Friday, April 21, 2017

Ventura County Corporate Games

For the second consecutive year, the Ventura Country Corporate Games would be my first race after a six-month hiatus. Last year, a balky Achilles was the culprit; this year it was my hip. Fortunately, the hip had improved enough to start doing one easy workout per week in late January. Week after week, I gradually increased the volume and intensity, but I was still unsure of my fitness. My entire right leg, from hip to toe, is a permanent mess, so I always feel uncoordinated and sloppy when running, and this makes it tough to feel fast no matter the shape I'm in. Sometimes, you just need to race to figure out where you stand.

While my mileage has been even lower than usual, I'd progressed further down the workout list than last year, so I figured I'd have a good shot at topping my time (and hopefully my place -- I was second) from last year's edition of this race.

The course consists of two clockwise circuits of a set of open fields. Most of it is paved, with a few short dirt sections interspersed. There's also a narrow dirt path just to the inside of the paved path that has formed organically from millions of footsteps of concrete-averse runners and walkers. I made note of this after recalling the mayhem I encountered on the second lap last year when I almost literally hit the back of the pack of walkers who were casually making their way around the course for the first time. Perhaps sacrificing the smooth, fast footing of the paved path for the open but uneven dirt would pay off this year.

There's also a team element to this race, as it is one part of the larger Corporate Games, at which Amgen competes for bragging rights with other companies in the county. I was unknown to most of my teammates last year, but now I had a reputation to uphold ("Oh, you're THE Chris Garvin," someone said before the race. Did they want my autograph?). I didn't want to let my team down, which added some pressure to what should have been a low-key race.

After warming up, I did my usual pre-race scouting of the competition, noting that last year's champ wasn't in attendance this time. (OK, I already knew he wouldn't be here, thanks to twelve months of Strava-stalking him.) I did see one young guy doing some seriously intense strides. He was going far too fast, as if he had a 100-meter dash coming up, so I was tempted to dismiss him, but he still looked pretty darn good.

I lined up at the front this year and quickly went to the lead as the race started. There was a strong wind during the first half-mile of the race, and I had really hoped there would be someone to tuck in behind for this stretch, but I was all alone. At least I wasn't the one being used as a shield...or was I? Out of nowhere, someone fell into step behind me, doing to me exactly what I wanted to do to someone else. Karma!

We stayed in formation for a few minutes. Once we escaped the wind, he pulled up beside me and asked which division I was competing in. I told him I was in the 'A' division (for large companies). It turned out he was in 'D'. He said something about this taking some pressure off our battle. Could he be looking for an excuse to slow down? I decided to test his competitiveness and accelerated. We were slower than I'd hoped for at the mile (5:26), and I really surged after this, using the wind at my back and a slight downhill to get a step on him. I glanced at my watch after another half-mile and saw that we'd been running 5:03 pace.

As I approached the end of the first lap, a spectator told me I had 10 meters on the guy. I crossed the line for the first time in 8:28 and realized that I was feeling pretty fatigued. I got a bit of a jolt when one of the volunteers shouted, "Amgen! I picked you!" Well, shoot, I can't let that guy down!

It was mentally challenging to enter the wind tunnel again, but I figured I could also use it to my advantage, since he was no longer sitting on me through it. Just as I made it around a corner and out of the wind, I hit the back of the back. For as far as I could see, the path was filled with walkers and runners. (For some perspective on just how thick this pack was, I passed roughly 300 people over the final 1.3 miles of the race.) 

As planned, I jumped onto the parallel dirt path and used this to bypass the labyrinth of humans next to me. Every hundred meters or so there would be someone occupying the dirt path, and I'd have to dodge back into traffic momentarily before resuming running unimpeded.

I passed the second mile in 5:17 but really felt like I was slowing. I glanced at my watch a quarter-mile into the third mile and saw I'd been running over 5:40 pace. I accelerated again, allowing myself to be distracted by the game of Frogger I was acting out. Mile three eventually passed in 5:21, and was feeling well enough to run 5:08 pace over the final 0.2. (Despite being called a 5K, the race flyers list the course as 3.2 miles. I guess it's more important to have two equal-length laps than to measure an actual 5K.)

My final time was 16:51 (8:22 second lap; results here), which was 15 seconds faster than last year's time. The second place guy was nearly 30 seconds back, and third was another two minutes behind him. It's not exactly a top-heavy race, but I'll gladly take the win.

Splits are randomly selected points along the loop for the past two years.
I was a little disappointed that I'd felt so fatigued so early in the second half of the race, but glad for the improvement, glad for the negative split, glad for the win, and most importantly glad to be mostly injury-free.

Up next are a couple of road mile races for something a little different, and then it's back east for good!


2 comments:

  1. My favorite part of this blog post is the last sentence. Cheers!

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  2. Congrats on the win. Running into the back of the pack sounds awful, but it sounds like you played it well.

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