Sunday, October 8, 2017

Army Ten-Miler: Running in a Sauna

At the start of the Cherry Blossom 10-miler this year, the announcer said, "We have 'no excuses' weather this morning," because it was in the low 40's. At the Army Ten Miler this morning, I was waiting for the announcer to say that we had "excuses" weather because it was so hot, but that never happened!

Needless to say, we approached record heat and humidity this morning here in DC. According to the Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang: Dew points are on the rise as a tropical air mass rushes through the region. Temperatures will be quite warm and uncomfortable. . . in the low 70s downtown with comparable dew point values. Warm record lows for Sunday are in jeopardy of being broken.

At several points throughout the week, I debated not racing. I had bailed on the Navy Air-Force half
Army Ten-Miler, Post-race
marathon three weeks prior due to similar weather conditions, and not wanting to subject myself to a death march. I have a history of heat exhaustion and I've found that the heat and humidity seem to impact me more than the typical runner.

I ultimately decided to stick it out and try to make the best of it. I really only had one goal (aside from avoiding heat exhaustion), and that was to run my last mile faster than my first mile. Ideally, I would run negative splits and pass people during the second half. Instead of running by my watch, I would run by feel.  Before the forecast came out, I was thinking that I might be able to manage a 6:50 pace for 10 miles. But with the heat, the race ended up being all about the effort level, and not trying to test my fitness.

I slept particularly well during the week leading up to the race, and I could tell that my body was starting to recover from the past six weeks of hard training. My coach gave me a taper for this race, allowing my legs to regain their pep, and I took full advantage of it. As a result, my mileage for this week was only 52, compared to my typical 65+, but I think it was good for me to have a cutback week in terms of mileage. Knowing that my only goal would be to pace the race for a negative split and run a hard effort, the pressure to PR was non-existent.

Before the Race
My alarm woke me up at 5:30, which is atypical of race morning. Usually I am up in the 4:00 hour on my own because I am so excited about the race. I'll be honest-- I was not excited about racing in 76 degrees, which was the current temperature in DC according to Wunderground.

Greg and I had reserved a parking spot about one mile from the race start. We left the house a little later than we wanted to, and the drive took longer than expected, so we both started to get a little nervous. But thankfully, we found street parking on the way to our reserved garage spot, so we just took it. The "reserved" spot was actually the parking garage of a hotel, and I was worried there wouldn't be availability despite a reservation, due to the hotel being booked for the race. The street parking was free and easy. As we jogged to the start, we passed a hotel and used the bathroom. This was a lifesaver. We were already on the later side of things, and we didn't have time to wait in line for a porta potty.

We figured out our plan for meeting up after the race. Basically he was going to wait for me after the finish line chute and look for me as I walked through. He said that I should do the same for him if I finished first but I told him that was not going to happen. "It could happen," he said. "It is highly unlikely to happen," I replied, as I hadn't beat Greg in a race in over a year. "But if it does, I will look for you to finish."

It wasn't long before we reached the Pentagon, the starting point of the Army Ten Miler. There were 35,000 runners (more than run the Boston Marathon) and the announcer kept mentioning that it was the third largest 10-mile race in the world. We made our way to the first corral and it was packed. It was particularly warm in the corral with all the body heat and sweat radiating from the runners. Even on the hottest summer mornings, it wasn't 76 degrees! A typical summer morning in DC is around 70. This was almost comical.

Miles 1-4
The race started and it was very crowded. I decided that I would go with the flow and not waste energy weaving through people. I didn't have a target pace for the first mile, but my overall sentiment was that I'd be happy to run my goal marathon pace (7:25) for 10 miles in these difficult conditions. I thought that the crowd would thin out after a mile or two, but it didn't. In some cases I found myself behind people going much slower than I wanted to be, so I had no choice but to do some weaving.

Even though the Army Ten Miler has a wave start, with assigned corrals, it is not enforced. I passed quite a few people who probably weren't going any faster than a 10:00 pace.

It started to rain during the third mile and it felt amazing! Unfortunately, it didn't last long and we were back into the sauna by mile 5.

I carried a water bottle with me for these first four miles, and then ditched it. I poured the majority of the water on myself as I ran, and only drank about 25% of it. This was fine, though, because I had hydrated really well on Friday and Saturday, and knew that I wouldn't need to drink a lot during the race itself. In the past, I have had a tendency to drink too much water in warm conditions, and I've learned that I actually don't need to drink a lot during races if I hydrate properly beforehand.

I decided to be very conservative and take these miles easy. Typically when I run a 10-mile race, I feel like I am putting out race effort starting at mile 2. But today, the first four miles felt comfortable-- definitely not race effort. And that was by design.

Mile 1: 7:31
Mile 2: 7:23
Mile 3: 7:25
Mile 4: 7:15

Miles 5-7
Once I had tossed my water bottle, I felt free to up the effort level and start passing people. And I did. Even though there were still loads of people, I noticed that things opened up substantially during the 5th mile, and I was able to pass people without a ton of weaving. I felt strong and my spirits were high. I actually felt much better than I did at the Cherry Blossom earlier in the year, when I felt "off" throughout most of the race.

With six miles left to go, I felt like I still wasn't out of the "danger" zone. I increased the effort, while making sure to save something for the end. I hit the halfway mark in 37:11. Now, I had a goal. I wanted to negative split, which meant sub-1:14:22. This seemed very doable. There was a bit of a hill after the halfway mark, which was tough, but once I got to the top I felt good again and ready to crush it. As I ran through the sixth mile, I remembered last year's race, when I was a spectator cheering for Greg. Even though it was ridiculously hot, I was thankful to be strong and healthy instead of recovering from mono.

Mile 5: 7:15
Mile 6: 7:13
Mile 7: 7:10

Miles 8-10
After mile 7, we turned a corner and started running on a bridge. The bridge would span 2 miles and I was told it was the most difficult portion of the race. I had only run the Army Ten Miler once before,
and it was seven years ago, so I didn't have a great memory of the course. As I made the turn onto the bridge, I was shocked to see Greg not that far ahead. This came as a huge surprise. I expected him to be at least two minutes ahead of me. And I was catching up to him!

Everyone was suffering. I'm leading the guys.

After a few minutes, I reached him and I said something to the effect of "It was unlikely." He let me know that his Garmin had stopped working, so he didn't know what pace he was running. He gave me a few words of encouragement but after about a minute I took off ahead. Initially I thought that something might have been wrong with him for me to have caught up, but he seemed fine physically and was able to talk to me.

The fact that I had passed Greg was a huge mental boost. Greg's 10-mile PR is 1:07! And he just ran a 1:32 half marathon in the heat three weeks prior. And then the passing continued. I passed, and passed, and passed! I thought about the RunPix that races sometimes offer that show you how many people you passed and how many people passed you during the second half of the race. Cherry Blossom had those, and I hoped that this race would too. I was a passing machine!

The bridge was tough, but I felt great. I was having fun, enjoying the race atmosphere, and feeling giddy that I was actually negative splitting a 10-miler in 76 degrees. And finally I was able to put out true race effort without worrying about bonking. With just three miles left to go and feeling great, I knew I was in the clear.

Mile 8: 7:06
Mile 9: 7:08
Mile 10: 6:53
Last 0.13: 6:20 pace

The finish
I crossed the finish line feeling like a million dollars and the announcer called out my name. And I didn't double over with my hands on my knees like I typically do. I felt so good! I couldn't believe I
Photo by Cheryl Young
ran a 6:53 final mile when it was 76 degrees and humid. And I didn't have to kill myself to do it. No black spots. No dehydration. No dizziness.

Greg appeared shortly after, which was a relief. After exchanging race stories, we did a cool down jog back to the car. A few hours later I heard that they re-routed the course at some point after we finished due to the adverse weather conditions. Apparently there were quite a few runners collapsing. As mentioned above, this was record-breaking heat and humidity.

I don't have my official time yet, and because they downgraded this to a "recreational run" for the runners who finished after they re-routed the course, none of the results will be posted until tomorrow. I'll come back and update with my official time tomorrow. My watch said 1:13:10. I'm less curious about my time than how I ranked in my age group. This may be the first hot race where I was actually more competitive instead of less competitive.

Edited to add:
My official time is 1:13:08. I placed 23 out of 2,209 in my age group (35-39) which puts me in the top 1.0%. I was also the 96th female finisher out of over 11,000.

Final Thoughts
Since both of my tune-up races were in abnormally hot weather, I figured that the weather gods really wanted me to run a hot race. And if I didn't pay my dues now, I would have to on marathon day. So hopefully I have satisfied the requirement for a long hot race and it will be cold and overcast in Indianapolis in four weeks. I'm definitely glad I didn't bail on this race. Here are my final thoughts.
  • I once again learned that having a great race isn't always about setting a PR. It's truly about the process.
  • I didn't feel like I was running at true race effort until the last three miles, so I probably could have run an overall faster time. But I'm totally okay with that. I was purposely conservative, and I
    did what I set out to do.
  • Based on how an average "Garmin pace" of 7:13 felt in crappy conditions, I think a "Garmin pace" of 7:25 for the marathon is realistic. My coach even thinks it will feel easy!  
  • This was an excellent workout and because I ran it on the conservative side, I'll be ready to jump back into marathon training next week.
  • I was only 15 seconds per mile slower than Cherry Blossom from this past spring, and that race was in the low 40s. 
  • My Achilles' were 100% pain-free during the run, but upon getting out of the car after the ride home, they had really stiffened up and were painful for the first few minutes of walking. They are doing better now.
  • In 2010, I ran this race in 1:17:54, so I set a huge course PR this morning!
  • I could complain about how I am in PR shape and would have set a massive 10-mile PR, but I'm not going to. The 10-mile PR will come eventually; this race had its own rewards. 
I wore the Adidas Tempo for the first time in a race, and I was very pleased with how they felt. They are a great replacement for the Mizuno Wave Elixir and Mizuno Wave Sayonara. 

I'm looking forward to recovering from this race, having two more hard weeks of training, and then tapering for Indianapolis Monumental. 


  1. Congratulations on a great race! I bet you were passing a ton of people because people almost always start too fast in races, and especially in the heat. It's hard to know when and how to adjust goals for record-breaking tropical weather. I am very glad that both you and Greg finished safe and healthy, as we had a similar 10K race here yesterday (I got dehydrated). The main thing is always finishing healthy, there will be another race. Even non-PRs, you learn something from those races too.

    I hope you have a good recovery and that training next week- and the weeks after- goes well too!

  2. Great job today! Looking forward to seeing you crush Monumental here in Indy!

  3. Awesome awesome awesome!!!! So excited to watch your marathon. I think big things are ahead!

  4. Congrats! It was your day for sure. It's great when everything comes together like that, isn't it? What a confidence booster for you.

  5. Congrats on your awesome run Zebra! Two points..1st I like your approach despite heat and humidity to "make the best of it." 2nd...and you ran your final mile the fastest and didn't "kill yourself." It says to me....the heat and/or humidity is really not the is what you think the effect will have upon you. You can't always run your maximum performance and mention of passing Greg makes that obvious...not always your day to run your fastest...but you can give it your best effort and hold head up high. Your heavy and "over-analysis" of your races may actually be a hindrance to your abilities. I love your detail and we similar in that perspective...but sometimes I believe you just think too much about what you can do...rather just let the training you do stand...then show up and run the race and accept where you end up. This time it worked out on your stronger side....revel in your accomplishment...but every race is a "dance" with a lot of unknowns...and all that matters is....that you finish what you started!

  6. Nice job in poor conditions. Bodes well for your marathon - and should your conditions be less than ideal on race day, you can remind yourself of how well you did in tough weather before!