Sunday, December 10, 2023

Going the Extra Mile

"Going the extra mile" is one of the most popular running cliches/puns out there. Never has it been so applicable to my running career as it was during yesterday's 10K. 

I registered for the Jingle All The Way 15K a few months ago which was scheduled to occur today, Sunday. But as the race drew closer, the weather started looking miserable. Rain, wind, humidity, and warm temps. That's just not fun for me. So on Wednesday I made the decision to pivot and run the Ringing In Hope 10K which was scheduled for Saturday. The Saturday race was forecast to have perfect weather.

I love racing in December. There are so many festive races to choose from and the cold weather suits me. I didn't do too much to prepare for this race. The Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving served as a good workout and a way to "wake up" my legs after the marathon. Aside from that, I did one track workout which was a down ladder of 2000m, 1600m, 1200m, 800m, 400m - all with 400m recovery jogs. I ran that workout about halfway between the Thanksgiving 5K and yesterday's race.

Before the Race
I decided to try my adidas Adios Pro shoes again. I had abandoned them for the marathon because they felt too big. But with thicker socks for the cooler weather, they worked.

I went back and forth on my outfit a few times, but eventually settled on CW-X capri tights instead of shorts. I feel like compression tights give me a boost of speed so if it's cool enough for them, I wear them.

It was 34 degrees and mostly sunny, rising to about 37 by the end of the race. No wind. Hence we have a 10/10 on my personal race weather scale. I could not have asked for more favorable conditions. 

I arrived at the race 45 minutes before start time, got my bib and went to the bathroom. The race started and finished at a church, and that church was open for the race participants. It was a nice perk to have a warm prep area with real bathrooms!

Before I started my warm up, Greg and I tried to figure out where he would stand to take photos. We quickly looked at a course map and determined a spot that we thought would work. The only reason we had a course map is because my friend Cheryl had run this race last year and shared her Strava data with me. There was no course map on the website. [Edited to add: There are 5K and 10K course maps on the website but the links are not obvious. I am just seeing the maps today and did not see them prior to the race.]

Another thing to note about the map and Greg's position: this race also has a 5K. The finish line is the same for both races. We didn't want him too close to the finish line because I would be weaving through 5K runners at that point. So we also looked at the 5K course to see where they split apart and met up. The 5K course consisted of two out-and-backs in two directions. The 10K course was a large loop. They were only the same at the very beginning and end.

As I said above, I could not find either map on the race website. I had to search for Strava data from last year's runners to locate the 5K map. The 10K started at 9:00am and the 5K started at 9:10. This meant I would be finishing with 5K runners who ran around 30-35 minutes. I wouldn't have to do too much weaving because the courses joined up about 0.2 mile before the finish.

I warmed up for just over 10 minutes and took my Maurten caffeinated gel 5 minutes before race start. I didn't think I was in PR shape but I thought I was in pretty good shape. I decided to target a pace of 6:40 which would be about 30 seconds slower than my PR and I thought that might even be a bit aggressive. But I also decided NOT to look at the Garmin to pace this one. I just like having a neighborhood pace in mind.

Shortly after the start
Miles 1-2
The race started and it wasn't long before I saw Greg snapping photos and videos. He was standing at an intersection where I thought we would be turning left according to the course map. But as I said, I wasn't 100% sure I was aligning the map to reality when looking at it. So when we turned right I was surprised but I didn't think it was wrong. 

It was wrong. We were, in fact, supposed to go left as I originally thought! Nobody realized this until we all found ourselves in a parking lot. There was major confusion. A police officer was there and he didn't know what to tell us - he was not a course marshal. Eventually we realized that we ran the 5K course and had reached the first 5K turn around. We were over half a mile into it at that point. (I later found out that the was actually the second half of the 5K).

The leaders turned around and started running toward the rest of us, so we all turned around. At one point I just stopped and looked around, trying to figure out what was going on. The urge to stop my Garmin was strong, but I did not!

As we were all turning around, we were bunched together tighter than we had been previously, so I found myself running in a pack of 5 women. We were chatting about the situation and realizing that we had run the 5K course. Our attitude was positive and we started making jokes about the situation. I said I was going to stop my Garmin at 6.2 and walk it in! (Just kidding of course). And then we realized we wouldn't really know how long the course would be. 

I saw Greg (again!). I was only supposed to see him twice, but this course mishap meant a bonus sighting of my husband. Silver linings abound!

The amazing thing about this situation was that a pack of 5 women were running together at a relatively small, local 10K. All at a 6:30 pace. I was enjoying the company and not looking at my watch, so when it finally did beep for mile 2, I was shocked to see a 6:24 mile split. I think the pace was probably too fast for all but 1 of us but we kept going with it because it was so fun to be racing in a pack

Miles 3-4
I have run over 200 races of varying sizes and never once have I "raced" in pack of women like this. I should mention that none of us would win the race. The winner would be Perry Shoemaker, an Olympic

Marathon qualifier and holder of all sorts of records at the age of 50+. She was WAY out ahead, but we were all contenders for 2nd, 3rd, and so on. 

It was an entirely different racing experience. The camaraderie and the ability to feed off of each other's energy was amazing. And the fact that we were all sharing this odd experience of a super long 10K made it all the better. We took turns uttering short sentences to keep the vibe strong. 

My Garmin beeped for mile 3 (6:36 pace) and shortly after that the pack begin to spread apart. We went from 5 runners down to 4 down to 3.  We stayed a pack of three for a while longer and then one of the ladies pulled ahead. So then it was me and one other runner. The other runner (Lauren) told me to go with the woman who broke away, but I could not. Shortly after I pulled slightly ahead of Lauren and it seemed like the places might be solidified.

But none of us really knew what we were getting into. What would mile 7 of a 10K feel like? It was anyone's race. Except for Perry - there was no doubt she would win!

Mile 4 clocked in at 6:34. I wasn't keeping track of my pacing and as I type this, I am now realizing that miles 2, 3, and 4 were 6:24, 6:36, and 6:34. That's a FAST 5K right there. As for mile 1 - my data says 6:53 but that includes standing around trying to figure out what was happening.

Miles 5-6
I should note that the course had no mile markers. No course marshals. No directional signage. At one point a car pulled out right in front of me and I had to slow down for it. I have run the Ringing In Hope races many times in the past and the organization has always been excellent. I do not know what happened yesterday but it was certainly well below the standard I expected from them. 

I reasoned that mile 5 was the mile 4 I had studied in the course elevation profile. Which meant it was time for a big long hill. Mile 5 sucked the soul out of me! It had me seriously questioning my life choices. After running a sub 20:30 5K I was now expected to run three more miles, the first of which was a huge hill. Why did I do this to myself!?

The only thing that motivated me was reminding myself that I was not a quitter and the fact that I was in 3rd place. I guess those are pretty strong motivators, as they worked. But at the time it was very hard to stay in it! I still had the 2nd place runner in my sight. The gap between her and me stayed pretty much the same throughout mile 5. My split was 6:55 which was pretty miraculous because I felt like I was slugging by at an 8:00 pace.

Mile 5 or 6, waving to Cheryl.
Mile 6 was a similar story. There was not much respite from the hills, although I knew from the elevation profile that the worst was behind me. It hurt so much. It would have been easy to fall into the thought pattern of resentment. Resenting that this would not be the final mile. That my 10K was derailed by course mis-management. But none of those thoughts popped into my mind. I acknowledged the pain. Embraced the suck. I didn't look at my watch. I stayed focused on the woman ahead of me and reminded myself that the woman behind me could be very close. 

My friend Cheryl was cheering for me and taking photos at some point during this stretch. It was a huge pick-me-up right when I needed it. I was so happy to see her! 

Mile 6 was 6:52. Another surprise because I felt like I had faded to something in the high 7:00's!

Mile 7 and final 0.34:
At this point, I was truly going "the extra mile". Never had that phrase resonated with me so much! Thankfully it was a net downhill and I knew the end HAD to be near. I just wasn't sure how near. In my head I kept wondering when that turn would come. Would this be 7 miles? 7.5 miles? 8 miles? Who knew!? And with no mile markers, the course wasn't giving any hints. 

At this point I did feel like I could have pushed harder. I knew it in the moment, but I had no motivation to go deeper into the pain cave. 

Finally I saw Greg and I knew the finish line was in my reach. Mile 7 was 6:38 and the final 0.34 was a pace of 6:31. I maintained my third place position but the 4th woman was not far behind! Interestingly, the only time I saw a male during this race was during the first mile mix-up. I was either running with the women or running solo for the rest of the race.

After the Race
Our pack of women reunited and instantly started talking about all-things running. Neither of us knew each other but we all lived locally and we were all similarly matched. At least yesterday we were!

I also had the opportunity to talk with Perry, the Olympic trials qualifier and 1st female finisher. Interestingly, she had also been registered for the 15K on Sunday, but switched to this 10K for similar reasons. I had always known about her but had never chatted with her, so it was really amazing to get to know her a bit!

The theme of this race was definitely bonding with other female runners. And honestly that FAR overshadowed the fact that the distance was totally messed up. If anything, the messed up distance was a blessing in disguise because it allowed me throw caution to the wind and run with a fast pack of ladies and embrace the experience. I had been planning on a 15K originally, so I got more bang for my buck with this race! In kilometers, this race was 11.8K.

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways
As I said above, the local women's running community was the real focus yesterday. From my conversation with Perry to the pack of 5 women to Cheryl taking photos of me in the middle of the race. We all support each other and have a shared love of sport. I'm so grateful to be a part of this. I've found "my place" so to speak and it's exactly where I belong.

Other takeaways and stats:

  • My official time was 49:08, which is an average pace of 6:41
  • My Garmin logged 7.34 miles or 11.8K
  • According to the Jack Daniels VDOT calculator, the 10K equivalent is 41:12, which would have been a small PR for me, despite not believing myself to be in PR shape
  • Strava says I ran a 20:17 5K during the race, which is over 10 seconds faster than my Turkey Trot
  • My award for 3rd place was a free two-topping Domino's pizza, available for carry-out only
  • I am considering this a PR and having PR cake
  • Not only is it a PR because it's a new distance, but it also does equate to a 10K PR
  • I do not feel robbed of a 10K PR, but I am motivated to go run another one soon
  • The course mishap makes for a much more interesting blog post
  • I'm not sure how the lead runner was expected to know which way to turn. With no lead biker and no course marshal, there was no way for him to know. Everyone else simply followed him.
For the past two months I have been of the mindset that I am not in the best shape of my life. Today's race proves that wrong. I am in the best shape of my life. And I believe I could have run a faster final mile if I had more motivation. I truly did go "the extra mile" yesterday and I love that I encountered a new challenge and made new friends while doing so.