. I have been wanting to try these for a while and not quite sure why I haven't just bitten the bullet. Let me just say...it's some of the best $25 I have ever spent. I warm so quickly and hate having an extra layer...and then these are so easy to push down. I am totally sold...but I digress...Garmin and handheld in tow but no shadow pack (or phone) and no iPod. My first race without an iPod...but I have been training without one and love it, so no need.
We were off with a bang, and I told myself to hold back. It's so easy to take off too fast and (as always) I could pick out the people that I knew I would be seeing later...
Having done the race before, I knew what to expect and this time the 1st two miles ticked by quickly (for me).
I started to feel tired running down the flat industrial stretch before heading into the Highland Avenue part...where I knew the real work would begin. I could tell others were starting to feel the same way...I was hearing a lot of sighing and grunting...people trying to pep up their running buddies "we are not going to walk...we've got this!" and I was starting to worry that I would fade. And given that I had not set any hard goals for myself, I wasn't sure what I was shooting for. I realized I was warm and pushed my arm warmers down to my wrists which instantly felt better.
Once we got into Highlands I set my mind to staying with the pack of people around me and began looking for people to pick off. I felt like my hill training was paying off and began to feel stronger and stronger. Any dips/slight downhills during this part, I took advantage of loosening up my stride and not holding back..shortening back up when I got to the next hill. I felt like I was running a smart race.
Once we crested upon the fluid station just past mile 4 (thankful I did not have to stop or slow since I had my handheld), I decided to take advantage of the net downhill before the HUGE downhill and left the main pack I had been with, following one girl who had been with that same pack the entire time and seemed to be running a similar strategy. She would be my pace bunny the rest of the race...never caught her, never actively tried to do so either though because while I was pushing it, I was not going to do something stupid and jeopardize my marathon this coming weekend.
One mile and some change left, roads I run during my normal downtown runs. Slight uphill the rest of the way and I was going to push to discomfort. I did feel a little woozy at some point during this last stretch and backed off a tad, but picked people off (men and women) right and left. Got a kick out of watching the Yogurt Mountain "mascot" running on the course pepping people up. (Wish I had a picture of THAT!) So proud, my last mile was my fastest and yes, uncomfortable but not "puke threshhold" uncomfortable.
.25 : 2:15 (avg 9:10 pace)
Final time (Garmin): 6.25 miles, 1:04:58, avg pace 10:24 which is almost the exact tempo pace I have been running during my workouts!!! It's also almost 4 minutes faster than my time at this race last year and nearly a 2 minute PR!!! :)
However, I'm a bit surpised but my official time is 14 seconds SLOWER than my Garmin time and I'm not sure how/why? We used B-tags (bib timing) but there was a timing mat to cross at the start (so it's not gun to mat like V2V) and I hit the button as I crossed that and then actually the second (third) mat at the finish. I didn't take any breaks or stop my watch during the race so I'm not sure where that large of a discrepancy would come from. Any ideas? Regardless, I'm going with my watch here since I have no viable explanation.
Fun fact: Before I knew there was a timing discrepancy, I actually asked one of the volunteers which finish mat was the "official" one since I never know which one "counts". Turns out the first one is for the announcers (they announce name and city when you officially cross), the second one is the "official" time and the third one is "back up" in case the official mat fails. Hopefully someone learned something there...I thought it was interesting :)
After I caught my breath, I grabbed a bottle of water and a bottle of powerade and headed back towards the final turn to cheer runners in. There was a "one woman volunteer cheering section" here so I stood opposite to her and joined in the "great job...finish strong" chorus for about 15 minutes before jogging back to my car and heading home. I completely forgot about the post-race party and free massages inside Boutwell until after I got home and saw the FB messages, but I was alone/didn't know anyone there and I was riding high from my PR anyway so no matter.
I am beyond pleased with my race and so happy that I could finish with 2 strong, solid miles in the 9s without feeling like death. I keep saying I know I am capable of "more" and I am excited to dial in on paces that will get me there. This performance also suggests I am close to being able to go "sub-5" at the marathon on Saturday...a performace which I would be thrilled with. More on those goals in another post :)