So it could have been better, but it could have been a whole lot worse.
Until Saturday, my post-college 10K resume consisted of a few half-assed efforts and a couple of full-blown meltdowns. In fact, the two 10Ks I ran last year fell squarely in the latter category. (See race reports for the 2010 NYRR Scotland Run 10K and the 2010 NYRR Mini 10K if you feel like a big glass of whine.)
In fact, oddly, my best 10K in recent years was this random Turkey Trot I did on the heels of the NYC Marathon a couple of years ago, after three weeks of no training and after staying up drinking until 3 AM the night before. At 47:55, it was an easy target to smash.
So on one hand, I went in to Saturday’s Capital City Classic with a pretty low bar: all I have to do it not f*ck up, and it’s an improvement.
But on the other hand, I kind of wanted to run what I think I realistically should be able to run for 10K. Which would be somewhere around 42-43 minutes.
Thus, the range of reasonable and acceptable outcomes for this race was 42:01 to 47:54. Quite a spread.
I decided to make it simple and just pick a nice, round number to focus on for my pace. Seven minutes. That would result in a finish between 43 and 44.
Seven minutes, I told myself as I gathered my unruly hair into a ponytail.
Seven minutes, I told myself as I attempted to make coffee, pouring water into the coffee maker and pressing start. (And then realizing, staring stupidly as steaming water dripped into the carafe, that I’d forgotten the grounds. Apparently I need a cup of coffee to be awake enough to operate the coffee maker. If this isn’t the ultimate chicken-and-egg problem, I don’t know what is!)
Seven minutes, I chanted silently as I walked from my apartment to the start area. Seven minutes, as I jogged my warm-up in the cool morning fog. Seven minutes, as I laced up my flats. Seven minutes, as I bounced nervously in the start corral, trying not to count the number of faster-than-me faces in the crowd.
I knew that seven minutes would be a two-part challenge. In the first couple of miles, it would be an admonishment to slow down. But at the end – and particularly during “all climb, all the time!” mile five, it would be a speed-up mantra.
Off we went. As expected, a blazing-fast lead pack immediately broke off. (This race serves as the USATF State 10K Championship, so it attracts a faster field than your average local race.) I tried to relax and let them go and waited until I thought we’d been going at least 4-5 minutes before glancing down at my Garmin. 0.6 miles at 6:35 pace. Oops. Seven minutes, seven minutes. I forced myself to slow down even though that meant being passed by a couple of more people, and letting the pack that was pulling me along slip away for good. Mile 1: 6:58.
Shortly after that first mile marker, the course did a lollipop and doubled back on itself for a few blocks before peeling off, which was a nice little distraction. I got to watch the leaders come back the other way and, after completing the small loop, got to see the rest of the field heading in to it. That second mile flew by. I don’t think I even glanced at my Garmin until I saw the second mile marker coming up – and realized I’d having a little too much fun spectating. Mile 2: 7:12.
Having fallen off my pace a little, I subconsciously picked it up and was soon running in the 6:30s again. Seven minutes, I told myself. Seven minutes. I relaxed a bit, and after a few more minutes of gently rolling but mostly downhill terrain, I hit the next mile marker. Mile 3: 7:04.
Then things started to get a little bit more difficult. Up to this point, the course had meandered around the Captial and through lovely shaded residential streets. Now we were heading out on to an exposed highway for about 1200 meters. The weather wasn’t particularly warm, but compared to the oak canopy I’d come out of, it was Hades out there on that highway. I gritted my teeth and tried not to think of what was coming next – because right at the fourth mile marker, I knew we would turn off the highway and head up a very long hill. The good part: somehow, I was still holding close to my goal pace. The bad part: I was now running all by myself. The guy who’d been in front of me had pulled away and shrunk to ant status, and I could tell by the nature of the volunteers’ cheers that there wasn’t anyone on my tail, either. Mile 4: 7:06.
Around a corner and time to climb. Ugh. I felt my stride flatten, and before long my seven minute mantra had nearly become an eight minute mantra. I was holding steady at 7:45 but couldn’t seem to go any faster.
And then, all of a sudden, the wheels started coming off. Literally. I heard a weird clicking on the ground and realized that it was coming from my right foot. The ends of my laces were dancing on the concrete. One of my brand-spankin’-new, first-time-outta-the-box racing flats had come untied. Shit.
I tried to think: had I ever had a shoe come untied during a race before? I wasn’t sure. Should I stop and tie it, or keep going? I had about a mile and a half left at this point. The shoe didn’t seem to be in danger of coming off, but my heel was definitely slipping a bit and the flying laces were making me nervous. I was starting to have visions of grinning wildly as I crossed the finish line, adoring fans gasping in astonishment as I broke the tape, sporting a bloody maw and missing front teeth because I had tripped and smashed my face on the concrete.
Ok, yeah, probably not. But I made a brief stop, just in case. As brief as I could make it. I yanked the laces hard and hastily jammed them in to the sides of the shoe.
Unfortunately, it didn’t work. Within a couple of blocks, the laces had wormed their way back out and were once again dancing madly with each footfall.
Argh. Eff it.
At least the shoelace drama made me forget that I was running up a hill the whole time. Before I knew it, the next mile marker was in sight. And I was way off pace, but oh well. At least my shoe was still on. Mile 5: 7:55.
The final mile of the course, I knew, was a third downhill, a third uphill, and a third downhill (with the remainder of the distance to the finish downhill as well). So, I only had one more hill to get through. And it was the worst kind of hill: the kind where you come around a corner and see a wall of road and a string of traffic lights ahead of you, each smaller and higher than the last. Oy.
Four more blocks. Seven minutes. Three more. Two more. Seven minutes. One more. Seven minutes. I stuck with my mantra, even though I was struggling to keep it under 7:20. Cresting the that final uphill block, I knew I had less than a half-mile to go and tried to get a quicker turnover going, even though my flat was practically falling off of my foot at this point. Mile 6: 7:18.
Just effing finish. Even if you end up half barefoot. I flew down the Fayetteville Street Mall, and even though there was no one anywhere near me, I gave it a solid kick. Mile 0.2 + tangent trash, 0.12 = 0.32 in 2:01 for a finish time of 45:34.
Well, at least I didn’t lose a shoe.
And my finish time was within the range of acceptable outcomes.
And actually? Except for that one crappy uphill mile where my shoe came untied, I thought I ran the thing pretty darn well. For me, anyway. I realize I have a long way to go in terms of learning how to pace myself at this distance, but with the exception of the shoe drama mile, my splits were all within 20 seconds of one another. Not perfect, but a whole lot better than going out at 6-minute pace, then wanting to die, then finishing at a 9-minute jog, per the usual.
I didn’t exactly blow my goal out of the water, but I didn’t blow up either. And hey – I set a post-college PR! With a wonky shoe. So there’s that.
But the best part? I don’t think I’m afraid of 10Ks any more.
It may not ever be my favorite distance, but now that I know I can race one and not totally implode, I might just look forward to doing another one this fall.
However. For now? Seven minutes. That happens to also be my pace for consuming two post-race mimosas.
Even though I didn’t break the tape or even meet my A-goal, I didn’t f*ck up. And that, my friends, it always worth celebrating.