Friday, July 23, 2010

Race Report: Sometimes Numbers Do Lie

I grabbed second-place in my age division at the Bill Kelley Memorial Road Race 10K last night. Hold on, b
efore you cheer or send your congratulations, let me note a few things:

  • First, it was a relatively small race. My entire age group had fewer than 10 people in it.
  • I was six minutes behind the winner of my age group. I'm not great at math, but my quick calculations tell me that's about a minute per mile. Pretty significant.
  • I had a bad race.

Yes, you read that last one correctly. I'm describing my runner-up performance as bad, although less-than-ideal might be a little more appropriate.

You may ask how these two situations can possibly co-exist? Aside from the obvious explanations from the first two items on the above list, let me share a few highlights - and lowlights - from last night's race.

It was an evening start, just after work, something that's outside the norm for me. In fact, now that I think about it, I'm not sure that I've ever done an evening event. I have my morning race routine down pretty well - I'm lucky not to need much of a routine - but I know what to eat and drink. And when to eat and drink.

Yesterday, I wasn't sure what to do or when to do it. One of my biggest fears about the July evening race was the summer heat. Nervous about not being hydrated enough for the run, I spent most of the day downing bottles of water.

Perhaps a little too much? A few steps into the race, my bladder was about to burst. (Sorry for the blatant honesty.) Every footstep made it seem worse and I couldn't think of anything else. I told myself it would only be an hour and that I could make it through the race.

Just before the halfway point, I saw a runner ahead of me scoot into the woods at the dead-end of a turn-around point. I hesitated. Unlike my fellow running friends who seek out construction site porta-potties or duck into the woods on nearly every run, I've never even had to think about going during a run.

Last night was different. I crumbled and, like the runner ahead of me, dashed into the woods. I was sure to go far enough along the path that I would be clear from the sight of the other race runners - and the guy who ran into the woods ahead of me.

I have no idea how long the break took me. At that point, I didn't really care.

I'd run the first mile in about 8:30 and was happy to think about the possibility of a new PR. The second mile was nearly the same pace. By the third, just before I made the pit-stop, I was seriously slowing down.

It was much hotter than I would have liked - anything above 70 degrees is too hot for this northerner - and I quickly realized how much the heat affects my running. In fact, my worst runs have always been in the heat.

It's no surprise I trade my running shoes for cycling shoes on summer's hottest days.

The rest of the race was pretty unremarkable. My stomach churned a bit, not quite cramping up, but definitely something a little out of the ordinary. Essentially, I just tried to hang in there. I wasn't in danger of not finishing - after all, I can usually bang out 6.2 miles relatively easily - I was just in danger of not finishing the way I wanted to.

I took a few walk breaks and, even before I'd crossed the finish line, tried to figure out what exactly went wrong.

My less-than-ideal race can probably be chalked up to a few things - being out of my element in terms of eating and drinking before the race, being a bit relaxed with my running schedule lately and, perhaps, going in a bit too confident and ready to set a new PR.

Certainly, the latter wasn't going to happen. I knew that early on in the race. My 10K PR came last November when I crossed the line at 56:10, roughly a 9:00 minute-mile average. Last night, I crossed in 59:30, about 9:35 per mile.

Seeing those numbers puts things in perspective. Not long ago, there's no way I would have broken the hour barrier for a 10K. Maybe I just have really high expectations for myself. (No big surprise there.)

Even so, I hadn't really been preparing for this one. The race hadn't really been on my calendar or in my mind until earlier in the week. I haven't run a race since the Hyannis Half Marathon - by far the longest I'd ever gone without doing an organized event - and I'd recently mentioned on many occasions that I felt that I was lacking some sort of motivation or end goal, just the kind that the finish line at a race can bring.

Plus, I've felt stronger and fitter than I ever have before so I was curious if all of those miles I've logged would pay off in a race.
I hadn't really been training for a race, but I'd certainly been keeping up with my physical activity through loads of cycling miles with a few scattered runs each week. (Last night's race put me over the 1,500-mile mark in my 2,010 in 2010 Challenge.)

In hindsight, I wouldn't say those miles didn't pay off in last night's race, but I admit that I might need to really keep at it to see some consistent, significant improvement.

I might need to give a little extra attention to the quality, frequency and distance of my runs, which lately have mostly been confined only to my weekly Team in Training miles. On good weeks, I might sneak in a track workout. On really good weeks, I add one more solo run to the schedule.

I've really taken a liking to cycling, and since I can really only do it on nice summer days, it's taken away from my running. Plus, I have the 72-mile Tour of Tahoe coming up in September and I've still got the Century Ride to check off my yearly goals, so I've gotta keep those bike miles going.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining. It's certainly my choice to opt for riding over running. Cycling has provided me with excellent cross-training and new challenges. And, quite frankly, I really, really like it. It's a fun way to explore and see new things, get a great workout and relax.

My not-quite-up-to-snuff performance at last night's race isn't necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes being knocked down a few pegs can really help light a fire under me for the next challenge.

A tough race, one that pushes me mentally and physically, does a few things for me - it gives me plenty of learning opportunities and revives my drive and hunger to make the next one better.

Other race notes:

I was thoroughly impressed with this race, especially when it came to volunteer support. They were clearly visible in their bright orange shirts - and audible. Race organizers had passed out noise-makers - cowbells, horns, etc. - to volunteers, then shuttled them along the route. The entire course was dotted with groups of supporters, all of whom were friendly and helpful.

I'll note, however, that I continue to believe that volunteers along the route should know how far they are from the finish. We've all felt that tinge of frustration when someone tells you that "you're almost there" with several miles left to go.

I felt bad for the poor girl I passed just as she asked a volunteer how much farther she was from the finish. It was pretty obvious she wanted that run to be over. The volunteer assured her - although it didn't seem reassuring - that it was "not far, about a mile." In reality, we were without a doubt closer than a half-mile to the finish line. The fellow runner seemed relieved when I shared that bit of news with her.

Last night's race also gave me the opportunity to meet up with fellow DM'er Pete M., who runs and rides with his wife in Bedford. Pete and I had never met, but have corresponded and followed each others' training posts. I thought a face-to-face meeting with someone whom I'd only ever known as a tiny avatar photo might be awkward, but turns out it wasn't. We chatted easily and, had I been able to keep up with him as he blazed through the course, might have run the race together. No doubt our paths will cross again.

All in all, I'm definitely putting this race into my mental calendar for future years. Hey - maybe I'll be writing the won-my-age-group post next year?


  1. Teresa -

    Nice write-up about a difficult race ... good for me to read as I approach the running of my first 10-K race in over 15 years: Beach to Beacon.

    As always, truly appreciate you sharing ... now I think I need to rethink my targeted pace/time for this race in a few short weeks.

    Jim in Wells

  2. Great post on the race - I thought it was well organized too and will be back again next year. I'd just tell folks your were a top 2 finisher in your age group and leave it at that. I told folks at a BBQ this weekend that I finished in the top 5 for my age group and everyone seemed quite surprised at my accomplishment. Of course, I didn't tell them there were 7 runners in my age group! :-)


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