Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Cherry Pit 10-miler, aka "The Hill Report"

St. Michaels stalwart Kevin Baum finishing the Cherry Pit 10-miler on April 1, just outside Annapolis, Maryland.

They have yet to figure out how to import hills on the Eastern Shore. Kids in St. Michaels sled down the grassy incline next to the relocated Knapps Narrows Bridge at the entrance to the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum. Growing up in Oxford, we thought the "hill" at the Oxford-Bellevue Ferry dock on the Strand was fast. Neither hill is higher than 25 feet.

Coming from the flatlands, I have managed to log some hillish miles this winter, both at Tuckahoe State Park and certainly at the Holiday Lake 50K++ in Appommattox, Virginia.

A dose of winter hills and a training partner who is slightly faster than I am were certainly factors in running a PR 10-mile time of 1:20:25 at the Cherry Pit 10-miler outside Annapolis on Sunday.

The forecast called for morning rain and temps in the 50s, and thankfully was only right on the latter. Overcast and 50s meant perfect running weather. We had strong representation from Talbot County; I caravan'd over with Kevin Baum and his insanely fast (western shore) friend John Heller, and said hey to Dave MacKendrick, also meeting Nancy Toby and Chuck Potter, three of the "we're-out-to-run-every-half-marathon in the Mid-Atlantic" triathalon faithful.

The banter at the start was how hilly the course was and to come out slow, which fits me well, as I like to start slow and increase the pace over the race. The course was as advertised: rolling, hilly, and absolutely beautiful. Rural, wooded back roads opened up to sweeping horse farms everywhere, with even a llama farm thrown in. I asked the road crew at registration if they were having Gatorade (yep), so I opted not to carry fluids for the race.

I hit a comfortable stride and let the course run the race, adapting along the way, and found I was hitting each mile marker at a hair over 8-minute miles. I was fine with that, wasn't pushing the pace, felt good, high energy (had 3 Clif Shot Blocks about 30 minutes before start), and legs felt fine. I often found looking ahead at some of the slow, rising incline hills that I didn't realize I was going uphill while I was on them.

After about mile 7, I picked the pace up a bit, pulling up to a group who had been slightly ahead of me. I guess I passed a few and ran in the middle of the group. Mile 8 was unmarked and mile 9 started slightly downhill. I realized I had too much in the tank when I hit 9, which was fine, but I cut loose at that point and ran the last mile at almost a full-on run, pushed pretty well up a 30-40 yard uphill towards the finish, and then just kept pace, not sprinting at the end, just keeping the legs really moving. One of the organizers on the uphill at the end made the comment that I looked too strong to be at the end of the race--he was right, I could have run faster, sooner, but really just felt great. Crossing the finish, I didn't have that "I-don't-want-to-run-another-step-I-need-to-sit-down" feeling I had at last year's Chestertown Tea Party 10-miler or the Baltimore Half-Marathon, for which I am thankful.

So I ended up at 1:20:25, a 10-mile PR on probably as hilly a 10-miler as is around here. Nancy and Dave also posted PRs, despite having run the National Half-Marathon the previous weekend, and heading to Ocean City on the approaching weekend.

Let me make a quick comment about John Heller. I first ran into this cat a couple years ago when he won the Oxford Day 10K, passing Stuart Horsey, who led much of race, in the last couple miles. Coming into Sunday, he had not really started his training season, had blister problems during the race, and still ran 1:03, good enough for 22 overall, 2nd in the male 30-39 category. Depending on the field, I would call him a legitimate threat to win or place at the Bridge-to-Bridge Half-Marathon, if he is on board.

I really can't say enough great things about the Annapolis Striders, who put on well-organized, challenging races. The Cherry Pit is in stark contrast to the Annapolis 10-miler they hold in the heat of August, which runs through downtown Annapolis, the Naval Academy, and the old Severn River Bridge. A great course, but being a rural guy, I have to give the nod to the Pit.

The Striders have race results posted on their website (gotta love chip timing, they were posted same day) and will have photos of the race online within a couple days. Check out their other offerings and sign up for a race if one grabs you. Next on the race calendar are the Bridge-to-Bridge Half on April 21 and the Chestertown Tea Party 10-miler on Memorial Day weekend.


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