So I was lying in bed the night before the race. As one does, I mentally went over the course - all the turns and hills and how I should feel at different parts of the course. Strategy and splits. Often this leads to nerves and many minutes of restlessness and anxiety. But this time, I wasn't feeling any pressure. This would be the 17th time I've done this race. The 103rd 10K of my career. I knew what to expect. I had goals, but they didn't seem to matter that much. I quickly drifted off to sleep.
My low-key summer of running went well. The last month of increased miles went well. I was still injury-free and feeling good! My goal was to beat last year's time of 44:28. even though I didn't figure to be in as good condition. Then I thought I would really like to go under 44, or get close to 7 minute pace (43:24) if possible. My old man PR of 42:58 (on an easier course) seemed out of reach. So I planned to go out about 7:15 and hopefully pick it up and see how it went. But again, no pressure. I really just wanted to enjoy the race, not suffer too much, finish strong and do my best. Oh, yes, I also hoped to place top ten in my AG and get a medal. At 55, I was the youngster in my AG, and figured I had a shot, although this race attracts all the fast folk and it's very competitive. I have yet to medal here, although I got 11th four years ago and 15th the last two years.
So it's a beautiful morning. A little warm, as it would get to 85 later, but at 7:30 it was still cool enough and lots of shade. This was the 40th anniversary race and had a record crowd of 3,600 people (including 50 who have run all 40 races). Our running club was out in force, as this was our hometown race; Probably 50 of us in our matching shirts. Said hi to many of them as we warmed up. There were one guy and gal specifically that I train with that are very close to my speed. So another goal was to beat them. Got in my usual spot about ten rows back, and off we went.
The course has a bunch of turns at the start and lots of rolling hills. Then at mile 5 is a killer hill before you get to come down to the beach for the last mile along the coast.
Plus you get to finish here.
The start was smooth. Not too crowded. I found a comfortable pace around 7:25 the first quarter mile, then gradually got into race pace. Mile 1 came through in 7:07, which seemed about right, and easier than 7:07 should feel. I told myself to hold back, stay in control. The key on this course is to save something for mile 5. A too fast start makes those little rolling hills very painful. So I was practicing restraint and just going with the flow.
Not that it was easy. It was still work. But in a race, 7:07 in mile 2 feels a lot easier than say running 7:07 in a tempo run. I controlled my breathing up the hills. Opened up my strides on the downhills. Restraint was my mantra. Controlled speed. Long way to go. Mile two was another 7:07 and I was passing all the fast starters, including several from my club that had no business being ahead of me anyway.
Mile three is a long straight stretch with a few ups and downs. Most years I am suffering pretty bad at this point. I remembered last year thinking "Why do I do this to myself?" at this point. But this year I was not suffering. I was feeling pretty confident! Oh, there was pain, but I felt under control. Mile three was another 7:07! Well! (I thought) It looks like you are going to beat your goals! Some quick math told me if I could just get over the hill without collapsing, I could do my usual fast finish and be under 44!
Once I cleared the little hill at 3.2 and still felt good and did that math, that boosted my confidence even more. Mile 4 is a big downhill and I could see I was sub-7. Still I tried to restrain myself. My breathing was getting heavier and I was coming up on the big hill, so I tried to dial it back a little. But I also passed my coach (and rival) here and that gave me a boost. Mile 4 was 6:53 and I still had some juice in my legs.
Good thing, because that hill goes up about 90 feet in 0.3 miles. I obediently shortened my stride, put my head down, and tried to maintain momentum without straining too much. By the top I was gasping, but the lactic acid build-up wasn't too bad, really, and I shook out my arms and worked on regaining oxygen while I cruised down the backside. Mile 5 was 7:05, which I think is the best I've ever done that mile. (Yes, I checked. Usually I am over 7:30 in mile 5.)
So I hit the long beach straightaway with 1.2 miles to go, and for once I wasn't already completely toast. I slipped into a faster gear and steadily picked off stragglers. Then I saw my friend and rival, Cathy, up ahead. She had beat me by ONE second in our last race on July 4th. She was about 20 yards ahead and I was gaining, so I knew I could get her. That helped me push on through the suffering which had finally come on board. Now I was heavy breathing and working and the legs were starting to get heavy and falter. But you know, not as bad as other times. I knew I had a good time and a shot at a medal so I tried to pick up every second I could. Mile 6 came through in 6:41, and I was accelerating. I blew by Cathy right about mile 6 and beat her by TWO seconds. The last stretch I was at 6:06 pace and I finished at 43:31. Just a hair over 7:00 pace. Almost a minute faster than last year, and only 17 seconds off my old man course PR of four years ago. My age-grade was 72%, which must be one of my top scores.
So I was very happy! Not only for the time, but because I ran the perfect race. Moderate start, fast finish, limited amount of suffering.
Now I just had to wait and see how I placed. I found my other rival. He had beat me by 11 seconds. Good for him. Finally results were posted...and I got 11th. Whomp whomp...My rival was 10th and got the last medal. Five of the ten were from my club. One just turned 55 this week! I was 171st overall (of 3600). So I was disappointed, but not too much. Because what's one more medal - I've got a wall full of them. But the feelings of running a perfect race and nailing a good time - well that's better than a medal anyway.
Here are my rivals, Cathy, who I beat by two seconds, and Bartlett, who got me by 11 seconds. Until next time!
So I'm optimistic and excited to keep on increasing my mileage. Next race is only 5 weeks away - a half in Ft. Lauderdale during my annual golf buddy road trip. Already thinking of 1:37? 1:36?
Life is good.