Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Great Race of Agoura Hills

Here's where my mind goes in any 5K right around mile 2 - "Oh crud, I think I'm going to die.  I'm going to literally pass-out right here and now, they'll be scraping me off the pavement."  Racing on a fast course is no different.  At mile 2, the same thought creeps into my mind, as my face is turning blue from O2 debt.  Such is the pain in a 5K.  Last weekend, seeking one last build up to the CBad 5000, John and I, along with a talented handful of Santa Barbara runners, ventured south about 1 hour to race in The Great Race.  The Great Race is really a lot of great races as it features 6 different options, including a 5K (known as the Deena Kastor 5K), a 10K, two different 1/2 Marathons (Road and Trail versions), and a family fun run and kids mile!  They put together a very well organized event, with each race starting from a different location, but all culminating at one finish line at Chumash Park.  The expo is fabulous and the post-race activities are worth hanging around for.  For our race day, the weather was exceptional, as in sunny, no wind and temps in the 60's.

The Deena Kastor 5K course is considered to be PR friendly.  A "fast" course.  Let me emphasize that this in no way means it's easy.  If you want your PR you better arrive willing to work for it, dig deep and hurt.  There are a few key downhill portions but they are nicely off-set by uphill portions, making it essentially a rolling course.  The race begins on a very significant downhill (significant enough that it requires energy to hold back), and ends on a nice downhill slope.  I love reading race reports with lots of "during the race" details so I thought I'd write this race report in similar manner.

As there are thousands of participants in the events, it is important to arrive early to the venue.  We arrived at 7:30 am for our 9:00 am race and still had to park a mile away.  This works well for me though because I prefer a nice walk as a pre-warm up.  So we found our parking spot in the neighborhood of Agoura Hills, and walked with the masses toward Chumash Park for packet pick up and a look at the finish line.  We picked up and pinned our chip-timed laden race number, switched into our racing flats, checked in our bags to be baby-sat in our absence, and began our warm-up.

The 5K starting line is about 1/2 mile around the corner and up the hill so we jogged our way in that direction, along the course of other races that were already in process.  The race starting line was perched up at the peak of a hill and we jogged over the crest, down the hill, around a portion of the first mile and then made our way along the end of the course back to the park.  The air was still chilly, particularly in the shade.  I was finding it difficult to work up a sweat.  Unfortunately, because our bags and gear needed to remain locked at the finish line, and we needed to be up the hill at the starting line, we had to take off our warm clothing earlier than I would have liked and hoped to stay warm with movement.

Off we went back up to the starting line where we did our strides and drills and kept in constant motion until the "go" went off.  Thankfully they do the 5K in two waves which allows for fewer accidents at the start.  With a steep downhill start, my expectation was that too many people would be pushing forward at the start and it could be easy to be tripped.  Then also there were the speed bumps to be aware of.  But our start went off without a problem and down the hill we proceeded.  It wasn't too difficult to get into a rhythm and it seemed that most runners were making a reasonable effort to not overdo it on this first section.  Very smart.  I tucked myself in behind Rusty and Drea to help me gage my pace.  Clearly the first 400 to 600 meters were going to feel fairly easy, but soon after, the course would take a slight uphill slant and reality would ensue.

Because of that initial hill, I expected the first mile to be faster than usual and it was.  I came through the first mile in around 5:30, but at that point my pace had already headed back the other direction.  We were on a long gradual climb and the runners in front of me were beginning to thin out, most falling off the pace and dropping behind me.  There were a couple of younger looking females that I soon passed but up ahead remained Drea and another woman (the woman in orange).  Picking and using your pace at this point is important.  By running my own race I am able to gage whether those ahead of me ought to be ahead of me or whether I should be aiming to pick them off.  Drea began to pull further ahead, which was not at all a surprise, but I noticed too that the woman in orange also began to put more distance between us. 

We continued slightly up through the neighborhood and passed around a hair-pin turn which more or less marked the 1/2 way point.  Glances at my watch indicated my pace had slowed but still remained under 6 minute pace.  In my mind I focused on getting through the middle mile as I knew that the final mile had more downhill than uphill and I looked forward to that.  The second mile passed by in 5:56 which was both expected and a bit distressing.  It meant that my pace needed to pick up considerably from here on in but I felt like I was basically done, ready to pull off the course and suck in oxygen.  As we turned onto the long straight away that made up most of the final mile, we began encountering 1/2 marathon participants that were headed to the same finish line.  Thankfully they were fairly thinned out and although it required more mental energy than I had to give, it wasn't too difficult to make my way around them.  It did make it more difficult however to keep the woman in orange directly in my sight.  I had caught up to the man running ahead of me (a 5K'er not a 1/2 marathoner) and he and I competed from that point on.  We hit the sharp right turn both having to take a different line due to slower runners blocking the best path and then up the final hill we pushed.  This hill was, hmmmm, hard.  It lasted maybe 400 meters, crested and then shifted with a left hand turn into the final decent to the finish line.  I ran this hill as if the finish line was at the top waiting for me.  In doing so I was able to pull ahead of my male competitor, breaking him mentally.  He must have been focused on the length of what remained whereas I tried to forget that more remained.  I came up over the hill and more or less fell forward into the downward slope.  My mind was elsewhere looking for a happy place and my body seemed to move in a detached feeling.  A final turn onto the grass finish, with 1/2 marathoners all over the place, I gave it one last effort to the finish line. 

I have to be honest, I had hoped to finish under the 18:00 minute mark and without a finishing clock to look at, I had no idea what my time was as I approached the finish.  But as I strided toward the line I heard the announcer talk about one of the men ahead of me finishing just under 18:00 minutes, and it registered in my mind at that point, before I had crossed and checked my watch, that I didn't quite make my goal.  I ended up with an 18:06, which is my fastest true 5K ever.  Chip-timed on a USATF certified course, my watch confirmed the distance as 3.16, meaning it was very accurately measured.  I wanted to be really, really happy but I just took it for what it was.  I didn't feel elated but I felt satisfied.  My first thought was toward Drea who had finished up ahead of me.  If I ran 18:06 I knew she must have thrown down a keeper, and she did!  Way to go!  And the woman in orange whom I never caught up with, who was she?  Rumor was that she is a former Olympic triathlete from Canada.  I was impressed.  She was older than me and faster than me.  This always gives me hope that there are strong days ahead!

I had only a short time to wait for John to glide through.  His finishing time was excellent but didn't reflect the advantage of the beginning hill.  His journey down the hill was with caution and therefore he wasn't able to fully take advantage of it.  But he ran a solid race and has been consistently finishing in the low 19 minutes.

So that was The Great Race!  It was fun after the fact, painful during!  It was great preparation for what's to come.  On our journey back home we stopped along the way to "ice" our legs in the Pacific ocean.  Thankfully we remain injury free, mentally fresh and looking forward to the next race.  But first, one more hard week of training and then a taper.  Carlsbad 5000, Sunday April 7th.


  1. Yeaaaaahhhsss, Cindy! So good, girl!
    You are going to ROCK the Carlsbad!!!!! I know it!!!

  2. Great Job Cindy- yep that last hill, was an UGH hill :) I look forward to watching you throw it down on Sunday! See ya there!