Regardless, I am thrilled with my time, as this is the first time since that one time in 2006 where I have finished a 10K under 53 minutes. (Dare I say it? 52 minutes is the next barrier to surmount. Thank goodness I probably won't have another 10K on the schedule until next year.)
In my last 10K, I was somewhat disappointed with my finish time (not only was it not a PR of any kind, it was about a minute slower than other recent 10K's). While I'm okay with that, I decided to optimizing the conditions to support a better outcome this time around.
This did not include any kind of special training runs or anything like that. No, this was totally external preparation.
First of all, and most importantly I believe, I rearranged my running schedule for last week so I was not running the day before the race. On the day before the previous 10K, I ran about eight miles, and I kind of suspect that may have impacted my performance. This time I moved my Friday run back to Thursday and took Friday off entirely (from running, that is). I didn't even go to the Y. I rested my legs like a roast before carving.
Actually, that was pretty much all I did. I skipped the pre-race pasta dinner because I've been indulging in all too much carb-loading (read, indulging) these past months. I did make my usual effort to cut down on fiber after Friday's breakfast, so as not to risk the kind of emergency suffered by Paula Radcliffe on occasion or other bloggers I know. But I sort of slipped up there when I used high fiber tortillas to make a wrap for lunch, then later had half of a double fiber english muffin (with delicious smoked salmon) for a snack. I was thinking whole grains, good carbs, without thinking about the potential side effects.** At least I didn't cook up a mess of broccoli for dinner!
And I skipped a Friday night high school reunion get-together in hopes of getting a good night's sleep the night before (something I rarely have before running, but I hear is supposed to be a good thing).
Still, despite my efforts, Saturday morning did not have an auspicious beginning. The run was in Mukilteo, which is only about eight miles from my house, so I didn't have to get up at the crack of dawn. Still, waking up at 6 a.m. was not easy (even though I do it every workday), and I really hated getting out of bed when I finally manage to at almost 6:30.
My stomach felt a little off, and it was a little too close to the scheduled race time of 8 a.m., to eat much of a breakfast. So all I ate was about half a banana in the car, and drank just a few sips of my pre-race latte, not wanting to put too much milk into my stomach. I wasn't quite to the point of nauseous, but it was close. I definitely would rather have been in bed instead of on the way to a 6.2 mile run.
This is where I also launched into my usual mental tirade of self doubt. What makes me think I can run faster than a 10-minute (or perhaps 9:30) mile? What if I am on the decline and all my 10K's and other races will continue to get slower, rather than faster? What makes me think I can compete with all these other people? (I go through this every time, even when I'm not feeling queasy!)
I took off on a 1.5 mile warmup run at about 7:15. This is when I noticed that my delicate heel/ankle/achilles tendon was hurting. The warmup helped, though, and by the time I returned to the starting area my foot felt okay and so did I. The weather was pleasant, sunny enough that I decided to wear sunglasses, but not overly warm. I still wasn't confident about how well I would run, however.
Eight o'clock (the planned start time) was approaching, so I squeezed in a final bathroom stop (I do love the short lines at small races) and headed toward the starting line (literally a line on the road). The guy making announcements and jokes informed us that the race would start at 8:10. I squeezed myself into the crowd, somewhere between the front and back of the pack, and turned on my Garmin and iPod in preparation.
Here is the crowd waiting to start. I am actually a little bit visible somewhere in there—I am the only person wearing a black hat. In the distance you can see the Mukilteo ferry sailing in (just to the right of the tree in the center), and to the left of that tree, the Mukilteo lighthouse.
At about 8:15, the race finally started, and all the runners, 5K and 10K alike, surged forward up the street. Again, somewhere in that crowd is the black-capped runner who is me!
One of my problems with the Garmin (and it's really more of a problem with me), is my constant compulsion to look at it. It does not make distance go by more quickly if you are noting every tenth of a mile! Even watching for my times to pop up after every mile can be distracting. And needless to say, checking the pace frequently can be quite frustrating, as well as misleading.
This time though, I managed to refrain from quite such obsessive watching, and I actually missed the time for the first mile! I felt comfortable with my pace, though. The second mile clicked by with a time of 8:55, which obviously was a little slower than I hoped to be going. It was not that surprising, though, since the route was hilly and we had been going uphill more than down. (I make that wise statement now, having seen the elevation map after the race.)
The course was out and back (although the return portion was slightly different, and longer, than the first part), and after the first two miles I started to encounter the fastest runners on their way back. The first two or three were men, looked very fast, and understandably looked to be in a tight competition for first place. The first woman passed shortly thereafter, and she was flying too! Last year I counted the number of runners I saw on the way to the turnaround point (about 60, I think), but this year I gave up after five or six. It was too distracting to try to pay attention.
Of course, the closer I got to the turnaround, the more the returning runners looked like me. By this point, nearing three miles, we had all pretty much settled into our positions and there was not a lot of passing going on. There were a couple of people near me, a man and a woman, who did pull ahead of me just before we got to the turnaround at Harborview Park (which was also a water station).
Both of them paused to get water, so I—not needing or wanting to stop for water—passed them back. I fully expected them to pass me later after they got back in the groove.
But by this point I was running really well. I know this not because of my mile times, which I didn't really confirm till later, but because I could feel it. On the uphills I didn't feel like I was slowing down too much, but on the downhills I let myself fly. Then I tried to maintain that pace as much as I could on the level parts. When I passed the 5-mile point my time was 42-something, which is consistent with my typical pace for a 5-mile race.
I was running completely alone during this last half of the race. Strangely, this didn't prevent me from running well. One of my techniques to push myself through the end of a run—whether it's a race like this or a long run where I want to finish well—is to imagine myself in a different situation where I have a stronger motivation to run fast. On a simple long run, often it's enough just to pretend I am in the last third (or last mile) of a 15K or half-marathon, and that helps me to pick up the pace. Here, in an actual race, I need something a little better than pretending I'm in a race!
So I like to pretend I am an elite runner. Normally I try to channel Deena Kastor, but given her recent injury in the marathon (stress fracture which caused her to drop out at 5K), I didn't think that would be very good karma right now. (Sorry Deena, you'll be back at the top of my list after you recover!) Paula Radcliffe would be an acceptable substitute, because even though she finished 23rd in the Olympic marathon, her performance was more than I could ever hope to emulate. Still, she did have to squat on the side of the road, and she was in a lot of pain due to her incompletely healed injuries, neither of which were something I would want to experience.
So after tossing aside my usual role models, the obvious choice was, of course, Constantina Tomescu-Dita, the winner of the Olympic marathon. Constantina pulled ahead of the pack at the halfway point, and led for the remainder of the race, finishing at least 30 seconds ahead of the closest competitor. But even though she was in the lead that whole time, she could not let up—any slowing or delays could allow another runner to catch up to or pass her.
Even though I was certainly not "in the lead" or in any position to win the race, I did have that pressure of runners somewhere behind me, though not actually on my heels, so I too had an incentive to keep pushing forward as fast as I could.
And, by the way, the two people I passed at the water stop? Never did catch up to me again.
I did get passed by one person, however, in the last mile or possible even in the last half mile, but well before the finish line. This was a younger woman who came flying out of nowhere and passed me at a pace that was so fast, yet looked so easy, that I was stunned. If she could run that fast (without looking like she was on her last leg), then what was she doing behind me at all? Why hadn't she been up with the 8-minute milers all along, instead of back with the "trying to be faster than 9-minute" runners? Did she just now realize, "hey, I can run fast"?
I came into the finishing stretch without realizing it was the finish. There was no finishing clock (which I had known in advance), so I didn't have the usual clue that I was close to the end. I actually thought there was one more turn to go. So I was only about a block from the finish line when I realized "hey, this is it" and put on the final push. If I had known where I was, I would have done that at least another block sooner, and probably would have cut at least a few seconds off my time!
Without a big clock, I had to listen for my time to be announced as I crossed the finish line. I even pulled the earbud out so I could hear well. And what I heard was 52:50... and I just don't know if there were any more seconds after that. Because of the way they were recording the results, I couldn't just go back and look at my time, and I forgot to shut off the Garmin for about 30 seconds after I finished. So I will just have to wait for the results to be posted to get my official time.
I did download my race data to the computer, and the results were fascinating. My split times correlated perfectly with the elevation of the course. Where we were going up, I was slower. Where we were going down, I was faster. Take a look.***
Mile 2 - 8:55 (still climbing)
Mile 3 - 8:22 (downhill mostly!)
Mile 4 - 9:00 (past the turnaround point, and regaining the elevation lost in the previous mile)
Mile 5 - 8:33 (heading down again)
Mile 6 - 8:32 (and still down, toward the finish, which is basically at sea level)
Since I forgot to turn off the Garmin, I don't have a good time for the last bit, but my calculations determine that my pace during that last little stretch was at 6:50!
I did not place in my age group. (Although I don't know who those women were who beat me; I didn't pick out anybody on the return group that looked particularly the same age as me. But I wasn't looking too closely, and I didn't stick around to hear the awards.)
I still had quite a full day ahead of me. After I went home and got dressed and lounged around a tiny bit, I had just enough time to meet a friend for lunch, who had moved to Washington DC five years ago and was in town for a visit. Hi Roberta!
So, a fine but full day altogether. I am still psyched about my sub-53 finish time! And more so, the ease with which I ran it. (I'm not washed up yet!) It makes me feel really good, and optimistic, for the Maine Coast Half Marathon coming up on September 21. For some reason, I feel like the course may be somewhat similar there. I think I do better on somewhat hilly terrain (as long as the hills aren't too long and too steep) than I do on flat. I am able to maintain my pace pretty well going uphill, and then really make up for it on the downhills! So if the coast of Maine is the same as the coast of Snohomish County, I'm golden.
*I have said 52:50 so many times now that you will have to peel me off the ground if it is even so much as 52:51!
**And blessedly, there were no serious problems. Not that I would write about it if there were, unlike some people.... Oh, who am I kidding? Runners love to write about their bowel issues. It's like a point of pride, if you are a serious enough runner to... well, you know. (And really? People who don't run have no concept of the laxative effect of running.)
***How did I manage to finally transfer my Garmin elevation data? Good old fashioned cut and paste, with a twist. I could not copy the elevation graph for some reason, but I did manage to print it out in landscape mode (so that it wouldn't be cut off at three miles). Then I cut out the graph with a scissors, scanned it into the computer, and uploaded it as a picture. Voila!