How does one describe the Survivors' Challenge 10K course? Braden said that he understood why Challenge is in the name...because of the hills!
There was a long sustained hill from the half mile mark to the two mile mark, several rolling hills that seemed to have more uphills than down and then a beastly hill right before the mile five marker. Thankfully, the last mile was more downhill and it provided the opportunity to make up some time before the finish.
Even though I knew this race was going to have some elevation gains based on the course map, I didn't foresee the amount that it did have, and on top of it, I didn't know if Braden was going to be able to handle it. Normally, I wouldn't think this, but Braden came off of a week where he ran probably his worst race of the year in Cabot at a 5K event after basically giving out half way through the race. He felt fine at the beginning of the race, where it was perfect weather and the course was flat, but then he started complaining about feeling bad and he finished with a time of 29:01; 4 minutes slower than his personal best. Later that day, he started running a fever and he was sick for the weekend. I held him out of track practice on Monday, but on Tuesday he said he felt fine enough to run in Conway on a long run. We got a couple of miles in before he gave out, so I left him with his mom while I ran by myself. A little later into my run I saw him running by himself, so I let him catch up to me and we ended up running just shy of six miles with a few stops in between.
Originally, I had planned to drive to Fort Smith (a two-hour trip) on the day of the race, but then I started to relive some of the nightmares I had from the Watermelon 5K where I had to get up super early to drive down and had a terrible race because of lack of sleep and the heat. Instead of making that same mistake, I went ahead and reserved us a room that was close to the restaurants and the course. We got to Fort Smith early in the evening, went to Olive Garden for a little pasta, picked up our race packets, then watched a movie. After we got back to the hotel room, Braden zonked out and we were able to get a good nights rest before the race.
Conditions for the race were great! Even though it was a tad windy and cool (low 50's), it was also overcast and I told Braden once we got going he would warm up. Before the race, in the runner's chute, we had a nice conversation with the Western Arkansas Runners Club president, Sheri Nichols. She was encouraging and praising Braden and told him that she remembered passing him at the Chile Pepper 10K a few weeks earlier and that she would be running at about the same goal pace for the Survivors' Challenge. We were going to shoot for an 8:50-8:55 pace, but I told him that he needed to take it easy on the uphills and we would try to make it up on the downhills.
We got off to a clean start with a lot of fanfare since there were more than a thousand runners out there...most of them 5Kers who were going to start 15 minutes after us. It didn't take us long to settle in, but I knew that we were going to started ascending the first long hill in short order. He was running pretty decent and finished the first mile at an 8:58 pace.
The second mile was all uphill and I was encouraging Braden all along the way. We have run some minor hills during our training, but nothing compared to what this race offered up. I kept on telling him that he was doing great and that we had just a little further to go before it would flatten out. His pace for this second mile uphill climb was 9:24.
I thought we would be in the clear for a while, but our flattened out portion of mile three was very short, before having to head up another hill. I was staying a few seconds ahead of him to see what was coming up while lying to him that it was going to get easier when it actually wasn't. Three quarters into the third mile Braden had to stop on a flat/downhill part of the course because of side stitches. I told him that if he had to stop, to at least walk fast or try to do it on an uphill part of the run instead of a flat or downhill portion. With it being so early in the race, I was concerned that he wasn't going to be able to handle the rest of the course, but he quickly started running again and we finished the third mile at a 9:36 pace.
The fourth mile consisted of some rolling hills and once again he had to stop for the side pains during a downhill portion, so I had to encourage him to keep moving and he was able to pick it up again. He was able to pick up a little bit of time and finished the fourth mile at a 9:23 pace. He started to feel discouraged about having a decent time, but I told him that we just needed to get through it and that the worst was behind us, other than one more steep hill before mile five.
The fifth mile had a lot more downhills and I told Braden that we only had little more than two miles to go and that now was the time to start getting our time back that we lost. He kicked it into gear and we started to pass some people who had passed us the previous couple of miles. As the mile five hill was drawing closer, I could see where the 5K walkers were converging with the 10K runners, right before the hill. I told him that the hill was coming up and that we were going to push it extra hard to make it up. Needless to say, he put it into another gear and attacked the hill like it was nobody's business! It was all I could do to keep up with him, but right before we got to the top he had to slow it down because he couldn't sustain the speed he had been going. I told him to take it a little easy and that we were almost to the top. At the top was the mile five marker and he was able to finish the fifth mile at an 8:14 pace!
I thought it was going to be all down hill for the sixth mile, but there was one little last hill we had to navigate through, but as we were passing the walkers, Braden said he got a sharp pain in his side and we had to stop for about 10 seconds. Once again, I encouraged him to at least keep walking and that we were doing a great job of working our total pace back down. He started up again and during this point Sheri Nichols was ahead but within sight. She had been in front of us all race but we were getting closer than we had since the beginning. At that, Braden said that he wanted to beat her so I told him he would need to really turn it on to catch her. It was all downhill and he started to put it into another gear as we finished the sixth mile at an 8:28 pace.
The last .20 was a steep downhill and Braden was driving to the finish. We were dodging walkers and there was a lot of support from the crowd. Ultimately, it felt like we were flying as we passed Sheri clocking our last .20 at a 6:04 pace and finishing with a time of 55:37. He missed his PR by 28 seconds, but if it wouldn't have been as hilly and with the few stops he made, he would have definitely had a new personal best, but I know that all courses can't be flat so it is what it is. Braden was getting all sorts of high-fives after his finish and I was definitely proud of the way he handled such a tough course with his very limited hill training.
Braden was the only one in his age group which obviously means he came in first place, but that didn't stop Sheri from saying some very nice things about him at the awards ceremony including that they now had a running competition going on and that he bested her this race after she had beat him in the previous one. Overall, I thought it was a very nice race and I enjoyed the course and even though Braden wasn't fond of the hills, he still had a great time and I thought it was also a nice touch that everyone received a finisher's medal.
Since this was a Grand Prix non-championship race, Braden collected the full 20 points, but since he has already maxed out his point total, his total points remain at 250. He had already clinched first place in his age group for the Grand Prix at the Chile Pepper 10K, but I'm glad he put together an outstanding effort for this race as well. Unfortunately, the Survivors' 10K was our last Grand Prix race of the season. We would've run the Spa 10K in Hot Springs on November 21, but Braden has a USATF XC qualifying race that morning in Little Rock. The Grand Prix has afforded us the opportunity to meet a lot of great runners and many new friends and hopefully Braden will be will be rewarded for his accomplishments by the running community on December 12 because he is a nominee for Youth Male Runner of the Year! He has some pretty strong competition, but I know, no matter if he wins or loses, he'll always be my most favorite runner!
|Arkansas Grand Prix Standings after the Survivors' Challenge 10K|