Not every race is going to go according to plan.
If you never fail, you’re not looking hard enough for the edge of what you can accomplish.
I’m experimenting and not every experiment has the expected result.
Sure, those things are true. A disappointing race is still a disappointment. I was hoping on a very excellent day to run just under 47 minutes at the Westfield 10K in Westfield, Massachusetts. I ran 47:55, which is officially a PR, except the course was short, I suspect a good bit short. My “former” PR is 48:00 which I will probably just keep as my official PR because at least it was on a legitimate course. I also got first in my age group for the first time ever, a goal I’ve been chasing for awhile. I’m trying to be happy about that result, but I’m disappointed in how I ran so it’s a struggle. I would have quite liked a hat or a pint glass or another plaque, but instead? My prize is free entry to next year’s race! I’m not sure if I’ll want to come back for revenge or if I’m done with Westfield for a few years.
When Coach Mick and I talked about my running some shorter stuff between Boston and Boilermaker, we both liked the idea of finding some 10Ks. I know a lot of elite marathoners have moved up from the 10K and the two distances seem to have some things in common though I am still figuring out what. My hatred for the 5K is also well known and I thought maybe the 10K would be less bad. I found this one in western Massachusetts, not far from where Mervus’s parents live. It’s a flat course, which is good, because I was hoping for a fast time. The June 22nd date was pretty late so I knew it might get warm, but there weren’t any other 10Ks that fit my schedule. The Retiree kindly volunteered to pace me and it was game on for Westfield!
I’ve been treating the Short Distance Spaghetti Project as a crash course in shorter races – shorter for me at least – and I’m learning a lot, which is my main goal. As race day approached, the Retiree wanted to know what the race plan was and to save everyone time, he linked HPRM#1 into the conversation. They “suggested” that the Retiree wear my watch, working off the premise that I can run faster than I think I can. Seeing splits on the watch that I perceive as “fast” might push my brain into freak-out mode and cause me to slow down. I had had a good race with HPRM#1 wearing my watch at the Bunny Rock 5K way back in March 2018 so I agreed. But we all wanted some advice from Coach Mick about what time to target. He knew I wanted to beat my PR of 48:00 and said he thought 47:30 was reasonable. I’m very lucky that HPRM#1 and the Retiree share a quite ambitious vision of my running and they wondered if we might push that closer to 47:00 or even a tad below. Coach Mick agreed that that wasn’t crazy, on a good day, so we shifted the goal to 47:00, or maybe 46:59.
One thing that I’ve found useful at the shorter distances is a series of mental cues to help me refuse the deal and to break the race into pieces. I had done that for Delaney Dash and Run for the Pies and it had worked so I wanted to use that strategy again. The day before the race, Coach Mick noted that in a podcast we both listened to, they talked about the decision at the two-mile mark of a 5K to either ease off or double down. He told me that’s the four-mile mark of the 10K and that I should double down. “Double down!” I couldn’t ask for a better cue that that. We had also noted in passing that if things went exceptionally well at Westfield, Coach Mick would adjust my training paces for Chicago. But just like Jack Daniels says, faster training paces have to be earned – so, the last mental cue was to be “earn it.”
I still needed a couple more ideas and luckily Coach Mick is brilliant at this sort of thing. When I asked for cues for early in the race, he said I was ready, mentally and physically, so “ready” became cue #1. He also said, 10Ks are hard to find. I needed to take advantage of today’s race because I wouldn’t get another chance for quite some time – “today” was cue #2. The middle of the race still felt a little empty though. I abbreviate two groups of running friends as the FBs and the FFs. A new group has formed and we are calling ourselves the FFFs. Coach Mick texted me to run #fearless. One goal for the race was to be First in my age group. That’s a lot of Fs and “F” became the middle cue. I went to sleep Friday night going over the sequence in my mind: Ready-Today-F-Double Down-Earn It. Maybe too complicated? But pretty good. In any case, that’s what I came up with.
I arrived at the race shortly after 8am and went and grabbed my bib and race shirt. It was a bit warmer than desirable but the humidity we’d been dealing with all week had finally dropped. I felt quite good on my warm-up run, but by the end of a mile and a half, I was sweating, not a great sign. I got back to the car, did a few drills, and found the Retiree and my family.
The Retiree and I had settled on the arrangement whereby he had my watch, but I kept my music. I ended up caring a lot about this race and as much as I tried to stay calm, I felt pretty nervous. You’re excited, I told myself, that’s fine. But I could feel the adrenaline surging. Calm down, I said, and I could feel my heart rate and my breathing settle a bit. Dumping a bunch of adrenaline into your system isn’t a great way to start a race, at least not for me, so I tried to chill out and relax. We sent my family off to spectate and the Retiree and I lined up at the start. We got recognized by a friend from Sub-30! I wish we’d had a phone on us so we could have taken a picture!
The first mile felt incredibly easy. Without my watch, I didn’t know how fast we were going, but I knew the plan was around 7:50-7:55. We could have been running 8:30 with how good I felt, but I stuck with the Retiree. After all, the point of having a pacer is to let him do the work. You’re ready, I told myself, you’re ready for this race. And also: Calm – that would have been a good first mile word as well. This strategy worked and I could feel myself settle down and feel the pace better. It was warm, but the first mile marker came up pretty quickly – no clock, however, so I had no idea of the time. One down, five to go. [Actual first split: 7:36]
The Retiree was giving me great instructions about tangents and staying close to him. He also noted that the second mile is the biggest hill on the course, but that we’d get up it and settle. He asked if I wanted him to talk and he started telling a story, but that wasn’t working for me. I said something like “Today – it’s today!” referring to my mental cue, but that wasn’t doing a lot either. Too much chatter when I preferred to focus. The hill was pretty serious and about halfway up it, I started having to work harder. The shift in necessary effort came on pretty quickly and I started to get worried. If we were a mile and a half into this, we still had four and a half miles to go. By the top of the hill, I was breathing more seriously and the Retiree said, it’s ok, just settle, catch your breath, we’re up the hill. [Second mile split: 7:52]
But somewhere around the second mile marker, my brain just panicked and I started walking. Walking! What? I can’t remember the last time I walked in a race. Yet here I was in a race I cared quite a lot about walking with more than two thirds of the distance yet to go. I didn’t quite understand what was going on at the time and I don’t quite get it now either. I think I yelled something incoherent at the Retiree along the lines of “I can’t do this – please don’t let me stop!” Maybe also a whole lot of Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! He asked me what was hurting and I said “Everything, but I just can’t breathe!” He turned around and of course I started running again. But I am starting to wonder if after you walk once in a race, the damage is done and your brain thinks it’s ok because more walking was yet to come.
The next section of the course is a long out-and-back and all I could think about was how far it looked and when were we ever going to see the turnaround. There was a water stop in there somewhere, but the Retiree was carrying water for me so I dumped the water stop water on my head to try to cool off. There was no ignoring the heat – it was only about 70 degrees, but full sun so it felt much hotter than that. The heat actually felt significantly worse than at Run for the Pies, which I guess shows how much damage the sun can do.
During the third mile, the slowest of the race, I felt truly awful. Coach Mick had talked about how out-and-backs are kind of fun because you see the other runners, but it seemed like forever before we saw anyone and that just made the whole stretch feel longer. It wasn’t hilly. It was just terrible. I walked again, while more or less simultaneously telling the Retiree that I was dying and begging him to not let me stop running. I tried to think about “F” and maybe more than anything “F” is for friends. I am blessed with so many wonderful running friends and I felt like I was letting them down, but there didn’t seem to be much I could do about it. Or, to put it more accurately, I couldn’t figure out what to do about it. Maybe the mental cues just don’t always work. Maybe we ran too fast for my ability early on. Maybe it was just too damn hot. Probably all of the above. I do think this was largely a mental problem and I couldn’t solve it. For someone who is about to start teaching a course on how to improve your running through mental training, that’s frustrating. But, truth in advertising and no one’s perfect, so there it is. I haven’t had a race like this since the Donna marathon in February 2018 and if it’s another 16 months before I have another one, that’s still too soon. [Third mile split: 8:34, ugh]
Mile four is back down the same stretch of road. Now I started to pull my shit back together a little bit. I focused on my promise to Coach Mick not to leave a single second on the course. I kept thinking about how he told me to “double down” at mile four and I tried to do that, even though I still felt lousy. I thought back to the idea of rescuing Rose from a tiger and how I would definitely find the ability to run faster if my daughter’s life were at stake. I didn’t get close to my goal pace, but mile four was better than mile three. [Fourth mile split: 8:03]
Mile five was downhill and I figured this was my chance to make up some time. HPRM#1 had said he thought I was approaching the 10K from the “speed side” and that I should be able to have a strong finish so now was the time to run hard. Apparently I said something to the Retiree like “I can’t go any faster” and then immediately started running faster down the hill. I vaguely remember also shouting “Pancakes!” which I had been hoping for as a post-race treat. He demanded that I put that in the race report so here it is. My brain was a bit blotto by now, but I also remembered “Earn it!” and the Retiree reminded me of that cue also. I want to run a faster marathon so badly and if this is how to earn it, I was going to do whatever I could manage to do that. [Fifth mile split: 7:46]
Alas, a 10K is a six mile race, not a five mile race, and this lovely downhill stretch had to come to an end. I was so ready to be done. I look at my watch a lot near the end of a race and I base my counting off the numbers of the final miles clicking away. But I didn’t have a watch to look at so I tried just counting. Every time I wrestled an update out of the Retiree about how far along we were, it was less far than I had expected. Mile six felt never ending. I started to lose heart again and there was a lot of slowing down and speeding up though no actual walking, thank goodness. FINALLY, I saw the six mile marker and then had to run some of the longest .2 miles I’ve ever experienced. I saw the finish line – the clock said 50:xx. Which was wildly off my goal of sub-48:00. My heart sank again. [Sixth mile split: 8:01]
It was so hot. I crossed the line. I leaned hard on some kind of barrier. I moved to a stretch of grass where I could lie down and recover. Then the Retiree showed me the watch: 47:55! Thank goodness! The Retiree and Mervus brought me ice and water and my medal. It was clear pretty quickly that the course was short, but I didn’t even care. I was just ecstatic to be done running.
Once I recovered a little more, we clarified some things. The course was definitely short – everyone’s watches measured just under 6 miles so that’s quite a bit short. I was really happy to be well under 50 minutes after all, regardless of the weird course. And, first in my age group! For the first time ever! I could only laugh about the free entry for next year as the prize.
The rest of the day was really busy. No time for pancakes after all because we all had to get back to Middletown to listen to Mervus’s band play. He sang with the band for the first time and sounded fabulous! It was a gorgeous summer day and I didn’t let the race get to me – until that evening, when I started feeling quite sad and angry. I wallowed really hard for the next couple of days. I committed thoroughly to the wallowing-process hoping to be efficient about it and get it over with as quickly as possible.
I’m not sure if the extra-efficient wallowing worked or not, but in a few days, I felt a little better. I forced myself to find some positive take-aways from the race. I talked about it (a lot….) with my trusted inner circle. My goal was to wring whatever lessons I could out of the race and move on. I think I did pretty well with that. The following week, Aidan left for Germany and his departure got mixed with the disappointing race in my mind, which made for a sad and somewhat lackluster week all the way around. But the dust has settled from all that. Summer is in full swing with more hot weather, time at the lake, some decent writing, and counting down the days until Aidan’s return.