Friday, January 1, 2016

Ringing In Hope 10K: Keeping Up With Tradition

Yesterday afternoon, I ran the Ringing in Hope 10K. The inaugural event was held in 2010, and Greg and I have run it every year since it started. Even though I have quite a few issues with how this race is managed, I continue to run it each year to keep up the tradition. Along with the Firecracker 5K and the Virginia Run Turkey Trot 5K, it's nice to have races that I run year after year, for both the sake of tradition, and for benchmarking. I'm pleased to say that I have set course PRs in all three races this year!
Ringing in Hope 2014

Let's get the negative stuff out of the way first. I may suggest these changes to the race director, but I don't want to come across as ungrateful. I know that managing a race is difficult, and I will continue to participate in this race even if nothing changes.

The time of this race changes almost every year. I think the first year it was at 4:00pm, and then it's moved between morning and afternoon. I think it was 10:00am last year, and this year it was at 1:00pm to accommodate government workers' schedules. But people who work for the federal government (in Washington D.C.) even for a half day, will not be able to drive 30 miles out to Ashburn in time for a 1:00pm start. So, either move the race to 3:00 or 4:00, or keep it in the morning. I personally prefer morning races because it's what I'm used to, but I don't shy away from races that start at odd times. Particularly since I will be running the Boston Marathon in April, which I think starts sometime around 10:00am. My biggest challenge with the later start this year was the warmth. It was 58 degrees and sunny. There were times when I could feel myself baking, and I even ended up with a nice suntan!

The race offers a 5K and a 10K. The 10K course is the same as the 5K course, times 2. The 5K started at 1:00pm, and the 10K started at 1:15pm. This means that the 10K runners have to weave through all the 5K walkers (with their strollers, walking in large groups) and the slower runners starting at mile 2. This requires a lot of additional energy to be expended and prevents runners from running tangents. There'd be some trouble if a 15:00-16:00 5K runner showed up. At 1:16pm, I'm guessing that 10K runners were still moving through the start line, which is also the finish line. I can just imagine a super speedy 5K runner coming toward the finish line, with all the 10K runners lined up.

Speaking of tangents, cones are placed seemingly randomly throughout the course. It's never clear what side of the cones you are supposed to run on. The course is USATF certified without any cones at all, so I just ignore the cones and try to run the tangents. Even still, the course always measures at least 6.27 miles on my Garmin. On the last turn before the finish line, they had a row of cones blocking the path to the finish line. You're supposed to run through the cones (which are meant to block cars) but many people were confused and didn't see the finish line. The only reason I knew to turn right was because I've run this race so many times.

Okay, I'm done griping. My attitude toward this race is that I do it because it's a tradition and it's close to my house. I don't run it for its superior management. I mentally prepare to weave through 5K walkers and I don't let it upset me while I'm running.

In terms of a time goal, I wanted to set a "Garmin PR" by running faster than a 7:02 pace according to my Garmin-- ideally somewhere around 6:55-6:58. Comparing this race to the Boo Run For Life 10K where I set my current PR isn't really apples-to-apples because that race is flat with only one turn, and therefore always comes out to exactly 6.2 miles. This means that I could technically run 6.2 miles faster at the New Year's Eve race than the Boo! race and still not PR according to my official time. I also wanted to beat Greg's PR on this course of 43:20, but I thought that might be a stretch.

I also used this race to experiment with Generation UCAN fuel. I'd ideally like to switch from Honey Stinger gels to UCAN for the marathon, but I need to make sure it works for me. I was introduced to UCAN when I won a huge prize package of it by being McMillan's "Athlete of the Month." I had used it before long runs and it seemed to work well for those. The Honey Stingers are hit or miss-- sometimes my stomach tolerates them, sometimes it doesn't. UCAN is supposed to be the easiest-to-digest source of fuel, and it's supposed to last longer than a gel.  I mixed one packet of the UCAN powder with water and drank it 30 minutes before the start of the race. Greg and I warmed up for about two miles, and then lined up at the start.

Miles 1-2
My original plan was to run the first mile at a pace of around 6:55, but instead I just ran it by feel and logged a 6:47. Even though this mile starts with a huge uphill, there was a significant tailwind, and then there's a downhill afterwards which actually makes the mile a net downhill. After I turned a corner and started mile 2, I found myself running directly into a headwind and I was unable to maintain my speedy starting pace. I instead ran a 6:57, which was more in line with my goal anyway. It was during the second mile that I had to start weaving through the 5K walkers, but I didn't let it bother me.

Miles 3-4
The third mile was tough. The headwind continued and there was a sizable hill to run up, while continuing to dodge 5K walkers, and even those who were running, but then who would suddenly stop to walk. One guy who was running in front of me stopped dead in his tracks to look behind him for his daughter. Sigh. I felt myself losing some major steam, and the race started to get really hard. Mile 3 is supposed to feel really hard in a 10K, but this mile just took a lot of out me. I logged a 7:07, which I thought was pretty good, given the big hill. Mile 4 was a repeat of mile 1. The biggest challenge of this mile was the heat. I was running directly towards the sun, high in the sky, and I felt my energy level waning. Thankfully, there was a tailwind to help push me up the hill again, but I'd pay for it with a headwind later. I ran mile 4 in 7:02.

Miles 5-6
My goal was still attainable by the time I reached mile 5, but I was completely spent. I had zero energy left to fight through the headwind. I poured water over my head to keep cool, but it didn't do much good. I also had worn heavier socks (mistake) and my feet were burning up. Even though I was losing steam, I still managed to pass some runners during this mile, which was encouraging. I logged a 7:13. The sixth mile was pure torture. A woman whom I had passed earlier in the race passed me about halfway through the mile and I tried to keep up with her as best as I could. I even tried to draft off of her. "That's fine if you run ahead of me," I thought. "I'll just run directly behind you and draft." I knew my goal was slipping away from me, but I was mainly focused on just hanging on. That final hill was killer, as it always is, and I was happy to see that I didn't lose too much time going up it. I actually was slower at the beginning of the mile with the headwind than I was at the end of the mile, running up the hill with less of a headwind. That last mile was a 7:22, which is slower than my half marathon pace!

The Finish
Accepting my award- it got cloudy after I was done racing!
After the hill during mile 6 there were a few more turns to get to the finish line. Thankfully, everything was downhill for the last 0.27 miles. The woman in front of me made an incorrect turn, and I almost followed her, thinking it was time to turn. But I quickly realized she had made a mistake so I didn't follow her. People behind me were yelling "go straight." Once again, it really wasn't clear where you were supposed to turn, so some volunteers would have been nice to have at that point. The only reason I didn't follow her was because I had run the course so many times in the past, otherwise, I would have made the same mistake. I continued toward the finish line, and I ran through the confusing cones at a pace of 6:35.

My overall finish time was 44:18 for 6.27 miles, a Garmin pace of 7:05. I was the 4th overall female
finisher, and I won 1st place in my age group. I won a substantial gift certificate to Potomac River Running, which was nice.

I told Greg about the woman who made the wrong turn and I said I felt badly for her--and a little guilty for beating her because of it. But he reminded me that part of racing is knowing the course. It's about more than having physical ability, you also have to have "situational awareness" he said. He told me I beat her fair and square, which I guess is true. But I still feel badly that she made a wrong turn.

The Analysis
Even though I technically didn't meet my goal, I accomplished a lot!
  • I ran this race faster than last year by 1:09, and I think it was windier this year, and definitely hotter. 
  • I ran very close to my PR pace, on a hiller, hotter and "longer" course.
  • I experimented. I tried a new fuel and I tried going out at pace that was faster than my goal (but that felt sustainable), without being afraid to bonk. 
  • I avoided making a wrong turn because I knew the course well.
  • I won my age group and was the 4th overall female.
I don't have any photos of me actually racing because my personal photographer is now able to race himself! Greg finished in 45:50, which I think is amazing for spending 5 months of last year injured with a broken ankle. 

I definitely plan on running this race again next year-- at whatever time of day it may be! Happy New Year to my blog readers!


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks, Cris! I used it to buy orange shorts!

  2. Nice run! I hate this race, too. I've done it 3 or 4 years in a row until I finally swore it off! Did the REHAU New Year's Day race instead, which was a great course! Anyway, let's all (you, me, Lexi) run together sometime!

    1. I am tempted to not do it again, but I like having the benchmark and the tradition. I did the Fairfax 4 in 2008 & 2009 and really didn't like running in the dark, so RIH became the replacement. Also, I prefer NYE racing than New Year's Day. Because with the NYE race, I can eat/drink whatever I want afterwards! I wish there were more NYE options. That would be awesome if we all went for a run together. I'd love to come out your way for a change of scenery.