Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Prefontaine Masters Classic - Coos Bay, Oregon

I recently ran my first track meet of 2012, opting to tackle the 5000 meter distance at the second annual Prefontaine Masters Classic in Coos Bay, Oregon. Since I am hoping to race on the track a fair amount this year it was time to get things started and lace up the spikes. The thing is, the last time I raced that far on the track was 1988, nearly 25 years ago! Nevertheless, I was mentally and physically ready.

Coos Bay is not really in the neighborhood of Ashland, Oregon where I currently live, and since one of my car pool mates was racing the rarely run 10,000 meters at nine that morning, we opted to drive over the day before. In this case, we consisted of me and Team Sting-Ray, namely Suzanne Ray, running the 10000m, and Mercy Ray, running the 5000m. This was a special race for Suzanne since she was at the tail end of the women's 55-59 age group (turning 60 the next month) and it was a rare opportunity for a masters 10000m race on the track. Moreover, this was her last chance to break the Oregon state age group record in that event.

Mike Fenelli, Jeanette Groesz, and
Suzanne Ray ready to roll in the masters 10000 meters.

Come start time Saturday morning, Suzanne lined up with two other runners to bravely run in circles 25 times. Her companions on the track were Jeanette Groesz of Portland, who was also running for a Oregon State age group record in the 60-64 division and Michael Fanelli who travelled from San Francisco to the meet. The weather for these three was perfect with cool temperatures, virtually no wind and overcast skies.

Suzanne Ray all smiles as she guts her way to
a new state of Oregon 55-59 age group record in the 10000 meters.

As expected, Suzanne accomplished her goal and demolished the old women's 55-59 state record by over 5 minutes, running 43:01.29. If anyone is unsure just how fast this really is, here are a few comparisons to consider. In the 2011 world rankings for her age group at 10000m on the track, this time would have put Suzanne at 8th in the world and the third American. If you bump it up one age group to 60-64, which Suzanne will soon move into and be running in one months from the time of this race, her ranking for 2011 would have been number 2. Second best in the entire WORLD for that age group. All I can say is Wow, I'm honored to be able to know and run with Suzanne and to share some of the fun of seeing such great performances happen.

Jeanette Groesz bringing it home for another
state of Oregon 60-64 age group record in the 10000 meters.

Suzanne wasn't the only record setter in the race as Jeanette Groesz also put a new mark in the books for the women's 60-64 age group finishing in 46:55.52.

After watching these great performances in the morning, I was antsy to get my race started. Unfortunately, over the ensuing couple of hours the weather went from nearly ideal to a little warm and sunny, to overcast with a strong breeze on the curve off the 200 m starting line.

Early in the race, head down into the wind.

I got off to a reasonable start with my goal of clicking off 80 second laps to bring me home in 16:40 or better. But from the get go I was just a tad off pace at 81-82 seconds and was feeling myself lag each time I turned into the wind. Knowing I was going to be all alone out there, I put my head down, literally and figuratively and tried to focus on my form and breathing. In that regard, I really feel good about the race and felt like I was running smoothly and on my toes the whole way.

Trying to stay relaxed and keep
my breathing controlled as I continued to roll along.

My training partner Mercy Ray was also in the race and our pre-race plan should we both execute our individual races as we had hoped was that I should not see her until I am coming down the final straight away. Unfortunately it was not Mercy's day and she developed some breathing issues that slowed her in second half of the race. But she stuck it out and I came by her right as I hit the bell. Since Mercy was running in second (they combined the men's and women's heats) and I was passing her, I had just lapped the entire field. Once again (see my previous blog post) I was on a solo run.

Rounding the curve with about 500 meters to go.

In the end, I clicked off laps in the 81 to 83 second range going through 1600 at 5:25 and 3200 at 10:57. I slowed a bit in the last mile, but did keep my form and even managed to muster a sort of finishing kick, albeit, with no one to match it against. The final time was 17:03.67, a bit off the goal of 16:40, but all things considered, a satisfying solo effort that I am happy with. I am happy because I stayed focused, in spite of very little to focus on, I kept my form comfortable and fluid and smooth (trying to channel the form of some of the smooth runners out there like Evan Jager and Galen Rupp and Jordan MacNamara), and was not ideal conditions with the wind for setting records. It wasn't the PR I was chasing, but it wasn't very far from my PR on the roads of 16:55. The time will come and this was a good step towards making that happen.

Oh, and since this was my first 5000m on the track in many moons, it was also the first time I raced that far in spikes in a long time as well. I was sure my achilles would be shredded afterwards, but much to my surprise my new Nike Matumbos did great and I was not especially sore (more than I am after any race). I was worried about that considering my plans to race on the track more this year. I won't declare victory over my chronic achilles tendinosis, but I will say that I think I have managed to find away to train and race with it.

Bringing it home to the finish.

Since this was the Prefontaine Masters Classic track and field meet named in honor of Coos Bay’s most famous runner, Steve Prefontaine, it was only fitting that Steve’s mother Elfriede Prefontaine was the guest of honor. Mercy Ray and I were lucky enough to get our photo taken with her.

Matt and Mercy with Elfriede Prefontaine.

Also, since Pre was the theme of the day and we were in Coos Bay, it was only fitting that we should make a pilgrimage to his house and stop for a photo on our way out of town. Fortunately one of great folks from Coos Bay that we met at the meet kindly gave us directions.

At the home in which Steve Prefontaine grew up in Coos Bay.

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