A lot of times, when awaiting the race start, people will ask me what time I'm shooting to run. My answer's always the same: I don't know. And I really don't. I train and race best when I shoot for effort levels, rather than times. So, I know that I'm going to run 10K race effort for 6.21 miles, but I don't know what time that will end up being.
But usually, I at least have some idea approximately where I'll be. I know whether I'll be closer to 19 minutes or 20 minutes for the 5K, for example. But for today's race, I didn't even know that. I've done a total of two bits of fast running since my marathon (and post marathon break) - one a set of tempo intervals, the other a set of normal track intervals. Both went surprisingly well. But there's a difference between workouts and races. One is individual pieces, the other is the completed puzzle.
But what the heck - how better to find out where I am then to race. And I've really missed racing. So, I jumped into Pike's Peek - a big local 10K with a net downhill that's notoriously fast. The weather predictions of chill with a tailwind? A plus.
Of course, I knew this might be a bit..uncomfortable. First workouts after a break are often a bit of a shock to the system, and first races back moreso. But, the best way to remove a bandaid is to rip it off.
So I did. Drove myself up to Rockville to park at the finish, and then grabbed a cab to the start (this worked wonderfully well, BTW). Warmed-up, handed my throwaway top to my coach (just because I'm willing to toss it doesn't mean I won't try to save it for next race), said hi to friends, and then we started.
This race always goes out very fast. It's notorious as a very fast course, but I think that does a lot of people wrong - they buy into the hype, start like bats out of hell because they think they're supposed to, and then fall apart half way through the race.
This is a very fast race, but it's not an easy race. It's net downhill but it does have some hills, which are unforgiving to those in oxygen debt. The trick to running this race well is to not think of it as a fast course. Race it like you would any other moderately hilly 10K, and you'll do really well, assisted by the ~190 foot net drop.
Keeping this in mind, I made sure to stay patient especially through the first 2 miles. Patient, relaxed - that was pretty much the extent of my race plan, but especially from the gun.
And that was how I ran it. Relaxed, running hard but never rushing, and trying to keep as even an effort as possible, which meant slowing a bit on the uphills, and then catching people on the downhills. I had the benefit of many teammates cheering, especially in the first few miles. That was helpful, because I was able to wave and fist pump at them. I don't do the friendly wave thing for them, but for me - I've learned that if I can't wave at friends in the first half of a race, I'm going out too hard, and need to correct. It's a helpful metric.
Even so, this was a tough race for me. Nothing but easy running tends to make one a bit soft - unused to the pain of hard racing. Burning lungs was something I haven't felt in quite some time. The moderate uphills hurt, frankly. I tend to run best when I run a steady progressive type of effort - opening up a bit more each mile. Hills, even when I try to do even effort, do result in more of a surge/recovery type pacing - not my favorite thing. But I dealt. Like you do when ripping off a bandaid.
It's funny, the thoughts that run through your head when racing - the small bits of negativity and unhelpful suggestions that pop up - sometimes in the most amusing ways. To explain in more detail, the race course for Pike's Peek winds down the Rockville Pike - not too far from where I grew up. Rockville Pike is basically a litany of strip malls, packed full of places I stopped by as a child or teenager (or, occasionally, as an adult). The car wash, the office for my accountant, the Mexican restaurant that we went to when I was a kid, the David's Bridal where I bought my bridesmaid dress for my sister's wedding - they're all there. Leading to repeated mental detours like the following:
"Oh look - there's where the comic book store is, I think. Why don't I stop running and see what they have."
Um....no. You have a race to finish first (plus, it's Sunday before 9:00 am, no way they're open). I redirected, and focused on relaxing my way up the next hill.
Sure enough, the race hurt more the further I got. Racing at an effort higher than your lactate threshold is a completely different beast from cruising below that level. About mile 4, I got the weirdest nostalgia ever: "y'know, if this was a marathon and I had two miles to go, life would be a lot more pleasant right now." We'll file that under other weird racing thoughts - I dunno as anyone would think that's a rational statement. On the other hand, I don't recall wishing I was racing a 10K during my last marathon.
So, relaxed again, embraced the burn, and kept on. By now, people were starting to noticeably slow - that fact helped distract from the pain. Passing is always fun.
As we got closer to the finish, more and more people started screaming at me to "kick" - I was tempted, but then remembered that I kick best when I don't push, but just relax. It was an effort, but instead of pumping my arms and legs harder, I just tried to release as much tension as possible. And it worked once more, as I flowed strong to the finish.
Crossed the finish smoothly, but completely spent and staggering. No doubt I left it all out there. And fitness wise? Both physically and mentally, I'm in decent shape. I ran 39:15 - exactly the same time I ran last year. Given where I am in my training right now, I'll take this as excellent. And mentally, I may not have run a race in some time, but I executed this one very well - good pacing, stayed relaxed, confident, and focused. Not bad at all.
Splits ended up being 6:18, 6:18, 6:22, 6:21, 6:24, and then 7:30 for the last 1.21 (6:12 pace). It doesn't look like it was negatively split here, but I believe that effort-wise, it was. Given the uphill/downhill nature of the course, splits don't always reflect the effort level.
- Got second in my age group (also, just like last year). That's a $50 check. Yay for races that pay for themselves, and then some.
- Weather was awesome for the most part - temperature was in the low 40s - perfect for racing. We had a tailwind for the most part, though I could swear we had a few gusts of a decent head wind at some points on course. In particular, I remember one or two times where I ducked behind someone else. Not sure if anyone else remembers this - I got a crazy look or two when I mentioned this. Maybe just me.
- In the morning, got to White Flint at 6:40 am and met my cab there. The cab ride to the start took 15 minutes. I've decided this is the way to do it - so nice to have my car at the finish so I could go run errands right after the race.
- Bib pick-up was at the White Flint mall, in the food court known as "The Eatery." If running down Rockville Pike was an exercise in nostalgia, bib pick-up was a step beyond. The Eatery is where my mom used to take me to lunch way back when, like when I was 6 or 7 (and I don't think I've been back there much since). It doesn't look at all similar to how I remember it. But a few decades does that to us all.
- Pollen was bad today. Damn trees stop having sex.