First of all - an aside - it really is "Peek" and not "Peak." It's a play on words, referring both to the famous Pikes Peak in Colorado and the fact that nearly all of this race is run on the Rockville Pike in suburban Maryland.
Also, unlike the "Pikes Peak" marathon (which is uphill), this race has traditionally been quite downhill. And that was one of the reasons I'd avoided it. I've run this race twice before, and run a time ridiculously faster than anything I was capable of on a flat course - which then set me up for frustration when I couldn't come close to my Pike's Peek time on a flat course. And I'd feel utterly trashed after the race to boot. Thus the downhill course was also a mental and physical downer.
So why did I run it this year? Well....it all goes back to several months ago, when some of my high school classmates noted that our 25th reunion was coming up, and wouldn't it be fun to run a race on Sunday morning. I was up for it, so I researched options, and concluded that Pike's Peek was probably the best choice, due to distance, location, and start time. So...what the heck. Plus I had heard that the course was changed and was now significantly slower - it would be fun to check it out.
Fast forward to this week, which ended up being fairly draining. Wednesday and Thursday were the annual meeting for a professional organization I'm fairly involved in (The "International Association of Privacy Professionals" - and yes, it's hilarious that this "privacy professional" maintains a blog in which she covers all sorts of personal stuff, some of which is TMI). And then Friday and Saturday were my high school reunion, with cocktail parties both nights. So... lots of walking,..lots of socializing.
By Saturday, I was pretty tired and tempted to skip the 10K. And I was honestly enjoying the reunion far more than I ever dreamed I would (seriously, it was so much fun). But I kept looking at the forecast, which just kept looking better and better. Cool, not much wind, with the potential for showers.
So...I reluctantly left the Saturday night reunion party early, to ensure an early bed time to match my early wake-up (4:40 am). It was really hard to leave - I don't think I would have if the Sunday morning forecast hadn't been so perfect.
(I will note that, as hard as it was to depart the party early, it was easier than trying to explain to my coach why I decided at the last minute to party and sleep in instead of running a very fast 10K course on a perfect weather day).
Sunday dawned, and it was (as expected) nearly perfect. My only quibble was that I would have preferred light rain - both because it tamps down the pollen and because I think I run relatively faster in rain than other people - literally a competitive advantage. But the lack of rain was a very small negative. Still a near perfect day.
As I did my warm-up jog, I noted the change in the course - while 90% of the course is the same, the start line had been moved, so that we ran through the old start line a quarter mile after starting. This was significant because the previous start was at the top of a hill; the new start was at the bottom of that same hill.
During my warm-up, I made a point of running up the hill, and measuring the distance on my Garmin. Just a bit less than a quarter-mile. Then I did some quick math - a quarter mile at 6:20 pace is 1:35; a quarter at 7:00 pace is 1:45. Thus, even if I went out super slow on the uphill, I'd only lose 10 seconds, which I could easily make up during the next 6 miles.
Armed with that knowledge, I reaffirmed my intention (that's yoga-speak) to go out very carefully. A quick chat with my coach altered that strategy slightly - I'd stay conservative all the way until the left turn onto Rockville Pike (about a half mile into the course). Then I'd start racing.
With my race strategy set and my warm-up+strides completed, I lined up. There was masters prize money on the line (determined by gun time) so I lined myself up close to the front of the race, but off to one side so that I wasn't an impediment. I had noted a very fast local masters runner warming up, and I knew that if she ran a decent race I wouldn't be near her. But, anything can happen in a race, so best to preserve my chances for the masters win, even if it was only an outside possibility.
Then we started. Per my plan, I went out carefully. I was actually surprised by how few people passed me. This race usually goes out quite hard, with people paying the price later in the race. Not this time - everyone was working off of the same memo I was apparently. Fine with me - it was nice not being over-run from behind.
Then we turned onto the Pike, and I flipped into race mode, scanning where I was versus other people, where the packs were forming, and where the tangents were (the race has some very slight curves). And also how I felt. My legs didn't feel great - not awful, but not as bouncy as I'd like for a half mile into a 10K. Not great - but not surprising - I had been on my feet a LOT this week.
I was also mentally in a bit of a funk - I think it was just mental fatigue from all the events of the past week. I always have to work during races to stay in a positive place, and I was straining today to do that, due to the mental fatigue.
Somewhere pretty early in the course, my coach had parked on the side of the course, to observe us as we came through. When he saw me, I was running by myself. He barked a command at me to catch the pack ahead - which had the desired effect - I snapped out of it. In short order I caught the pack, and then passed them (they were slowing). So I was by myself again. But I was also in a different mental place now - more focused - and that made all the difference.
The next few miles were the Pike's Peek I remembered - rolling hills, with the uphills being surprisingly significant. For out-of-towners - this race has a similar feel to CIM, and the hills are similar in the steepness and length.
There was a pack ahead with two of my teammates, and so I spent the next few miles reeling them in - I had hopes of catching their pack, but wasn't quite able to do it. But just having them creep back towards me helped.
By Mile 5 I was running on fumes. Somebody announced "the winner has just crossed the line," and I thought "fuck you." (Apparently everyone else thought the same thing - what a demoralizing thing to announce.) But I reminded myself that I was a marathoner, and one more mile was a very short distance. And I grinded on.
This course ends with another left turn onto Marinelli Road, and then a downhill sprint to the finish. I kicked with what I had, which didn't seem like much. But I got myself across the line respectably, and noted with satisfaction that I had broken 39. Woo.
Miles 1-2: 12:35 (6:18)
Mile 3: 6:12
Mile 4: 6:16
Mile 5: 6:19
Mile 6: 6:24
last bit: 69 seconds (5:30 pace)
So...a positive split, but I think that's in part the course - the first half is unquestionably faster than the second, and the last mile appears to be uphill, according to the elevation profile.
As for the fastness of the course - that's definitely changed as well. While most of the course is the same, the changes to the start (now uphill) and the finish (no longer as downhill as it was) really have changed the nature of the course.
Looking at USATF course documetation (because I'm a numbers girl) - the old course had a drop of 5.8 meters per kilometer. This course? 2.2 m/km. By comparison, the Boston Marathon has a drop of 3.23 m/km, CIM has a drop of 2.45 m/km. The Broad Street 10 Miler has a drop of 2.59 m/km. All more than this race. And that doesn't mention the crazy-fast-eyerolly courses like Clarendon Day 5K (12.2 m/km)
Plus... my 10K time today is close to but not quite as good as my half-marathon performance at Shamrock. Similarly, my teammates who ran Cherry Blossom a few weeks back had equivalent performances today.
All of this points towards calling this a legit PR. I just need to (over)analyze it (to death) a bit more before I electronically etch the new number onto the eternal granite of the ephemeral internet.
- Weather was awesome - temperature of 45, DP of 42, not much wind. What a great day.
- Warm-up was 3 miles, including a quarter mile at hard tempo effort about 20 minutes before, plus drills and four strides. Cooled down for 3 after to give me 12 for the day.
- The pollen was notable, but not a huge issue. Watery eyes and I was snotty, but that doesn't affect my running much. I can't say my breathing was perfect today, as I did feel slightly tight. But nothing like the issues I had a few weeks ago. Yay for Xolair. (I did puff my inhaler pre-race just to be safe).
- I left my house at 6:15, which was perfect for getting me to the race start by 6:45 (race started at 7:50). I made a point of not parking in the first lot available, but the very last, Which was also the closest to the start line. So woo.
- I did nearly forget to run with my metro farecard - that would have been an issue, since we park at the start for this race, and metro back to the start from the finish after. I guess worst case scenario I could have run back to the start.
- I am tired, but nowhere near as sore as I've been in the past after this race. I think less drop also means less abuse on the body.