The Harrisburg Mile course runs straight down Front Street along the Susquehanna River, beginning at Maclay Street and ending at Boas Street. It's really very scenic, but I always fail to appreciate it until after the race because A.) I'm running as fast as I can and B.) It's usually ungodly hot.
This year would be no exception. With temperatures in the high 90s yesterday and a heat index (again, according to weather.com) of 98 remaining at 7pm, I think this was my hottest Harrisburg Mile yet. (2007 gives it a run for its money, 2008 was a little less hot but oppressively humid, and last year we got a little bit of relief). We were already hot by the time we'd walked from our car to the starting area. I'd set a fairly aggressive goal for myself of a sub six-minute mile, but conditions were not favorable. I kept telling myself "It's only a mile. It's only a mile."
My heat went off at 7:15. About five minutes prior, the starter called people up to the start line. With heats going off every 10 minutes (or less in the case of the Corporate Challenge heats), there's no time for screwing around. With a faster goal than years past, I debated where to start. There is chip timing, but I knew that a six-minute mile was at the extreme edge of what I could do, and so I didn't want to get caught behind too many people, nor did I want the people that were shooting for a faster finishing time to trip over me. I overheard a few other people say there trying to run sixes, so I stood near them in the third or fourth row, only about 10 feet -- if that -- back from the starting line.
The starter called time remaining till start until only a few seconds remained..."Hold...hold...GO!" And so I went. To meet my goal, I needed a pace of 10mph. Looking down at Garmin, I saw that I was right on pace, far, far outside my comfort zone. I hit the quarter mile sign right at about 1:30, but I couldn't quite hold the 10mph pace and so I hit the half mile sign at 3:10. I don't remember seeing the 3/4 mile marker, honestly the race is really a blur. I was giving it everything I had and it was as hot as hell, my only comfort was that it would be over quickly. As I saw the finish line, I knew my 5:59 or better was not going to happen, but a pretty significant PR was still well within reach. I tried to increase speed at the end, but there wasn't anything left for a sprint to the finish -- the whole race was my sprint to the finish.
That's a PR by 23 seconds, but 22 seconds short of my goal. My average speed was 9.45 miles per hour (compared to 8.9 last year). I'm happy with that, especially considering that it was run during a heat and air quality advisory -- more Brian-unfriendly running conditions could scarcely be found. But on the other hand, this just reinforces a lesson that I need to learn or a choice that I need to make: If I am going to care about PRs and finishing times in shorter races, I need speedwork. I've clearly reached the limits of how far I can go with a strategy (or lack thereof) that's exclusively focused on running distance and then "run as fast as I can" during the shorter races.
I think I can improve my marathon time with more long runs in advance of race day and smarter pacing on race day (slower throughout the race so I don't hit the wall as hard), but if I'm going to beat this time next year or keep lowering my 5K PRs then I need to hit the track. I might be able to gut out a slightly faster 5K PR with my current approach, but I don't think I can beat a 6:21 mile without speedwork. I'm so close being under six. I can do it. Do I want it badly enough?
As I've talked about here before, I'm not sure of the answer to that. I care about my performance, but I also need to keep running enjoyable for me or I won't do it. Still, I think a finishing time under six minutes is worth some track work.
You win this year, Harrisburg Mile. But I'll be back.
5:59 or bust.
The Mile is unique among all my races -- the only one that really feels like a sprint -- and that's what makes it fun. That's not it's only redeeming quality, however. The scenery is nice , though like I said I had such tunnel vision that I hardly noticed it. Crowd support is also good, the Mile has been going on since 1982, so it really is a strong tradition in the Harrisburg community with lots of spectators.
Another positive, of course, is that there's "free" beer at the end. That's always appreciated on a 90+ degree evening. This year the race was part of the Michelob "Race to the Ultra" series, which meant that there was Michelob Ultra signage EVERYWHERE and that this was the beer of choice at the beer tent. I always think Michelob Ultra's marketing is funny -- it's the beer that tries to pass
itself off as a sports drink. Unlike past years the post-race party area was very well set-up and the line moved very quickly.
(Yes, I raced to the Ultra. There, I said it. Can I get my corporate sponsorship check now, please?)
Race organizers also rose to the challenge of the extreme heat by having cold water at the starting area, which in my case likely made a huge difference as I realize I probably didn't hydrate well enough during the day yesterday, and ample water at t he finish, which was not the case when my heat finished last year. Running out of water at a race in July? That's a huge error that was thankfully corrected this year.
The swag for the race was also excellent, which is typical of the Mile. In the past we've gotten a drawstring backpack (I know they're super cheap, but this one has a zipper pocket and has come in handy on my occasions), a fairly bland but ok t-shirt, and a sleeveless shirt that's one of my favorite beach or pool shirts. This year, another t-shirt, but at least it's different from the previous years' designs, and it's colored. Not bad.
But, the star of the giveaways, the thing that takes this from good to awesome are re-usable cups from Dunkin Donuts that can be refilled with iced coffee for 99-cents per refill for the rest of the year. We get Dunkin iced coffee almost every week, so this is a good perk.
The only area for improvement that I would mention are that the clocks get re-set very quickly between heats. If someone runs a 10-minute mile pace or above, it seemed as if they didn't see their time when they crossed the finish line. This wasn't the case in any previous year that we've been there.
Oh -- and the heat. Any chance of it moving the Mile to April? No...I didn't think so, but it was worth a try.