Friday, January 1, 2021

New Day New Year 10K

The long awaited 2021 is here. And what will it bring?

For starters, the first race in the Northern Virginia area (that I am aware of) held on closed roads: The New Day*New Year 10K. All the local races that I ran in 2020 starting in March were either in Washington DC or on roads open to traffic (Fort Hunt 10K). Here's a quick recap:

  • Outer Banks 5K (in North Carolina)
  • Fort Hunt 10K (open road in a park area)
  • Hanover Half Marathon (in Pennsylvania)
  • Harrisburg Marathon (in Pennsylvania)
  • Cranberry Crawl 5K (in Washington DC)
  • Christmas Caper 10K (in Washington DC)
This is great news because it sets a precent of Loudon County being on board with live races and road closures. Hopefully we will start seeing more races come back to Northern Virginia.

Background
This race offered a 5K and a 10K option. I wasn't sure which one I wanted to do, but looking at the course made it an easy decision. The 5K course ended on an uphill and part of it was on a neighborhood path. The 10K course ended on a downhill and there was no neighborhood path; it was all road. 

However, the day before the race, we received an email letting us know that the 10K would now be two laps of the 5K. Definitely a bait-and-switch. I am assuming that it's less expensive for them to use the 5K course for both races because they don't have to pay for as many police officers and close as many roads. I could be wrong, but that's my best guess as to why they would change it at the last minute.

My heart sunk upon reading this. What I had thought would be a decently fast course on 100% roads was now going to be more challenging with part of it run on a neighborhood path, times two.  I briefly considered switching to the 5K. That way I would only have to run on the path once. But I ultimately decided to just stick with the original plan. It was not the end of the world, of course, and 2020 has taught me to be flexible and roll with the punches. So I tried not to focus on it too much and just accept the change. But I think it got into my head a little when it was time to execute. 

Before the Race
The race started at 9:30 so it was easy to take my Maurten Drink Mix 3 hours beforehand at 6:30. I used the same fueling strategy that I used in the Christmas Caper 10K from two weeks ago when I set a PR. 

I decided to wear my Nike Vaporfly Next % shoes, for a few reasons:
  • I wanted to save my adidas Adios Pro for my next marathon, as I will likely not be able to obtain another pair before then. (Due to my high cadence, I wear through shoes very quickly).
  • There was a chance of rain, and there is no traction on the Adios Pro, whereas the Nike Vaporfly has decent traction. 
  • I have two pairs of the Nike Vaporfly, which each cost me $260 after tax, so I figured I should probably use them at some point.
  • I thought it would be good to get a true comparison of the shoes. I never thought the Nike Vaporfly Next% made me any faster than normal shoes, but now that I had the Adidas Pro to compare them to, I wanted to try again.
Greg and I arrived with ample time to pick up our bibs and warm up. It started to rain lightly as we were warming up, which was supposed to hold off until after the race. Thankfully the rain ended after about 10 minutes and it wasn't enough to make the roads slippery.

In fact, the weather ended up being nearly perfect. 34 degrees, 3mph winds, overcast. The forecast kept changing all week and originally we were looking at a torrential downpour and 38 degrees! At one point, winds were forecast to be 13-15mph. We definitely lucked out in terms of weather, so I probably should not be complaining about the course change.

We warmed up for a little over 2 miles, finishing at the start line. When we arrived, we were surprised to see that many runners were already lined up on the designated spots, so we wouldn't be among the first to start. To maintain social distancing, two runners were released at a time, with sets going about 5 seconds apart. And there were multiple waves. We wore masks in the start corral and took them off once we started the race. There were about 50 runners in the 10K (which started first) and 100 runners in the 5K. 

Miles 1-2
As the race started, I felt really good. I thought that this would be a strong race for me and I had plenty of pep. I now realize that this is because the race started downhill! There were about 4 women ahead of me, all of whom I passed in the first mile. I thought to myself, "Wow, this could be my day to win the race!" Greg lined up behind me at the start line so he was in the set of runners that started 5 seconds after me. He passed me about half a mile into the race, looking strong. 

I got through mile 1 in 6:40. This was faster than my first mile from two weeks ago, so I was pleased with it. (Sure, it was a downhill mile, but it didn't seem to be that much of a downhill). Shortly after finishing the first mile, a woman passed me from behind. She had started after me and passed me and some of the guys in front of me. I later learned that she ended up being the first overall finisher, for both men and women! Very impressive.

Things started to feel hard during the second mile, but I still felt strong and energized. I believed that I was crushing it and running very quickly, but the 6:45 split on my Garmin was a bit disheartening.

Miles 3-4
The neighborhood path was at the start of mile 3. There was a downhill stretch, but then that momentum was killed by having to get up onto a curb and make a sharp turn onto a path, and then another sharp turn onto a wooden bridge/boardwalk type of surface. I was very thankful that it wasn't raining because this had the potential to be slippery. And then a few more turns through a parking lot before we were back onto a road. Annoying, but manageable.

Here's where I think the last minute course change got into my head. Similar to mindset at Harrisburg, I got annoyed at the awkwardness of the course. I let it bother me and I allowed it to give me an excuse for slowing down. To run well you need to be 100% positive or neutral, and I let some negativity seep in. Mile 3 was mostly uphill so I wasn't too surprised to log a 6:49 for that mile. It wasn't what I was hoping for, but I figured I could make it up during the 4th mile, which would be downhill again as the course repeated itself.

At this point, a new challenge emerged: passing the 5K runners. As one would expect, there were packs of them running 2-3 abreast and weaving around them was difficult at times. Additionally, there were 10K runners coming back on on the same route. So I was trying to weave through 5K runners and make sure I didn't have a head-on collision with the 10K runners. 

I was able to get some advantage from the downhill of mile 4, but not as much as I needed to make up for the slow down of mile 3. I logged 6:42 which, on a downhill mile, wasn't that fast for me. I was expecting to be running closer to 6:30 and I still felt decent, but I just couldn't bring myself to push any harder. It's like I knew I could run faster. Just two weeks ago I was running 6:36 flat miles and now my downhill pace was 6:42. 

A 5K runner in the background
Miles 5-6
I was so ready to be done with the race at this point. There would be no more fast downhill miles, just the long uphill stretch to the finish and another run through the neighborhood path. Thankfully I passed some 5K runners shortly before getting onto the path, so I didn't have to pass anyone while on the narrow path. I was encouraged with my 6:43 for mile 5, but I simply didn't have the gas in the tank I needed to run uphill for the long stretch.

At one point I felt so bad I told myself I would be happy with anything under 7:15. Usually I can totally rally during the last mile of a race, but not today. I observed that it's hard for me to run uphill in the Vaporflys. They are bulky and I felt like if I had more contact with the ground at that point, I could have engaged my muscles more to help out. Mile 6 ended up being 6:57, and in hindsight I feel like I could have run that faster. But at the time I was in so much pain, I was hoping just to be under 7:15! 

The finish and beyond
I came through the finish in 41:44, which pleasantly surprised me. I had been projecting 42:xx. I felt like this race was so much slower than 10K from two weeks ago, and yet this time was only 11 seconds slower - my second fastest 10K ever! 

If you look at the distance on my Garmin, this race course measured 6.18 miles at an average pace of 6:45, and the Christmas Caper measured 6.28 miles at a pace of 6:36. So, while there is a notable difference between a 6:36 and 6:45 pace, the "shorter" course today meant there was only 11 seconds difference in the official time instead of 54.

Greg was waiting for me at the finish and I was thrilled to learn that he broke 40:00 for the first time by running 39:38. Amazing! I knew he could do it. He absolutely crushed it. He was the 4th overall finisher and I was the 6th. As for the women's race, I came in 2nd. I was pleased with this. I think that the awards are coming in the mail. 

This race had amazing swag: hat, gloves, and a neck warmer. Overall the organization was strong and I was thankful to be able to continue with my New Year's tradition of racing. The only areas for improvement would be not changing the course at the last minute, better traffic control of the two-way stretch, and certifying the course. Some of the 5K runners logged 3.06 miles on their Garmins. The 10K was closer to the true distance because we ran an extra little stretch that wasn't part of the 5K. Knowing this, I am happy that I decided to stick with the 10K because I believe it was more accurately measured. I don't think the courses were USATF certified. 

Greg and I did a short cool down during which the rain came back. All in all, we really lucked out with the weather!

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways
There are positive and negative ways to look at my race today. I guess instead of negative, I should say "constructive" lessons I learned to improve on for next time. 

Positive:
  • Officially my second fastest 10K ever
  • Fast time on a hilly course, with a half-mile uphill stretch at the end of the race
  • 2nd place female
  • Pushed really hard, got a great workout in
Negative
  • My heart rate didn't get all that high, I believe I had the fitness to go faster
  • I let negative thoughts seep in; I shouldn't have let the course annoyances bother me
  • I was only 11 seconds off of my PR, if I had just pushed harder I could have beat it
  • My Garmin pace was 6:45, and I have run about 5 other 10Ks at this pace, so it's not like this race shows a big fitness gain
As for the Nike Vaporfly Next% shoes, I think I am done with them. Yes, I paid $260 a pair and I have two pairs of them. But I don't believe they make me faster than my normal speed training shoes (Adidas Boston or adidas Adios non-pro). They also irritated my Achilles so I am hesitant to wear them again when they aren't a fast shoe for me. Do I think I would have been faster in the adidas Adios Pro? Yes. But I don't regret not wearing them because I had valid reasons for wanting to give the Vaporflys another shot. At least now I know and I won't feel guilty about spending all that money but not using them.

At the end of the day, racing is really just one big experiment. You have to try different strategies and see what works. Nutrition. Shoes. Pacing. Warm up. Mental approaches. I think this race fueled my fire to get back out there and push really hard on the next one.