When I first started running, after I got through my first couple 5ks without falling over and dying, the first time goal I ever really set was to run one in under 30 minutes. It took a couple of tries – partly because I had to get in better shape and partly because I had to learn how to pace that kind of all-out effort – but once I hit it, the logical extension of that was to run a 10k in under an hour. That one was a bit trickier. First of all, the race is twice as long and second of all, there just aren’t as many 10k races as there are 5ks, so there are far fewer opportunities. In the summer of 2006, though, I thought I had one. I was in great shape, and I knew I could get in under an hour easily. I even thought that if I had a really good day, I could sneak in under 55 minutes. I was totally going to do it.
Except race day, which was at the end of July, wound up being one of those days where it hit 85 degrees as soon as the sun came up. It was hot. It was humid. It was not good weather for running, that’s for sure. I went out on the right pace, and I very nearly made it. Except I needed a water stop about half a mile before one was on the course. I had to slow down and I finished the race in 61 minutes. So very, very close. Especially considering that I’d almost decided to carry my own water given the heat, but decided that morning that I’d be OK with the water stops on-course. I spent a bit of time kicking myself, but then figured I’d just hit it the next time in cooler weather.
Of course, I never really had a good next time. I sort of hit an overtraining wall that fall and spent the next couple of years focusing on triathlons instead. I gained some weight. I got slower and a bit out of shape. I sort of forgot about that sub-60 10k.
Then when I was training for New Orleans, I started thinking about it again. I was feeling fast, I’d dropped a bit of weight, and I figured that it would be totally doable by the end of the year. This 10k in March crossed my notice, and I signed up for it. I didn’t think I’d really make it in under an hour this early in the year, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to try. If nothing else, I’d be able to see what sort of shape I was in and how far I had to go.
In the few days before the race, I figured out that I had to run a 9:30 pace to make my goal. At the gym on Friday before my training session, I ran a quarter mile on the treadmill at that pace so I could get a feel for it. It felt OK – not as fast as I expected it to – and like something I could do for an hour. It would be tough, but totally doable. I still wasn’t entirely sure if it was going to go my way, since I’d been keeping my mileage pretty low the past couple of weeks to let the bursitis heal, but I figured I’d go for it and see what happened.
I started off at a decent pace. I wasn’t sure if it was where I needed to be, but I figured I’d hang in for the first mile, see what the split was, and go from there. I was a wee bit astonished to see that first mile in just 9:10 – well under the 9:30 I needed to hit. It felt like a decent pace, so I decided to stick with it and know that I had some extra time in the bank if I needed it later. The next two miles went by in pretty much the same way, and I clocked 9:16 for each of them. This was despite meeting up with the 5k race (which was full of walkers and a bit of a challenge to navigate) right after the mile 2 marker. Happily, they split off to the finish right around our mile 3 marker so we had the open road back to ourselves for a little bit of an out-and-back.
The first water stop was here, so I grabbed a cup of water and walked for a bit while I sucked it down. (I was hugely glad to see the water stop, since I was beginning to worry they wouldn’t have any on course.) Of course, the next part of the course was straight uphill. I tried to run as much of it as I could, letting the hill slow me down a bit, but it was just too much. My legs were tired, I was out of breath, and it was a bit stinking hill. I got to a point where I just decided to save the energy and walk up the hill. I could use the break, and I was pretty sure the extra time wasn’t going to kill me. I started running again after the steepest part of the climb was over, which was when I realized we weren’t going to have to run down and back up the other side of the hill. I could see the turnaround, and it was clear we’d be coming right back down that same hill. Awesome.
I flew down the hill, enjoying the free speed, and hit up the water stop on the way back down. Mile 4 was my slowest mile of the race, and it came in at 9:23. Let’s all stop for a second to enjoy the fact that my slowest mile was still decently under what my average pace was supposed to be. Oops.
Shortly after the mile 4 marker we rejoined the 5k course again for the last bit of the race. I was hoping that it would be mostly clear by that point in time, but I was way, way wrong. I fell in behind another couple of runners that were shouting “left” as they skirted the crowd, so I could just pass through in the spots that had opened up for them. I was really starting to feel the effort, but hung on as best I could figuring there were only a couple of miles left. I also knew that if I had to slow down, I had some extra time to spare. I just tried to find a groove and stay in it.
I’ve noticed that when I’m doing tempo runs and longer repeats, my pace tends to get a lot faster over the last bit of the workout. What happens is I start to feel like I’m slowing down, so I push the pace. Then I start to feel tired, so I push it a bit more so I don’t end up slowing down as I get tired. The end result is that instead of pushing the effort to stay at the same pace, I end up just running faster. Which is how I wound up plowing through mile 5 in 8:53.
At that point, I had 13 minutes and change to make it through the last 1.2 miles. Totally doable, especially since I kept hauling ass. I was tired, I was hot, I was just waiting to see the finish line so I could fall over and breathe… but I kept my feet moving. I weaved in and out of the few walkers that were on the course in front of me, and I finally turned down the road where the race start/finish was. Of course, we had to run past the finish and then make a U-turn and come back a bit before actually crossing the line, which was just mean. However, I got over that pretty quickly when I looked down at my watch and saw this:
56:12. Way, way under an hour and way, way faster that I ever reasonably expected to run. Needless to say, I was beyond thrilled. I don’t really need to run another 10k for a while, because this one was exactly what I wanted it to be.