Sunday, February 4, 2024

For The Love of Hills 10K

The actual name of the race I ran this morning is "For The Love of It" 10K, but I'm going to assume the "it" refers to "a hilly course".

I knew what I was getting into with this race. This was my third time running this race, and 4th if you count the summertime version on the same course. Even though it's challenging, this course held my PR from 2017 to 2020, so it can be fast if you stay strong on the hills and take advantage on the declines.

In 2017 I ran a time of 41:51. In 2020 I ran a time of 43:43, just coming off an injury. My goal today was to set a course PR and ideally a distance PR (sub 41:17). 

Before the Race
The night before the race I had my traditional salmon with beets and pearled couscous. I slept horribly. I wasn't able to fall asleep until 10:15 and I woke up at 3:15. I was awake from 3:15-4:00, but then slept an additional 30 minutes from 4:00-4:30. That means I only got 5.5 hours of sleep. Lately I have been sleeping really well before races, but for some reason last night was an exception. 

I had a handful of almond butter filled pretzels two hours before race start. We left the house at 6:50 for an 8:00 start time. I already had my bib so I didn't need to worry about getting that. 

When we parked, I spotted my friend Kathy and we warmed up together. I made sure my shoes were tied tightly and that the loops were tucked under the other laces. These are the shoes I wore during the Houston Marathon and the laces had come untied during that race: the adidas Adios Pro 2. I still have not tried version 3 because I have plenty of mileage left on my version 2's. I warmed up for 2.2 miles, which included some strides. I had a caffeinated Maurten gel 10 minutes before race start. 

During the warm up, we noticed that the start line was in a different location than usual. We spoke to a race official at the start line who told us that the track was closed for construction so the race couldn't finish on the track as it usually does. So they moved the start back to correct for this. 

I immediately wondered if that meant the course distance would be wrong. After having run a 7.34 10K in December and a 3.24 5K in January, I was hungry for an accurately measured course! Eyeballing the new start line location, it didn't look far enough away from the original start line location to compensate for not running the track portion at the end. Plus, the track portion is the fastest part and that's definitely NOT the part you want removed from this hilly course. I tried not to think about it too much but at least now I was prepared for an inaccurate distance and not having that super-fast track finish.

After the warm up, I found Greg and handed him my jacket. It was cold but I knew that once I started racing I would be appropriately dressed. It was 30 degrees, sunny, and almost no wind. Thus, it receives a 10 out of 10 on my race weather scale. PERFECT! I wore my favorite CW-X capri tights, a short-sleeved t-shirt, arm sleeves, mittens and sunglasses. 

Miles 1-2
I was familiar with the course profile, but once the race started all I could remember was that mile 3 was fast/downhill and mile 5 was hard/uphill. I had forgotten what the first two miles were. I didn't look at my Garmin all that much, I ran by effort. During these miles I was running behind a pack of 5 men. My goal would be to pick them off one at a time. I quickly established my position as the third female.

Because this course is constantly rolling hills, I didn't remember if miles 1-2 were net uphill or downhill. My splits were 6:44 and 6:43 so I was hoping there were net uphill. These splits were discouraging because I was hoping to average 6:35 or faster and I wasn't sure if I would be able to speed up all that much in future miles. I shifted my mindset from "get a PR" to "just run hard". 

Miles 3-4
Now it was time to start picking off the men and hopefully running faster. I saw my friend Cheryl taking photos which was a pleasant surprise. She hadn't told me she was coming! That was definitely a bright spot in these miles. I wasn't looking at my watch so I wasn't sure how fast I was going, I just tried my best to put forth max effort. 

In doing so, I made my loud grunting/screaming noises. These are somewhat embarrassing, but it's just what happens when I go really hard. As I was passing one of the guys I said "sorry I am so loud!" He replied with "it's really motivating me to push harder, so thank you for that!" Wow- who knew my sighs of pain could be motivating?

I passed about three men during these miles, which helped restore my confidence. My splits were 6:27 and 6:20 for these miles. I was definitely taking advantage of the elevation loss. I think I had expected mile 4 to be uphill, so running a 6:20 was a welcome surprise!

Miles 5-6
I was in the home stretch. I felt like I was slowing down so much. Everything hurt and my energy level had fallen. I definitely didn't look at my watch because I felt like I had slowed WAY down. But I think I always feel this way during mile 5. Mile 5 is the hardest mile of the course and it's soul-sucking for sure! One of the guys was within earshot of me behind me and I was motivated to not let him pass me. I could hear his steps and his breathing. 

I saw Greg and Cheryl during mile 6 but it was hard to muster a smile for them. I was running out of gas. Mile 6 seemed to last forever. Because of the course change, there wasn't as much downhill during this mile as there had been in previous years, so I didn't get the "relief" I had been looking forward to. 

Mile 5 clocked in at 6:46 and mile 6 at 6:38.

The Finish
I gunned it really hard at the end. I guess I had more in me than I realized because I got a sudden burst of energy as I approached the finish line. I could not believe my eyes as I approached the clock: 40:xx! I would be under 41!!!

My official time was 40:31. I was the 3rd female finisher and the 11th overall finisher. In my wildest dreams I could not have imagined a time of 40:31! That's two 5Ks in a row of 20:15 and 20:15! 

But my disbelief was validated when I saw that my Garmin distance was a mere 6.15 miles, not 6.21. Shoot! 

I wasn't sure whether to be happy about my PR or frustrated that it wasn't a real PR. I was 46 seconds faster than my PR, so I have to believe that if the course was extended by 0.05 mile it would still be a PR and still under 41:00. In fact, my goal time was 40:55, which would have lined up perfectly with a slightly longer course.

The man who I had passed during the race came up to me afterwards and thanked me for my motivating painful groans! He said that when I was making those noises, it made him realize he had more effort to give and so he pushed harder. Contrast this to a 5K I ran a few years ago when a man approached me afterwards to tell me that my noises distracted him and made him pull a calf muscle! I always considered my noises annoying, and they probably are to most, but they don't cause calf strains. And at best they do demonstrate an extreme amount of exertion! 

I re-united with Greg, Cheryl and Kathy after the race and we chatted for awhile before the awards started. Overall it was a great morning!

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways
With my last three races having slightly-off (or majorly off) distances, it has re-affirmed my belief in the PERSONAL Record. This is not the olympics. I am not a professional runner. My personal records are whatever I know to be my best performances.

I often use the example of the Boston Marathon 2018 in the wind/rain/hills (3:26) vs my PR in perfect weather on a flat course (3:15). Clearly my time should be faster on the flat course in perfect weather. But I see my Boston Marathon performance as superior. The crazy conditions (with many elites dropping out) and the challenging course required much more discipline with pacing, physical fitness, and mental strength.

Even though I would be hard pressed to consider myself a 40:31 10K runner, I definitely see myself as a sub-41:00 10K runner and that is still a PR. 

In 2020, I ran this race in a time of 43:43 coming off an injury. I then proceeded to run a time of 1:31:56 at the Newport News One City Half Marathon (four weeks later). I am running One City again this year, so I believe myself to be on track for my sub 1:30:00 goal, provided the weather conditions are favorable.

Other stats and notes:

  • According to Strava, I ran a 20:07 5K in the middle of this race. Probably miles 2, 3, and 4. 
  • Comparing this race to my 2017 course PR, every mile was faster!
  • I think my recent increase in fitness can be somewhat credited to my Achilles tendinitis/bursitis being mostly cured. It has resulted in more ankle mobility so I can stride longer.
  • My Illiacus muscle (lower abdomen, above groin, near hip) has been painful/spasming lately and it was silent during the race but I felt it tighten up afterwards. I'm going to PT regularly to keep this in check.
  • In January I bought a new grand piano and I spent more hours playing the piano than running last month. You can see me play the piano on my YouTube channel. 
Up next is the One City half marathon in four week. I need my illiacus muscle to stay calm, good weather, and no illness! If all of those things happen I could potentially run a sub 1:30. 

Thanks for the photo, Cheryl


  1. Well grrr that the course distance was wrong, but yay for the PR! I've got my fingers crossed for the sub 1:30 in four weeks.

    Congrats on the new piano! It's funny to think that you got more piano hours than running hours in January - it must have been a very busy month!

  2. Always love reading your race reports and Insta posts! You motivate me to improve my running AND your outfits are the cutest! Thank YOU!

  3. Wow Elizabeth you are amazing and while I felt a decline last year, your posts are telling me I need to continue to believe I have PRs still in me (even though I've seen more females do such in their 40s than males.) Congrats and sub 90 mins is coming of the weather is right. I'm definitely going to follow as I've been lax on running since October but just started up again and hopefully get into Broad Street 10 this Cinco de Mayo

  4. Oh well, once again I see too much concern about course distance and what the splits or times posted relevant to PR. Who cares in a sense other than how well you finished in the entire field? Zebra you are so awesomely complicated and maybe a bit overbearing on your run performance, but I still admire your way of being cause you simply drive yourself to do your best. What caught me off guard was the mention of the piano and spending more time playing recently that running. Then I went to your link. This all new to me, but I watched on video, Dishwalla, Candleburn cover, and now recognize a true artistic side of you that the running side of you so analytic, but an artist playing music...can't see as relying on analysis and just plays and sings from within. Maybe now, I might see you as the Zebra Blogger, so analytical post her runs, but in some ways I know seeing you just run those races and run them like you play...from both skill and feel. Wow...when you get tired of chasing zebras in running races, there is a home for you as an artist grounded in piano. What a dichotomy between you as blogger/runner and you an artist playing piano. Amazing!

    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to watch my YouTube videos! Yes, I am 50% analytical and 50% creative - that's why working in Marketing is the best job for me because it uses both! You put something creative out there and then analyze the results. You are absolutely right, as my running career winds down (which it will eventually) I will play piano so long as I can avoid getting arthritis!

  5. A PR is a PR and this was an impressive race! I think 10ks are the toughest distance to race--at least for me! Congrats on another well run race!

  6. Well done on your PR, Elizabeth! You keep going from strength to strength. Too early to think about retiring from running yet. Look forward to checking out your YouTube videos. Love your blog though and hope you keep writing it. Kind regards, AV