Monday, June 17, 2013

Cambridge Classic Mile - Friday, June 14th, 2013

How can something so short hurt so much?

We arrived at Galt Collegiate Institute at 6:30pm, just as the Diva Mile was taking place - good thing the organizer let me take part in the Social Media Mile at 7pm instead! I'd eaten lunch fairly early, with nothing but sips of water since 3:30pm, so my system was pretty clear as I headed out for a quick warm up run with 25mins to go. I did some high knees and butt kicks to get things moving, then ran easy for a few minutes while throwing in a couple of tempo-pace surges and some 20m strides to open up my legs. I was really nervy - what in the heck had I got myself into here?

Back to GCI with 15mins to go, I decided I needed every advantage I could get, so downed a Hammer Espresso gel in hopes the 50mg of caffeine would give me some sort of turbo boost. I met up with some of the other Social Media Mile participants, discovered that a lot of people I knew were either there to spectate or were involved in the event itself, and tried to stay loose with some leg swings and bouncing around.

Under starter's orders.

With very little fanfare, we were called to the track a bare few minutes past 7pm after the completion of the Emergency Services Mile. I noted that the crushed clay was essentially like a soft gravel, and wondered how much energy it was going to suck out of my stride. We lined up in no particular order (though the fastest among us gravitated toward the inside), were given some basic instructions about running through the second line to finish (as a mile is 9.34 metres longer than 4 laps of the 400m track), and got ready for the gun. Never having run from a crouch before I wasn't going to try it here - my worst case scenario was falling on my face, and I didn't feel like doing anything that might encourage that.

On your mark - get set - GO!

As I looked down at my leading knee and its background of red clay, I felt a wave of unreality wash over me. Was this happening? In anticipation of the agony that was to come, I was actually pushed into the first of the 5 stages of grief. Until that starter's pistol rang out, I found myself in denial that I was actually going to attempt something this stupid.

Lap 1 - Anger

Off like the devil himself was chasing me, I quickly saw the jackrabbits of the group start to pull away from me as I pumped my arms and tried to drive my knees. I pushed onward, passing one of my fellow racers on the inside just after the first curve. By 150m I was death whistling and thinking to myself that I was probably closer to the pace of the 200m repeats I'd done on Tuesday than to anything I could expect to maintain for the full mile. My worst fears were confirmed as I came through the starting line seeing 1:33.xx on the clock - I had gone out at just over a 6-minute-mile speed and couldn't possibly hope to hang on like that.

Lap 1: 1:33.xx - 3:52.5/km or 6:14/mile pace

Lap 2 - Bargaining

I needed to ease up a bit, but without really letting off the gas pedal - I figured I was in decent shape for my stretch goal of sub-8 if I could just keep things together. It was getting really bloody hard, though - I was feeling blown and was only a quarter of the way done! I've never done more than 800s on a track before (and even that only twice); it's tough to keep pushing yourself through multiple laps when the end just seems so far away. That's one of the reasons I prefer to do all my long runs as a single loop, or better yet a point-to-point - even an out-and-back can be psychologically tough when you realise how far you still have to go. I came through the line seeing 3:33.xx on the clock - I'd slowed by 27sec through my 2nd lap.

Lap 2: 2:00.xx - 5:00/km or 8:02.8/mile pace.
Halfway: 3:33.xx - 4:26.2/km or 7:08.5/mile pace.

Lap 3 - Depression

Given my rate of pace decay, it was looking much less likely that I'd make the sub-8 stretch goal, and even my forearms were starting to burn from the lactic acid buildup. There were a whole pack of Masters men along the home stretch of the track, and while they were actually respectfully cheering all of us on, I felt like they were watching me with scorn as I suffered so horribly while plodding along at such a pedestrian pace. My gait - never elegant at the best of times - had deteriorated into some sort of spastic thrashing of limbs as I fought gravity and air resistance to make some headway. I still had one runner 25m or so ahead of me, and I was chasing him down with all my might, but the clock told the tale as I came through the start line for the penultimate time; I was moving even slower.

Lap 3: 2:06.xx - 5:15/km or 8:26.9/mile pace. I run 10ks faster than this.
3/4 split: 5:39.xx - 4:42.5/km or 7:34.6/mile pace.

Lap 4 - Acceptance

Knowing this was the last time I had to try to boot my chubby butt 'round this torture device known as a track, I threw everything I had into it. My breath wheezed and shrieked in my throat, my legs screamed and my heart tried to tear itself out of my chest as I gained inch by hard-fought inch against the runner just ahead of me. As we came through the final curve I tried to judge the distance remaining, then gaped as he found an extra gear and sped away from me! I was completely powerless to answer his move, but mustered every last ounce of effort in me to come through the line as strong as I could.

Still fighting.

I blasted through the timing arch feeling as though I was going to drop dead on the spot, trying to rein in my legs to keep them under me as I slowed to trot, then a walk. I had made rather a poor showing in my heat, but had nevertheless utterly destroyed my expectations for my final time! I'd even managed to regain some of my lost speed for the final loop 'round the track.

Lap 4: 1:45.xx - 4:22.5/km or 7:02.4/mile pace

Official time: 7:23.96 or 4:36/km.
7/9 in the Social Media Mile

Full results here.

I definitely got left in the dust by my rabbit (James Harris), but while I may not have set the world on fire I certainly managed to outdo my expectations. It is both amusing and incredible that Mr. Will Spaetzel was able to so accurately predict my mile time - he's certainly deserving of the prize pack from my little contest, and a worthy competitor himself! Speaking of prognostication, it would appear that my mile time is pretty well in line with what I should have expected - not only did the McMillan Running Calculator predict a 7:21 mile (which is more or less in line with my time when adjusted for the clay track), but it gives the following predictions for other distances:

25:41 is my 5k PR, set in April 2010. I managed to best that 10k time by just over a minute at the Mudpuppy Chase in 2012, and was 42 seconds faster on a net downhill course for the Mississauga Half Marathon just over a month ago. I'm not quick, but I seem to be pretty consistent! It's worth noting that none of those races left me feeling half as ragged as that one single, solitary mile on the track, though - my throat felt like I'd drunk a pint of paint thinner, my arms and shoulders were sore, and later on my chest and ribs began to ache. Of course, that might have something to do with the deep-fetched coughing that took hold of me as soon as I finished - it's been more than 3 years since I quit smoking, but you'd never have known it in the 20mins after I came off the clay! I swear I coughed up tar I inhaled back in my teens..

Ed Whitlock kicking ass at 82 years old.
Photo courtesy of Peter Grinbergs

None of that kept us from staying for the rest of the evening's events, though. We cheered on friends and celebrities alike in the Master men's race directly after mine, thrilled to watch Ed Whitlock set a North American record by running the mile in 7:01. Yes, that's right - an 82 year old man beat my mile time by 23 seconds - almost 6 seconds per lap. This puts rather a kink in my plans to hold out and dominate the women's 75-79 age group.

Nate Brannen showing us how an Olympian kicks it.
Photo credit Peter Grinbergs

We smiled as Canadian Olympian Eric Gillis ran with the top finishers in the elementary and middle school races, marveled at the speed and grace of the collegiate men and women as they tore up the track, and roared with the crowd as Nate Brannen made his valiant attempt to break 4 minutes. While he may have just missed his goal, it was an incredible treat to be a part of an event that showcased running at its highest levels. Whether trying your first mile, setting a PR or simply coming to watch some incredibly talented athletes perform, the Cambridge Classic Mile is an event that holds something for everyone with an interest in running or track.


  1. You stepped on the track, you left it out there, and you did it. 'nuff said. AWESOME.


    1. Veni, vidi, totum dedi. Thanks for reading!


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