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Scott Cunningham

Scott Cunningham

8:36 AM on Monday, September 10, 2018

Reno Running Fest Inaugural Reno mile September 8, 2018

The Reno Running Fest is a new weekend of running events put on by a local race organizer who puts on well organized races one of which is a 12 person relay I participate in annually. When I heard about the event, and checked my training plan, it matched up well with a long run so I thought I’d sign up. Since I’ve never raced a mile, other than high school, I figured I’d give it a shot and see what I could do. I mean, it’s only a mile so it can’t be THAT bad. It’s practically over before it starts compared to any other race distance.

Pre Race: Packet pickup was available Friday for the entire weekend of events, or the day of each race. I LOVE having race day packet pickup as an option as the father of a (fat) 9 month old just because I never know what kind of Friday or Saturday I’ll have and being able to grab my bib at the event is EXTREMELY appreciated. I understand the logistics as well as the number of people who would also do this if it was an option at every single race…why go to packet pickup early if you can get your stuff at the race (insert story of upset racer/parent/spectator about line length/name spelling/age group/the weather/available medals)? LENGTHY emails were sent out Wednesday or Thursday with EXTREME detail about the race start times, packet pick up, race courses, RACE TIMES, sign ups, how to register for the elite men’s event (sub 5:30/mi pace), special awards and challenges, etc. so you pretty much had absolutely no reason to miss ANYTHING other than admitting you didn’t read the emails.

Since it’s only a mile I decide to wear the shirt I took from my sister-in-law after she finished high school track. She went to my wife’s rival school. My wife comments something about the “crop top” I’m wearing. I notice a few “tight” spots and apply some SNB. I mean….nothing like wearing a shirt I’ve never worn on race day when I’m attempting a PR and expecting to hurt for half of the race. What could POSSIBLY go wrong with this logic? High school singlet one size too small on a warm day for 6 of the hardest minutes of my running. I might as well demo a pair of shoes for a marathon while I’m at it, or plan my marathon nutrition 15 minutes before race start. I’ve done one of these before with success.

I check the website (not the email) the morning of the race to make sure I know when to get there. Since it is a mile I’m not expecting a lot of people to hang around. 30-39 9:54am. Hmm…in-between elite women and men. Maybe there are a lot of people in this age group. The email said something about checking race times and possibly moving times due to group size. 30-39 kind of wins races often locally (THANKS GUYS. THIS IS WHY WE (i) CAN’T HAVE NICE THINGS) so they probably moved us. Oh and the kids mile is after so maybe this works well for parents. Cool. So I arrive at the race start around 9:20ish. Parked in the same location as I did for the sub 20 5K attempt in March (not sub 20, still a PR, 3rd pint glass) I head to the race start with some kind of warm up planned. Grab my bib, race volunteers offer to hold the swag (3 race shirts, plus a bib, and swag bag) until I leave which was ALSO awesome. After some online consultation of how to even RUN a mile (break it into quarters, don’t go out too hard, the second half is going to kill you and the last quarter will absolutely suck) I go check out the course. I kind of know it as the last mile(ish) of the local marathon. It’s ALWAYS uphill. Checking out the turn around point it’s pretty wide. I was expecting a single cone where EVERYONE will try to stay inside (I’d enter high and cut low) but it’s a nice sweeping curve. ¼ miles are marked, and the uphill doesn’t seem more than “not flat” and I make a few mental notes (don’t start a kick before the bridge, the Arch is the last quarter so it brings the suck here, the second half is downhill, etc.) and check the time. Making sure my laces are 100% flat and tied correctly (they came untied during recent speed work) I check the time. A few high knees, some butt kicks, and it’s time to line up…only I notice it’s a very small group lining up…and they’re the fast guys. Clock passes 9:54am…umm something is going on here.

I hear something about elite men’s run. WTF? I go check the timing table, then the results board posted around the corner…oh look 30-39 is posted. 5:53 (or something like that) was third. So much for age group. Whatever. I’m not here for an age group award. I’m here to see what I can do in the mile. Besides, (multiple) someone(s) said something about the competition and race environment making me run faster, or something along those lines. Someone has to be DFL so it might as well be me…or this 11 year old…yeah it’s going to be me. Well just line up behind them because they’re going to be gone before I even start. I line up about third row (there were only 2 rows) so I wouldn’t mess up the guys ahead of me, or mess myself up being too close to the main pack. I kind of have an idea how fast some of these people are so I pick a few (11 year old All American) to try and hang with. The goal is sub 6. Some spreadsheet somewhere says I can do 5:52. 90 second quarters is the goal and the GPS is set even though I expect it to be off. At least it will beep at me and I’ll either be ahead of 90 seconds/quarter or behind it. Another thing I heard was I won’t have time to check my pace because the race ends so soon. Oh how little faith people have in my ability to check my watch.

Everyone is GONE. Well except me and two kids under 14 who run with a local group (they’re fast) so I decide to try and hang with them. I pass one kid around halfway and assume he’s just having a bad day. Later I realize he might be running his second mile. The one thing I’m a LITTLE greatful for is the fact I won’t have to worry about people going out too hard and getting in my way, or distracting me. I’m in last so I can run my own race. Perfect. Since it’s mostly flat, and everyone said to plan on this being easy I check my pace and even with building interference…5:10, 5:10, yeah that’s WAY too fast for 200m. Back off or you’re going to die. 85 seconds. Okay 5 seconds banked on 6:00 pace. Still a long way to go.

Still hanging in “not officially last place” I’m not gaining on the two runners ahead of me, BUT I’m not losing anything. Well at least if I’m CLOSE to the guys ahead of me when I finish I won’t look so out of place. I mean…I never registered as an elite I just put myself here because I didn’t read an email and a website said the wrong time. But I’m totally here. Heck, I’m so focused on the two runners ahead of me I don’t notice a single elite runner heading to the finish line (something I didn’t realize until writing this) and since I know it’s a sweeping turn I can carry as much speed, cut it as tight as I want, and hit half way with a downhill finish to the arch and the bridge. 89 seconds. Cool…6 seconds ahead of pace but this is where they said it gets real. Start picking people.

I’m not losing distance. I’m actually GAINING on these guys. HOLY SHIT! All I see is the two runners ahead of me. I’m trying not to hammer the downhill because this is where it’s supposed to start hurting. Plus my recent 1,200m runs have SUCKED around the 1,000m mark. Please don’t die. Here comes the arch which is about ¾ mile and I’ve just now shortened the gap to the runners ahead. Well….his dad said something about him not having a kick….but he is 11…and he is KICKing my ass. I pass him (amazed I even caught up to him) and move to the next (very tall) runner (who recently finished a 64ish mile ultra) ahead with ¼ mile to go. I’m not feeling anything like I expected. I can keep this going. 88 seconds. Okay I’m still ahead, but that’s GPS, but I’m ahead of the makers, but what if it’s a short course, na.

This is where I was told to focus on the runners ahead, pick them off, and keep going. It’s going to suck more than the last part (which didn’t seem to suck) and I know I can’t kick until the bridge. I’d just ruin myself mentally. The little inclination would just suck the life out of me for the 50 meters “uphill” and I’d just shut down. As I approach the tall runner (and pass him) I move on to the next runner ahead with about 100m to go. Long black curly (like Maui from Moana) hair and a Boise State (Nevada Rival) shirt on. As I go up the bridge I see the official time. Something like 5:15 flashes. HOLY SHIT! Hammer down. Time to go. We’re WAY under goal time so now let’s see what we can do. Let’s catch that guy right before the line. Ripping the last 100m focusing solely on running through both timing mats the thought of running into another runner, or spectator, isn’t even a thought on my mind. I hear some encouragement from a friend of mine who happened to be there spectating and cross the finish line. 75 seconds….ummm that was WAY faster than 5:57 (what I thought was possible) or 5:52 and I don’t remember actually feeling like it was painful at any point. So did I have a faster run in me? Whatever…it’s like 20 seconds faster than my goal. I guess I’m almost fast enough to register as an elite.

Post race
I grab a banana, a burrito a water, all my race swag, finishers coin (magnet…pretty sweet) and jog back to the truck. I come back to take some photos (Strava baby), do a cool down, buy a hat, and check the official results. Oh look…smoked by two guys in their 40s. SWEET! Age group awards are given out (plastic mason jar with a lid and straw. Perfect camping glassware) and apparently the elite men were group into Age Group (mixed feelings about this) so I WOULDN’T have won anything if I won my age group. Well that’s good. I chat with the tall runner (nice guy, my age, soon to be a dad, monster trail runner) and introduce myself. Apparently he wanted to hang with me at the bridge. I couldn’t even tell he was trying with how easy he made it look. Kids’ mile. Dog mile. All the fun stuff during the cool down photo jog then head home to do miscellaneous stuff to stay busy. As I sat on the couch and couldn’t find a comfortable position I learned how the mile hurts just as much, if not more, than other races but apparently I “got lucky” and the pain came 10 hours later. My only though was “this should make tomorrow’s run interesting” as I didn’t really want to walk to grab some Advil.

What I learned:
1. Asking for advice on how to approach a race helped. This time it was to break it into quarters and almost treat it as two half mile races.
2. pre-running the course helped mentally. The uphill wasn’t as uphill as I expected. The downhill might have helped more mentally. Knowing the bridge was farther from the finish than I expected it to be helped avoid a bonk.
3. Running my race worked. Not getting flustered with missing the age group helped. Not having to run around people helped. Being DFL probably helped.
4. Running with bigger competition helped. After seeing my finish time I probably wouldn’t have pushed as hard. I might have been first or second at some point. Maybe top 3. I don’t know how hard I’d have tried I was first overall. Maybe I’d have spent time worrying about “winning” (holding off second) more than running my fastest time. Maybe I would have tried to kick too soon or I’d have been stuck in a pack at the turn. Having the fastest guys ahead of me and having to reel them in, and pick them off one at a time pushed me THROUGH the finish line.
5. I’m not trained for a mile. By that I mean it’s probably possible for me to get under 5:30, but I’d probably need some specific mile focused training. It isn’t exactly a distance I’m setting a goal in. It was just fun to run it.
6. I have beginners luck. Using my wife’s (purple) Garmin, parking in the same “lucky” spot, and having no idea how it’s going to feel worked. I have felt worse immediately after every other race except this one. I don’t think that will happen again.
7. I can run fast without a shoe giving me a 4% advantage. Maybe it’s because I’ve been running lots of miles instead of sitting in front of a computer trying to buy shoes.