The 2015 Tom Walker Memorial Half Marathon brought out some top regional runners. The Women’s side was won by Joy Miller from South Carolina in 1:22:03 while a local runner, Mike Hensley, won the Men’s race in 1:13:53. The depth of the field was impressive too. The spread between the 1st place woman and 4th place was just 1:28. The women ran together for much of the race, pushing each other to fast times.
14 runners finished under 1:25:00. That’s 14 runners averaging faster than 6:30 per mile.
The top 20 runners all averaged under 7:00 per mile
11 of the top 20 men were Masters runners (over 40 yrs old).
At least 10 runners score over 75% on the age graded scale
So what would the top 10 Overall look like if we age graded it? Basically, Age Grading is a way to handicap the performances of various athletes based on age and gender. USATF Masters uses this simplified chart to give you a feel for the scale:
100% = Approximate World-Record Level
90+% = World Class
80+% = National Class
70+% = Regional Class
60+% = Local Class
Do you have your fall race calendar set? The last few weeks I’ve had several people ask me what races I’m getting ready for. Honestly, I don’t have a good answer. My fall schedule is still somewhat up in the air. I have some friends who are registered for an October / November marathon as a big target race. Others who are looking for a trail ultra and some who are looking forward to a bit of fall cross country running. To help you make a plan, here are my personal recommendations. All of these are either races I’ve done before or I have first-hand knowledge of the race organizers and I have faith that they will put on a great race.
The Mountain Dew Invitational at UF is a tradition for high school and college runners. If you can run fast enough to get in the race as an open runner (8K for men and 5K for women) it is a fast field and fun event. If you don’t want to run with the speedsters, come out to see some of the top college runners in the country and the best talent in the state for the high school races.
The Alachua Lake Half Marathon is new this year, being organized by veteran race director Bobby Burk from Lloyd Clarke Sports. There is also a Prediction 5K at the same time so if you’re not up for 13.1, do the 3.1. Considering Lloyd Clarke Sports puts on some of the best local races, you can be assured this one will also be top notch!
Running with Rattlesnakes sounds fun right? The Rattlesnake Run in San Antonio Florida (just north of Tampa) is a fun event attached to the Rattlesnake Festival. Snake shows, fair food, bounce houses, and tons of fun await you after the finish line. I’ve run this one a few times over the years and it is always a good one.
Pumpkins line the course of this Jacksonville tradition. Run 10 miles through a beautiful and historic cemetery to get in the mood for Halloween. This is a fun, well organized event and you will go home with a free pumpkin.
Looking for a fast 10K course to hit as the weather cools off? The Mandarin 10K is a safe bet. Flat, fast course and plenty of competition to pull you through. Early November is usually cool enough to shake off the summer slog and finally hit a fast race!
The coaching clichés, “Let the Race Come to you.” and “Run your own race.” are common and repeated so many times they begin to sound like the teacher’s voice on a Charlie Brown cartoon. “Wha whaaa wha whaaa. Whaa wha wha whaaaa.” However, I was reminded the last few weeks just how true those little nuggets are. With the coaching cliché theme, here are two race reviews and lessons learned.
Run Your Own Race
This can be said for both races and training. When you are racing and you get sucked into a pace that is too fast early in the event, it can cause you to fade severely the last part of the race. Or getting lulled into a slow pace with speedsters in the pack can be just as devastating. Running with the leaders only to be out-sprinted with a fraction of a mile to go can be embarrassing and frustrating. Your coach will tell you to run your own race to give yourself the best opportunity at a fast time and eventual victory.
For training, if you have a target event that you’re preparing for, then stick to a plan for that event. Don’t get sucked into training with friends that doesn’t prepare you for the target race. If you’re preparing for a 50K, why would you race a 5K the week before?! Hmmmm. I don’t know.
Flatwoods 5K, April 11th, 2015
My sons wanted to race this one and I had a 50K to run on the 18th but why not hit a little speed? This is a beautiful course with good food and awesome pine cone trophies. I admit it; running a 5K the week before a 50K is not “Running your own race.” However, good times with my boys are important and I stayed true to the goal by not slacking on mileage the week of the 5K. Typically, I’ll take at least two days easy before a race to freshen up my legs and focus. Not this time. I logged a total of 85 miles on the week with 11 miles the day before the event. The race started fast. A few runners blazed out at under 5:20 pace. While I still went out a bit too fast, I held back and made strategic moves. The race went well and I was 3rd place overall, winning a cool pine cone trophy. There were spots where I challenged the 2nd place runner but he had some extra spring in his legs and ran hard. I also stayed on target with training by taking the next week easy, leading up to the 50K. Most importantly, I stayed true to important values; running with my sons and making running fun for them.
Anyone who has been competing for a fair amount of time knows that there are races where everything clicks perfectly into place. Perfect weather. Perfect group to race with. Getting “in the zone.” Effortless stride. The hard part is that this zone or peak performance is hard to capture. It just happens! If you train consistently, then you’re ready for that perfect race. It won’t happen every time but if you’re ready, it will come to you. Trying to force the perfect race to happen is foolish. You can force several great races in a row with training, solid mental toughness and good coaching but hitting that PERFECT race is something that you just have to wait for. Let it come to you. It is easy to burn up mental and physical energy by forcing a pace that is too hard. Getting flustered early in a race when things don’t go well can throw off your focus. Relax and let the race come to you. You’ve done the work, now let the race develop.
Sweet H2O 50K, April 18th, 2015
If you’re searching for an event that could give you that dreamy, “Perfect race” this was not the best option. The rain had been falling in Lithia Springs Georgia all week, the course includes about 8,000 ft of elevation change and weather was expected to be fairly warm with high humidity. The big creek crossing was eliminated from the course because the flow was just too dangerous and deep. Still, the wet trails and tributary streams provided ample opportunity to get wet.
I was running with my longtime friend and high school teammate, Steve Wilcox. We cruised into a comfortable pace early, knowing the challenges that lay ahead. We ran the event two years ago and for our first 50K ever, finished respectably; tied for 4th place in 5:13:22. Knowing that the course would be even more difficult with the mud, we ran conservatively. My friend, Bernd happened to be in Atlanta for work and made a last minute decision to show up at the race to get some training in. He planned to just run a few miles and then head back to his conference. Bernd was enjoying the technical trails along the creek and then sped ahead of us so he could pull out his phone and take pictures as we ran by. We were all having a fun, easy trail run. I talked to a runner wearing a singlet that said “Powered by Craft Beer.” I told him to find me after the race and I’d share my Swamphead brew with him. Fun times!
We went through two aid stations and dutifully drank some Gatorade and I slurped down one Accel Gel. We ran on past aid station #2 on pavement and knew we would be directed back onto trail shortly. We saw orange flagging around a corner and kept going, heading the obvious direction back onto the muddy trails. Then…… no orange flags. “I haven’t seen any flags in a while, Steve.” He acknowledged my concern and suggested getting around the next turn to look for flags. Nope. No flags. We started to back track and came across a group of 7 other runners who were also confused. I glanced at my watch and realized it had already been six minutes since we were at the aid station. Backtracking to where we saw the last flags, we found our way on course. I glanced at my watch again; ten minutes since we were at the aid station and we were almost back to it! My quick estimate was that we lost eight minutes. Crap!
Cruising on the trail, we began to hit some real hills. There were now about 20 runners ahead of us and as they hiked up the hills, we ran. Obviously some people figured out where to turn! This section of trail included the Gas Line hills and the slick Georgia clay on the steep inclines drained the energy from your legs as you slipped back a few inches every step. The declines were treacherous too. Short careful steps minimized the sliding but it was hard to stay in control of my stride. On the out-and-back leading to the aid station at the school, we saw the leaders heading back towards us. As the smiling, first place runner zipped by, offering encouraging words, I checked my watch. When we got to the aid station / turn around, I checked it again and told Steve, “The leader has twelve minutes on us.” Gulping Gatorade and slurping gel, I saved my conversation for the trail. On the trail, Steve and I estimated that we were twelve minutes behind first place and about eight behind fourth. “I wouldn’t worry about that right now….” Steve warned. He was right. We would be stupid to push the pace in the first half of the race. Heading away from the turn around, many of the runners cheered and I got a high five from Gainesvillian, Pat Gallagher, who was running with a friend on this course just one week after a 50 mile event. Beast!
The course continued through some beautiful trails and the bright green of fresh tree growth was everywhere we looked. So was the mud. A few different times on the course we startled deer and we had to hop over a small turtle at one point. Steve kept me disciplined and I focused on gulping Gatorade at each aid station to the point where I thought the sloshing in my stomach was going to make me puke. At one point, I waved Steve ahead saying, “Don’t run behind me, I might puke on you!” The sloshing always settled down after a few minutes and I could get back to relaxed running. We reached the turn at the bridge on the second loop and I asked the course volunteer how far ahead the leaders were. She told me a race number and said “Five minutes ahead of you.” Steve and I assumed it was the fourth place runner still that far ahead of us. A short time later we saw a racer ahead of us, walking up a steep incline. To our surprise, it was the runner we had seen in first place. He was still smiling and still saying encouraging words to us but he was clearly hurting.
We arrived at the next aid station and were surprised to find out we were the first two runners! Somehow, we covered the eight minutes we had lost and more. We were still running well and had taken the lead. I gulped Gatorade, shot down an Accel Gel and had new life in my legs. One of the volunteers looked at Steve and said, “You need salt.” She instructed him to take a banana chunk and dip it in a bowl of salt.
He did it and then said, “Oh! That’s GOOD!” I almost barfed at the thought since I was topped off with Gatorade and gel. Yuck. Back on the trail we ran together and talked about how we ended up in the lead. What happened to the other three runners that were ahead of us? How did we make up twelve minutes on the first place runner? Steve had a simple explanation, “That’s why you run the race. Who knows what’s going to happen.” He could have said, “Let the race come to you.”
Back on the gas line hills, Steve was struggling. We turned at the Sheriffs Truck at the top of a big hill and I hollered at Steve as he regained some spring in his step to catch up to me. I arrived at the next aid station alone. Steve was staying tough but the lack of salt had caught up to him. The friendly volunteers informed me that I was at 26.2 miles! I glanced at my watch and joked, “Dang it! Not a PR!” The volunteers laughed, knowing how challenging the conditions were. Steve arrived at the station as I was leaving and he had tunnel vision to get to the drinks. He barely acknowledged I was there as he headed to the drinks he had been dreaming about for the last two miles. Not far down the trail, I saw the third place runner. He waved and we exchanged looks of encouragement and cheering without saying a word. Talking would just take too much effort at this point. Several other runners I saw cheered waved and smiled as we crossed paths. On the downhill sections I tried to be polite and say something back. My right hamstring was tight at the Powerline hill and I could feel it tugging more and more on the descent. I started talking out loud to my hamstring. “I love you hamstring. Help me out here and don’t give up. We’re almost there!”
At the final aid station I again chugged Gatorade and slurped some Mountain Dew. Jack’s hill had kicked my butt and a salted banana was starting to sound good. With only about two miles to go, I still wanted to make sure everything held together. Feeling confident and refreshed, I started off. I ran strong but cautiously thinking I was more likely to mess things up but running too hard than by running too slow.
The finish was a welcome sight and I was toast. The race director brought me a finisher’s hat and a glass plaque for winning. What a race! The post-marathon leg ache was coming on so I got up to walk around some. A beer, some ibuprofen, and rinsing off with a water bottle got me feeling a lot better. The Bar-B-Q lunch provided for runners was just what I needed.
That was a long trip to get to the coaching cliché but here it is: “Let the race come to you.” Steve and I got off course, fell way behind and had difficult course conditions to deal with. By running smart, being tough and letting the race develop, we ended up first and second. The Florida boys in the Georgia mud on a hilly course came out ahead because we let the race come to us.
What are the best local races to include on your calendar? According to the recent Runners Survey most people find races to run based on recommendations from other runners. Now you can get those recommendations without having to actually ask your running friends because I’ve saved you the time! You can use your long run to discuss politics, the best shows on The Food Network or the flaws of the college football playoff system. You’re welcome.
I got responses from just over 100 runners and they were asked several running related questions and the final section asked them to rate 17 local races. I didn’t include every single race in town. There are a bunch of races that are just fun-runs and don’t even claim to be a race. There are tons of “One Hit Wonders” that appear for a year and then never happen again. I tried to select 16 races that had at least two years of successful running and met a basic level of race organization. If you are a race director of an event not listed and want to know how your race scored or you want to be included in next year’s survey, let me know!
Now for some nerdy statistical stuff. I asked for runners to rate the race only if they had run it in the last two years so each race had about 20-30 actual scores to get their average. You’ll notice the scores are pretty darn close! I ranked by the percentage of runners who scored the race “Good (4 stars)” or “Excellent (5 stars).” I also listed the average number of stars for each race which would shuffle the ranking slightly. However, that isn’t really the point here. Is the #1 race MUCH better than the #7 race? Nope. I listed the best scoring events to recognize the TOP events in town. All of these are really well-done races and easily worth the cost of the entry fee. A difference of 0.5 on the average star score is not statistically significant. The spread between all of the races below is 0.66 so all of these races were highly rated by the runners who did the events and the scores are extremely close.
Race % that scored the race 4-5 Stars # of runners Average stars
A note for statistical comparison from last year to this year- the survey site I used changed how the 5-stars system and blended averages are calculated. Last year’s ranking was based on the average stars metric expressed as a %. Confused? I was too for a while. The bottom line is this: If you want a baseline score from last survey to compare directly to this year, I can do that for you. I’m not sure there is a huge benefit to that unless you’re a nerd but if you want it, I can do it!
This is not an all-inclusive listing and has some out of town events listed along with local races. This is also just a listing for upcoming races from now to April, 2015. The one thing they have in common is that I have run them all and feel comfortable recommending them to you. As you select races, it is a good idea to ask fellow runners and get a feel for the event. Check the comments on Active.com or other websites. Look at Athlinks.com to see previous year’s results and you can check on the size of the event, the times and other runners who have done it so you know who to talk with. Researching your races is one of the best ways to ensure you spend your registration money on events you will enjoy. Please add comments to this post about upcoming races you would recommend to fellow runners. Also, refer to the RRCA guidelines for selecting a race. http://www.rrca.org/education-advocacy/buyer-beware/
January 24th– Matanzas 5K, St Augustine. One of the fastest, most competitive 5K races in the state. If you’re looking for a PR time on a flat course with a well-run event, this is your race. http://www.matanzas5k.com/
February 8th– Tallahassee Marathon. This is a flat marathon course which I found surprising in Tallahassee! It is a great smaller-scale marathon, similar in size and feel to the Five Points races. They always have cool speakers at the expo and it finishes at the FSU track. http://www.tallahasseemarathon.com/
February 14th -15th– Five Points of Life Races: Marathon, Half Marathon, and 5K, Gainesville. The largest running event in town with an expo and lots of runners. Not super-fast courses for the Half Marathon or Marathon but you get to see a lot of Gainesville and run through Ben Hill Griffin Stadium! http://www.fivepointsoflife.com/race/registration/
February 21st-22nd– Gasparilla Distance Classic, Tampa, FL. Pick from a half marathon, 15K, 8K or 5K. This race weekend features pirate themed medals, a huge expo and everything you’d expect to find at a major national event. The courses are all along Tampa Bay so the scenery is nice and the elevation change is minimal. http://www.tampabayrun.com/
March 7th– Race the Tortoise 5K, High Springs. Still looking for that fast 5K time that you almost hit at Matanzas? Here’s your shot! There are some slight inclines but this out and back course is pretty fast. Cool tortoise trophies for the winners and a good breakfast after the run. https://www.itsyourrace.com/event.aspx?id=2980
March 14th– Gate River Run 15K, Jacksonville. This is a mega-race with 20,000 runners, a huge expo and tons of fun surrounding the race. It is worth the trip to Jacksonville for this national class event. If you don’t feel like driving, take a bus with the Florida Track Club. http://www.gate-riverrun.com/
March 14th– Run for Haven 10K & 5K, Gainesville. If you’d rather not run in the massive crowd at River Run, this is a great local race that benefits Haven Hospice. A scenic course through Town of Tioga with a fantastic party atmosphere after the run is a great way to celebrate St.Patrick’s Day! http://www.havenhospice.org/haven-run.aspx
April 11th– Flatwoods 5K, Gainesville. Not quite ready for a full trail experience like Trail of Payne? Here’s a nice one! The course is a lime rock road loop through beautiful Austin Carey Forest. You are lucky to run out on the trails because they are not open to the public! A fun event, beautiful scenery for the run and awesome pinecone trophies!
Running a trail 50K is a real challenge that I’d recommend to any marathoner. If you can complete 26.2 on pavement, you can do a trail 50K. Or if you can do a road half marathon, you can do a trail 25K. The experience is very different than a major road race and a fun change of scenery. There are differences in race day planning so hopefully my experience will give you some guidance on how to prepare and execute a good race.
The Croom Zoom is near Brooksville in the Withlacoochee State Forest. The route starts out on a limerock road for about a mile and then continues into loops on single-track forest trails. With a 6 AM start, headlamps are required for the first hour or so of the run. For my local friends, the trails are quite similar to San Felasco. I would say they are a bit tougher than the Millhopper side of San Felasco, but a little easier than the Alachua side. The hills were more than I expected but not in steepness, just in length. There were a few long steady climbs during the course.
Standing on a dark road at 5:58 AM, the race director addressed the audience of headlamped runners. “We have some Boy Scouts camping here this weekend. They are great at helping out in the park and really enthusiastic about picking up litter. So enthusiastic, they picked up about 2 miles of our trail markings yesterday afternoon.” The crowd noise was a mix of laughing and groaning. “We got out there and re-marked so it should be fine. There are glow sticks the first few miles.” He continued with a brief course description, locations of aid stations and other general announcements.
The course was VERY well marked. I went slightly off course a couple of times but it was based more on my carelessness than on the course markings!
I ran the 50K while my friend and old high school teammate, Steve Wilcox, decided to run the 25K. My start was 6AM and his at 7, so I saw him driving into the park as we ran the first mile. I was jealous because I could have used the extra sleep! I fell in behind a runner who clearly wanted the lead. He is an experienced trail racer from New York so while I thought he would be tough competition, I had to believe the warm temperature and humidity would be a challenge for him. We were joined by a guy from Tampa who said he’d been on the Croom trails before but only on a bike. All three of us were new to the course, running in the dark. After about 8 miles, I decided to take the lead and push the pace. It was light enough to see the trail and still relatively cool. My strategy was to gain some time during the cooler conditions, knowing it would soon warm up. I stopped at each aid station and drank at least 3 cups of water and consumed 5 PowerGels during the race.
My plan worked well in some ways. I did build a gap that the other runners couldn’t close so I won the race in 4:24:09. However, the last few miles were pretty slow and I had some leg cramps. I’m not sure if it was a hydration issue or some other nutrition based problem. With temperatures in the high 60s to low 70s and humidity at 98%, I know I needed water and lots of it!
I ran in trail shoes but noticed many of the runners were in regular training shoes. The trails at Croom had lots of roots in some spots but generally, your regular running shoes would be fine. I was pleased with the Salomon Mantra2 shoes I ran in. They felt nice on the sandy trails and on the occasional spots with mud and roots, I had good traction.
The post-race celebration at the Croom Zoom is like a family picnic. There are grilled burgers, hot dogs and other food. The runners gather and share stories from the trail and cheer for the 100K runners who are still passing by on their way to another loop. My friend Steve entertained himself by watching me suffer from ab muscle cramps while trying to untie my shoes.
Croom Zoom is a well-organized event and I came home with a T-shirt, a finisher’s hat and a super-cool trophy. For my marathoner and half marathoner friends interested in a new, fun challenge, I’d recommend Croom Zoom.
Everyone loves a countdown or top rating list. So to provide that for you as we head into a new racing season here is a list of the best races in town! A few weeks ago, I did a survey of 115 local runners and asked a number of questions about local races. What surface do you like to run on? What type of awards do you like? Do you want a tech fabric shirt or cotton? Or a no-shirt option for $5 less? We also asked runners to rate 19 local races on a scale of 1-5 stars. The runners were asked to rate the race only if they had run it in the last two years. So here’s the top 8 ranked by a blended %. That just means 5 stars =100%, 4 stars = 80% and so on. Therefore, if everyone who ran the race, gave it 5 stars, the score would be 100%.
Tom Walker Memorial Half Marathon (Hawthorne Trail)
Flatwoods 5K (Austin Carey Memorial Forest)
Five Points of Life Half Marathon
Newnan’s Lake 15K (Earl Powers Park)
Trail of Payne 10K (Payne’s Prairie trail run)
Race the Tortoise 5K (O’Leno State Park)
LGAA 5K (Ironwood Golf Course)
Turkey Trot 10K (Tacachale)
So what makes a highly rated race better? Looking at other survey factors, it is easy to see why the Tom Walker Half Marathon scores so well.
Most popular distance? Half Marathon.
Most popular surface to race on? Paved bike path.
Price? It is in line with what people expect to pay for a Half Marathon.
Is it a scenic course? Yes. (According to the survey, a scenic course is one of the top 5 most important factors when chosing a race!)
So on many of the most important factors that runners value, the Tom Walker Half Marathon hits the mark. No wonder it is #1!
Also worth noting, there are many races in town that scored really well (over 70%) that I would certainly recommend. This list is just the ones that scored over 85%. So find a race, train hard and run fast! See you at the races.