Sunday, October 14, 2018

Lower Potomac 10-Miler

If you've been chomping at the bit for my Army Ten Miler race report, don't worry-- you didn't miss anything! I was a no show and decided instead to wait a week and run the Lower Potomac 10-Miler.

The weather for the Army Ten Miler was nearly as horrible as last year: 73 degrees with 100% humidity. Since I had already run that race in those conditions, and I know that my immune system issues are triggered by running hard in the humidity, I decided it would be best to skip it. There was really no point in over-taxing myself just because I was registered.

My friend Cheryl found a 10 mile race the following weekend (today) in Maryland and I decided I would register for that if the forecast was looking good 5 days out. We both registered on Tuesday of this week and were delighted with the prospect of running in the low 50's after 5+ months of 70-degree mornings.

Before the Race
Cheryl arrived at my house at 4:40am. Greg, who wasn't running the race, volunteered to drive. How nice of him! It took us about two hours to get to the race site in Southern Maryland. On the way, we were passed by a high-speed police chase on the Capital Beltway. A car sped by us at what seemed like 100mph, weaving in and out of traffic, and was shortly followed by the cops, going almost just as fast. It was scary but exciting.

Piney Point Sunrise, photo by Greg Clor
When we arrived, we picked up our bibs, went to the bathroom and then went to look at the gorgeous sunrise over the Potomac River. The view was incredible and I fell in love with the race before it even started. I love running by the water because it's calming and beautiful.

The start area was pretty simple. There was no mat because it was not chip timed. There was a clock, however, which meant they would be tearing off the tags on our bibs as we finished and manually recording the time. I knew this going into the race and was fine with it due to the small size of the race.

I drank my Generation UCAN and then Cheryl and I ran a warm up mile on the course. It was nice and flat, as expected and I felt pretty good.

Race Strategy and Goals
My coach advised me to start the race in the low 6:50's. My goal was to run 1:08:xx, which is a 6:54 pace or faster. How did I arrive at this goal?
  • I ran the Houston Half Marathon in January at a pace of 7:03
  • Then I trained for Boston and advanced to a new level of fitness with 75+ mile weeks during training and one run that included 10 miles at an average pace of 6:50: (4 miles, 3 miles, 2 mile, 1 mile) with 3-minute recovery jogs in between
  • I figured back then I could have run a sub-6:50 ten-miler
  • I did take six weeks off over the summer due to illness, but I've been working my way back
  • Some of my recent workouts had gone really well, despite the heat and humidity
My coach was on board with my goal and said not to limit myself, indicating that I could potentially run faster. If I didn't run 1:08:xx, I thought that breaking 1:10:00 was definitely attainable. And although not a given, breaking my PR of 1:10:24 from April 2017 was likely. I was very confident that I would be eating PR cake.

Furthermore, this would be the first "big" race since Houston that had decent weather. I was in tip-top shape for RNR New Orleans, but I melted in the heat. And then, of course, there was Boston. Followed by illness and a series of warm or rainy 5Ks. I hadn't had the opportunity to run a really fast time since January and I had worked so hard since then. Surely I was faster now, even if I had to take off six weeks in the middle of the summer. Finally I was able to test my theory and see if I had, in fact, made substantial fitness gains since January. 

Miles 1-4
There were about 70 participants in this race, so Cheryl and I lined up toward the front. Last year, the
Mile 1
women's race was won in 1:12:xx, so I figured I had a shot at winning this year. But of course, you never know who is going to show up.

I felt good right off the start line. About half a mile in Greg was taking photos, and I was in high spirits when I saw him. Oddly, my Garmin was not reflecting my perceived level of effort. Even though my coach said to start out in the low 6:50's, I figured I would run the first mile in about 7:00 just to be conservative and warm up a bit more. Well, I ran a disheartening 7:09. Sure, I could have run a 7:00 pace if I was running strictly based on the Garmin, but I actually race more by feel-- using the Garmin for feedback periodically. And I guess a 7:09 pace felt appropriate for the first mile. I didn't judge it and I didn't get discouraged. I knew that the first mile is never an indicator of how the race will go and I felt energized, which was more important than watch time.

Two women had shot out ahead of me at the start line, which meant I was in the third position. Based on their distance ahead of me during the first mile, I didn't think it was likely I would catch them. 

During the second mile, I found myself running with two men who were clearly running together. I passed them, and then they passed me, and then I passed them. It was nice to be running with other people since the race was so small, but the leap-frogging was exhausting. They asked me where I was
from and I grunted "DC". Clearly this was their conversational pace, but it was not mine.

I was running in the mid 6:50's which is right where I wanted to be and I was feeling strong. I definitely felt like this was maintainable for the rest of the race, I just needed to continue to push. The course was flat with a few inclines and declines. It offered a nice view of the water and I appreciated the lack of a loud crowd. It was serene. Every time I thought I had sped up enough to pass the two guys for good, they would pass me. This was perhaps the longest leap frogging session of any race ever, and it wasn't until the 6th mile that they pulled ahead for good.

Mile 1: 7:09
Mile 2: 6:56
Mile 3: 6:54
Mile 4: 6:54

Miles 5-7
At the halfway point, I was still feeling good, but I definitely couldn't speed up anymore. I realized it would be challenging to simply maintain the pace, but I thought I could do it. I thought my 1:08 was probably not feasible, but I was still in the running for 1:09. I kept working hard.

There was an unexpected bridge (hill) during mile 6 and I welcomed the change. In fact, powering up that hill made me feel strong and energized. It forced me to find a different gear and it pepped me up. The two men were a good ways ahead of me at this point and I enjoyed the solitude of running alone. I was still in third place at this point, and after the turnaround, some of the others cheer for me, telling me I was going to be "on the podium." I didn't care all that much about my placing, as this race was all about testing my fitness and seeing what I could do in good weather conditions.

Somewhere after the turnaround (mile 6) my left foot started to go numb. And before I knew it, the entire foot was numb and tingling. I couldn't feel it as I ran. I was already exerting max effort so having another obstacle was not good. I knew why it was happening, at least. Three weeks ago, after the 5K, I was diagnosed with a Morton's Neuroma in my left foot. I didn't have pain, but it felt like there was a lump of something in the ball of my foot. I had a Morton's Neuroma in my left foot 11 years ago, and this felt similar, so I went to the podiatrist, and an ultrasound confirmed I had a Neuroma. A Morton's Neuroma is a thickening of the nerve tissue below the toes. The toe next to my big toe is swollen, and so is the area directly underneath it. 11 years ago, this was treated by receiving a few rounds of alcohol sclerosing injections. This injection essentially shrinks the Neuroma down so that it no longer becomes an issue. My doctor told me I could continue to run on the foot, and gave me an injection after he received the ultrasound results, and then again on Thursday.

I was a little worried that getting a shot in my foot on the Thursday before a Sunday race was a bad idea. I even considered moving it to Wednesday, but I just didn't. When I got my first shot two weeks prior, I didn't have any lingering effects so I figured it would be fine. What could happen, right?!

The ball of my foot was numb for about 12 hours after the shot and then returned to normal. My foot felt fine all day Friday and Saturday. So now, at mile 6 of a 10-mile race, it all of a sudden decided to go numb. And not just the neuroma area, the entire foot! I couldn't feel the bottom of my foot at all.

Mile 5: 6:56
Mile 6: 7:04
Mile 7: 7:00

Miles 8-10
Mile 8 is where my "B" goal of sub-1:10 slipped away. I had to stop. I could not continue running on a numb foot. I banged my heel into the ground and tried doing things to restore the feeling, but nothing was working, and I didn't want to be stopped for too long. So after about 5-10 seconds, I resumed running, at a slower pace than before, and just dealt with it. It was sucking my mental and
Heading toward the finish line
physical energy out of me and it was so hard to push at 100% effort when I couldn't even get the feedback from my toe-off. But I was so close to the end of the race and I wanted a success story so badly. The average pace on my Garmin was 7:01, so I could still PR if I maintained it.

But I couldn't return to my previous pace once I started running again, and logged a 7:20 mile (including the stop). Mile 9 was 7:10, but did not include a stop so both of those were probably the same running pace.

With just one mile left, I told myself to run as hard as I possibly could. And I started to get feeling back in my left foot. Thank goodness. It wasn't 100% back, but at least it was something and it enabled me to focus on pushing hard instead of the numbness. I logged a 7:02 on my Garmin, and then sprinted the last 0.05 to the finish at a pace of 5:49. I was happy that I pulled it back together for the last mile, but it was not enough for a PR.

Mile 8: 7:20
Mile 9: 7:10
Mile 10: 7:02

Final Thoughts
I finished in third place and my official time was 1:10:45, which is 21 seconds slower than my PR. And I blame my foot for not PRing! But, even without the foot issue, I still don't think I would have run 1:08:xx or even 1:09:xx. I think I could have salvaged a small PR if it weren't for the foot, but otherwise, I have to admit I'm not in as good of shape as I was last January.

It all depends on how you look at training. In December of last year, I was running long, hard workouts. Much longer and harder than what I've been doing the past six weeks. My coach is very gradually building me back up, and my longest workout has been 5 miles, which is short compared to what I was doing last December. So in that sense, I haven't been putting in the same work that I was putting in before the Houston half.

Looked at another way though, I think the Boston training cycle brought me to another level. Take my Houston half marathon fitness and then add 3 months of daily training (90 days with no breaks), 65-80 miles per week, 3-4 hard workouts per week. I was in the shape of my life in April and I think that training gave me a new "baseline" so even without all those intense workouts, I felt like I still should have been in the same shape (if not better) than I was in January.

I have to admit that I am discouraged by this race. I was energized, I felt good, I pushed to the best of my ability, the weather was nice, but my time wasn't where I thought it would be. I have the Richmond half marathon in 4 weeks and I was hoping for a big PR there, but that's looking less likely, but I won't rule it out. How much fitness can be built in four weeks? And will my foot get numb again? At least I know not to get a shot 3 days beforehand.

I'm more optimistic about setting a marathon PR in December because I still have 8 weeks to train. At this point, I would still like to shoot for 3:15, but that's TBD.

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed and frustrated. Yes, there are some positive take aways here. And I'm trying to focus on them. I need to focus on them. At the same time, it's been almost a year since I set a PR and I'm turning 40 in a month. I had high hopes of crushing it this season after a spring plagued by bad weather, and now I have to accept that it might not be possible. I won't stop trying though.

After the Race
Cheryl finished shortly after me and reached her goal, running her third-ever fastest 10-miler. I was so happy for her. We stayed for the awards ceremony and then drove to Solomon's Island for a delicious brunch. My spirits were high, because all in all, it was a good experience. I enjoyed the course, the relaxed atmosphere, and I had fun. It was good to spend time with Cheryl and Greg and a great way to spend a Sunday morning.

As for my foot, it became tender after the race. On the bottom of my foot, where the neuroma is, it feels like I'm walking on a bump and it's not comfortable. It should calm down by tomorrow because it felt the same way after the 5K three weeks ago and then calmed down. I really hope this doesn't become a bigger issue.

It was a two-hour drive home (no police chases this time) and it felt so wonderful to hop into an Epsom salt bath. I'm more motivated than ever to work hard toward my goals and show some sort of running progress this fall!


  1. Congrats on that 3rd place finish! Even though you had that foot issue, you didn't let it stop you. I know you were hoping for a PR, but look at this as a win. You learn something from every race, don't you? Nice job!

  2. Congratulations on hanging in there and despite no PR, at least you placed! Just goes to show you...never really know what will crop up in a race that takes you out of your strategy and race goal. But you rolled-with-it and posted a fine performance...and that's what you walk away with head-up high!

    Interesting the numbness and tingling you describe because that is similar feeling I incurred at Chicago Marathon by mile 8. Not Neuroma on my part, still unclear why it happened and can only attribute rain-soaked shoes/socks and cold temps. But in my case, despite numbness and tingling, still got hurting pain both ball and heel with each impact. So, I can at least vouch that it can and will cut into your mental focus and physical ability.

    I suspect in your case, numb foot has to have some affect on your run gait and ability to run maximally efficient. But you still ran some quite awesome speed and stuck thru it the most difficult miles that puts you #3 on the podium...and that a good place to be...irrespective of no PR. Keep it are doing some of the best training and racing this past year to the present! Congrats again!

  3. Yikes, that's crazy, I can't imagine running without feeling a foot. Hopefully the neuroma resolves soon. And hey, I wouldn't worry about this race not being a PR. It's part of the training, and part of the ups and downs of racing. Keep building on that strong base. And congratulations on the third place finish.

  4. Ah how frustrating with the foot! Your pacing was solid though and your time really good despite this! I wouldn't use this one race as an indicator for your fitness though - there could be so many different factors that could have affected you not going as fast as you'd hoped. Well done anyway!