I ran my last race in the 45-49 age yesterday. I was going to post about how excited I am to be moving to a new age group where maybe I could be competitive. Then I logged in to the results page for the Icicle 10 Miler in Wilmington, Delaware and checked out the results. I finished with a 1:12:10 (7:13 pace) which I was very happy with. The 3rd place spot in my age group was a full 6 minutes faster than that. Apparently old men get faster as they get older because while 3rd place in 50-54 was “only” 5 minutes faster than me, places 1 and 2 were considerably faster than 1 and 2 in 45-49. Is all that confusing? Are you still with me? Hello? Sorry . . too many numbers in the first paragraph. Let’s try again . . .
44, 58, 60, 51, 55, 58. Is that better? No? In case you are wondering those are the various temperatures that I saw at any given time throughout the day. Backing up for a moment, last year I registered for Wayne Kursh’s Icicle 10 Miler only to be side-lined with a terrible case of Plantar Fasciitis. A quick consult with Wayne got me a nearly free pass for this year if I volunteered last year. I had volunteered and I registered fairly early for the 2016 event. It was game-on regardless of the weather.
Oy. The weather: That thing we can’t do anything about. The forecast for Wilmington earlier in the week was more or less that the city would probably be washed away sometime during the race, sweeping all the inhabitants into the Brandywine river like so many Orcs at Saramun’s Orthanc tower. If not torrential rain, there was a chance for lightning and high winds. Overall a pleasant-sounding day to race 10 miles.
When I awoke in race morning I was thinking that forecast wasn’t far off. It was raining hard here in Reading and a look at the weathermap showed a ferocious looking mass of green and yellow passing overhead.
However, Delaware showed almost clear. I pondered every runner’s most important question: What should I wear? The forecast called for 60s later in the day but when I left Reading, PA it was only 44. I went with shorts, and a long-sleeved Nike shirt that I absolutely love. I even had gloves at the ready. Almost as an afterthought I threw a short sleeved race shirt in my gym bag and set out for Wilmington. En route, I glanced at my in-car thermometer as I got off the Turnpike near Exton, PA and suddenly saw a reading of 58 degrees. Wow! The temperature edged it’s way up to 60 as I parked near the Central YMCA in Wilmington.
Wayne runs an efficient race, and in a matter of moments I had my bib, shirt, and wristband for the post-race celebration. The Wilmington Y is a beautiful facility that includes a large locker room with a multitude of showers all of which are open to those participating in the race. I swapped my long sleeves for short sleeves, locked valuables in a locker and set out for an easy warm-up down 10th street. Did I mention 60 degrees? And while it was no longer raining it was a wee bit humid. I was amazed to see folks in tights, long sleeves, jackets, and knit hats. For a moment I thought I was hallucinating about the temperature but no . . it was as warm as a spring day.
After a warm-up I met up with friends Larry Filtz and Jamie Hassert and we hung out awaiting the start. With only a couple minutes left to the gun, I felt a tap on the shoulder and turned to see Sean Vanzijl (friend, good racer, and super-sherpa). We chatted for a moment and then Wayne said something or other about 20 seconds so we wished each other good luck and got ready to race.
This was the 40th edition of the Icicle 10 Miler making it one of the oldest races in Delaware. The race is well-run and popular but it is challenging. It is a fairly hilly course including a nasty hill within the last mile. That hill will suck the will to live out of those that went too hard early in the race. If it is cold and icy the course can live up to it’s name but that was certainly not the case this year.
As is typical, Wayne started the race right on time. At 9:00 the horn sounded and we were off down 10th Street. We ran past the Dupont Hotel and looped our way out of town on a steady downhill from the Y. Until Saturday night I really didn’t have much of a plan or goal for this event but I looked back at my last times from past icicle races and found a 1:12:51 among the results. For lack of a better goal, that seemed good. But could I hold a 7:13 pace these days? I didn’t know. But miles 1-2 sure felt easy with most of them being downhill.
- Mile1: 6:49 (Did I mention the downhill?)
- Mile2: 7:12
Things were going swimmingly. I felt good. The pace was good. But now I was heading to some sneaky-evil little climbs. The next two miles had me questioning my fitness especially since I wasn’t sure if I even had any fitness.
- Mile3: 7:30
- Mile4: 7:22
Somewhere in here the little bit of rain that occurred happened. It wasn’t hard. I just remember noticing that it was drizzling. I thought it was very brief but others say it lasted for a bit longer. I guess I was focused on running. The first water stop is in the middle of the Rockford Park near the Rockford Tower.
I slowed to a walk, thanked the volunteers, gulped a cup of water down and resumed running. We then headed down, out of the park, wound around a couple of blocks and then turned right on to Pennsylvania Avenue. No . . not the one with the big white house. We didn’t quite go that far.
At the half-way point, I still felt fairly good. There was a timing clock along here and I noted it read 36:and-some-seconds. I was not sure how my pace had been through the park with the water stop and all but thought “Huh. Not bad”. Moments later, I saw the race leaders heading the other way. It was 3 young men running together at a sub-60 minute pace. They were laughing and chatting with each other. I enviously wished I had started running when I was young.
- Mile5: 7:17
The course continued about 3/4 of a mile out Pennsylvania Avenue and then turned right on to a small sidewalk to head toward the turning loop at the Montchan office park. I think we were supposed to be on the road because using the small sidewalk section made for some precarious moments due to runners going both directions. As far as I know we all survived with only minor broken bones and concussions.
- Mile 6: 7:13
There are a lot of timing clocks on the course and again mile 6 showed I was holding a good pace with a race time of 43 something. I was feeling encouraged. Maybe I do have some fitness after all. I sucked down my only gel in hopes of having a little extra fuel for the effort to climb “the hill” at the end.
As I looped the turn and headed back I spotted Jamie just a couple hundred yards behind me and shortly after I saw Larry. Both looked to be running well.
The Icicle is an interesting race. The first half is quite gregarious as you run along with people of a like pace and those that may be less experienced that either started out too fast or just started too close to the front. The crowd begins to thin by the turn but as you head back you get a big race feeling as you share a narrowish lane with those still heading out. You also get a good idea where you are in the field. I was doing well and figured I was within the top 50.
The course is not a true out and back. On the return, the course turns left off Pennsylvania Avenue sooner than the outbound portion. At that point, the returning runners no longer see the slower runners behind them. This is where the course takes on more the feel of a solo long run. I’ve run the entire return leg by myself in the past but today I was with two gentleman as we made the turn. As we headed up the road to Tower Hill, one of them dropped off and I continued along with Blue-shirt-bearded guy.
- Mile7: 7:20
I surged to the aid station so I could grab another cup of water, walking a few steps while I gulped it down. I learned a long time ago it’s better for me just to walk otherwise I waste more time choking when trying to drink on the run. As Blue-shirt-bearded-guy went by, I dropped my cup in the trash and followed, heading down hill out of the park.
- Mile8: 7:04
He and I didn’t talk but focused on running. Him leading, me leading. Twice I pulled even and passed him by simply running the tangent instead of the road. He quickly fell in behind realizing there were no more slower runners coming around the course in the opposite direction so we could use the whole road. My legs were starting to tire on the upward grades and I looked forward to the bits of downhill where I could recover. I tried to put the big climb back to 10th street out of my mind.
- Mile 9: 7:14
But “the hill” would not be ignored. Shortly after passing the mile 9 marker the course turns right on to North Adams Street and up the hill, going conveniently past the cemetery. There was a group of spectators at the turn and I commented “Now for the fun part” and charged up the hill. Okay . . . charged might be the wrong word. There were two young runners that had passed me shortly before the turn and I alternated between focusing on the road in front of me and looking up and trying to keep up with the slower of the two. I was still holding my own a third of the way up. I could not help but slow as I climbed. My chest heaved like a bellows. Halfway up the hill my glutes and legs burned. I cold see the top but it seemed far away. Two-thirds of the way up I wondered how I could continue running once at the top. Blue-shirt-bearded guy had pulled away from me and I saw him make the turn on 10th street toward the finish. “Just get that far . . keep moving”. As I topped the hill there were two Wilmington police officers holding traffic for the runners. I tried to say “thank you” between gasps but only managed a feeble wave of my hand. But I was at the top and turned toward the finish.
That hill knocks down any remaining energy and willpower to run fast. If it were in the middle of the race, it would be positively brutal to regain some semblance of running form. But it is within a 1/2 mile of the finish. As I started down 10th street I couldn’t quite see the finish but I could see the YMCA. I was close. My breathing slowly recovered. “Just don’t slow down”. My heart stopped trying to pound through my sternum and returned to something near a normal running heart rate. I can’t tell you what that is offhand. I’ve long since lost both of my hated heart rate chest straps.
I continued down the road, and around a slight bend. “Hey! There’s the finish arch. Run”! One last push. As the clock came in to view, I could see it flip to 1:12. “Hurry now. Get over the mat”. I heard the race announcer call out my name as I crossed with a clock time of 1:12:14 and a chip time of 1:12:10 . . . a surprising course PR.
But the reason we race is to have fun. It was hard to think how much fun is being had halfway up “the hill”, but it gets a lot more fun once you cross the finish line. Shortly after I crossed Larry came in and Jamie just behind him. Jamie had had a bit of a rough second half. Other friends followed including Joe and Wendy Mastropolito. Wendy danced across the finish as if she hadn’t even run 10 miles hard. I may be exaggerating this a bit. Her comments may have been something more like “Get away. Need air”.
Once place Wayne has really stepped up his game at the Icicle is the post-race party. Years ago we gathered around the bar at the Washington Street Ale House. Then, the Ale House provided the upstairs room for the party. This year, the post-race party was moved next door to the Ale House’s sister restaurant Mikimotos. The post-race spread was substantial including egg wraps, breakfast sandwiches, danish, muffins, yogurt, fruit, granola bars, juice, soft drinks, and free beer . . if that is your thing at 10:30 in the morning.
After showering and changing at the Y, Jamie, Larry and I enjoyed a bit of the party at Mikimotos then went next door and had a leisurely and delicious brunch at the Ale House before departing for home. As I entered I-95 North the temperature was still 60 degrees and it was as sunny as a spring day. Half way home, it looked as though the world was ending . . again. I drove through torrential rain and thunder and watched the temperatures plummet again. And then warm back up and get sunny. And then rain again. And then the wind came . . . real wind. As I dozed off for a post-race nap, I was glad I was done racing for the day.