Has it really been over a year? Maybe I should do this more often…
Well, how about a race report a bit after the fact? I haven’t written one in quite some time, as I’ve not really felt like reliving a race for a while. I crashed and burned at last year’s Monkey, walking in most of the last 5 miles with cramps and malaise. A weak mind combined with a distinct lack of training is no way to achieve in the marathon. I still PR’ed by 13 minutes, but not the way I’d have wanted to.
I trained with the local running club for the recent Cap City Half Marathon, and with a coach and a plan I ran the most structured and solid training program I’d ever managed. I felt incredibly prepared for race day, only to ignore the advice I’d received from everyone and go out too fast. Running the first two miles well under goal pace proved to be a failed strategy, and I suffered as a result. I felt like I was in 1:40 shape, and jogged the last 6 miles in for a 1:46. One of these days, I knew I’d get it right in a race.
On June 6, five weeks after the half marathon, I lined up for the Columbus 10k. Perhaps this would be the day. I’d never raced a 10k before, and didn’t really discuss strategy much beforehand. I decided that I’d approach it in the manner I would a 5k (first third comfortably fast, second third pick it up, and last third hanging on by my fingernails) and hope for the best. Worst case scenario, I crash and burn like each of my last two big races. I was hopeful that in learning how to fail, I had also learned how to succeed.
We arrived at the start a bit early, and I actually ran a quarter-mile warm-up jog probably 20 minutes before the start. I still haven’t quite figured out the best way to do those last-minute preparations, but I’m trying to learn. I found Matt, a Cbus Pacer buddy from the Saturday morning group runs, and asked him what he was shooting for. He hemmed and hawed to admit a 48-minute goal time. I was shooting for sub-47 (7:34/mile pace) myself, and it looked like we silently agreed to run together. The last few minutes before the gun slipped away, and with an air horn (I don’t really remember) we were off.
A soft, sweeping, curve to the right and an ever so slight downhill made up the first quarter mile. Matt and I were side by side, and he glanced at his Garmin (I’d run the battery down on mine the night before, so was running kung fu with my Timex Ironman) to tell me we were at 6:30 pace. A little quick for my goal, and I really didn’t want to do another crash and burn. Partly for him, but mostly for me, I said, “I figured we’d be a little quick here, we’ll dial it back soon.” I wanted to believe so bad. I finally shifted to the appropriate gear just after the half-mile point, and settled into what I thought would be a manageable pace. A quick check at the mile marker found me to be a little quick (7:25-ish), but not by too much. Matt was still with me.
The humidity was not quite oppressive, but certainly evident. And the temperatures were warm enough that the overall feeling was that of stickiness. Weather more suitable for lounging in the pool or sitting inside in the air conditioning. But on we ran. We were methodically reeling in the folks ahead of us, keeping a relatively even pace, and came through mile 2 right around 15 minutes. Since I had no Garmin with me and the course had been changed slightly only an hour before the start due to some flooding on the course, each mile time is an estimate and further muddled my perception of how things were going. The mile markers were reported to be about 60 feet beyond the actual lines. I tried to do math in my head, but calculations suffer when all my blood is in my legs. Somewhere past the 2.5 mile point, if I remember correctly, Matt said he was going to drop back a bit. I was still feeling pretty good, so I decided to hang on as long as I could. Before he left me, he looked down at his watch and said, “just so you know, we’re running 7:20 pace right now,” and then he was gone. Those were not the words my psyche needed at that point. I was running a full 14 seconds faster than intended pace, and even though I felt okay, from that point on I kept waiting for the shoe to drop and the crash to come. It had happened in the marathon at mile 20, it had happened in the half at mile 7. Where would it come on this day? In an instant, the race went from being a nice comfortably hard run to a mental exercise where my legs and stomach battled my brain every step to the end.
For me, when the going gets tough in a race, it’s usually quickly followed by some combination of a side-stitch, nausea, general I-want-to-quit-ness, and a little bit of fatigue. What would it be this time? Matt had unintentionally planted a seed of doubt before he left me, but for the next bit I just plugged on. It was getting hotter out, but I just kept my eyes focused on those ahead of me and pulling them in. All pre-race strategy went out the window, and I only worried about hanging on to the pace I was running and passing as many people as possible. When I reached the mile 3 (+60’) marker, I looked at my watch. 22:40. About a minute off my 5k PR. This was going to end in a fiery crash, or much better than I’d anticipated. Not knowing which at the time, my brain went into battle mode. This is to say, for ten steps I’d be arguing to slow down followed by the next ten steps of telling myself to shut the hell up. All while still trying to pass as many folks as I could see.
While my brain was occupied with itself, I kept going and kept passing people. Ahead in the distance I saw a few folks from the Saturday morning crew, and decided I wanted them behind me. Over the course of the next mile and a half, I made it happen. There’s really not much else I remember about the middle section of the course but that. With about two miles to go, we were on the bike trail along the river. A few rolling hills, but away from the traffic. I kept slipping past people, except for this one dude with a backwards hat on who was all arms. I kept passing him on the uphills and he would take it right back on the downhills. I didn’t like that I couldn’t shake this guy who could out-elbow Bill Laimbeer, but I was running at my limit.
My mental battle continued, and I’d added the beginning of a side-stitch. At this point, I’m passing mile 5 at around 37-38 minutes. I knew if I could hang on to the pace, I would obliterate my goal. I put my legs on notice that they needed to continue doing what they were doing, it was almost over. Elbows was still there, and I was running out of people to pass and room in which to pass them.
I could see the Broad Street bridge ahead, and knew it was less than a quarter mile to go. There were three guys about 10 yards in front of me, and I picked it up just a little before we started heading up the hill to go over Broad (which we’d cross and then head right back down the other side to the water and the finish line about 150 yards past Broad). I caught them all and put them behind me with Elbows. The increased effort heading up the hill had brought my favorite late race companion, sudden and intense nausea. Forced to choose between holding pace and losing last night’s dinner or slowing just a hair, I opted for slowing. I’m still not comfortable with the idea of vomiting in public, especially with young kids lining the course. So I pulled back just a little. Elbows & Crew took back what I’d worked so hard to get with less than 80 yards to go. I kicked with what I was able to give, gritted my teeth, and strode into the finishing chute. My coach was the race announcer, so I got my name called as I crossed, but didn’t hear what he’d said for the time. I was only worried about not letting loose.
I crossed the finish line and slowed to the post-chute stagger of those who have raced hard, and slipped behind the running store’s box truck parked next to the river. I doubled over at water’s edge, and waited for the inevitable. Thankfully, it never came. I looked down at my watch to realize I’d forgotten to stop the timer. Oh, well. Results would be up later. I knew I’d raced hard and well. I went up the amphitheatre steps to collapse next to my wife (all those steps were “fun”), and eventually recovered enough to grab some free pancakes, sausage, and a banana. Later that afternoon, I discovered that I’d run a 45:37 10k (7:21/mile pace). Matt finished in 48:53, right around his goal time. My result was better than I’d expected, even in the heat and humidity. I am pleased with the effort that went into this race, both the training and my ability to stick to a hard effort and finish strong (last 80 yards notwithstanding). It felt good to race hard and not crash in a race. Maybe I learned something, or maybe I got lucky the race wasn’t any longer. In any event, I’m going to train even more for the next race and see how much further I can push.