Something weird happened today. Something the average mid-packer doesn’t experience very often, if at all (at least, I hadn’t before – and maybe I”m alone in that).
In the middle of a 10K, I felt like I was in an actual race.
But let’s back up.
NF and I had been planning on doing this race for a while – at least he was, for sure. Coming off my PR at JASR, I was pretty pumped for it. Then when I crashed-and-burned on that 10 mile progression run the very next weekend, I decided to just take it as it went. We’re hitting the peak phase of our training, or really in the midst of it. But after looking at how we could just cut out a couple easy runs this week, freeing up Wednesday to other cross-training and Friday to a total rest day, I decided to just go for it. We had a kickass track workout Tuesday, ran five miles easy (separately) on Thursday, rested Friday, and ran 15 yesterday. The long run felt pretty good overall – it took us both a while to settle it. He started feeling good about 4.5 miles in. I didn’t click in until at least 8 or 9, but finished feeling strong, and was happy when I compared this 15 miler with the last time I ran 15 (last August), given the huge time improvement, not to mention my attitude – amazing what a little breakfast can do for your outlook.
We’ve been down this road before – at the end of last September, we ran 16 miles the day before the Great Race. That week was a cutback week for marathon training, so at least all the runs were easy. But today our legs were not fresh at all, same as last September (maybe more so for the track workout).
We woke up at a leisurely 7 a.m. for the 10 a.m. gun, grumbled about the cold temps (29* when we woke up), ate some oatmeal, and drove to Cecil Township at about 8:15, arriving in plenty of time to mill around. We hung around the race start area to watch the fast 5Kers finish, stood around some more, and with about 15 minutes to start, shed our layers, tossed my bag aside, and jogged maybe 1/2 a mile or so to warm up. We did a decent pace, and I felt myself slide into some race-pace pickups, which felt remarkably good. Still, I was apprehensive. The last time I did this, I went in with such low expectations – no way I can even get sub-50 in a 10K the day after a 16 miler – and walked away with a big PR. Now I had some pressure weighing down on my mind, not to mention the lead in my legs.
We absorbed the warmth of the pack as we stood at the start, getting antsy (at least I was) and waiting for the gun. We wished each other luck and exchanged kisses, and a few minutes later, we were off!
I quickly latched onto a girl wearing a yellow jacket, sliding into what felt like a fast and comfortable clip. With my lowered expectations, I was thinking I’d do flat 8’s for the 3.1 out, and see how fast I could come back in (the course is on Montour, so basically flat, but with a slight uphill grade out, pretty much all downhill back). So I was mystified when I was still right by NF. And then checked my watch: 7:10 pace.
Crap. Better back off. I eased way off the throttle and watched it tick down to 7:30s/7:40s (my PR pace is 7:47). I quickly got passed by a wave of people as the pack started to stratify. For the moment, the leaders were in sight, but that quickly changed as we strung out further. I settled behind an older gentlemen hammering 7:40s for the first mile or so, and then latched onto a 20-something dude in a gray shirt with red singlet over who was going low 7:40s as well. I knew he was aware of my presence, and I came abreast of him a few times (which I got the feeling he wasn’t necessarily a fan of), but we sort of silently paced each other for a good mile or so. I dropped him at one point, but he pulled ahead of me later and stayed there. No big. He kept me on pace for a while, for which I was grateful.
This whole time, I kept one eye on yellow jacket girl, her long brown ponytail skimming behind her. I kept a bull’s-eye on her back – she was maybe 20 seconds ahead of me, and if nothing else, I didn’t want that gap to grow. At the very least she would keep me at a strong pace.
A couple miles in I started getting inside my head a bit, the doubting demons chattering in my ear. You ran 15 yesterday. You can’t hold this pace. You’re going to blow up. Why don’t you just slow down? But at the same time, other than usual fatigue from being early in the race and knowing you have to keep this pace up for a good while longer, I felt pretty good. We went through a tunnel maybe half a mile from the turnaround cone, and my garmin lost me a bit. I ignored it going through, since I knew it would likely lose signal and it was also dark and damp and slick in there. I was edging up on yellow jacket, so I focused on her back and checked my footing intermittently. When I came out, my garmin read 9:45, having lost me, then quickly jumped down to 7:10. Whoops. I don’t know how much it lost, I think maybe .08, but the way back was much worse…
We came to the turnaround, and that was honestly the worst part. You get a nice downhill grade for a bit, then have to slam on the breaks to get around the turnaround cone, then run up the little grade on the other side now that your momentum is totally destroyed. That hurt, but I also had the out-and-back feeling of “every step is a step towards home, so let’s do this thing” feeling.
Things started getting interesting just before the tunnel. I was off yellow jacket’s shoulder, just kind of shadowing her, following her very even gait and rhythm. She looked smooth and strong and as annoying as pace hogs can be, I figured I was probably helping her as much as she was me. Suddenly we were overtaken very quickly by a girl in a red shirt, dropping a quick surge to scoot in front of us. She remained just a few steps ahead of us and we kept even, keeping just behind her. We went through the tunnel and my Garmin got completely and totally lost. When I came out it had been trying to figure out whether I had completed the last mile (I went into the tunnel at like .81 of a mile) and was reading 3:30 lap pace. HA. It read mile 5 as 6:27, but beeped WAY before the marker, so it was unfortunately totally bunk, and I lost all sense of my real pace.
But the race was on. Red shirt led our little pack, and a girl in blond pigtails and a Boston jacket (I wanted to hug her) pulled astride with us. I glanced around and we all kind of sized each other up, running in what felt like 7:30s or so but I was of course lost to pace at this point. Yellow jacket girl threw in a surge and the rest of us tucked in behind her, allowing her to pull us along. I was suddenly completely focused and relaxed, having been really distracted after the turnaround, especially by the sudden influx of traffic, now flowing two ways as the rest of the mid-packers were heading toward the turnaround. I fell into a groove and, though I felt pressure to keep up with this pack of chicks, felt oddly calmed by it. It felt like they were just pulling me along like a current, and we were sharing the work.
Red and yellow threw in a couple more surges, and Boston and I would move up, stride for stride, never truly surging, just matching and pushing the pace a little, not quite ready to show our cards. With maybe a mile and a half to go, red shirt got dropped, and yellow jacket surged a bit again as Boston and I stayed together across a small footbridge (flat, thank goodness). But shortly thereafter, and I’m not sure what happened, but we managed to drop yellow jacket. Not sure if we just broke her or she blew up or wasn’t ready to kick yet, but we kept pushing and she disappeared into our rearview.
Boston and I kept clicking away. We didn’t really talk, just kept running, staying smooth and relaxed. I felt this jolt of excitement – this was insane, this was a real race. We had been surging, and pushing, and being tactical. Sure, I’ve passed people in races, or paced off of them, but only to get good rhythm going, or encourage myself not to give up on a PR. Never because I wanted to truly try to beat anyone.
With maybe two-thirds or three-quarters of a mile to go, Boston looked at me with a big smile and said “thanks for the push!” and I returned the smile, saying, “you too!” We drifted down a hill and I relaxed my gait, letting it pull me, then tried to say relaxed on the uphill side, knowing the last 1/3 was all downhill. I wondered to myself if we’d stay like this til the end, a duel to the finish. But after the hill as we started coming around the last curve before the finish came into sight, I threw down the hammer and lost sight of her. I think she was honestly just a few seconds behind, but I had eyes only for the clock. Glancing at NF as he was shouting encouragement and cheering me on, tossing my gloves (which I’d peeled off around mile 4 or so) in his direction, and willing that clock not to tick over 48 before I got to cross the mat. I don’t remember the music I was listening to. I don’t really remember how much pain I was in, or how I was making my legs move. I flew across the line, gasping, eyes wide at the clock: 47:40 (I thought it was gun time, rather than chip time, so had started my Garmin with the gun – or airhorn, as it were).
I struggled to remove my chip from my shoe, and when I turned, there was Boston girl, all smiles. We chatted for a few moments, shaking hands and grinning and thanking each other profusely. We realized that it seemed to each of us that the other was pushing us, but it was a complete team effort, not wanting to give in, and just pulling one another along.
I found red shirt girl when I was getting water and shook her hand as well. I never caught up to yellow jacket, unfortunately, to congratulate her on a great race, but hopefully she had a similar feeling to the rest of us about our little pack.
NF and I celebrated, limping down to the picnic area to get our food – I gorged myself on potato chips and wings – and FREE BEER!! We stuck around to see the times posted, when I found out it was chip start! I got a 47:36 officially, a 46 second PR! I managed 5th in a field of about 67 ladies 20-29 (why was my age group the only decade age group?) is great for a mid-packer, so I’m pretty damn pleased with that.
This week is peak week, though the long run will be cutback since we’ll be 7 days out at that point. We’ve got a lot of miles to cover this week, though, including an 8-mile tempo (6 @ tempo) and an 8 mile easy run during which I’d like to hammer out some bridge repeats. I’m hoping I can make it to the Boston Strong run tomorrow night, so will have to tweak mileage the rest of the week. But we’ll see how the legs are doing tomorrow.