Sunday, April 7, 2013

Cherry Blossom 10 miler: 6 months for 18 seconds

Would you rather coast on the way to victory? Or is there something to be said about scrapping your way to the finish line, fighting and throwing down the gauntlet for the triumph?
While the former is certainly easier, I do love a good fight to the finish. And my PRs have been a mix. I've had banner days when the road rose to meet me, and there have been other days when I've clawed my way the whole time. I was not sure what was in store for me at the Cherry Blossom 10 Mile. Rightly so, as this past week was one of the most challenging and rewarding weeks of my career. I had a presentation for my department on Wednesday, when I reported on my progress for my dissertation proposal. I was incredibly nervous and very relieved My schedule has gotten so busy that the only blogging I've done lately has been after races! Hopefully after the semester is over I'll be able to get back in the habit. After all, I love to write anything (which is good that I'm taking on a dissertation), and I find blogging to be so much fun, and I miss doing it on a regular basis.
All of my running eggs were going into the Cherry Blossom basket. I hadn't PRed yet this spring, and Sarah said that it meant that all of the strength training was going into this race. And that was scary too. While it is not a marathon, this was supposed to be my premier race of the season, and I really wanted it to count. My PR from last fall, 1:06:10 was still relatively shiny, but I also wanted to go sub 66 minutes.
I was seeded relatively well for this race, up several corals from the last time I did this in 2009 (I ran 1:23:30). At the start, I felt good and ready to take things out hard. There wasn't anyone else who I was running it with: I would be just doing all the work to get there, not tagging onto anyone else. When the gun went off, I was struck by how far back I was...or that some people were standing closer to the front that they should have. It meant my first mile was 6:50...about 15-18 seconds slower than goal pace, and I just felt stuck. Would I be bobbing and weaving for a place? I hoped not. It took about 2 miles for me to get settled in. My heart felt like it was racing: I needed to calm down and get in a relaxed groove. I could relax a little because even though the paw wasn't ideal, I was going to see my boyfriend soon, who was camped out along the course just before the 3 mile mark. And that gave me a little boost, but before I knew it, the moment was over and I was all alone again.
I was struck by how tired I felt. This felt incredibly hard, and I felt overwhelmed by how tired I was so early into the race. Was it because of my intensive week leading up to it? Was it the final hard weeks of training? Probably a combination of both. I was kind of freaked out (I had never felt so mentally worked up during a race) some races, I've felt that I could shift into another gear. In this case, I felt all in the whole time. So, if I was feeling tired now, at mile 4, how the heck could I sustain this pace for 6 more miles?
I came through the 5 mile (halfway mark) at 32:56, which was on pace for my PR goal, but I could just feel my effort flagging. It was a no excuses day, as the race director announced, the weather was perfect, and I did not want to blow it. I was coming up on Haines Point, an area of DC where I've run some great 10k races at. I had told myself to just hang on to get to there and hopefully I could reign things in. At the 10k mark, I was at 40:50-which this time last year was a 10k PR. But on Sunday, it just felt a small benchmark en route to finishing this friggin race. At mile 7, we started to really get a strong headwind, and with the 40 degree weather and being near the Potomac, it felt icy cold. Was this race ever going to end? I just felt awful: so tired and worn out.
2 miles to go, and I told myself that PR or not, it was all going to be over in less than 14 minutes. I was running with 2 people carrying flags on poles and wondering how they were beating me. Another guy stopped at an impromptu beer table and chugged a cup of beer. Come on, pick it up! 1 mile to go, and I was checking my watch, wondering if I could get back that PR that I had been working for all year. With 3/4 of a mile, they had banners marking off each 400m left, and all I could do was recall my workout of 20 x 400 at 6:20 pace. Surely I could just knock off 3 of those.
There was a small hill to crest with 400m left, and after that, I could finally see the finish line and the clock. I started to pump my fist and manage a small whoop of joy and nearly started to weep as I crossed the finish line.
6:35 per mile
24/2819 in age group (25-29)
73/10321 women
An 18 second PR
It all paid off. Things felt bleak for the first 6 weeks of 2013, like I couldn't get more than a few consistent runs in. All of the work of strength training, cross training paid off and I was able to finally resume a regular running schedule. This race and what it stood for just meant so much for me. I scrapped my way to the finish and was met with victory. And it all comes back to my favorite Deena Kastor quote, "Sometimes the moments that challenge us the most, define us." I got to define myself as the scrappy, then happy runner at Cherry Blossom.
I was sore through Wednesday. Not post marathon sore but sore enough that it still hurt to turn over in bed and my quads screamed as I walked down the stairs. Proof that I ran outside of myself and had put everything into that race and left it out there on race day.
At this point in my running career, I've made enough progress that PRs won't mean multiple minutes knocked off of my time. 18 seconds may not seem like much, but I worked my butt (and legs) off to crack into 1:05. This was the perfect way to end a week of evaluating. While stressful, I got to demonstrate my research abilities, teaching, and running - 3 components that define me.

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