Earlier this spring, when Coach Mick and I were planning out the race schedule, I got the idea that it might be possible to break 50 minutes for the 10K. I haven’t run a lot of 10Ks. Ok – I have run ONE stand-alone 10K in 80 degree weather and twice I ran the 10K directly following the 5K as part of the Runners’ World Festival. I suspected my 54:33 PR was pretty soft, but 50 minutes seemed like a reach. Not impossible, but the right amount of challenge. 10K isn’t a very common race distance and some of the races I found didn’t fit well with my overall training schedule but then I came across the Sprint into Spring 10K right next door in Middlefield, CT. The race starts and finishes in Peckham Park, a frequent destination for playground time for the kids. Perfect. Snarky Girl signed up too. More perfect.
Coming off two pretty big PRs in the last month, I was starting to feel some confidence that my time at the Donna marathon really was a combination of heat and a bad day at the office. Rose is even starting to talk about “MY PR MAMA!” But I went and ran the course twice for training runs and it is hilly. Very hilly. So, you never know.
Last weekend I went to Boston to cheer and to be honest, it was a little traumatic. The expo was incredibly fun and massive. Hanging out with Coach Mick and his wife and a bunch of his runners was amazing. Staying with Corgi Speedster was a blast. Watching the race was hard. I didn’t mind so much getting wet and cold myself, but watching the runners and especially the wheelchair racers – I have rarely seen that kind of suffering. Everyone has been processing the insanity that was Boston 2018 this week, including me. But when I asked Coach Mick if he would do it over again in the exact same weather conditions, he didn’t hesitate to say yes. HPRM #1 said he would run Boston on hot coals every step of the way. I knew better than to ask the Retiree this question but even he seems to be recovering from his Boston trauma. So maybe even something as awful as Boston 2018 can be a survival story. Even Des Linden said, “If it hadn’t been as difficult, it probably wouldn’t mean as much.”
In texting with Coach Mick before the race, we talked about splitting the difference between the Bunny race at a 7:35 pace and the Middletown 10 miler at a 7:55 pace. 7:45 seemed reasonable for a 10K. I also sought advice from a bunch of people about how to approach hills. My takeaway was a collection of three short phrases: A posture cue from Coach Mick about leaning slightly into the hill on the uphill – break the tape; fast feet on the downhill – like Roadrunner; take advantage of the flats, Coach Mick described this as “goose it” which made me chuckle. Break the tape, Roadrunner, Goose it.
The night before the race, my gang went over to Snarky Girl’s house to watch an episode of Sherlock. I took my new R8 roller and my Rubz spiky ball because I’m allowed to be total runner-freak girl at her place. I love these evenings with our families flopped all over their living room together. We decided to carpool to the race with the running moms heading over earlier and the support crew dads coming after a bit.
The next morning was the usual oatmeal and coffee routine. Plus the 5 hour energy shot, which Nutrition Guy recommended, and plenty of water. I was nervous but just kept sort of shaking my hands out and telling myself to relax. Snarky Girl picked me up at 6:45 as planned. On the drive there, we discovered a little segment they had added to the course – a short out and back in the middle of the second downhill.
At the park, we got our bibs and our shirts and I roped Snarky Girl into a mile warmup and did a few drills. Our hubbies arrived with the kids in tow. The park has a great playground making this an awesome race for families.
I was quite nervous before the race, but kept remembering what Coach Mick had texted me. It will get HARD, like the 5K and the 10K were hard, but you have trained for hard and you are ready. I did feel ready! I lined up right in front! There was no timing mat for the start and I knew I wanted to start fast, so that’s where I went. One thing I have learned from the last two races, being paced by HPRM #1 and the Retiree, is that I probably need to start faster. I have been a conservative starter because I’m always afraid of falling apart at the end, but you give up time that way and I was pretty sure I needed to get out of the gate more quickly. If that meant I bonked at the end, so be it. HPRM #1 has called it an experiment. Just see what happens with a quicker start.
They buzzed us out with an air horn and off we went. I had spotted someone from the Manchester Running Company, the Retiree’s running club, while I was warming up. I just signed up so I introduced myself in the first mile and asked about her goal time. She said she was aiming for 46-48 minutes. Not wildly off from me, I had been thinking 47-49 minutes. I ran next to her for a bit but a glance at my watch revealed 6:45 pace. Um, what? No, no, no, not ok. It also started to feel very not ok, so over the course of the first mile, I settled down and thought, all right, you probably have no business passing her, but keep her in sight and hopefully you can chat after the race. First mile in 7:28.
This is a two loop course with two big hills on the loop. Approaching the first hill, I tried to remember everything I had learned in the crash course on hill racing I had solicited over the past two days. Lean into the hill a little. Look straight ahead of you. I tried to find some cute buns to look at, heh heh. Shorten your stride. Don’t gas yourself. Up and over the first hill.
There’s a more or less straight stretch between the two hills and I just tried to focus on keeping the pedal down. “Goosing it” as Coach Mick had recommended. The first time through, this was okay. I felt pretty good. The Retiree will be dismayed to learn that I decided to keep the music for this race. I suspect I am in the process of weaning myself off music but one step at a time and I didn’t want to do it here. The second mile ends near the corner and at 7:57, it was a good deal slower than the first, but not tragic. The third mile is up the second huge hill, then the massive downhill. I could still see the woman from Manchester ahead of me and I ran next to a young girl on the hill. Then on the out and back, I saw Snarky Girl! She was not nearly as far behind as I thought she would be. She had said she expected to run an hour for this race?
As we ran past the start, I could see the Incredible Mervus and Aidan. I tossed my gloves in their direction and apparently hammed it up for the camera, though I have no memory of doing this. Third mile in 7:27. Then we started the second loop. The young girl I had been running with turned into the park for the 5K. It turns out she is only 12 and she won the 5k! But now, I was alone.
I ran the second loop in no man’s land, as Coach Mick calls it. It is surprising how much harder it is to run fast in no man’s land. I ran by some volunteers and they yelled “Go on! You can catch her!” referring to the Manchester woman. I rolled my internal eyes and thought, no, that would be a completely terrible idea. I need to keep my own pace now. I tried to goose it on the flat section but I started to lose heart a bit. Then I just yelled at myself internally: DO NOT GIVE UP! You run this thing hard! It’s just another solo tempo run and you’ve done plenty of those. Mile 4 in 7:40.
The hill at mile 5 was the worst. I had to walk a little at the top but I tried to walk the way Snarky Girl does, sort of up tempo hiking. I was soooo glad to crest that hill. One more bad hill to go. The long straight section that finishes mile 5 was quite hard. I could see that the Manchester woman was getting further away but after my walking I was glad she was there at all. Otherwise I couldn’t see anyone except some people out for a stroll.
I listened to the soundtrack to Dear Evan Hansen for this race. I know, I know, “real runners” don’t listen to music, especially not while racing. Well, screw that. Especially since I ended up by myself so much of the time, I was really happy to have music this time around. One of my favorite songs came on, “You Will Be Found,” and it was perfect. That long stretch of road, alone but not alone:
Even when the dark comes crashing through
When you need someone to carry you
When you’re broken on the ground
You will be found!
So let the sun come streaming in
‘Cause you’ll reach up and you’ll rise again
If you only look around
You will be found!
Running is not the only way to be found. But feeling connected to others, knowing that you matter, that they care – this is what my family and my running friends mean to me. Even when I run alone, I know I am not alone. This was the hardest mile of the race for me and the slowest at 8:24, but in some ways also the most beautiful because I kept fighting even when it was really hard.
I still had one more big hill to get up though. This hill is reallllly steep but shorter than the first one and I didn’t walk. On the out and back in the middle of the downhill, I spotted Snarky Girl behind me, but closer than she had been last time. Yikes.
I gunned it down the hill, my brain chanting roadrunner, roadrunner, turn those legs. At the bottom it’s a quick left turn into the park and I heard Snarky Girl behind me yelling something like C’mon! Let’s GO! Give it all you’ve got! Eek. She is sooo close. In one of those moments when time stops I thought: Turn it up! She’s going to pass you! Crap, she is passing you! I am going to have to tell HPRM #1 that Snarky Girl passed me! I hope she doesn’t wait for me. She’d better be racing like crazy here, WHEN IS THIS GOING TO BE OVER?
Then I saw the clock and it was 47:50 or something. My pie-in-the-sky goal was to break 48 minutes so I ran like an absolute maniac. The Incredible Mervus has amazing video footage of the clock changing from 47:59 to 48:00 as I am between the two mats! Official time: 48:00. Just to be clear, I am over the moon about this. My original goal was to break 50:00 and that seemed really really fast when I decided to try for it. 48:00 is FABULOUS. But also, sub-48 next time around.
I finished and I was my usual incoherent mess at the finish line. I mean, I run hard when I race. Isn’t that the idea? When the volunteer tried to give me water, I kind of semi-collapsed into her arms instead and then got her to hand me off to Mervus, who was waiting right there, thank goodness. He told me I was third woman, which I couldn’t even believe. I knew the Manchester woman was ahead of me and I knew Snarky Girl had passed me just at the six mile mark. But there hadn’t been any other women ahead of us? What? Third woman OVERALL? I had to hear that a couple of times before I believed it. I still can’t quite believe it.
I sort of semi-collected myself and we of course put it together that Snarky Girl and I were second and third woman overall and both going to place in our age groups. That meant we had to stick around for the awards ceremony! Only first place overall folks got trophies, but we got pint glasses, which might be better than a trophy anyway. Then, I also won a gift certificate to my favorite restaurant in the raffle. I didn’t even know there was a raffle! Score! We will be headed to the Blackbird Tavern very soon for a celebratory dinner. This morning, we went to Carmela’s on the Extension for brunch. I had a mimosa, of course!