Saturday, December 19, 2020

Christmas Caper 10K: Happy all the way!

This morning I ran the real, live Christmas Caper 10K in Washington, DC. This was the same course as my 5K from November, only doubled. It's a no-frills race series. No chip timing, no shirt. Just a race on a fast course with fast runners. 

I had run this race before, 12 years ago in 2008! I had to consult my race history in my blog to find the report and sure enough, I have a report from the 2008 race. In 2008, I ran 10 miles with hills two days before the race, 5 miles the day before the race, and then stayed up past midnight the night before the race at a holiday party. And then I was upset that I didn't PR. Hahaha! Back then I thought I was invincible and should be able to PR in any circumstances. My time was a "disappointing" 49:36. And then I ran 17 miles the following day. (Insert facepalm emoji here).

Race Approach
This year, my goal was to PR. The conditions were perfect (I give them a 10/10 on my race weather scale) and I was in outstanding shape. My 10K PR was my longest standing PR from 2017 at 41:51. I really had no idea how I ran that fast because that course was insanely hilly. And ever since that 2017 race I thought, "If I get good weather and an easier course, a PR should be no problem".  I had run six 10k races since setting that 41:51 PR, and none of the six were faster. Four of them were humid, one of them was coming off an injury, and one was on a track.

Even if I hadn't been in the best shape ever, a flat course with perfect conditions meant a shot at a PR. I told my coach I wanted to PR and his response was "yeah, let's just do it" as if it was no problem! I liked having the mindset that it was really a matter of getting it done. I had the fitness and the conditions, all I needed to do was to execute. 

Fueling Strategy
If you have been following my blog you know that I have been experimenting with different fueling strategies since my digestive nightmare at the Harrisburg Marathon in November. I am using Maurten products, and for a 10k, their website recommended having their Drink Mix 160 three hours prior to a 10k, and then a caffeinated gel 30 minutes before race start.

I had only tried the Drink Mix once before on a training run, so I decided that instead of drinking the entire serving (500ml) I would drink about half. And instead of my normal English Muffin with peanut butter, I would have half an English muffin with Almond butter. To summarize:

  • Almost half of the Maurten Drink Mix 160 packet three hours before race start
  • Half of an English muffin + almond butter 2.5 hours before race start
  • One caffeinated Maurten gel 30 minutes before race start
This worked really well and I had no digestive issues before, during, or after the race. 

Before the Race
Greg and I left the house at around 6:30 for a race start of 8:00. He ran the 5k, which started at 7:50. We arrived at the race, got our bibs, and used a wonderfully warm indoor bathroom at the nearby golf course. It was 28 degrees, so I decided I would warm up for a little longer than usual. 

I wanted to dress festively but also appropriately for the weather. I wore green capri tights, a red short-sleeve shirt and arm warmers. I find that a short-sleeved shirt plus arm warmers is better than long sleeves for racing because it lets some air into the core. When I ran the Indianpolis Half Marathon last
Photo by Cheryl Young
year, it was 28 degrees, overcast and windy. I wore a long-sleeved shirt, and I regretted it.

Some people wear shorts in this weather. I find that tights do not slow me down or weigh me down, and my legs don't overheat. And if my legs are too cold, they won't move as quickly. So I will race in capris if it's 35 degrees or cooler. I overheat in my face and chest area, so wearing a lightweight short-sleeved shirt was perfect, with the arm sleeves keeping my arms warm. I wore convertible mittens with hand warmers inside of them.

I wore my new adidas Adios Pro shoes that I wore in the Marathon. I really wanted to wear my green Nike Vaporfly Next% because they matched the outfit so perfectly, but those shoes simply don't work as well for me as the adidas.

After putting on my bib and using the bathroom, I warmed up for 3 miles. I paused to watch Greg start his 5k. He looked strong! I made sure to include strides and faster running in my warm up. At 28 degrees, it can be difficult to get moving and I wanted my legs nice and warm starting at mile 1.

After the warmup I lined up at the start line in my mask. The 10K race had only 15 runners total! Very small. Of those 15 runners, 5 were female. I did not know this at the time, I only know because I looked at the race results afterwards. There was no chip timing so I wanted to line up close to the starting line. However there were other serious-looking runners up there and I didn't want to crowd them (social distancing and all).  So I lined up about 10 feet back. 

Miles 1-2
As the race started, three women were ahead of me. One of them was Cristina, a long-time friend and fellow blogger. So I started out in 4th place. For a race with 15 total runners, that's quite the competitive field!

I eased into my pace during the first mile and focused on Cristina. She's a great pace setter and even though I knew she would be faster than me (the goal wasn't to keep up with her) I knew her start would be strong and controlled. As I said earlier, I knew that all I had to do to PR was execute and stay mentally strong. I had the fitness. This race would be all about my mindset.

I focused on finding a rhythm and establishing a flow. During the first mile, I saw Greg running on the opposite side of the course in the final stretch of his 5k. I could tell he was working hard and that motivated me to increase my effort level. I also saw my friend Cheryl in the 5k, which was a nice pick-me-up.

Mile 1: 6:45
Mile 2: 6:37

Miles 3-4
In terms of pacing, I knew I needed to average 6:40 to PR. But I didn't want to just PR, I wanted to run my fastest race possible. So I reminded myself that the Garmin was for informational purposes only, and I shouldn't slow down if I saw a pace that I thought was beyond my ability. Miles 3 and 4 were the hardest, and I think this is true of any 10K. By the time you reach the 3rd mile, you are already tired and
Just before the turnaround
 you have been running hard for awhile. And yet you still have over half the race to complete. So it can 
be really discouraging.

We turned around near the start line and ran the entire course again to create the 10k distance. I saw Greg at the turnaround and he cheered for me and snapped some photos. The course was fast and flat, but there were 3 momentum-stealing hairpin turns. I personally think I need to work on my hairpin turn and I am not great at executing it. Partially because I am a cautious runner and I am afraid of falling or hurting myself if I do a movement that isn't straight forward. 

After I turned around it was time to run the entire course again. That thought was exhausting and intimidating so I started to break the race down into more manageable chunks. I knew this race would be all mental so I played little games of creating small goals. Usually that goal would be "stay strong until you reach that point up there on the road" or "run really hard until your watch beeps for the next mile." This was a good way of distracting myself so I didn't think about having to run that entire course again. 

Mile 3: 6:35
Mile 4: 6:40

Miles 5-Finish
That 6:40 mile was slower than the previous two but I was not discouraged by it. There was a slight headwind during that mile and once I got out of it I was able to pick up the pace a little. With just two miles to go I knew I was on track for a PR and so I needed to stay as strong as possible. I was
Approaching the finish line
successfully able to battle any negative thought just as soon as it arose. And most of the time I was too busy with positive, happy thoughts, that there was significantly less negativity to battle. I just had to constantly focus on pushing and staying positive.

As for my competition, the three women stayed ahead of me for the entire race. Cristina remained in my line of vision for most of the race. I didn't expect to catch her, but it was still nice to have the competition and be reminded that this was a race and not a training run. 

With just 1 mile to go I started getting really giddy and excited inside. I thought about the PR cake and I wondered if Greg had also PR'ed. I kept telling myself that if I gave up now, there would be no PR cake! The closer I got to the finish, the more excited I became. And the race was still hurting a lot. I am not a religious person but I somehow found myself praying to God to help me get to the finish. I sprinted it in while Cheryl and Greg cheered me on.

Mile 5: 6:35
Mile 6: 6:34
The last 0.28: 6:10 pace

After the Race
I stopped my Garmin at 41:33, which is a PR by 18 seconds! Of course, my Garmin measured 6.28 miles (as did other people's Garmins) so my official pace will not match my Garmin average pace of 6:36.  But wow, a 6:36 pace for a 10k?! That is way faster than I could have imagined!

I was so happy to finally break that PR. In a real, live race! I was the 4th overall female, but interestingly enough, there were only 5 women total. It's crazy that with a time of 41:33, I was the second-to-last place female. This just shows that placement is all about who shows up and it's never really in your control. 

Greg was very close to his 5k PR of 19:24. He missed it by a few seconds. 

We briefly chatted with Cristina and Cheryl and then ran a short cool down. Afterwards, we drove straight home and I got in my epsom salt bath. One of the best things about running in really cold weather is that the bath afterwards feels amazing. 

Cheryl and me after the race

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways
I was so excited to PR. . . have I mentioned that yet?  I hadn't set any PRs in 2020 that weren't virtual. And while I do count virtual PRs and real PRs, it's more satisfying to have the time be official.  Speaking of official times, I ended up with a time of 41:35, even though my finish line photo showed faster on the clock:

Based on this photo, it looks like my official time should have been 41:32. Or at least the 41:33 that my Garmin logged. But it ended up being 41:35 officially. Based on this photo, I am going to claim 41:33. After all, Personal Records are 'Personal' and there's no way this is a 41:35. I know I am splitting hairs but when you work your butt off for every little second, they all matter.

Other final thoughts:
  • I think the adidas Adios Pro shoes helped. I am not sure how they would be in a 5k but I did think that they were a fast shoe for the 10k.
  • Knowing that I can run 6.28 miles at an average pace of 6:36, I think I am also in shape to set a 5k PR
  • It's awesome to compare this race to my 49:36 of 2008. I've come a long way for sure.
  • I will be racing another 10k on New Year's Day. That race also offers a 5K, but I want another shot at this distance to see if I can go even faster. I needed to breakthrough that 41:51 plateau, and now that I have, I feel like I can keep going!
  • The fueling strategy worked perfectly. No issues during the race aside from some burps here and there.
  • I beat a guy who once gave me grief at a 5k for being too loud when I ran. He had told me that my sounds distracted him. I was over a minute ahead of him today.
  • PR cake tonight. I have not decided on a flavor yet.


  1. Awesome PR! Love reading your blogs!

  2. That is some sweet cake! Congrats on your PR. I struggled with whether to count my virtual PR's and I decided yes because those are the times that I want to beat. For the life of me, I'll never understand why race courses are short or long, is it really that hard to get the correct distance? There's no way that you all ran a 0.08 tangent, just sayin'.

    1. I agree. Particularly when the course was pretty straight with the only turns being the 3 hairpin ones.

  3. Congrats on the PR! I love that it was a small race. This had to feel great. I'm voting for chocolate. But I always do...

  4. Hi Elizabeth, Congratulations on your PR!! That is huge! Hope you enjoyed the PR Cake. I really enjoy reading your blog, Kind regards, AV

  5. Well Zebra congrats on a great run and "Eat the PR Cake!" I think Greg can do so also, as -2-sec so close and just technically short. I know the dilemma Birchwood Pie comments on about courses long or short. If they measured to true USATF standards they will always be a tad long based on short-course-prevention-factor they require measurers to use. But overall the real issue is not the actual course length, but the GPS watches and devices you rely on and the satellite reception, that add a lot of error in the readings. The problem with GPS is and runner watches is they have so little power to receive really true and highly precise GPS location. To support get really precise and within centimeter accuracy one has to use a backpack powered reception device and that has to be linked to a nearby "base-station" to really dial in the accuracy. USATF always we measure the courses using the SPR protocol because the certification is not that the race course is precisely the distance...."it is at least the stated distance." GPS runner watches mean nothing in the grand is what your start time and time you cross the finish line that matters, everything else calculated based on that. Sometimes average pace means nothing in a distance race extending 5k or even more 10k and it will vary mile by mile based on terrain and conditions. Good run Zebra...I bet you enjoyed that cake!

  6. Great PR and I'm glad you are finding in person races unlike NJ. I may be doing something with two people I know on Saturday with a 1600 on a track.. I', not in shape to run a 1600 as fast as I can but they're doing it on Strava and I don't do that stuff so it will be left to myself. They're both 21, I work with in, used to work with the other... I h4eard the "runner" hasn't run in 5 weeks and so we talked about me showing up and beating him with my crippled foot.

    It's taped so depending on what time they want to do this, I may show up. Gonna be a COLD day and when it gets bewlow 35 I suffer. The high is supposed to be 31 that day. I'll keep you posted if I do it or not. My PT gave me the ok to run a 1600 as fast as I can with tape on. So the setback for now has been cured in that there's been none of late and we're trying to keep moving forward!!

    As for your time, I think 41:35 may be accurate because three steps to a second and when you see the clock to when you finish is usually a few seconds... It's always been the case for me so I sense it is the same for you. I doubt they're lying to you... From 41:31 you were more than three steps away for sure.. Could have been 6 or 9 but it's hard for me to tell!! Doesn't matter at the end of the day. You PR'd and that's amazing.

    You're not letting COVID stop you.. CDOVID has harmed me but COVID isn't why... You know why, I'm trying to get back and this weekend if it occurs with the three of us may be a fun event. I won't be on Strava though. The world doesn't need to know everything I do. I'll share with you if I do it though, like I will with my PT... She's great and has been on board with almost everything I suggest!! She was ok with this too... Depends on what time and such if I do it... I hate the cold!! I like the cold until it gets under 40 and then I start to dislike it!!

    Hope you're doing awesome!! Great run, Looking forward to the New Years Post now!!

  7. Oh, I meant to ask if your GI symptoms have gone away yet?
    And late comment to congratulate you on your PR ;-)

    1. Not entirely but about 70% gone. I think I simply irritated my GI tract during the marathon and it just needed time to heal.