The Rockville Twilight 8K is a race I've had my eye on for the last couple of years but never got around to participating. It is an absolutely stacked race that goes off at 8:45PM in the "foreign" lands of Montgomery County. With the Falls Road crew putting a team together to go down there, I certainly had every reason to go this year.
The weather in Maryland finally took a turn for the better at least if you spend large portions of your free time running. Lots of rain rolled through on Friday and Saturday, with the sky being almost constantly overcast. It cooled everything off nicely and the general lack of sun finally allowed the ground to stop baking in summer heat. All of a sudden, our mid-July summer race was lining up to feel more like a late spring (or very late summer/early fall) race.
The rain let up slightly as the race approached, slowing down to a light mist. Temperatures hovered in the very high 60s to low 70s. I took my spot on the rather crowded start line, and we were off a few minutes after 8:45, with the course shrouded in darkness.
I've done a handful of relay races in the dark, but have never run an actual race in these types of conditions (first wet race of 2012 too). Those 200 mile relays are more like time trials than actual races since I would just spend my time passing people running substantially different paces than me. This was the first time I had to actually contend with other people, while barely being able to see anything. The course mainly rolled through residential streets with minimal lighting. Flashing lights of police cars in the distance made for a rather surreal feel.
The darkness also made for a few interesting perdiciments. First, I could barely see my watch forgetting of course, to activate the light up on button press feature. Second, it was really hard to tell who anyone was unless I ended up within a couple of strides of them. With these issues, I realized my best bet was to just chase down as many shadowy figures as I could.
I did manage to go out reasonably conservatively, opting to avoid the mad early dash while still breaking through the crowded start effectively. The first mile was mostly downhill...
I knew I wanted to go out somewhere around 5:30, but wasn't expecting it to feel as good as it did. Regardless, I told myself to stay in control. Thanks to a digital clock and intermittent light, I did see this split!
From miles 1 to 2, I stopped getting passed and slowly started picking people off, 1 small group at a time. There were one or two hills that weren't steep, but at least made you think. They didn't seem to bother me. We looped back towards the start for what seemed to be a slow mile, possibly in the wrong location.
At this point, I decided to just turn on the jets. I was feeling really good, despite being drenched in a combination of rain and sweat (it was still surprisingly humid) and decided to just see what I could do. I kept trying to guess who I passed, and who was in the distance.
I caught and passed one Falls Road guy, Tim who can kick my ass at short distances, but it's more of a fair fight at longer races.
As we continued, I just kept pouring it on.
Mile 3: 5:23 (I didn't know the pace, just that my 3 mile split was around 16:28, which would turn out to be a decent 5K with another 0.1).
I could see another familiar runner in the distance, and thanks to some intel from some cheering support, I knew it was Ed. The only reason I would ever end up near him would be a combination of a not so good day on his part, and a really good day on mine. Regardless, if I could catch him, maybe we could help each other out.
It took a hell of a lot of energy to bridge that gap. After almost falling on a cone taking a turn way, way too tight, I came up alongside him. We went back and forth for a little, but eventually I passed him, half in shock, but figuring he would be back before the end.
Mile 4: 5:28 (never saw it on my watch, but did see I came in right around 22:00 thanks to the course clock, and would have to fly to get sub-27).
The course made all kinds of turns from 3-4. It was kind of fun taking all the tangents, a bit easier when there is a whole train of fast runners ahead of you doing the same thing. I was still feeling decent, but reaching that point where the race had to end because that crash-and-burn feeling wasn't too far off.
We hit a flat, straight section of road for the next couple of minutes and I threw down anything and everything I had left. Sub-27 was a real possibility. I passed a handful of people who had no answer to my move. I could also see just ahead, another familiar figure. It was actually the shoes that gave it away, but it was none other than Dusty, another runner I had no business being around. Regardless of the circumstances causing us to be in each other's vicinity at the end of a race, I knew I had to at least try and get on his shoulder, even for a moment.
Imagine a car that has had its gas pedal through the floor, and is starting to fail catastrophically. I'm taking about smoke pouring out of the engine, and random parts flying off the back, but somehow, it keeps barreling down the road. That's what the last couple of minutes of this race felt like.
I never quite managed to bridge that gap, though I was closing until the last minute or two, when everyone started kicking it in. Ed managed to pass me back. I tried to at least make it a fight, but it wasn't one. No one else passed me in those final moments, and I flew through the downhill finish in..
26:56 for 5:25 pace and 40th overall. The last not-quite-a-mile split was 5:01.
That race was definitely an 8K PR. It's been a while since I've run an 8K, but I know for a fact I was completely incapable of running a 5K at that pace the last time I ran an 8K. For comparison, the Celtic Solstice 5 Miler in December was a 27:01 and 5:24 pace. So both races were right on top of each other. It's hard to compare what kind of shape I'm in now to what I was then. But regardless, the result was better than I expected and my legs felt really, really strong.
I think this bodes well for the start of training for the Richmond Marathon. The name of the game....conservative approach!!! If I can just take the fitness I have right now and extend my endurance for the marathon, I'll be happy.