Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Race Report - University of Oregon Twilight Meet - OTC Masters Exhibition 3000m

It was once again time for my annual masters racing pilgrimage to American track and field's mecca, Hayward Field. I have managed to run a race that finished on the track at Hayward Field every year I've been competing as a masters runner and this year was no exception. Thanks to the great masters exhibition races arranged and put on by Craig Godwin and the Oregon Track Club Masters at a couple of the University of Oregon meets each us old guys and gals get to enjoy a little bit of the excitement of spiking up on a track that is otherwise off limits.

The last two years I ran the masters exhibition mile at the U of O Pepsi Invitational and in 2012 I ran this same race, the masters exhibition 3000 meters at the U of O Twilight Invitational. Both scheduling conflicts and the place I was at in my season's training and racing made opting for the 3k this year the wisest decision. The plan for this track season culminates in what for me is a once in a lifetime event, racing the 1500 meters at the World Master Athletics World Championships in August in Lyon, France. So, even though the track racing season is getting into full swing, I'm still coming out of the end of the base phase in my training for the year and a competitive 3000 meters on the track was just what I needed.

Originally the field was going to be rather large with nearly twenty entrants in the race, with four guys listing fantastically fast seed times of under nine minutes. I knew I'd be letting those guys go and see what other races might develop back in the pack where I expected to be settling in. Unfortunately, many of the entrants had to scratch a day or two before the race and we lost a few of the fast guys up front.

I listed my seed time as 9:53 when I submitted my entry back in January, basing that time on what I actually ran for 3000 meters last year and not what I thought I could run at this race. In fact, I had already run faster than 9:53 this spring, clocking a 9:44.67 at the Club Northwest Spring Break Open in Seattle in late March and my training has been going well. So, I knew I was ready for a good day.

It is always cool to see your name on a bib from a meet at Hayward Field.

However, more than simply chasing a fast time, and Hayward Field is a great track for running fast, hopping in these masters exhibition races for me is all about racing and facing the competition. I know it is going to be a rare day that I actually win a race on this track, but as long as I have a chance to come out and play where the big kids do their stuff, then it's all about racing.

With that in mind, I was happy to see a few other guys on the start list with seed times in my ballpark, both a bit faster and a bit slower. Most notable was my friend Thomas Kreuzpeinter from Eugene who runs for OTC. I always know that Thomas means business when he races, regardless of his fitness and so far in my masters racing career it has always put me in a position to be looking at his back as he crossed the finish line in front of me. Close enough to see him, but never close enough to beat him.  Last year in the masters mile at the U of O Pepsi Invitational, I tried my darndest to stay with Thomas, but he pulled away for the win to my second place finish. My plan this year was to stick to Thomas like glue. I was not yet speed sharp, but I was as strong and fit as I have ever been. I also knew that Thomas might not be at his best fitness having recently returned from a multi-week trip to his home country of Germany. Not wishing him any ill-will, but this racing and it was probably my only chance against him!

Josh Gordon leads Mike Blackmore through the first
200 meters as the rest of the field quickly strings out behind.

Originally this was to be a mixed race with both men and women, but one casualty of the late scratches was that the few women on the entry list all dropped out ahead of time, making it an all guys race. Ten of us toed the line and after hearing each of our names introduced on the PA system, took off at the gun. As expected, speed machines Josh Gordon and Mike Blackmore quickly assumed their place at the front. They were going to have their own race. Behind them, Thomas, I and John Clifford got off to a nice pace, until we hit the back stretch and felt the brunt of a pretty good head wind.  I tucked in behind Thomas and John behind me.  At first it wasn't my plan to just draft off of Thomas, but as we clicked off a few more laps, we were still roughly on a pace that would have us finishing around 9:40, and the strength of the back stretch wind seemed to increase, I thought, why not sit here as long as I can.

Thomas Leading the charge on the
home stretch with me in tow around lap two or three.

John Clifford right behind me, doing his best to stay with our pace.

To many watching it probably seemed pretty rude of me to let Thomas do all the work, and the truth is, if he had moved aside at some point and waved me up to share the work in the wind, I really would have done it. But he didn't so I just sat tight. As we clicked off a few more laps I could no longer hear the footsteps and breathing of John Clifford behind me, so I knew it was going to just be me and Thomas for as long as I can hold on. Having been the one in the chasing position on this very track a year before, I had no idea how this one was going to end, only that I had to stay close.  We went through 1600 meters in about 5:09 which was a tad bit slower than I thought we might hit for that split, but still moving along nicely.

Me in my usual racing form with my head down in
concentration, both on the race and the feet of the runner in front of me.

With laps five and six, our breathing was getting pretty hard but I was happy that my legs were not feeling heavy and I was doing my best to maintain good form and stay on my toes. With two laps to go, I knew I had a little left to pick it up and thought about going around Thomas on the home stretch, but said to myself, no, be patient, wait, there is time and you'll have to take the head wind. So I waited. With 450 meters to go I made my move and did my best to pass Thomas quickly and open up a gap by the time we hit the bell.  I kept pushing on the curve and striding hard on the back stretch.

Feeling like a star on the finishing stretch at Hayward Field.

Rounding the curve I did my best to find another gear fully expecting Thomas to come striding up on my shoulder and showing me his superior speed. Unfortunately, it was not Thomas' day and he didn't have enough left to come after me. My legs never got heavy and I opened up my stride and pumped my arms as best I could to finish hard for third place, well behind Josh Gordon and Mike Blackmore.

I like this snip from the video of the race because it shows
me pumping my arms well and opening up my stride as I finish strong.

Thomas hung on for fourth, while Kerry Griffin moved into fifth and John Clifford dropped back to sixth. Originally I thought my time of 9:42.41 was a new personal best, but in fact it was.02 slower than I ran at this race in 2012, a race won by Thomas Kreuzpeintner in 9:15.70. Personal best or not, I was very happy with the time and even more happy with how I raced and finished and how my legs felt. Going into the track racing season this year and with my plans to race in the men's 45-49 division at the World Masters Association Championships, it won't be so much about chasing fast times as it will be preparing myself to race smart and finding a couple more gears at the end to finish hard.

Running through the line for third place.

Results for the 2015 masters men's exhibition 3000 meters.

It is races and venues like this that make training hard as a masters runner all the more enjoyable, but even more so it is toeing the line with fellow competitors and friends like Thomas that really make these days memorable. As Thomas, Mike Blackmore, Josh Gordon and I were on a cool down together afterwards the post race banter was light but truthful. Thomas congratulated me on a hard earned win but make it clear, next time he's coming for me. Moreover, he's moving up to the 50's age group later this year and is making plans to step up his training in anticipation of the 2016 season. I expect nothing less and look forward to it. After all, that is what this is all about.

Thanks to Craig Godwin and the Oregon Track Club Masters for taking the photos included in this blog.  All credits go to them. For more photos of the race go to this link at the Oregon Track Club Masters website. Our friends at Runnerspace.com have also kindly posted the video of the race.