Thursday, November 22, 2012

Ashenfelter 8k, USATF-NJ Masters' Championship. Glen Ridge, NJ. 11/22/12

The Ashenfelter 8k is the second to last USATF-NJ Championship race left in the Grand Prix series.  It is a Category II race and a Masters Team Championship.  Anyone of any age can use this race to fill their Long Distance Running Series scorecard.  My Cat II score need some bolstering.  There is no better way to snag a high score than by running a huge race!  Today there were 2551 total runners, of which 1244 women.  

Horace Ashenfelter himself was present to shake the hands of award winners at the end of the race. From the race website: "Horace Ashenfelter, the Olympic Gold Medalist that the race is named after, was one of America's premier distance runners during the 1950s, winning 17 national championships at a variety of distances. But his most remarkable achievement was winning the gold medal in the 1952 Olympic 3,000-meter steeplechase.  Ashenfelter was the first American since James Lightbody in 1904 to win the Olympic steeplechase beating the favorite, Vladimir Kazantsev of the Soviet Union. Horace Ashenfelter also won the 1952 Sullivan Award as the nation's outstanding amateur athlete.  Ashenfelter served in World War II and then attended Penn State. He won the NCAA 2-mile run in 1949, the IC4A outdoor 2-mile in 1948 and 1949, and the IC4A indoor 2-mile in 1948. He was also AAU national champion in cross-country, 1951, 1955 and 1956; the steeplechase, 1951, 1953, and 1956; the 3-mile run, 1954 and 1955; the 6-mile, 1950; and the indoor 3-mile, 1952 through 1956."

This course is my PR 8k course from 2009. I ran a 33:04 that day. In 2009, I was racing my best. In the month of November 2009, I set my 50 mile, 5k, 8k, (10k en route to my)15k and my marathon PRs all within 21 days. Two weeks later, I then raced my first 100 miler and 18 days after that, ran my best 24 hour race which ended on 1/1/10.  

Then I hit a rough patch with my health.  I suffered hives and was advised it was an autoimmune issue.  I took tons of medicines and gained weight. I had some foot pain, chronic plantar fasciitis and plantar fibromas.  Everything hurt all the time.  I had a very tough time racing.   

Since 2010, I have been recovering and now chasing down my 2009 times.  Only recently have I finally been able to run some of the fastest races of my life.  Regardless of racing well, I can't help but feel like at any moment my body will betray me again, like it has in 2005 when I fought cancer, in 2007 when I had my thyroid removed due to a tumor, in 2010 when my immune system crashed - each time with no warning or way to stop the undesired decline in my health.  

So each day I step up to the starting line, I truly have no idea what I can do, but I do know that I will try to run my best when it matters.  However, today I was going for a fast time.  I have been dropping fast 10k's and figured I could realistically run faster than 33:04 today.  The weather was perfect. The course was fast. If I was going to better my 8k time, today was the day. 

John P. and I met, warmed up and lined up towards the front.  He was concerned we may be too far front. I was sure we weren't up far enough.  Series races are scored by GUN time, not chip time and I hate giving away spots by starting too deep in the pack.  In smaller races, I am usually in the second row.  Today we were about 8 second back from the start mat. 

The course is basically flat and fast with some slight roll to it.  We start with a decline, then headed up an incline in the first mile. I tried to get a fast start, but I get stuck in traffic.  Weaving though is faster than being trapped behind much slower runners, so I weave when asking to please be let through doesn't work.  I hit M1 - 6:22.

I feel very good and after the incline, I work any declines I can find as hard as I can without getting to far ahead of myself.  The pack is spreading out by this point.  I feel like I am running just on my Red Line, where if I push a little harder I may blow up.  My quads feel tired from the hilly 50 miler last Saturday. I figure that I will run hard until they give out on me.  M2 - 6:27.  

My 2 mile time was 12:50.  I can't remember running a 2 mile split this fast ever, but I don't alway pay attention at the two mile mark.  I start to wonder if I can set a new 5k PR en route. 

My current 5k PR is 20:27 and I have been hoping to one day break 20 minutes.  I feel like I am ready to give that a shot, but I was not planning to do it in the middle of a 8k.  I see the mile 3 clock.  M3-6:23 (for 19:14).  I know that my last .1 of my 5k's are usually between 39-45 seconds and this tells me I am on sub-20 pace!  

photo by Karl Leitz
There is no 5k split, but the 6:24 pace for 3 miles is 5k PR pace for me by about 30 seconds or more. At this point I am feeling the pace, but I try to focus on just getting to the next mile.  

I hear Randy M. call out from the sidelines, "Go Shannon, you are 9th woman!"  I had no idea that I was doing that well.  Now it was about holding on and not losing any spots.  I dug a little as I approach mile 4, since we had a bit of an incline towards the last loop around a neighborhood.  M4 - 6:25.

No females pass me as we hit the only hill of the race. (However one more showed up in the online results). This hill is a steep incline that was not very long, but it took the wind out of me.  My lungs were hurting and I couldn't get in enough oxygen as I crested the top. My only consolation was that I knew we were going to head down a decline to the finish.

We popped out onto the straight away with about .6 to go. That last stretch was a fight.  My lungs were burning.  I was so glad to see that finish line in the distance.  
Last .97 - 6:18.

Time - 31:55 (6:25 pace)
Overall - 127/2551 total
Age Group - 1/307
Gender - 10th Female/ 1244

This was one of the best races of my life.  I have been trying to break 20 mins in the 5k knowing I would need a 6:26 to do it.  Here I ran almost 5 miles at 6:25 pace! :)  I am super thrilled about this. 

The nicest ending to the day was getting called up for my AG win, getting awarded the embroidered running jacket that reads "Award Winner 2012" and getting to shake Horace Ashenfelter's hand.


  1. Phenomenal time! Congrats. And what a thrill to meet Horace Ashenfelter. I think I saw him run at Madison Sq. Garden one time while I was in high school.

    1. He is here every year :) You should come out for the race!

  2. 19:56.8 5k pace! Congrats you are doing great!
    PS not the John P. mentioned in her report ;-)

    1. Thank you John! :) I just need to make that official somewhere.