I ran the Cherry Blossom 10 miler yesterday, finishing in a time of 1:14:24.
This was a first for me. I've run races and raced them all out, peaking for them. I've raced when I've known I wasn't in the best of shape or have been in the middle of a training cycle, but gave my best anyway. I've used races as substitutes for workouts - running a moderate to hard effort while working on some aspect of my own running. But this was the first time I've done none of the above.
So why did I run Cherry Blossom? Well, I LOVE this race. Even though I was running Shamrock Marathon this year, which precluded a 10 mile race three weeks later, I registered. Just in case something happened at Shamrock - a DNF or DNS. Having Cherry Blossom as a back-up of sorts was comforting. And I couldn't bear the thought of missing it entirely.
And then, of course, Shamrock went well. Which was wonderful. But the price of a good marathon is the races you have to sit out before and after - no workouts or races for 3 weeks post marathon. My coach OK'd running Cherry Blossom as long as I didn't run it hard, so that was what I'd do. It'd be new and different.
Even so, I needed something to do. It will shock no one to know that I'm a bit purpose driven - just jogging the race didn't sound like much fun. And I really don't like cherry blossoms - too much pollen. So when I mentioned to my friend Cheryl that I was probably going to run in the 1:15-1:20 range, and she invited me to run with a group of teammates around the 1:15 range, I was psyched. I had an objective.
It was a bit weird to do a race/non-race. Because I wasn't racing, I opted to leave my lucky red skulls headband at home, and also to skip my lucky black nail polish. Clothing wise, I dressed as I would for an easy to moderate run, rather than a race - wearing my Capital Area Runners longsleeve shirt in a race for the first time. I also donned red compression socks, just to complete the red cheerleader ensemble.
I may have been a bit too chill, as I also left my number on my fridge, and had to go back and get it. Yup, different mentality.
But finally I was assembled, and drove to a spot about 2.5 miles from the start, before jogging over. Talked to friends, did a few drills (not because I needed to, but because I'm trying to do them a few times a week) and found the group I'd be running with - Cheryl, Allison, Patricia, and Stephanie. We chatted some about race plans - they wanted to start at 7:40, then build a bit, possibly/hopefully finishing with 7:00 at the end. We also chatted about the weather - the temps were perfect, but it was a bit breezy - I told them that anyone who was near me at Hains Point should use me as a windblock.
Then we crowded into our corral (I also saw my friends Greg, Elizabeth, Madeline, and Malissa in the corral), socialized, and the race started.
It was a bit odd, trying to start the race at a specific pace. Or even focusing on pace at all. For a while now, I've been running everything - easy runs, workouts, and races - exclusively off of perceived effort. When I do a workout, I do 8x800 at "800m rep feel" not "2:xx." I know how starting a 10 mile should feel; shooting for a pace rather than a feel was a bit foreign to me. Plus all my runs for the last few weeks have been easy (with the one exception of 2 miles at marathon pace on Friday morning when I realized I was going to be late to yoga *whistles*). So I flicked my Garmin screen to show distance and time, to give me some guidance. [I don't trust the instant pace readings at all; but I figure quarter mile splits on it aren't too bad, generally.]
And that was how I ran. I ended up a second or two ahead of the group of teammates, which I preferred - that way if I was massively screwing up my attempt to hit 7:40, I hadn't sucked them out. They could use me as a guidepost, but were still able to do their own thing.
We came through the first mile in 7:36 - a little fast, but hopefully not so much that damage had been done. Plus they were a second or two behind, which put them closer to 7:40. From then on, I tried to hold a steady effort, continually looking behind me to see how near or far the group was.
It was easily the most looking around I have ever done in a race. Normally, when I race, I get tunnel vision. I'm focused on a) my effort and b) the shortest/easiest path between two points. Not this time. I was looking to each side to see friends, to the back to see how the group was doing (the further we got into the race, the more I let them set the pace, since I figured they had a feel), to the front to see if any issues were coming up. When we hit turnaround points (there are two) I'd swing way wide to make sure I didn't get in the way of anyone who was racing. I really didn't care if I ran extra distance. It was just a different mentality.
At the second turnaround, I noted that the group had split up a bit, with Stephanie pulling ahead. Since the group still had each other to work with, I decided to help Stephanie as I could - essentially running a bit ahead of her to give her something to focus on while trying to (figuratively) punch holes in large groups of runners ahead so that she wasn't blocked. When we hit Hains Point, a bit of a head wind hit us, and I tried to find the best place to position myself to block the wind for her. At some point though, we got separated, and I was simply running on my own. It felt surreal, to be running at a moderate pace while others around me fought their own personal battles in the final miles of their races. It felt a bit mean, to be honest, though I'm not sure why that's the case.
And then I noted another member of our group, Patricia, behind me. I "led" her some more, pushing through crowds. I would have loved to have done more, but the truth is that you can never run a race for someone else. In the end, it's all them.
But when we hit mile 9, Patricia shouted to me "7 minutes." I turned back towards her.
"You want a 7 minute mile?"
Yay! This, I could do. After all the marathon training, 7:00 and I were BFF. I found that familiar groove, and locked in. All the way up the final hill and down the stretch to the finish (the last mile ended up being 6:58 on my watch, so a little fast, but Patricia didn't seem to mind). Crossed the finish, and turned to cheer my teammates in.
I felt satisfied, though also a bit wistful. When you cross the finish line having given your optimal effort, it's a great feeling that more than balances any discomfort you felt while racing. It's addictive. I didn't get my hit at Cherry Blossom - while everyone around me was imbibing in the racer's high, I was a designated driver. But still, a fun day overall. And great to see so many of my teammates have great races, and to have been involved in some small way in Patricia's massive PR.
But yeah, I really can't wait to race again. It's been way too long. Way too long.
Other stuff: for posterity - splits ended up being 7:36, 7:35, 7:10, 7:24, 7:20, 7:31, 7:43, 7:42, 7:25, 6:58.