Race Recap: Azalea Trail Run 10K

Howdy! So … four 10K races in four weeks … done and done! I ended my 10K “streak” yesterday at the Azalea Trail Run in Mobile.

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The Azalea Trail Run (ATR) has a long, renowned history. At one point, it was even considered to be one of the premier road racing events in the country. The name perhaps implies that there are trails involved, but this 10K is a fast, flat course along some of the historic streets of downtown Mobile that are known as the Azalea Trail.

The 10K has seen blistering records set by runners since its inception. Bill Rodgers won the first ever ATR back in 1978 with a time of 30:26. The current course record was set in 2001 by Abraham Chebii and is 27:26 (4:25 pace)! On the female side, past winners have included Joan Benoit (31:57 in 1984), Edna Kiplagat (32:12 in 2003) and Janet Cherobon-Bawcom (33:22, 32:41, 32:03 in 2011, 2012 and 2014 respectively). The current course record was set in 1997 by Colleen De Reuck and is 31:29 (5:04 pace)!

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Post card from the 1960s of the Azalea Trail!

I just did a quick comparison of the results from 1987 vs. 2017. I say “quick comparison,” but in actuality I put all of this data into a spreadsheet by age and gender to calculate the percentages and totals (because this stuff is more interesting to me than taxes). In 1987, there were 4,161 participants (3,120 male (75%) and 1,041 female (25%)). In 2017, there were 1,692 participants (818 male (48%) and 874 female (52%)) in the 10K and 1,274 participants in the 5K. 2018 was the 41st running of the ATR.

I haven’t done this race since ( … checking … ) 2013. This is definitely one of the most well-known races in our area, but I’ve actually only run it 3 times before this year. For whatever reason, I never seem to have good luck with this one. It’s always back to back weekends with (if not the same day as) Spring Fever and I love Spring Fever so much, I don’t usually feel the need to do ATR. This year was a little different, however, as I decided to do four 10Ks over the four weekends in March! I was hopeful that this race would be my fastest of the four March races. Given that the course is flat as a pancake, it made sense (at least in theory), but I wasn’t sure exactly how the execution was going to play out after running so many races back to back (to back to back).

The race starts at 8 a.m. We got to Mobile just before 7 a.m., ran a couple of miles and did the typical pre-race stuff before making our way over to the start line. They still bring in some elite, professional runners and it’s always fun to see them lining up at the start line (this is as close to a Kenyan as I’ll ever get and it’s pretty cool :)). I averaged 6:24 pace last weekend at Spring Fever and I wanted to try to get that down to just under 6:20 at ATR.

I started off at what felt like a comfortable pace and was planning to run as evenly as possible. The first mile has two turns and after that mile there are only two more turns the entire race. It’s really such a fast course! The first mile typically clicks by pretty quickly as there are usually plenty of runners around and the pack hasn’t really separated too much. My split for the first mile was 6:17.

There were clocks at each of the mile markers, so I had some pace feedback out there (as opposed to last week when I purposefully chose not to look at the data mid-race). I felt really comfortable at 6:17, but I was also really close to a few other runners and I (somewhat unknowingly) picked it up a touch to catch them and stay with the pack. My split for the second mile was 6:14.

The third mile was fairly uneventful. I don’t think I really passed anyone or got passed by anyone. I focused on keeping a steady rhythm and not slowing down. We made a left turn right before the third mile marker and had a slight downhill segment for a tenth of a mile or so. That was quite nice! My split for the third mile was 6:18. The total time on the clock at mile three was 18:49, which was about 25 seconds faster than my time at mile three last week. I was definitely encouraged by this, but at the same time, I had to remind myself not to get complacent.

I caught up to a couple of guys during the fourth mile and ran with them for a little bit. We briefly chatted about how bright the sun was and that we wished we had worn our sunglasses. I don’t know why this random detail sticks out to me, but for some reason it does and thus, it goes into the post. Ha. I saw Daniel and Kenny out on the course cheering somewhere during this mile as well. That definitely gave me a boost! My split for the fourth mile was 6:23.

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We made our last turn just passed mile four and were headed towards home. I was really happy to be running on the road that would take me to the finish line. I started counting the traffic lights and making bargains that I would “just keep running hard until you get to the second light and then we’ll reassess.” The “we” in that case was me and myself. I’m not sure who really won. My split for the fifth mile was 6:22.

I still felt pretty decent at this point during the race and knew that I could at least maintain my pace for another mile, if not speed up ever so slightly. I counted more traffic lights. Each one got me a little bit close to the finish line. The 5K runners merged with the 10K runners during the last mile, which has been disastrous in the past, but I must say, they did a great job of keeping the racers separated this year. The right side of the street was sectioned off and the 5K runners stayed to the right, while the 10K runners stayed to the left. It worked.

As a side note, I really don’t think that every race needs to offer a 5K option. I would much prefer that ATR just be a 10K. There are plenty of other 5Ks every other weekend for those that want a 5K option. In my opinion, the quality of the entire event is watered down when multiple race distances are offered and run at the same time. Let’s expound a bit on my findings above regarding the participation from 1987 to 2017. According to Running USA, the total number of road race finishers from approximately the same time frame has increased from just under 5 million finishers to 17 million finishers! Over the time frame that the total road race participants increased by over 250%, the number of participants at ATR has decreased by 59%. Sad! We need to start a campaign to make Azalea great again!

Okay, okay, back to 2018. I got off on a tangent! Before I even knew it, I made it to mile six. My split for the sixth mile was 6:17. At this point, I tried to pick it up for the last two tenths to squeak under 39:00, but I waited a bit too late to make that happen. I crossed the finish line in 39:07 and I am super happy with that!

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We did a two-mile cool down after the race and stayed around (FOREVER) waiting on the awards. In the past, they have done overall results and “local” results (for the non-elite runners), but they didn’t do that this year. I was bummed about that, especially because they have always done it in the past and the race site specifically says that they do local awards. All in all, it’s definitely not a big deal. If we hadn’t waited around for over two and half hours, I wouldn’t have even cared, but at that point I was starving and was in a state of hanger. There was also a team competition and they didn’t do results for that either, which was also disappointing.

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But … we found out today that our team, the Grinder Gals, was first place in the open female division! Woo hoo!

All in all, this is a wonderful event. I wish the results and awards were more efficient, but to be fair, this is a big race and it makes sense that it would take longer (especially given that there are multiple races as well). If you are ever in the area and are looking for a historic, crazy fast 10K course, ATR is the race for you!

I don’t have any races planned until August! I mean, obviously that will change, but for the moment, the plan is to survive tax season and my first semester of teaching (whoever thought that trying to do those two things simultaneously was a good idea is crazy :)). I’m thinking I either want to train for a one mile race or for an ultra … or maybe something in between! Ha. I’ll keep you posted.

2 thoughts on “Race Recap: Azalea Trail Run 10K

  1. Pingback: Training Log – 03.25.18 | Mobile Bay Runner

  2. Pingback: March Recap | Mobile Bay Runner

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