As the 2nd race in the 10-race Run For Your Life Grand Prix series, the Skyline 5k attracts some of the most competitive runners in the area. Because of some conflicts in timing on my race schedule I won’t be competing in the RFYL Grand Prix this year, which is kind of sucky but that’s life I guess. I’ll hope to get in on the fun next year. Nevertheless, I’m still planning on running about half of this year’s Charlotte GP races and try to at least make a little bit of noise in my age group when I’m there.
As always, it was good to see the Charlotte runners we know both before and after the race. There was a light rain falling as we drove over the Charlotte but by the time the race started it had stopped raining and the rain held off until well after the race was over. After Linda and I picked up our numbers and T-shirts we took our stuff back to the car then went back to join the race crowd. I told Linda I was heading up to the start (I like to nudge my way up close to the front) and she took off in a different direction. By then it was about 7:50, ten minutes before race time, and all of a sudden I realized we hadn’t picked up our race chips! I knew Linda had forgotten too so I looked through the crowd and finally spotted her and caught up with her and we were able to make it on time.
As we waited for the race to start I chatted with Jerry Sofley and Bob Nelson, mostly talking about the upcoming Cotton Row Run in Huntsville, Alabama, on Memorial Day Weekend, where we’re all going to be running in the final race of the Running Journal Grand Prix.
The race starts on a long gradual uphill slope and I went out a little slow, knowing that I’m not great with hills anyway and that if I tried to take it too fast I’d burn out before the second mile. Jerry’s in a different age group so I didn’t worry too much about him, but Bob finished in first place in my age group in last year’s RFYL GP (I was second) and I spent the entire season trying to catch him (I never did). Unfortunately for Bob, he had a knee injury over the winter, which has slowed him down a little over the past few months but he’s almost back to normal now. Bob went out ahead of me and I also saw Steve Staley just behind Bob. It was a big race so I wasn’t sure that somebody else from our age group might be up there, but I knew I’d need to try to keep up with both of them to be competitive.
About halfway through the first mile I realized I didn’t feel all that great, but still, being kind of competitive I didn’t want to quit either, so I trudged on. As I’ve been doing for several months now, I don’t try to run at a certain pace but I monitor my heart rate and gradually build it up to what I’ve come to think of as a “cruising range” of about 166 beats per minute. If I go over that by much then I’m soon completely out of gas, and if I’m under it by much then I’m not running as fast as I’m capable of and I try to turn it up a notch to get in that range. It’s the process of getting to that cruising range that seems to give me the most problems, so in the first mile my heart rate might be 150 and I feel completely shot, but gradually as my heart rate rises towards 166 I feel better and seem to be able to get in a zone of sorts. My overall heart rate in this race averaged 162 beats per minute (bpm), with the first mile an average of 150 bpm, the second mile an average of 167 bpm, and the third mile averaging 169 bpm. The 169 bpm is pushing the limit for me, but I felt pretty good so I kept going.
Somewhere during the last half of the race I heard an unfamiliar voice as he passed by me saying, “I lost 25 pounds because of you!” I said something like, “That’s great!” as he pulled away from me. He wasn’t that far ahead so I turned on the overdrive for a few seconds and caught up with him and we talked for a minute or two. His name is Dennis and he said he’s been running for a long time but despite all the running gradually gained weight (I can identify with that). He said he was reading my blog and realized that he had been slowing down, and when he weighed himself he had gained 25 pounds over his ideal weight. He started counting points on the WeightWatchers program (just like I did) and is now running faster than ever. We talked some more after the race and he said today’s race was a new PR for him and the first time he finished in under 21 minutes. Great work Dennis!
But back to the story… Bob and Steve stayed up ahead of me up until around the second mile and gradually I caught both of them and managed to get a little bit of a lead. In the last mile Steve’s chronic sciatic nerve injury started giving him trouble (he told me later), and he fell a little off the pace in the third mile. I didn’t look back but I had the feeling Bob was right on my tail, which he was. The last mile has a nice long gradual downhill slope, which is always nice. I knew it wasn’t a time for relaxing though and as I ran along I checked my heart rate and it was about 169 at the 3-mile marker. I still felt pretty good though and thought I might have another tenth of a mile in the tank. It worked and I was able to hold Bob off at the end, finishing first in the age group at 20:47, with Bob in second place only 3 seconds behind and Steve in third place. For me it was notably one of my few races where I ran negative splits (6:53, 6:41, and 6:36).
Something that strikes me as odd about this race is the T-shirt design. According to the website, students in CPCC’s Advertising and Graphic Design program are given an assignment to create a T-shirt design for the Skyline 5k. The race directors are presented with the entries and choose a winner, whose design is used on the race T-shirt. That seemed to work great for the first five years (1996-2000) but just looking at the entries since then it seems to have gone steadily downhill since. (Click here for a page that shows all of the T-shirt designs since 1996.) It’s not that it’s a terrible design — I’ve seen worse — but compare the designs from recent years to those first five years and it looks like somebody’s either lost the vision for this project or possibly the school no longer has a Graphics Arts Department.
Also disappointing was the post-race food, which included a variety of drinks including soft drinks (that’s a plus) but the only food I saw was bananas on one table, and another table with bread being served from the Great Harvest Bread Company. Don’t get me wrong — it’s good bread — but since there was nothing else available the line was probably 30 yards long just to get a piece of bread. The list of sponsors included Nothing But Noodles, The Original Pancake House, Wendy’s, Bonjangles, and Lance snacks, which might lead people to believe they would be providing food for the post-race celebration, but nope.
On the brighter side, they do have some good door prizes at the RFYL GP races. We won several things last year and at this race Linda won a free 1-hour massage. She got one last year and loved it.
The overall race winners (top 3 male and female) received really nice framed photos of the Charlotte Skyline. The age group winners received a 16-ounce Anchor Hocking Cafe Mug with this year’s race logo. I of course would still prefer a trophy but I’ve pretty much given up on that dream.