March 15, 2012

Mountain to Fountain 15K Race Report

Last mile of the Mountain to Fountain 15K
Last weekend (March 12) I went down to Arizona to race the Southwest Spine & Sports Mountain to Fountain 15K. A long name, but an incredible race. Before I give my recap, I want to say that this is a race that should be on your radar if you live in the southwest, or simply want a good excuse to travel to sunny Arizona in the spring. The race organizers are clearly runners and understand what makes a great race experience, because they every single little detail down perfectly. It was one of the best races I've ever been a part of. I'll definitely be back next year!

I like to get in at least one "indicator" race 5-6 weeks before a marathon to see where I'm at, and break up the training a little bit. An intermediate focus helps keep me "sharper" during the day to day grind. This 15K fit perfectly into the schedule, and since it was only a 15K, it would require much recovery time afterwards. I did a cut-back week of 108 miles going into this one (my lowest since before Christmas), but that was enough to have my legs feeling nice and snappy. I didn't want any true "taper" weeks until it is really time to taper for Boston. I'm happy with my performance in this one, and optimistic that the stars are going to align the right way in Boston a month from now.

Here's a slightly edited version of my race report from Fast Running Blog with some more photos...

My goal today was sub 46 minutes. I figured anything under 46:30 would be acceptable, and 45:30 might be possible if I ran out of my mind, but 46-flat seemed like a good target.

The elite runners met around 6am at the Fountain Hills community center to pick up our bibs and then we got bused up to the start. You could just look around the room and tell that it was going to be a great race - lots of super fit athletes!

Once we got up to McDowell Mountain Park I just hung around for a little while (I was cold!) and then eventually started my 3 mile warmup and did a bunch of strides. I ducked into the brush to go to the bathroom about 5 minutes before the start, and ended up jabbing some sort of cactus thing into my leg! I was standing on the starting line pulling the prickers out of my left thigh. Awesome. It took my mind off the race until the gun went off.

The first mile was all uphill (~100 feet) and a pack of about 12 guys immediately separated. I just tucked into the back and tried to conserve energy. The pace felt slow, but that was mainly because of the uphill. No one took the initiative to really push the pace, which was probably a good thing for everyone. We hit the first mile in 5:15

I expected the pace to immediately get nuts because now we were hitting some nice downhill, but it didn't happen right away. I was in 9th or 10th place, but only a few strides off the lead. I saw a little gap open up, the lead car with the cameraman hanging out the back, and thought "OK, we're not going to jog for 9 miles and then kick, let's get this party started..." and I just went right to the front and picked up the pace. I led until we hit mile 2 (4:43). 

Now we were rolling. Other guys started making moves. There was a $100 bonus for whoever hit the 5K mark first, so 4-5 guys really started stringing it out. I hung back, and fell back to 8th or 9th place. That was fine with me - I never intended to lead much of the race, I just made the move at the mile to get things rolling.

Mile 3 was 4:39 and I hit the 5K in ~15:11. Mile 4 was 4:38. These were downhill miles, and they were very nice!

The 5th and 6th miles were much more rolling than I thought they would be. Mile 5 was 4:55. At this point I broke away from the chase pack that had formed. The top 4 guys in the lead pack had a solid 150-200m on us already. Mile 6 was another 4:55, and I hit the 10K in ~30:11 (so 15:00 for the second 5K).

Now I was truly all alone (in 5th place), with one runner about 100+ meters ahead, and the other three guys were way up ahead. I knew that as long as I didn't fall apart, I had a top 5 finish in the bag, but I also wanted the $400 prize for 4th place, so my focus became slowly catching the guy ahead of me.

After 10K this race gets pretty hard. You hit some hills at a bad point in the race, and they are long, grueling climbs. I wasn't really looking at my watch, just focusing on the guy ahead of me, and he was coming back, so I just kept the effort level where it was. I wanted to conserve enough energy so I could pass him with authority when I caught him. Well, the 7th and 8th miles ended up being pretty slow (5:11 and 5:15 - barely faster than marathon pace!). I moved into 4th place at ~7.5 miles and made a little surge to gap the guy I passed immediately.

Now it was time to rally. Quick math told me that I needed to run under 5:00 pace for the last 1.3 to get under 46 minutes. Now that the climbing was over, other than 1 short uphill in the 9th mile, I was able to get the turnover going again and drop the pace. The 9th mile was 4:50. My parents were right before that mile marker and yelled at me to pick it up... I responded and felt like I was able to take it to another gear for the final stretch - 1:30 for 0.32, so about 4:30-something pace on the kick.

Got the sub 46 goal, got the top 5 finish, the $400 in prize money paid for the 2 plane tickets for the AZ trips I've made in the past month, and my legs felt really good afterwards. Cooled down 3+ miles on the grass. 

The awards ceremony was fun, the post-race party had tons of great food and drinks - Pizza, chicken, chipotle, gatorades, muscle milk, oreos, chocolate chip cookies, etc. 

I'm very pleased with this race and I think it really sets the tone for the last 5 weeks heading into Boston. I'm very fit right now - I just need to fine tune a few things and I'm going to be ready to run a strong marathon. 

After the race my legs immediately bounced back. That's a good sign, and an indicator that my strength is my strength. The marathon training really makes your body resilient. 

The course was net downhill but I would not consider it a very aided course. The uphill first mile, rollers from 5-6 and then the climb in 7-8 is tough running. I think I probably could have run faster for a 15K on the track at sea-level. 

Mile splits - 5:15, 4:43, 4:39, 4:38, 4:55, 4:55, 5:11, 5:15, 4:50, 1:30
5K splits - 15:11, 15:00, 15:42

The final 1/3 of a mile ahead
Post race with my parents
Awards ceremony
Top 5 Men
Lots of goodies to take home - and farm animals!

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