Sunday, February 16, 2014

A Casual, Confidence-building 10K

Due to the major snow storm we received on Thursday, I was unsure if I was actually going to run the GW Birthday 10K this morning. I thought the race might get cancelled, or they would hold it anyway but I would be too scared of icy patches to try and run it. The forecast was for 20 degrees with a "real feel" of 13, so I wasn't looking forward to it. And I certainly wasn't expecting any kind of super fast time. I viewed the race as "something I might do this weekend that was probably going to suck because it would be cold and potentially icy."

In the past, a situation like this-- the uncertainty-- would have stressed me out all week. But instead, it was just a "wait and see" type attitude, and I had a plan for what my running schedule would be with or without the race. Zero stress. I'm still new to the "races aren't the most important thing in my life" mentality and I just find it so refreshing that I can focus on so many other things during the week and not have running dominate my mental space. 

I ran this race back in 2009 and I thought it was pretty good. There was a cone placement error that year,
which made the course long, and I think they actually tried to adjust everyone's times to account for it. Back then it made me mad because I didn't have a fully accurate result, but if that happened today I think I would
just shrug it off. I remembered it fairly well (and I actually ran the same course once during a summer race) so I didn't expect any surprises. The benefits of the course is that there are no turns-- it's just a straight out and back, and it's basically flat except for a large hill at the beginning/end and a medium hill at the turnaround. 

My training going into the race had been pretty good. I don't think I am in the best shape of my life like I was last year at this time, but I think I am in a good spot. I was consistently logging 50+ mile weeks last January, and this past January I was in the mid 40's. I ran a really strong 17-miler last weekend and a good set of 8 x 800's on Tuesday, so I felt ready! In terms of a time goal, I thought a PR was possible, although not likely. I was hoping to be somewhere in the 45's and would have also been happy with the 46's. I particularly wanted to beat my Ringing In Hope time from New Year's eve (47:03). 

Before the Race: Wardrobe Conundrum
I think I changed my mind about my outfit about 20 times this morning. The forecast was really messing with me. The actual temperature was 27 degrees at 6:00am, but the hourly forecast for 8:00am said 20 degrees. There's a big difference between 20 and 27, wind or no wind, sun or no sun. So I layered up preparing for 20 degrees and a real feel of 13, but left myself options of taking layers off before the race. In the car on the way there, I realized it would be sunny so I decided to not wear any of my base layers, and just wear one top layer and tights. And during the warmup, I actually wished for a lighter top! I don't know about other people, but the sun makes a huge difference for me. I had my half zip all the way down (just s sports bra underneath) and my sleeves partially rolled up at 27 degrees.  

Greg arrived at the race 45 minutes before the start time, got our bibs, went to the bathroom and warmed up. Everything went smoothly and I felt relaxed. It wasn't until I actually had my bib pinned on that I had the "I'm about to race" feeling. Up until then the race just seemed like a very casual activity. Like going to the park or something. But with my bib on, I felt the adrenaline starting to pump. 

We warmed up for about a mile and a half and I was very interested in checking out the state of the course. Would there be icy patches? And if so, would they be easy to avoid? Turns out that there were icy patches, but they were easy to just run around.

Greg asked me what my pacing strategy was, and I didn't really have one. I wanted to start slow and finish fast, and not look at my Garmin. That was pretty much it.

Miles 1-3
The first half of this race was discouraging. I know I said I wasn't going to look at the Garmin, but I checked it about half a mile in to make sure I hadn't gone out too fast and then since I broke the rule once, it was easy to break again. My friend Allison had told me that the "out" portion was slightly uphill and the "back" portion was slightly downhill. But it seemed pretty flat to me, so I was getting a little discouraged at the paces on my Garmin. However, I didn't let it stop me from putting forth what felt like 10K effort. I didn't try to push harder and then blow up in the second half, so I just stayed steady. 

The icy patches were easy to avoid, except for one where I actually slowed down almost to a walk because there was no way around it. It went straight across the road with no good area to cross. I noticed I was doing a lot of weaving to avoid the other patches, but I figured I would rather have the extra distance than fall flat on my face! 

The first half of the race was definitely hard-- I felt like I was putting forth a lot of effort but not really going very fast. 

Mile 1: 7:29
Mile 2: 7:29
Mile 3: 7:33

Miles 4-6.2
The turnaround was at the top of a hill and it felt so good to be going down the hill and headed straight for the finish. Things immediately turned around mentally. I felt great! Strong! Fast! I was enjoying the race so much more. Allison was right-- the course is definitely more downhill on the way back, despite appearing flat. 

Suddenly it felt like it was my day and a PR was within reach. I didn't calculate the math, but focused on running strong and pushing hard. I passed several people during these last few miles and nobody passed me. I glanced down at the Garmin a few times and the paces were very encouraging and I felt so fit and fast. 

The final hill was tough. Usually I run hills at an even effort level which means slowing down. But since this last hill was so close to the finish line, I tried to maintain my pace up it (or at least slow down just slightly). It was about a quarter mile long and I knew it was all a mental battle. I kept counting my steps in groups of three, focusing on form, staying extremely focused on what I was doing until I finally reached the top. And then I told myself to give it everything I had on the downhill and let the momentum carry me to the finish. 

Mile 4: 7:14
Mile 5: 7:10
Mile 6: 7:13
Last 0.23: 1:31 (6:42) pace 

Finishing Thoughts
After I finished, I found Greg and a few of my teammates. My lungs hurt! I pushed really, really hard at the end and I was super satisfied with that, but man-- my lungs were feeling it. Greg and I did a cool down run, checked the results and then went to Starbucks for a celebratory salted caramel hot chocolate.

I'm really glad I ran this race and I didn't let the weather or fear of an icy course stop me. Here's why:

- Great tuneup race for the Shamrock Half marathon 4 weeks from now
- Gave me an indication of where I am fitness wise so I can put a pacing strategy in place for Shamrock
- Good mental practice of staying strong at the finish and pushing up hills at the end
- Reinforcement that races that start out not feeling so good can transform themselves
- 2nd fastest 10K ever!
- I enjoyed the morning, it was really exciting for me
- I beat my New Year's Eve 10K time by 1:20, which shows a nice fitness gain

My official time was 45:44, which is my second fastest 10K ever, and just 25 seconds off of my PR, which was set on a flat course in 43 degree weather back in 2011.

I am really glad I went out there and raced this 10K. It confirmed what I had suspected-- I am in good shape, and have made significant gains over the past six weeks. I think I will be in even better shape once I consistently start running 50-mile weeks. Given that I haven't had any hint of impending injuries, I am very optimistic about the Shamrock half marathon and the Cherry Blossom 10-miler in April.