Monday, April 30, 2012

Watch me go: Pike's Peek 10k

The Pike's Peek 10k, has been my goal race for a while.  My old 10k PR (41:26) had stood since November, and given all of the speed work I've done this spring, I was due to smash it.  This race sounded awesome: one turn in the first mile, and then straight the rest of the way with a net downhill!  The weather was perfect - 45 at the start, with the sun coming up.
I really got to relax last night.  I had given a paper at a conference earlier in the day, and then came home to a nice dinner and got to unwind - a very nice treat.
Now, it is very difficult to get everything to go to plan - on any given day, and certainly race day.  I've forgotten stuff, didn't sleep well, etc.
And here's what happened on Sunday:
I lost my watch.  I had a party at my apartment Friday night, and my guess is that in my attempt to put everything away, it got misplaced.  I ransacked (probably negating the cleaning) my entire place last night, and could not find it.  So, I made my peace with it, and decided today, I would run watch-less and run by feel.  I knew that they would have a timer at each mile, so I could estimate my splits fairly accurately.  I resigned myself to that, and went to bed.
I felt good when I got up, had a nice trip up to Rockville, and got situated at the site.  I did my warm up, checked my gear, did a couple of strides and positioned myself in the back of the first wave of runners  I told myself that when the gun would go off, I would count the number of seconds until I crossed the start, and then use that to check my pace at mile markers.
And then the gun went off - I counted, and estimated it was about 7 seconds for me to cross.  I was off and running, running by feel and just trusting the training.  I ran through the first mile in about 6:23, based on my estimate.  Phew, ease up a bit, you are not going to keep this pace.  I hit 2 miles in 13:07, which meant I had only slowed down a little.  Careful, careful, you don't want to blow up with over 4 miles to go.  But I felt so good and comfortable.  The road was clear, the air was perfect and I felt great.  3 miles in  19:38 ish and at this point, I felt myself slowing down, not out of my control, but out of fatigue - and hitting the 5k mark meant that I was halfway done, but that still felt like a long way to go.  The course was great - we were running on the Pike, and things had thinned out enough that I had ample room and really settled into a good rhythm.  Until I got a side stitch at mile 4 - this had never happened in a race.  Shoot - what to do I do?  Slowing down helped, but I didn't want to have to can my whole race.  I just tried to breathe deeply and relax, and hope that it would work itself soon.  At mile 5, it finally disappeared, and I felt like I could pick things up again, which was good as I was running somewhat ignorant of the time and not completely sure how I was going to finish.
Have you ever heard bad breathing during a race?  That labored, pained, panting/gasping that really makes it hard to focus?  A man next to me at mile 5 sounded like he was going to throw up, and I was finding it really hard to concentrate.  And unfortunately, he was running the same pace as me - it took a while for me to pull away and get far enough from him not to hear that.  Yikes!  Finally, before I could even see the mile 6 marker, I could see the big balloon arch that signaled the finish - finally!  The last part of the course was all downhill, so I just used gravity as best as I could, and plummeted to the finish, watching the clock click on.
40:55 (6:35 pace)
35/1445 women
9/203 age group
Yes!  A 31 second PR, and I broke 41 minutes!
But I'll admit that initially, I wasn't completely thrilled.  We had a goal of 40:45-40:30, and I didn't accomplish that.  After I finished, I did my cooldown, where I could still feel the lingering side stitch, and tried to analyze the race.  I was excited about the PR, but I thought it was going to be more.  Was it the lack of the watch?  The cramp?  Did I blow up because I went out too hard?  All of these thoughts were swirling around, and while I was proud of what I did, I didn't have that "yeah, I nailed it" smile or feeling that I have experienced regularly.
It wasn't until the drive home that things clicked, and I had a positive shift in attitude.  I was driving on the Pike (now re-opened), and Frankie Valli and the Four Season's "Dawn" came on.  I have a distinct memory after one of my 10k PRs last fall, walking around the National Mall, with that playing on my iPod, grinning from ear to ear over the joy of my triumph.  That then-PR for the 10k was 42:48 - almost 2 minutes slower than what I accomplished on Sunday, and I had been ecstatic. And I remembered a similar reaction when I ran 41:26 - I didn't think I could run under 42.  And here I was, less than celebratory after cracking 41 minutes.  Are you kidding me?
The old me - from 6 months ago, a year ago, would have died to know that sub 41 was a possibility.  And then another thought drifted in - I am running faster than I ever thought possible.
I didn't grow up a runner who thought of all of these benchmarks.  This is still only a lifestyle I've had for 3.5 years, and I am just learning now what I can do.  So, how dare I not celebrate my big victory.
Whoosh - 180 degree change in attitude.  My PR is what it is - a personal record achieved through hard work.  It is a benchmark of progress, but I think it is also just a temporary one - with others waiting to emerge down the road.   I ran as hard as I could (no one can say now that I don't go out hard), I readjusted mid race when difficult conditions came down the pike, and I accomplished my sub 41 goal.
Totally worthy of celebration.  A few hours later, an email came in from Sarah, not just of congratulations, but with a new schedule for my next cycle of training - because there's always another new dream race and dream goal that awaits.

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