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Racing Ain’t Easy

March 6, 2010

Spring Training Classic 10k
Bib Number: 500
Overall Placement: 241 / 506 (47.6%)
Age Group Placement: 33 / 92 (35.9%)
Chip Time: 55:25.42

I felt really good when I did a short run on Thursday. Ergo, it followed I would feel absolutely wonderful for the race today.

Right.

It was cool when we reached the stadium–probably in the mid-40s, under clear skies. I was wearing my new C9 tights and my favorite tank and long-sleeve tech tee. I ran a warm-up mile (still feeling good), used the stadium facilities, and had a Hammer gel to get ready.

When we were ushered into the corral, I lined up between the 8-minute and 9-minute signs. I figured this would fall into the “tough to reach but easy to sustain” pace range at this distance, and I really wanted to take it easy today since I’ve raced so much lately. I figured since I ran a half at 8:55 pace today, an 8:30 or 8:45 pace would be easy in a 10k.

Right.

As soon as we went out, I hit my 8:30 pace. And almost as soon as we went out, my calves let me know they were not happy being asked to sustain that pace so soon after my last race. They began complaining about every step, and I quickly had to start coming up with a new strategy. Maybe I could avoid being passed by too many people. Maybe I could finish this thing without walking.

Mercifully, because the race was held in the neighborhoods I use during the week to train, and because I’d looked at the course map online, I knew where each of the mile markers was, which way we’d be heading next, and how the course might challenge me.

Just after the one-mile mark, I stopped to take off my long sleeve. I was hot already, just from struggling so mightily to keep up with everyone.*

Just after the two-mile mark, I took a welcome walk break and took some water.

My running friend Chip passed me at the 2.5-mark, saying “What happened to going out easy?” as he blew past me at a determinedly steady pace.**

The three-mile mark found me in less pain, but still continuing only by determination and sheer force of will; had this been a training run, I would have turned around for home without another thought.

Instead, I spotted a woman ahead of me holding about 9:05 pace, and I decided to use her to pace me. She was running steadily and well; her form was smooth and consistent, which I needed. So I found a spot several yards behind her and concentrated on using my most relaxed form, landing naturally and without forcing the quicker turnover I use when I’m racing.

Several turns later, we found ourselves at water stop #2 just after the fourth mile, and I took some water. My pacer walked to hydrate too, and a couple yards later we were finding our pace again.

The five-mile mark came and I celebrated. Then a helpful volunteer at the 5.2 mark called out, “One mile to go! Time to run!” and I began taking her to heart, as did my pacer. We picked it up to about 8:40, but I continued to concentrate on running smooth and steady, telling myself I’m not racing yet.

At the 5.7 mark, I started to race. My pace picked up incredibly slowly, and my pacer stayed on my shoulder for a fraction of a mile. But I concentrated now on putting distance between us, moving my feet quickly and smoothly. Every step now erases the distance to the finish line.

Just past the 6-mile sign, we entered the stadium on the third-base side, and the feeling of the warning track under my Nikes finally awoke my fast-twitch muscles. I refused to visually find the finish line; instead, I found people ahead of me and allowed them to tug me as I pushed, pushed, pushed for home.

When I went under the clock my right foot told me in distinct terms that it was not happy, and that I might pay for my insane week of racing with a painful case of plantar fasciitis. I told it to shut up, grabbed my medal and some food, and drove myself home, tired but happy.

Lesson learned: when planning to run a race easy, don’t race! Racing is, by definition, not “taking it easy.”

My splits:
mile 1 at 8:20: Let’s go racing!
mile 2 at 8:56: Okay, that hurts a lot.
mile 3 at 9:22: Let’s dial it back. A lot.
mile 4 at 9:15: Thank God we’re halfway done.
mile 5 at 9:12: Almost time to start pushing.
mile 6 at 8:30: If I can’t run sub-9 for one mile, I’ll shoot myself.
last .2, according to Garmie, at 7:06: Look! It’s the finish line!

My finish, at 55:25, is far from a personal best, but also almost four minutes too fast for a personal worst, and for now, I’ll take that.

*I kept telling myself that “everyone” had probably not raced so extensively last weekend . . .

**. . . but Chip ran the Gasparilla marathon five days ago and scored a new personal best, so that shows me.

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