Combining vacation time with running has become almost a must in the last couple of years. Travelling back home to spend some quiet time in Valdobbiadene and see the whole family for a few days gave Michelle and I the chance to enter a local road race in Belluno.
The original idea was to run together with Serena and Michelle the 3×10.2k relay. Sort of a fun run; no competitive mode: just an easy effort so that Serena could appreciate the aspect of running in a competition, without feeling the pressure of the results.
Serena is a good runner and spend a few days a week running, but unfortunately does not find a lot of support in Valdobbiadene, where finding a friend or a team to run with can be very difficult. She did a race last summer, but I do not believe she really enjoyed the experience, so this was a good chance to change that.
Then my brother Dario started to put some pressure on me, pushing me to run the full race so I could gage my level with the running scene in the Veneto region, since the race would serve as Regional Championship for the 30k distance. The plan was for me to complete the first leg, hand off the baton to either Serena or Michelle and continue towards the finish line for the full 30k.
However, this proved to be a very challenging task to implement with the race organizers, who initially told me this was no problem.
First and foremost, to run the 30k I needed a medical certificate mandatory in Italy for this type of competitions (meanwhile all over the U.S. you just sign up and run; go figure…). After spending an entire afternoon getting tested (urine tests, spirometry, EKG, height, weight, and so on) I was told my heart needs further tests because it is apparently a bit bigger than usual. Medical clearance was denied till further investigation. Great! More money and time spent getting the echocardio color doppler test two days later, to figure out if my heart actually works fine or not. The results were good and everything seemed to be in order. After clearing the test, I signed up with my brand new medical certificate already in my hands for the race following the directions published on line and confirmed by the race organizers via email.
Second, we had to work out the details of running the full distance as well as the relay when we showed up at packet pick up the day before the race. We got the bibs and the goodies for the relay and then I went to talk to the organizers to discuss the details of the 30k. It became a mess since the two races were taking off 20 minutes apart: initially they gave me the option of running the 30k starting with the relay teams, so 20 minutes behind everyone else running the 30k, and having my final time not even adjusted (seriously…do you think I will run my heart out there to just see my time increased by 20 minutes??). I tried to push to start with the 30k, and just give the baton to Serena in second leg. This was not an option because I would have been clearly the first passing through the 10k mark and I could have messed up the live results for the relay teams. We explained that our relay team was not trying to be competitive, but there was no negotiation allowed.
Finally manually adjusting the entry in the system it was decided that I was not going to run the relay, Serena would have taken the first leg and Michelle the second and third ones. My brother was then entered as the anchor, just to show a three person team, and I was moved to the 30k Championship.
I did some stalking on line to figure out what was the level of the competition, using my 1:51 in Central Park from last September as a reference point even if a 30k is something around 18.7 miles vs the 18 miles I ran that day.
Of course the top 5-6 runners were out of the question, since some of them recently smoked me in the NYC Half (Simone Gobbo 1:07:30 and Francesco Duca 1:07:41) and a few very talented local runners were even better than these two. However, I was hopeful for a top 30 finish overall and possibly even a top 15, given the incredible results that I have got these first few months of 2014, even without proper training.
Sunday morning Dario drove us all to Belluno with plenty of time to spare for a good warm up and some chatting, while my parents were heading to Feltre, by the finish line where we had to end our effort.
The plan involved Dario dropping me and Serena in Belluno, then drive to Trichiana, drop Michelle, pick up Serena and join Rodi and Claudia at the finish line.
The race started in a very weird way: probably to introduce an historical atmosphere to the event we all lined up near Piazza dei Martiri, but when the gun went off, we were only supposed to run 1k along the downhill to the actual start point of the race. So this became a 31k race more than 30k.
Not that I can complain because actually the 1k was useful to clear most of the runners that lined up in front of me and were headed for a pace much slower than what I was planning to go for; however, one k of extra effort meant a lot for me later on during the race, and I could have used some of that energy in other portions of the course.
Anyway, the gun went off and immediately a group of 15-20 runners took off. I tried to maintain a reasonable pace, but found myself hitting 5:40 after the first quarter of a mile. I immediately eased off the effort, letting the lead group slowly pull away and found myself running pretty much alone around the 5:45, sometimes a bit faster when the terrain was slightly downhill.
When I counted the number of heads and shirts in front of me it was just 10-12 total, and found myself unsuccessfully chasing for a couple of miles the guy in front of me to work together, I convinced myself it was better to save energy for later during the race, since I was aware that from the 25th to the 29th kilometer the course was uphill. At least, that’s what the map said. My recon on the course (very poor to say the least) included no more than 1,200 meters of uphill effort. And then flat surface again.
I passed Trichiana, the 10.2k mark in 37:53, around 6:05 per mile and heard the guy behind me getting much closer, pushed by the laud cheering of the crowd. I did not mind it, and actually waited for him to pass me so I could have a partner in this effort. But for some reason the guy did not want to cooperate and just kept running away from me, about 50-60 ft in front. I hit a little low point here and got a gel to get a bit of energy in me, and started to get worried that the gas tank could get empty quickly in the later phases of the race. I planned to rest the next 10.2k, but actually ended up crossing the Lentiai 20.4k mark in 1:14:35 for an average of 6:00 now. The half marathon mark was 1:17:58 for 5:57, so while I was thinking I wanted to slow down and rest a bit, the clock actually told me I was actually picking up the pace quite a bit. Weird.
When we switch from the left side of the Piave river to the right side, through the little dam of Busche, things started to change.
The uphill began immediately, and I had myself prepared for about 4-5 minutes of intense effort. The problem was the effort started to be well beyond the 4-5 minutes and instead of continuing on the road I had studied, we made a left turn into another hill that was just endless. The lead woman picked me up here looking solid. A couple of other runners passed me, and that pissed me off a bit. I felt a little demoralized; losing 5-6 positions just when the finish line is so close is really depressing. Hitting 2 miles consecutive at 7:08 made me feel like a weekend warrior, totally unprepared for the challenge.
Once I reached the last kilometer of the race inside the old town of Feltre, I still had in sight the last guy that passed me with the Atletica Biotekna singlet. I knew I could not reach him anymore, but the goal now was to get as close as I could, making sure nobody else was coming back from behind.
The pace jumped from the 6:20 to the 5:20, then 5:15 and the last 30 seconds were sub 5, while feeling dizzy and not very fresh mentally. I crossed the finish line and had to spend a few minutes to regroup and connect mentally. One of the runners that passed me in the last few miles asked me with a bit of a joking tone if I had known the course. “Of course not” I answered. I was happy anyway.
I wanted to stop along that final hill, thinking I was done for the day, but the thought of my brother waiting for me at the finish line, proud of what I was doing, regardless of the final time got out of me almost everything I had that day and I continued the run.
The final result was a 1:55:23, good enough for 17th overall (passed by 6 runners total) and good enough for an age group award that could not be collected because I am not listed in the Italian lists apparently.
One clear thing came out of this day: I am not ready to run Boston. And I will not run it to avoid compromising the entire year. Time to recover now; time to improve the hip situation and restart from zero.
On the other hand, big thumbs up for Serena and Michelle that completed the relay with an outstanding performance; it was supposed to be a fun run and it still was a fun run, but with a great time as well. 2:31:01 final time with these splits: 57:27, 45:02 and 48:24. Good enough for a 27th place in the coed, but a top 10 female, had they used the right creteria to score the team…