I went into this race with two goals: run it, proudly, for my Granddad – whose life was taken in September 2009 by two cancers, including prostate (this race benefited prostate cancer research) – and try to have fun. I wasn’t expecting miracles. Hell, I was expecting to be all that fast. So why is when I go in with such low expectations that I always seem to crush it?
We woke up bright and early Sunday morning: 8 a.m. gun means 5:30 wake-up. I got right out of bed, hit the bathroom, then went straight for the coffeemaker. My morning addled mine had me mis-measure our oatmeal, giving us a full cup each instead of half a cup each. Oops. We only ate half and got rid of the rest. Oh well. We ate our breakfast and hydrated and talked strategy. NB was hoping to start off easy with about 7:15s before kicking it up t 7s, and then try for sub-7s later in the race. I still wasn’t sure what I wanted. My PR had me doing about 8:25s, so I hoped to do 8:30s and enjoy the sights.
Since I was doing this for my granddad, I took an old bib and wrote a message on the back (little did I know they had “in memory of/in honor of” bibs available at the race. Oops).
By 6:30, we were in the car an on our way to North Shore to find parking near the stadium. We had plenty of space, and after a bit of confusion walking around (bibbed runners were walking every which way) and a potty break, we found race morning bib pickup and just hung out, since we’d gotten our stuff the day before. On our way in we saw a rabbit hopping towards us, and when he turned we realized one of his legs was broken/maimed, and he carried it awkwardly above the ground. Poor little guy – I prayed this wasn’t an omen.We chatted with a friend of NB’s for a bit and just tried to relax and zen out. About 20-25 minutes to the start, we did our warmup, cruising at 8:45 pace to get our legs pumping and our heart rates up. NB felt better near the end (we went out about 4-5 minutes, and then back, so we did about a mile) and I felt worse. I wasn’t hoping for much, considering how crappy I felt in that moment.
Soon it was 15 minutes to start and we downed our gels with a little water, pitched the throwaway bottle, and headed to the 10K start. We placed ourselves decently, but despite the small showing at packet pickup, apparently a good number of runners signed up for the 10K that morning so it was a little crowded. My stomach fluttering, we wished each other luck, and when we heard GO, we took off.
As expected, I got sucked into the fast crowd early. I had a good playlist going (though my iPod was on the fritz, which only got worse. Remember when it was skipping songs/pausing randomly during my last speed workout before Pittsburgh, and did the same midrace? Well, a factory restore fixed it…temporarily. Friday it was doing the same during my walk to work, so I restored again. Three and a half miles into this race though… ugh), and was feeling good. I was shooting for 8:30-8:45 for the first mile: an enjoyable cruising speed. But I checked my splits and my eyes widened. Slow down, slow down, you’re going to fast, you’re going to blow up. But my legs would not listen. My breathing was fine. I felt good. So I kept on.
At the mile 1 mark, I laughed out loud: in classic Kevin Smith of Elite Runners style, it was about a tenth of a mile off. My watch red .9 mile, and the guy next to me as he heard the volunteer calling splits (I wasn’t listening to them, since I had my watch and headphones in) he said, “no way did I run that that fast!” I reassured him that the course should be accurate overall (the website said it was USATF sanctioned and certified), Kevin’s just bad at mile markers. My garmin beeped on mile in 7:53. Oops.
The course was quite flat, but the second mile got a little rough with a long straightaway and a slight incline (I think). I kept on cruising, but figured I was going to die and have to drop my pace quite a bit later on. I think I lost track of satellites a bit at the beginning of mile 2 (which would explain the distance my garmin tracked overall – only 6.15) since my pace dropped to high 10s, but I wasn’t slowing down. It quickly righted itself once we got past some warehouses, so I think they just flipped out for a few seconds there. We got into a nice shady path as we moved along, and mile 2 clicked away in 8:01.
Mile 3 was where my early speed was starting to take its toll. I was slipping down into my old 10K pace (still faster than my original thought of 8:30s, and truth be told I don’t get to race a lot of 10Ks). We came up a short but cruel hill and I saw the course turn to a bridge and my stomach clenched in dread. I almost walked but refused to give up, thinking of my Granddad – though not long enough to tear up – and kept on, seeing with relief that the bridge was downhill. Phew!
We were nearing 3 miles when I saw some cones line the road, and knew we were getting close to the turn around. The speed demons were bursting out of a bit of woods before heading down a path. I saw a couple dudes and one very speedy chick before we passed where they emerged from and headed onto the dirt/crushed limestone path ourselves. I was starting to suffer. The path had narrowed, and I felt my pace slowing, but I kept an eye on some of my fellow runners, trying to keep up with one or another to maintain pace. I wanted to walk, but only let myself slow down a little. We edged around a field, still in tree cover, and my iPod stopped. Shit, not again. I pressed PLAY and hoped it would cooperate. It did…for a little while. I did the play pray pause play pray pause dance or a while before throwing in the towel at mile 4.
Meanwhile, we burst through onto the road and curved away from the coming 10Kers. I would have thrown some smiles and waves if I wasn’t so effing tired. I was starting to get a little out of it, and hardly realized it as we came up a switchback ramp up to a bridge crossing. I tried not to watch my pace or distance too constantly, tried to enjoy the sites around me. Soon enough, the 5Kers (who started about 20 minutes after us) appeared as their turnaround met with our path. I groaned, hoping it wasn’t going to get too crowded. It was reasonable, and I was slowing down anyway. I’d been sipping water at every other aid station, and at the second to last one or so, I let myself walk it, seeing my pace was climbing a bit high from the adrenaline surge of the 5Kers joining up. I squeezed the cup to funnel the water in my mouth, then dumped the rest and pitched it in a trash can. I wanted to dump it down my back, but resisted, not wanting to ruin my back bib.
At this point, I had no music and was running on pure adrenaline. As we hit the mile 5 mark, I passed a group of women: two slightly ahead, trying to encourage the girl behind them, who was struggling. “C’mon, just one more mile!” “Another whole MILE?” I almost told her to just think of laps on a track, just count down from there, make it piecemeal, but thought better of it. That could have sounded just as cruel, or worse.
We hit the path right along the river, and I started counting bridges, knowing we were getting close. I checked my overall time and saw how close I was to doing sub-50, which would be insane. My old PR was 52:26 and I thought to myself, you’ll at least improve that. So don’t walk. Just RUN. I passed the point where NB and I had turned around on our warmup and knew I was close, but the course seemed to lengthen before my eyes. I started kicking a half mile out and knew I had to slow down, but I just kept pushing. A little girl on the sidelines was jumping up and down screaming for the runners, and I almost ran her over when she moved onto the path little too far.
As I hit the last mile marker and my watched beeped a little later (I remained .1 behind almost the whole time, which signaled the first mile was measured short, the rest seemed fine. One mile I managed to make up a little distance, so that one must have been long. Still unsure about the course measurement, but I guess I”ll trust USATF?) and I saw my mile 6 time: 7:51. I switched to my overall time, and caught sight of the finishing clock. I dug. I dug deep. I saw NB come into view and I signaled to my time and he cheered me on. Was I going to make it? It was going to be close. My legs churned and I knew I was at my absolute limit, pushing as hard as I possibly could in those final strides. I don’t remember if I threw my arms up in victory. I don’t remember pushing STOP on my garmin (though I clearly did). I just remember crossing the line and wanting to collapse, putting my hand over my mouth as I almost wretched, and tried to remember to breathe.
Garmin time: 49.48
Chip time: 49.47
Garmin measured 6.15, so 8:06 pace, but if the course WAS 6.2, it was an 8:01 pace. Either way, MASSIVE PR, and if the course was properly measured, my first sub-50.
Every breath was a heave. I wobbled a bit, and am pretty sure I freaked out some bystanders by nearly vomiting at the finish from the exertion. Sorry dudes. Soon enough I found NB and we headed straight for the food, passing on the bagels so we could get our own breakfast, but loading up on fruit and water (orange slices are the best). As we wandered around, we found someone who WAS vomiting: for like five minutes, into a trash can. Gross. Poor guy. That says commitment to suffering right there.
We hung around a bit more, chatting with a friend, before heading home and feeling victorious. NB’s time was a PR if the course was measured correctly, though we were both a bit skeptical. Either way, we overcame a lot of adversity, and had a great race, especially considering we haven’t ben training and haven’t really been doing any speed work.
We of course headed straight or Bagel Factory after getting cleaned up, stuffing our faces with eggs and bagels and deliciousness. A perfect end to a great race morning.
So what’s next? Well, a lot actually. First of, while watching the Track Trials on Friday niht (holy finishing kick batman, AMY HASTINGS IS SUCH A BAMF. Girlcrush alert. Also, Dathan’s tears of joy? Amazing), we plotted out our long runs for the Philadelphia Marathon. Given our race schedule in September, we decided to cobble together our own plan: I made up two 18-week Runner’s World Smart Coach plans, printed off the intermediate 1 and 2 Higdon plans, and made notes. Saturday morning we went crazy with NB’s markerboard, plotting out the entire plan (minus the taper, which we wrote on paper since we ran out of space). We went by weekly mileage buildup to try to stay safe and healthy, and were able to work around our races quite well. This was the result:
To translate: XT is cross train (also can be a rest day. I plan to rest on Saturdays for sure, and any other rest I may need throughout). Green runs (e.g. 3M) or easy runs of that mileage. Blue runs are long runs (this was sort of a ski rating system. Sort of. The black pen was running out). Red were speed: T means tempo (so 5T = 5 miles, including 1 mile warmup, 3 at tempo, 1 mile cool); S is speedwork, for mile repeats (so 6S [3x] is 5 miles of speedwork, including 3×1600). Asterisks are races accounted for. September 15 is the Air Force half, which we hope to use not only as a tune-up, but to crush our PRs. Call it vindication from Air Force. And what’s that 18-22 nonsense, or all those 2M/2M and similar? Well…
We jumped on the crazy train and signed up for a Ragnar Relay. My twitter followers will have seen a lot of #RagnarDC tweets lately. 12 runners, two vans, 200 miles, from Cumberland, Md. to Washington, D.C.: everyone runs three legs each, of about 10K apiece. NB and I are hoping for one of the longer segments so our mileage total can be equivalent to a long run of at least 18. We haven’t assigned legs yet so we’ll make personal adjustments to that week’s mileage as needed.
All of this leads up to the Philadelphia Marathon on November 18 – our first full. We max out at 42 miles, including 5×1600 on the track, and a tempo run as long as 8 miles (6 miles at tempo). It’s awesome. It’s crazy. It’s freaking me the hell out. But I’m gonna give it my absolute all, and do it with as big of a smile as I can.