I ran the Army 10 Miler this morning as a training run, finishing in an unofficial time of 69:09. Ironically, given that I a) didn’t race it, and b) finished nowhere near my PR, it was one of the best races I’ve had.
Things started out inauspiciously when I was sick as a dog this week with what was either a bad cold or a mild flu. It was bad enough for long enough that I opted to swap this week’s plan from “taper and then race” to “take a recovery week with a hard workout on Sunday.”
By Friday, I was feeling OK if not great, but then Saturday afternoon I had what felt like a relapse and debated skipping the race. I decided that I’d just show and decide whether to do it as a workout or as an easy run. Either way, my focus was going to be on running relaxed the entire course, with no straining, whether that was at 7 minute, 8 minute, or 9 minute pace.
This morning started off kinda sucky. I woke up feeling lousy, and once again considered bailing on the race. But I didn’t feel so bad that I couldn’t jog 10 miles at easy pace, and so that became my back-up plan. Plus, I was committed to meet Cheryl to lend her some KT tape for the race. So I dragged myself out of bed and to the bathroom, where I proceeded to knock my Army 10 Miler coffee mug (bought the year I set a PR at Army) off of the counter, breaking it. Arguably, not an auspicious sign.
The rest of the morning was a similar exercise in frustration. I drove to the Farragut West metro station, arriving at 6:35 under the assumption that I’d have plenty of time to meet my friend Cheryl at the bag check for the race at 7:15 (it’s normally a 10 minute ride, plus the time you spend waiting for the train). Nope. Mechanical difficulties meant that my train was delayed for more than 20 minutes on the buried track between Arlington Ceremony and Pentagon. My train finally arrived at Pentagon at 7:05. Then it took a ridiculous amount of time to exit the station, with the result that I didn’t get to bag check until 7:20. Spent some time looking for Cheryl, and then decided that she had likely already given up on me. So I cut a few strips of KT tape for her, checked my bag, and headed off to find my corral, doing a walk/shuffle/jog through the crowd that would end up being the bulk of my warm-up.
By the time I got to my corral, I was annoyed, feeling sick, and debating (again) why the heck I was here. I did one pseudo stride (at goal 50 miler pace) and a single skipping drill that made me aware of just how sleepy I still was. Then I saw Cheryl and remembered why I was at the race. Got her taped up, and then joined the crowds in my corral. I was surrounded by people with “wave 2 and wave 3” bibs - a lot of people in slower waves cheat by sneaking into the first corral to maximize their chances at meeting the cut off time for Army, with no care for whether they’re ruining others’ races. I normally get infuriated by this, but I frankly didn’t care this time – I wasn’t racing, so they couldn’t really ruin my race.
Then the race started, and after a minute or two walking to the start, I crossed the start line and hit my Garmin and picked up easy pace, hanging with the wave 2-ers. I had my Garmin screen set to “bike cadence” which means it was effectively blank. I was going to run this relaxed and easy, and not let the watch tell me otherwise.
Since I didn’t run this race with any plan except “have fun, stay relaxed and easy, run through the finish line,” I have no overanalytical blow-by-blow, just an extended essay of interest to few save myself.
I felt horrible through the first mile, and then loosened up a bit. I smiled a lot, waved at my friends, and chatted with other runners. I thanked the wounded soldiers running as I passed them, and focused on how much I liked running. It was a bit hot, but I decided to ignore the fact that I hate running in sunshine, and instead bask in how nice it felt.
Every time I felt like I was hitting what I think of as race effort, I backed off to a pace I felt I could hold forever. I slowed up and drank at every water station to practice drinking from a cup while running, and ignored the mile markers, trying even to forget which mile I was in (I did click lap at each one, just to have the info for later).
At the turn onto the 14th Street Bridge, I started falling into my old habit of anticipating the finish line, and started to push/rush. And then I said stop (mentally), hit the brakes, and returned to zenning out. I decided not to dread the rolling hills, but instead enjoyed them, as a roller coaster of sorts. The infamous “grim reaper” was on the bridge, and I waved at him and laughed as I passed.
[To explain, there’s somebody who always stands on the 14th Street bridge during the Army 10 Miler and Marine Corps Marathon races, attired in a skull and black cloak, holding a scythe and a sign reading “the end is near.” Depending on your perspective, this is either hysterical or infuriating, as the 14th Street Bridge is a set of rolling hills with no crowd support, and is also a) where those racing Army are starting to struggle and b) those racing MCM are hitting the 20 mile glycogen depletion wall].
On the bridge, I also ended up running next to the boyfriend of one of my running friends, Emily – Jake was running with a group of friends at what was clearly a very easy pace for them. I called out and said hi, earning myself a gentle rebuke – “hey – shouldn’t you be working harder!” I laughed , because the same was more than applicable to them.
And then I just enjoyed the rest of the run. A few times I felt the urge to start pushing towards the finish line, and each time I thought “BRAKES” and returned to zoning into my rhythm. I wasn’t slowing, but I was also making sure not to push. Then suddenly the finish line was 150m ahead, and I decided to kick for the heck of it.
Crossed it and hit stop. I was breathing easily and walking comfortably – a marked change from my last few races, where I’ve been unable to stand on my own at the finish. It was weird. Racing’s supposed to hurt like hell, and this didn’t. But then again, I wasn’t racing.
I shifted screens on my Garmin, expecting to see around 72-73 minutes or so, and…69:09. A minute off of my PR (set on a flat course in perfect chilly weather as an all-out collapse at the finish effort), and faster than I had run both Cherry Blossom and Broad Street this year, both of which were faster courses than this, and all out efforts.
I started laughing.
Mile 1: 7:38
Mile 2: 7:02
Mile 3: 7:17
Mile 4: 6:57
Mile 5: 6:53
Mile 6: 6:48
Mile 7: 6:57
Mile 8: 6:47
Mile 9: 6:37
Mile 10: 6:14.
So, what can I take from this? That I need to relax more and just enjoy my running, and forget about pushing to the finish line, or even racing. Do that, and the times will come. The last three miles were the hardest and hilliest, and yet my fastest. And my final mile was well below my 5K PR pace, and yet I was barely out of breath, and felt less drained after this race than I do after a tempo on the track.
Yup, clear proof that my body’s capable of running much faster than my hyper-competitive type A personality will let it. And that I run my best when I have fun and DON’T try to get competitive and race others or the clock. Though you can never know what you WOULD have run, just what you did, I think I might even have come close to my PR with the same relaxed effort level had I been a) not sick and b) warmed-up.
Having fun is NOT one of my strengths. I actually really suck at it. I like work and achievement and pushing hard and winning, not grins and waves. But I guess 37’s not too old to learn a new skill. I’ll start on that tomorrow. Tonight I’m hitting the vitamin C and Zinc. And doing some smiling drills.