I was supposed to run the Mystic 10K as my goal race of the spring season on May 17th. But of course all races are currently canceled. As we descended into quarantine, runners had to decide what to do. Many switched to primarily easy miles rather than structured training. Some lost motivation, while others began running more than ever. I didn’t really change much. I like the discipline of a training program and it turns out, I have no problem following one even without a race. After the success of my semi-spontaneous 10 mile time trial in early April (in place of the Middletown 10 Miler), I decided to run a time trial for the Mystic 10K as well, but to make some improvements based on what I had learned.
Because so many runners are turning to time trials and virtual races, there are now many resources offering instructions on how to get the most out of this exercise. One thing I learned from my 10 mile time trial is that I very much liked running on a known, certified course. Rather than drive all the way to Mystic, I decided to run the Iron Horse 10K in Simsbury. I even went and scoped out the course ahead of time, just like I would have for an actual race.
The Middletown 10 Miler time trial also taught me that I wanted a bit more celebration to help simulate a real race and frankly, because I like celebration. During that time trial, I started fantasizing about Mondo’s pizza and Nora’s cupcakes, the traditional finish line offerings. We have done no take-out until a week ago, but I decided that after the Quaran-10K, we would get dinner from the Blackbird Tavern, my favorite post-race destination. I asked my family to make me a medal because I realized I really wanted one. I ordered a surprise “cheese flight” from Spread and stocked up on Haagen Dasz. I put a bottle of prosecco in the fridge to chill. I was absolutely creating a post-race celebration with the goal of pressuring myself to create something worth celebrating.
I also told more people what I was up to. Before the Middletown time trial, I only told Coach Mick, the Incredible Mervus, Speedy Girl (who paced me), and the Fabulous Femmes. For me, this is a tiny crowd! This time around, I told all of those folks, plus two additional online groups, the 45s, and Sub-30. The 45s are a small intimate group with an enormous cheering capacity. During the current weirdness, we have created a tradition of a Saturday afternoon Zoom meet-up and I knew I would see them after my run. Sub-30 is a huge group and I just tossed the time trial into the standard morning workouts post. Speedy Girl and the Retiree had both volunteered to pace me, so they knew as well, plus some of the girls in the Manchester Running Company. I was a lot more public this time around, again with the goal of creating more pressure on my performance.
The lead-up to the time trial brought with it the usual weather watching. I generally put Coach Mick in charge of this activity, but somehow I got a little fretful this time around, mostly because I theoretically had the option of changing days to get better weather. As Sunday started to have a better forecast, I wondered about postponing a day. But by then I had lined up pacers and celebrations and mentally, I was fixed on Saturday. Coach Mick reminded me that those things matter and anyway, in a real race, you don’t get the flexibility of picking your day. We decided to stick with Saturday.
Race day dawned clear and a bit warmer than it’s been with an expected temperature in the low 60s at start time. Breakfast was the classic oatmeal and coffee. Two caffeine pills about 45 minutes before start time. I didn’t have any good solution for water worked out beyond sticking my water bottle in my FlipBelt shorts so I did that. I didn’t end up drinking anything, which I would certainly have done in an actual race, especially given the temperature. But I can’t get that bottle in and out of the shorts quickly so I decided to just skip it. On a warmer day or for a longer distance, I would have taken some fluids for sure.
I did my standard warm up of a couple miles, a few minutes of goal pace running, strides and drills. This went much better than the previous time trial when I kind of blew off doing a proper warm up. If you’re going to try to run fast, do everything in your power to treat it like a real race. Control the controllables. A proper warm up is solidly in the realm of controllables.
With all that taken care of, I couldn’t procrastinate any more. It was time to start. It was strange that I was quite nervous, while my pacers were very relaxed. After all, for them, this was a pretty easy run with friends – something that has been off limits for many weeks. Allegro Fuerte had suggested playing the national anthem on my phone before the start. I kind of wish we had done that as a sort of starting line ritual and if I do another time trial, I might. As it was, the Retiree simply said “Go!” and we started.
The Iron Horse course is a kind of double lollipop, where you run over a bridge, around the first loop, down a straightaway, around a second loop, back down the straightaway and over the bridge to the finish. With the Retiree’s help, we were able to locate the official start and finish markers, which are painted on the curb, so we knew we were running the regulation course. The course is pretty, but not particularly interesting. It’s rural Connecticut roads with some houses, some fields, and a couple of garden shops. To the best of my memory, we saw a few runners, a smattering of cyclists, and some cars, but not many. It’s really easy to social distance in rural Connecticut because there are just not many people there to begin with. The Retiree and Speedy Girl ran about ten to twenty feet in front of me and at least six feet apart from each other. We were kind of running in “Kipchoge formation” and I’ll confess that I sometimes imagined a laser line on the group between the two of them. They talked about craft beer for essentially the entire time trial. I am not even kidding. I said literally one word, which I’ll get to in a minute.
I had mentioned to Coach Mick the day before that I thought the time trial would be fun and he corrected me: “It won’t be fun. It’s going to suck pretty hard most of the time and you should be ready for that.” Of course, Mick is correct, as usual, and we were barely crossing the bridge before Howie showed up with his deal. It crossed my mind to tell the Retiree and Speedy Girl that I wasn’t feeling it today after all. Maybe we should just jog back to the cars and head home. I could try again a different day. Or also not, because maybe time trials weren’t for me after all. It took an enormous amount of willpower not to stop and we were only half a mile into the race.
I didn’t stop, thank God. I certainly didn’t need a repeat performance of the last time I ran a 10K with the Retiree. The first mile clicked off in 7:37, exactly as planned. I had hoped to start around 7:35/7:40 and work my way down to 7:30 by the end of the second mile. The second mile came in at 7:33 so we were exactly on target. The third mile of the course is a long straight segment with rolling hills and plenty of shade. It came in at 7:38 (a tiny bit slow, but not bad!). I stopped looking at splits after that. The Retiree checked in with me periodically, but I couldn’t really answer his question of “How are you doing?” How was I doing? I was working hard, a lot harder than I wanted to be this early in the race. Howie was fucking unrelenting with his damn deal. If I thought at all about how much further we had to go it was a totally daunting prospect.
Yet if I focused on how I was feeling, the situation was far less bad. Nothing hurt severely. I was running hard and breathing pretty hard, but not in an out-of-control sort of way. It was not at all comfortable to run that fast, not even a tiny bit, but at the same time, there was nothing really “wrong” so there was no reason to accept Howie’s suggestion to slow down a little. Instead I just kept running, which makes for a rather boring race report. I was fairly aware of turns on the course and street signs. I had got lost the week before and I didn’t want that to happen again, though I knew that the Retiree knew where we were. I still couldn’t help sometimes thinking things like “After this field, there’s a big rock and then we turn left” or “Don’t turn onto Ferry Lane now, but later you’ll come up that way.” A lot of the time though I just ran.
High Power Running Mentor #1 has accused me of thinking too much while running and that has surely been true. My position had been that my big overactive brain wasn’t going to shut up regardless, so I should at least figure out how to get it to work for me. I’ve had a lot of success with that approach, but this training cycle, I’m working to turn my brain off and be more “in-body.” I’ve tried a bunch of different things to accomplish this. Meditation is one great tool for learning to set the mind aside. Speedy Girl talked about a series of form cues that run through her head on a perpetual loop during a race and I suspect that’s similar. Coach Mick recommended a Stryd webinar with a mental training coach and one of his ideas was to focus on relaxing your mouth, especially the back of your throat.
These ideas came together for me in a realization that now seems obvious. This relaxed running “in-body” idea is, I think, not very different from what I do during an uncomfortable yoga pose. It’s the same relaxation technique I learned while taking voice lessons. It’s the approach that got me through two unmedicated childbirths and which I now use during dentist appointments. It’s the ability to move the body into a state of deep relaxation even in the face of potentially severe physical discomfort. It’s not easy to learn, but I have found it more straightforward to transfer from one area of life to another. That is, once I realized childbirth was going to involve the same technique I used in yoga and singing, I was much more confident I would be able to get through it. It simply hadn’t occurred to me prior to this training cycle to try using this technique while running. I was able to be “in-body” somewhat during my last 5K and again during the time trial.
I also thought about Scott Fauble’s mantras that he talks about in Inside A Marathon. Whether he’s thinking that a race is going well or badly, Scott reminds himself “That’s just thinking.” And that’s right. Running fast is hard and Howie appears with his stupid deal, but all of that is just thinking and not terribly relevant. Scott’s other mantra, my favorite, is “Scared Money Can’t Win.” I’ve used that in *many* workouts since reading the book and it was on frequent repeat during the time trial. HPRM#1 and I have talked a lot about managing the fear of racing. Coach Mick reminds me before almost every race to #runfearless. “Scared Money Can’t Win” has been critical in helping me execute that idea.
Most of the race was a mix of me trying to be pretty deep within my body, not talking, sometimes reminding myself “It’s just thinking” or “Scared money can’t win” while occasionally checking street signs, all set to the background soundtrack of endless chatter about craft beer. Early in the fifth mile, I was struggling pretty hard. I blurted out my one word of the time trial: “Help!” The Retiree and Speedy Girl both cracked up! I couldn’t talk at all but I thought to myself, it’s a tiny bit mean that they are laughing, but on the other hand, it’s pretty freaking funny that I said that. I think I also said “Help” to HPRM#1 during the Chicago marathon and decided that it was much better than “I give up” which was certainly the alternative. I wonder if I had checked my split if I would have felt better? Mile 4 was 7:38 so I was still in the ballgame. Mile 5 slowed to 7:50, however. I’m glad I didn’t see that. Mile 5 was just a total and utter grind. I’ve no idea if we had a headwind at that point, but it sure felt like it. I remember effectively nothing from that mile except my deepest longing that it would end.
Right around the start of mile 6, the road splits at a Y-intersection and the course heads to the right. It’s mostly downhill from that point and you can see the bridge. By now I was totally done thinking. I was semi-incoherently counting. Some part of me was completely surprised to discover that I was going to finish this time trial after all, while another part of me was still considering quitting and walking it in. I hadn’t looked at my watch in so long that I had no idea at all how fast I was running or how much time had elapsed – I was just running as hard as I could, trying to hang on to the finish. I think Speedy Girl said something like “Don’t kick too soon” and I just thought, “Kick? What world are you living in, girlfriend? I am going to be damn lucky not to collapse before the finish line!”
Speaking of the finish, the course finishes with a very long (endless?) stretch down Iron Horse Boulevard. The Retiree had put a big stick across the finish line and he ran ahead to pick it up. I could now see the “finish line” but it was so incredibly far away. I ran like hell and FINALLY got there. Hit STOP on my watch and bent over a railing trying to breathe and not to puke. The watch said 47:39.9 – I’m calling it 47:40, a 20 second PR. I am SO damn happy. A PR during a time trial on a warmish day? That’s freaking awesome!
Of course post-time trial celebrations looked a little different. No hugs or high fives. Not even any sneaker taps. It was still amazing. Luckily I had an incredible celebration at home to look forward to. After grabbing take-out coffee at Starbucks, I picked up our cheese flight at Spread. The Incredible Mervus had made me a truly incredible medal and Rose crafted an adorable certificate. I followed up the cheese and crackers with a totwaffle and then Blackbird takeout later that night. I am aching to be back with friends, back in our restaurants, back on our race courses. But for now, a time trial, a new PR, a wonderful family celebration, these things are also splendid.
 Connecticut rules currently allow social gatherings of fewer than five people. We maintained social distancing throughout the time trial. But we haven’t been doing even much socially-distanced running so this was a treat.
 Everyone should go buy this book. It’s a little under the radar, but it’s marvelous! Each chapter is one week’s worth of training for the NYC marathon, followed by Coach Ben Rosario’s explanation of the purpose of the training, then Scott’s take on how it went. It is a seriously geeky book, but it’s fascinating and very funny because these guys are both smart and excellent writers.