Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Army Strong: Army Ten Miler 2012

I signed up for the Army Ten Miler in May with the plan of making it the big race for the fall.  After a rocky training month in late August/early September, things settled into a groove.  I've been really excited for this race for a while, and although I was nervous about my time goals (1:07:30/6:45 pace) and their feasibility, I was pumped about the race.
Again, a little too pumped - I was up for most of the night.  But unlike the last race, I chose not to be too worked about the lack of sleep and just roll with it.  I was happy this morning to bump into an old friend of mine, Brian, at the Pentagon - hugs and stories are always a good way to start a race morning. Much better than just navigating through everything also - friends make good company!  I got in my warm-up, although with all of the army and police blocking everything off, I trotted around in a small restricted area, and at least the shuffling around meant I wasn't going to use up any extra energy/effort then.  Also bumped into another running friend, Maggie, on the warm-up.  In a race with over 20,000 people, I always find it remarkable that you can find the people you had hoped to see!
I got into position - first wave, corral 2.  I was happy with my spot - close to the front, but within reason.  They did a very beautiful invocation, and it was good to have that moment of quiet reflection before the race started.  This was a day to get out and settle into a rhythm, and once the cannon blasted, we were off!  The weather was perfect - 50 degrees, sunny, and no wind.  The first mile was pretty straight, and while I had to jockey around a little bit, was feeling good.  Mile 1 was a little fast, but I wasn't going to be too worried about it.  Mile 2 was across the Memorial Bridge (which connects the Arlington Cemetery to DC) - something I've crossed a hundred times.  And on the other side of the bridge, just after the mile 2 marker was Sarah!  We had talked earlier in the week, and she said she was going to jump in and run a few miles with me.  The last time she did this in a race was the Marine Corps Marathon in 2009 (almost 3 years ago to the date!), and it led to a BQ.  She was going to run with me through mile 7, and if things felt good, we would push the pace after 5 miles.  She's good to have alongside: she would offer occasional words of encouragement, but I think there is something to be said about having someone beside you who is rooting for you.  So, instead of being surrounded by a pack of strangers, I was focusing on honing in on a consistent pace.  I looked at my watch a couple of times, but Sarah said "don't worry, you are doing great."  Someone even asked what pace we were running - I guess they could tell we were locked in a groove together.  Sarah said "Oh, we're aiming for 6:45s" but apparently was stretching the truth - we were running faster, but she didn't want me to worry about going fast.  We found gaps together, and it just felt so smooth.  Except for one very narrow water station, where it nearly became single file and we almost crashed into each other - at least it made for a good laugh.  I knew we were going faster than goal pace, but Sarah wasn't doing anything to slow things down, and frankly, I felt like we didn't need to.  It felt fast, but not so fast that I thought I was going to blow up or hit the wall toward the end.  We came through the 5 mile mark at about 33:23 - 6:40 pace.  I was nervous - this could either end very pretty or very ugly.
I dumped water on my head a couple of times, which helped to cool off.  I missed once and also spilled on my shoe - so cold!  But that actually dried off fast.  We hit the 10k mark in 41:22 - 6:39 pace.  It felt like we had picked things up a little, but just ever so slightly.  I felt like I had one more gear in me, but didn't want to surge too hard too early.  Sarah kept saying "looking good" or "looking strong," and while she could easily get away with saying that even if it wasn't true, I did feel strong.  I was tearing through each mile faster than I had in practice, but there was nothing on the horizon that indicated that that was problematic.  Right after mile 7, Sarah got ready to jump out - we were getting ready to leave DC.  She said I had to pass 10 more people before the end, shouted "you can do it" and then was out.
Running over the last bridge of the day
And I was prepared for that, knowing that I was going to need to push on my own the last few miles.  This was tough though - there were some hills and bridges that just were hard.  But, I still felt pretty strong, and was working my way through passing people.  And, I also saw a bunch of Wounded Warriors running - a lot of amputees who were trucking along - and it was very inspiring.  I hit the 9 mile mark at around 59 minutes, and it struck me - I was running 9 mph, not for a 5k or 10k, but for an actual hour.  It was also at that point, while I was on a highway bridge, that I knew I just had one more mile to go - this meant under 7 minutes left.  But that bridge was a bit lonely, and it wasn't until we got back close to the Pentagon that there were more people around cheering and pulling us in.  Including my boyfriend!  He was cheering me on, and giving me a great boost to finish strong - Army Strong.  I was grinning from ear to ear as I saw the big clock - showing numbers that were beyond what I expected for today.
About to cross the finish line
6:37 pace
52nd woman
19th in AG
672 out 21912 overall
Oh my gosh, oh my gosh.  This was over a minute faster than the 1:07:30 goal Sarah and I had in mind, and I even ran a negative split.    I caught up with Pat, and he picked me up (literally) - he was so excited too.  He knew that this race was important to me (and I was so glad he came), and it means a lot that he is sharing in my running/racing experiences.
Later on, Sarah texted me to see how it went, and she said "Awesome! You were running faster than 6:45s, but you looked so strong, I saw no reason to say anything.  Now we need to plan an assault on your 10k in 3 weeks."  There is always a new goal in mind - our work is never done!
All smiles after the race
My cooldown was so slow - as it should be.  It certainly gave no indication of what had been done earlier in the morning.  I am so sore from the waist down, but you know, it is just a reminder of the race.  These are my favorite kinds of races - when it goes beyond what I could have expected.  Had anyone ever suggested that I could run 66 minutes for 10 miles, I would have laughed in their faces.  Funny how amazing the reality can even beat out the dream.
I had a long chat with Sarah yesterday, recapping the race.  After all, it's not as if we talked a lot during it.  She was very pleased, and reminded me of a few things that I think are ultimately good lessons to keep in mind:

  • A bad tune-up race doesn't mean a bad big race.  I ran that Run for the Parks 10k a few weeks ago in 41:10 - only 12 seconds faster than I covered the 10k within the Army 10 Miler.  
  • Not all speed work needs to be done on a track.  In previous seasons, I've been on the track weekly for a few months.  This season, I only did 4 track workouts leading up to this race.  I even missed a fifth one - no long term harm done.
  • Tempo pace is not race pace.  Last month, I averaged 6:55 pace for a 4 mile tempo, and opted to not freak out that that was 10 seconds slower than goal race pace (or in reality, 18 seconds slower).  
  • And this was the big one: you cannot "win" workouts in practice and expect to "win" in races.  I love doing tough workouts and crushing the times...but I am learning more and more that does not necessarily translate to great races.  I had never done a workout where I was running consistent 6:45s.  Sure, there would be a mile repeat or 2, or a few 800s where I went faster than that pace, but never a time when I pushed that hard.  And look, on race day, even though it hadn't been done in practice (even in an abbreviated form), I was ready to run 6:37s for 10 miles.
This whole thing is a learning process.  I've been under Sarah's tutelage for almost 3 years now, and I'm still figuring a lot of this out.  
This was a dream race for me, and will go down in the 2012 annals as one of the best of the year.  


  1. Congratulations, woman! I'm so glad to hear that this was such a success! Kudos!

  2. I knew you were gonna kill this one! Congrats on another great race!

  3. Great meeting you! And so happy to have been part of your dream race! (red sportsbra/black pony tail girl)