Memorial Day 10K: In Memory of My Running Fitness

I scheduled this 10K after just missing my goal of 39:59 a few weeks ago. This would be my last 10K of the campaign and my last chance to break my campaign goal of running sub-40 this year. Here’s how it went:

3 Days Before Race: I don’t feel like running a 10K. I have no confidence. I consider withdrawing completely or running a 5K instead. 

2 Days Before Race: I tell my race rabbit, Murat, how I feel. He says I should just go for it. Who cares if I miss my goal? 

1 Day Before Race: I talk to Coach Matt. He wisely instructs me to forget the time goal and set new goals for the race – more focused on race execution than objective time. 

Okay, cool. I can roll with that. 

Race Goals:
1) Run sub-40 X
2) Run a smart race based on feel and don’t quit too much ?

As Murat would later put it, the latter was a pretty amorphous goal. My professional self would say this goal was not nearly SMART enough, but it made sense to me. 

We arrive to a light drizzle and a decent running temperature in the low 60s. It’s a bit humid but heavily cloudy – the sun would not be an issue today. 

We grab bibs. Murat grabs a coffee and I grab a carb-waffle (Hi Savi!, Hi Nick!). We lace up, I rub a series of odd creams on my legs, and we head out for a nice 1.5 mile run at a brisk pace.

I follow that with some drills and a few strides, two pieces of Fruit Run Gum, a swig of Gatorade (Hey, Pepsi, want to sponsor me?) and we are ready. I felt no nerves, slight confidence, and ready to put in some work.

Side note: I was thinking about this the night before the race…I felt absolutely no pre-race nerves. This was a first. Never, in my life, had I truly felt no nerves before a race. I’m betting that it’s largely (75%) the belief that I would not hit my goal and thus I experienced a lack of pressure… but I think a positive side effect of racing so frequently is that racing has become routine. The experience of getting ready and toeing the line is just a normal part of my running during a given week. 

More interestingly… I missed the nerves. I wanted to be nervous… a little nervous. A little nerves gives you some fuel. Hopefully, for my last 5Ks, I will again experience slight, performance-enhancing nerves. That said, I fully expect to regret this wish in the future.

We get out quickly and don’t waste any time running with the pack. Murat is sitting on my shoulder and I feel pretty good. The rain has stopped. The ground is slick but aside from that the weather is near-perfect.

The course has many twists and turns, making running tangents all the more important.

I resist looking at my watch until it beeps at one mile. I expect to see 6:30.

It reads 6:19.

Okay! That felt pretty good. There are four people ahead of us beginning to glide out of reach. Nobody is too close behind.

The second mile has a few gradual hills. We are running pretty clean when my left foot begins to hurt. It was just a matter of time… I’ve gotten used to my plantar acting up at various moments. Usually, the pain throbs in and out over the course of a run, so I just hope it fades.

My general fitness is more of a problem.

We hit the second mile mark and I expect it to be fairly similar to mile one. Nope. 6:36.

Okay, still 40min pace overall, I can hold this.

The course continues to wind around bends and the wind picks up (I mostly wrote this sentence for the homonym). I tuck in behind Murat and use him to block the wind for me. I am laboring a bit more than I had hoped at this point.

My effort feels comparable to each of the first two miles, but unfortunately, the time doesn’t reflect that same output. 6:46 for mile three.

Half-way done and time to take stock: That last mile felt like a 6:30 but in reality was much slower. If it felt that hard to run a 6:46, there would be no way I could average the needed 6:20/mile pace for each of the last three. Sub-40 is out of the question.

Instead, I shift focus to running a tough race and not backing down too much. Take each mile one at a time.

I take a look behind me and see that someone is about 40m back. I add another goal to the list: Don’t get passed. Finish top six.

I also decide that it’s a good time to release Murat. With the lead pack about a minute ahead of us there might still be time for Murat to chase down the leader.

Murat initially balks at the idea… but quickly changes his mind.

“I might just float up to the next guy slowly and see where I’m at in a mile.”

And he’s gone.

Mile four is solo and doesn’t feel great, but I churn out a 6:44.

The runner behind me is about 30m back. My focus turns to ensuring he doesn’t pass me… both making sure I have enough in the tank to respond to him if he makes a move but also not letting up early and giving him confidence.

I catch the occasional glimpse of Murat ahead in the distance as the miles roll on. As I begin mile five, I see that he’s passed one of the four runners ahead of us and is making his way toward the next two. Yes!

Mile five begins to feel… interestingly okay. I make an effort to push it and not settle, really focusing on maximizing my advantages on the hills. Hills aren’t fun, but they cater to my skillset. I tell myself that I’m much more likely to do well on the hills than my competition.

My effort pays off: Mile five clocks at an improvement of 6:37. Usefully, it doesn’t feel much worse. Just as I hit the mile marker, I can see Murat way ahead. He has passed two runners and is just meters behind the leader. He is gonna get him! Damn.

I feel decent. I could hold this pace.

And I do.

Realizing that sub-40 would require a near-impossible 5:20 final mile, I concentrate on keeping pace. I am tired but I know have a kick left in the tank if I need it. I decide I’m going to hold off on it unless I need to outrace anyone.

With half a mile to go, the nearest competitor has fallen back and is now about 50m behind and is losing ground fast.

Just cruise, baby.

I keep moving hard but make no effort to shift into the next gear. My time will be less-than-ideal and my place is not in jeopardy. No reason to push it.

I coast through in 41:21 (6:39/mile pace). I’m tired but far from exhausted. In fact, I think I could have kept going at that pace for another 1-2 miles if I really pushed it.

Post Race:
My time is good for 6th place overall (197 total), 2nd in the 30-39 age group.
Meh. Okay. Whatever.

Meanwhile, Murat won! He caught the leader with about a half-mile to go and then shut it down for an easy win. Despite staying with me at a 6:35/mile pace for the first 5K, Murat averaged about 5:55/mile for the second 5K for a huge negative split to win. Nasty.

We stuck around so Murat could grab his first place awards (a series of gift certificates to restaurants that he surely will treat me to…) and then roll out.

I feel about as neutral post-race as I did pre-race. I’ll have to ruminate on this one for a bit.

Next up, a 5K in NYC on Sunday, June 10. Join me if you’re in the area. I’m going for sub-19.

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