Short version: New 12k PR, at 59:36. Great encounter afterwards.
Incredibly Long version:
The weather this morning looked very promising. The sky was overcast and it was just slightly cool when we got there about 8:00 am. However, by the time the race started at 9:30 the clouds were very thin and it was warming up.
The race starts in waves separated by 5 minutes. I started in the second wave. The first 1 1/2 miles of the course are downhill. The race starts at the highest point in the race and 1.5 miles later you are at about the lowest point. Before the race I had discovered to my horror that I had forgotten the strap to my HRM. I am used to racing with it and really depend on it to help me keep my effort up when my brain starts to fade. I also use it to keep me from going too fast in certain sections. The first downhill mile went by in 7:02, closer to my 5k pace than a reasonable 12k pace. Still going downhill, I decided to reign it back a little knowing the hills that I had to face ahead. I had lost my running partner going down that hill somewhere, I wasn't sure if he was ahead or behind me.
At about 1.5 miles the course then heads uphill for a steep climb to the zoo parking lot. I slowed way down on the hill, trying to conserve my energy. This is where I really missed the HRM. I didn't have a good feel for effort and just new that I was sweating like a pig and this was only the first of a bunch of hills to come. After the zoo parking lot you drop down another hill and into the shade of the forest on 5 mile drive. The second mile mark is somewhere on this descent but I missed it completely.
The shade of the trees is welcome, but you then start a 3/4 mile long, fairly steep hill. This hill is really nasty. If you run it too hard you're trashed for the hills to come. If you don't run it hard enough, there is no way to gain back the time that you lose. I hit the three mile mark with a two mile split of 16:02. I felt OK about this split as my goal was to run an 8:00 pace.
Mile 4 is the easiest mile of the course outside of the first one. It has some gentle rolling hills through the trees. This started to feel good again and the split was 7:42.
Mile 5 is another real pain. The entire mile is uphill. It really isn't steep, just a long gradual climb. You're still in the trees so there is shade, but the trees block any breeze that might be there to cool you off. I was really starting to struggle during this stretch. It was also during this mile that several soldiers passed me. These guys had already run this same course earlier in the morning with their units and now they were doing it again! This mile was 8:30. This was too slow and it had me worried.
Mile 6 starts out with a little downhill stretch then is flat until you get to the park exit. There is a short steep hill there followed by "The Dip". This is a 70ft, very steep, dip in the road. You fly down this steep hill dropping 70ft in 200 yards, then climb up the other side. The mile 6 marker is almost at the top on the other side. This mile was 8:05. Not too bad, but again a little too slow.
Mile 7 is just plain terrible. You start out with a flat1/4 mile then turn onto Vassault, the same street the race started on. From there it is all uphill in the sun. There is one steeper section of the hill that you can see coming towards you. The problem is it doesn't really seem to get much closer very quickly. When you finally get there, and make it to the top, you just have more gradual hill in front of you. During this mile I thought my hopes for a sub 60:00 race were history. My watch was running much faster than I was and mentally I was trashed. Mile 7 was a painful 8:47. My watch said 56:11. My heat addled brain tried to figure out if there was any chance of running the last .45 mile in 3:48 and decided there was no way. That would mean about an 8:30 pace and I still had more uphill in front of me. The course continues to climb for another 1/4 mile then there is a 50 yard downhill and then flat across the parking lot and grass field to the finish.
I decided that just in case my brain was confused I would pick up the pace and run the last .5 mile as fast as I can make myself go. I pushed up the remainder of the hill starting to pass a bunch of runners. I made the turn at the top and stretched out the downhill to the parking lot. The course takes a couple of gentle turns here and I had to ease up a little. Then it opened up on the grass and I pushed it in to the chute. The last .45 took me 3:24, or about a 7:33 pace.
I was pretty happy with my race. My goal was a sub 60:00 and I just made it. I beat last years time on this course by 2:45 minutes.
So next year, I'll see if I can beat 59:00. ;-)