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Monday, June 6, 2011

The Cub. Valle Crucis 7-miler Race Report

I sat at my desk on Friday afternoon... it was about 2:30 and the weekend was looming as my thoughts turned toward visions of trail runs in the Virginia Highlands when I came across a Daily Mile update speaking of The Cub... MY NEXT SCHEDULED RACE... which I had completely spaced in my focus toward the Chattooga 50k in 3 weeks. Oops. I had trained pretty hard over the last two-three weeks putting in many long tempo efforts, stressful trail runs and my longest training runs of my life, so what I could ask of my body was a little uncertain.

The Cub is a local race, about 15 minutes from my bed and is a race I have run every year since moving to the area. You can learn about its background on the previous link... or this one. This year, due to road closure The Cub took on a gentler mood and was a simple out and back along Watauga River Road.

This is a regular training course for me which left me feeling good about when and where to run hard and also left me with the firm knowledge that this is a course that is fair. A lot of flat running, a lot of downhill running and just enough hill running to keep the young flyers honest, one way or another.

The Cub 2011
At the start I stayed on the shoulders of the front line... not wanting to go out too hard. Just settle in, see who was out there and move up as I could. With this approach, I found myself in about 10th place, leading the second group of 3 as we drifted about 5 steps off of the lead pack. They made the left handed turn onto Watauga River Rd. and I noticed Caleb, who is a brand new friend on Daily Mile (and 2:40 marathoner) who just moved to the area on Monday. He sat in a virtual tie with the front runners. The lead pack began pushing ahead a bit as we began the first climb at one mile into the race.

The pack broke up quickly, as those runners with high hopes came face to face with reality... and this climb took us to 1.5 miles in. The top 10 strung out and found its true working order.

I was in a solid 4th with third place just a few paces in front of me. Meanwhile, Caleb and the other front runner were pushing downhill to extend their lead and were dueling for first place. At two miles, their lead was a good 30+ seconds as I pulled into 3rd and set my sights on running a solid effort to the turn around at 3 1/2. We still had a good ways to go... gotta relax.

Getting Dirty
The 3 mile mark found us running onto the dirt road portion for a 3 mile (total) segment. We found the shade and a big right bend in the road as we coursed along the cow pasture and horses munching away. My 3rd place position was feeling better and better as my legs loosened up and my stride became more fluid. I was feeling the tempo and rhythm of the run and my mind frame was very positive. The familiarity of the course and knowledge that I could open up here and throw down a good two miles was comforting.

Mr. Congeniality?
From :45 seconds down I began to pick up the effort slightly. The leaders turned and passed back by me and I gave a shout of encouragement. As the entire field came face to face I exchanged positive words with most of them and people began telling me that I was looking strong, that "(I) could catch those two!" but my mindset was still locked in on running my best effort for the distance remaining. If I paced myself correctly I would run out of gas right at the finish chute! so far, so good. But as the steps passed and no huge dent was put into the lead... I began to think that I was at least in the running for Mr. Congeniality.

Pounding the Pavement
Leaving the dusty road behind I pushed a little harder knowing that the return to the climb was just about a mile ahead. Now the leaders were creeping back to me a little bit. I was feeling better and as they duked it out, it seemed they were wearing each other down. My hope was to be within 15 seconds at the 5 mile mark, when we would begin climbing. I knew with everything inside of me, that if I could get in position for the climbing that I would have a shot at taking home the race.

At 4.5 I was 25 seconds back, (I counted). I pushed on, and at 5 I had closed the gap to 15 seconds behind Caleb but the top two had been split and I was still a good 20 seconds off the lead runner. Still doable, and I just had to keep moving at my best effort, cover the ground and put on the invisible pressure.

With a good extended downhill after the climb and then a flat finish, I figured going over my head on the climb was the best course of racing. So, that is what I did.

Elevating the Challenge
Smoothly I moved up that hill. I dug into it and was chewing it up!. Having so much experience on this particular hill on long, hot training runs really paid off for me. This hill looms down on you, it seems huge and steep. In reality, it is a quick and runnable grade, less than 2 minutes. As I crested Caleb was just steps in front and I felt good about  having moved up another spot as the downhill recharged my system before the final 1 mile push. Caleb and I exchanged grunts and I set my eyes on the next runner.

Reaping the benefits of gravity, I allowed my body to fall down the decline, around the tangents and now the leader was in my sights. He was still moving okay, but I could see small chinks in his armor. The shortening of his stride, less lift off the road, his arms shrinking and head drifting to the side... I could get this guy!!!

With one measly mile to go the race was set before my eyes. I was down 5 seconds, I had eaten into a 45 second gap and was feeling great! Momentum was on my side and so was the element of surprise. The leader ran thinking he had dropped Caleb, which was true. He hadn't seen me since the turn around at 3.5 miles when it seemed I was no threat to the lead.

I made a series of small bursts dipping into my anaerobic stores. Not huge moves, but I was attempting to situate myself for one big burst at the 1/4 mile to go mark. Another advantage of knowing the course so well. The small repeated burst of 3-5 seconds brought the leader's shoulder within reach but he still did not respond. Now, I sat and waited with a half of a mile to go and down by a second or so. To me, it was any body's race and it was up to me to decide it now.

Making My Move
80 seconds to go. I swung my arms, dropped my head and moved to his left shoulder and began to overtake the lead... but- he was ready.

A flurry of steps came from him and he pulled away slightly. My only course was to cover his move. After he pulled ahead slightly with his burst of energy I matched his pace and waited at this higher energy output. We had 200m left to the finish.

As I saw him relax again I pounced on the opportunity with hopes that he would not be able to or want to respond. By staying with his counter move, I was still in position, but he was now vulnerable to one final attack having not recovered fully.

So, I went ahead decisively. I passed him quickly with a huge burst and then picked up the effort further, attempting to break his will. I dug in, deeper and deeper and confronted those demons of fear that tell you only "how it will hurt" but never remind you of how good that hurt feels!

Cooling Down with a Few Smiles
As I entered the finish area I realized that it was over. Reflecting on my journey within this run I was left with the importance of perseverance and belief in what I am capable of. This race allowed me to explore many facets of my running strengths, from patience and strength to stamina and all out brutal effort. It also forced me to face those fears of pain, those boundaries that allow each of us to place such logical limits on what is asked of our lives. The bargains we make for comfort and to avoid changes despite what might be best.

Post race was very enjoyable as I met with Caleb and his family. I know he will be a big challenger as he acclimates to the hills and high mountain air. As a 2:40 marathoner I know that I might just have caught him on the right day. Here are the full results from the 2011 Cub.

Happy running!!


  1. Great report, Sean! And congrats on the win! The guy you beat is from my city, Durham. Looks like a whole group from Durham showed up in the top 15. Not bad for a bunch of lowlanders. Of course, I'm definitely not representative of the running talent in my town. ;-)

    Best of luck in your 50K!

  2. This is very well said and run again...can see how you were *there*...besides the quote which you highlight, i like this one too: "The bargains we make for comfort and to avoid changes despite what might be best."

    lot's of food for thought...

    Happy Training! :)

  3. I really would like to get into more trail running. Really, I would,. It sounds so appealing. Congrats!

  4. Congrats on a great race - Nice job dropping the hammer. A lot of good stuff in this report. Thanks for sharing.


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