Our friend Al knows the Sacramento area well and warned us of ongoing road construction that could easily turn our 30 min morning commute into over an hour increasing our chances of possibly missing the race start. Against his better judgement, this non-morning person kindly got up before the crack of dawn to pick us up at our hotel promptly at 5 am and escort us in pea soup fog. With some quick thinking and backroads navigating, we got there within 20 min and then had about 1.5 hours to wait for the race to start. We got a great parking space at least!
Al pulls out his bike from the back of the SUV and assembles it so he can provide us with mobile course support that day. He's even color coordinated his outfit with ours so that we looked like a most patriotic red, white, and blue team! Susan should have known she could trust veteran Al to do the right thing but she couldn't help but worry that the other walkers were going to exile them next year for bringing a biker along who could have easily disrupted the race on the narrow parkway path. Before the start of the race, the course monitor pulls Al aside and asks for his help since none of the other volunteers showed up that day. Al quickly changes his game plan and simultaneously becomes real-time race support for the front of the pack ensuring that no one got lost while also calling out the mile splits for the top ten participants.
My goal for this race was to place better than last year and to set a new walking PR. Thanks to Al's heart rate training plan, both goals were accomplished this day. He and I debated how fast I should go out. Al thought I should start out at a 12:15 and drop the pace from there. I knew that if I could sustain a sub 12:00 that I would have a good race. When I saw Al at the first mile, he called out my split time of 12:01 - I smiled, I guess this stubborn Taurus is going to work her plan for this race. However, dropping the pace in subsequent miles proved to be more difficult than I expected. For some reason, I was having difficulties breathing. Perhaps it was the high level of humidity in the air from the rain the day before. It also could be an indicator that I probably need to do more tempo training as well.
One of my buddies from last year was there again this year. Paula who is an awesome Sierra Racewalker and someone who I met at Tim Seaman's racewalk clinic a few years ago. She was feeling under the weather but managed to stay ahead of me for the first half of the race. She didn't have a race plan and I was determined to stick to my race plan even if it meant being the last person in the group of lead walkers for the first 6.5 miles.
I made my move around mile 6. First, I had to pass Paula who kindly cheered me on. I love it when other racers can support each other on the race course! Then I caught up to Terri. Terri and I had walked together for the first half of last year's race so I remembered her well. This year, however, Terri was walking much faster than last year. I told her how well she was doing as compared to last year. Terri can be a tough competitor and she doesn't make it easy to pass her so I had to make my move quickly. With all due respect, she was having a great race. What she didn't know was that I had also trained hard over the past year and I was also faster than last year. I look forward to meeting up with her again next year at American River Parkway and motivating each other to yet another great race finish.
At this point, there is no one in front of me and I'm pulling ahead of everyone behind me. The same thing happened last year where I was pretty much alone for most of the second half of the race. But this year we had Al! And he was there for us at every mile marker. It was becoming more and more difficult for him to catch up with Ron and then wait for me because the spread in our times was increasing but no challenge is too great for Al. Mentally, I was prepared for Al to be by my side through the end of the race. However, the race organizer had other plans in mind. The race director jogged up to Al and asked him to kick some people off the course who were blocking the path for the race participants. Al turned back to clear the way for the others and I was left on my own to finish the race. Before he left, however, I asked him if I was on pace to PR. (My half marathon brain had kicked in and I no longer could do math in my head.) He said, "Are you kidding? You could slow down significantly and still PR!" That gave me the confidence to finish strong but not panic. Al did make it back in time to see me finish and report out my final race time more accurately than my Garmin. Thanks Al!
This was the Top 10 from the Sierra Race Walkers team. You'll see the Age Grade rank in the far right. Even though I finished ahead of Susan, I have a lot of work to do to be as good as her (that's fine with me!). If you compare the age graded performance to a runner for the same age for the half marathon, Susan's time would equate to a 1:52:35 half marathon. Ron's would be 1:48:15.
|Sierra Race Walkers 'and friends'.|
For more information and how to calculate Age Graded results for race walking, eracewalk.com has some good resources.