On Sunday, I ran a race with about a thousand friends. Or so it seemed, anyway. The Perfect 10 Miler was truly an event to remember, as I thought it would be. Here’s how it unfolded….
After an evening that included literally running out of gas in my car, getting stuck in an hour-long traffic jam over the course of four miles, and a bathroom flood, I woke up
bright dark and early and couldn’t wait to get this party started. I picked up Steve Ironman, and we headed to the park. I was able to get in a mile warmup, plus some other running around here and there. I felt fine, no complaints. I saw a bunch of women I knew, but hung mostly around the pacers, who were looking pretty awesome:
Going into the race, I had no idea what to expect as far as competition was concerned. Jason (coach who organized the pace groups) told me at the expo the day before that Steve was sort of his “just in case” pacer, because he didn’t think many women were going to run seven minute pace. On the other hand, this was a CGI race, and their other races, like the Rutgers Unite Half and the NJ State Triathlon always attract fast runners/triathletes. So, Steve and I could be out there running alone in front, or I could be hanging on to the top twenty or thirty, or something in between. We wouldn’t have a clue until the gun went off. Okay, that’s a lie. We chatted on the start line, like any curious, nervous runner would do. A couple women said something about “6:45s,” so I knew then that I wouldn’t be alone. I still was almost literally toeing the line, my first time at the very front in a race with an actual timing mat! That was pretty exciting. I was just behind the very front though, because again, I didn’t know what to expect.
One thing I remember feeling that surprises me now is, I wasn’t nervous at all. This might be a first for me. I was just purely excited to see what I could do…and of course, distracted by all the costumes and happy people surrounding me.
When the race started, of course people went out blazing fast. The old me would have gone with them and busted out a 6:30 first mile, to “have something in the bank.” Not this time though: why should I race that way if I’ve ran every single run with a negative split recently and felt great? So, that was the plan. I’d thought 7:00 would get me in a nice, comfortable spot through halfway, maybe even over 7:00 at times in the very beginning. However, I settled into 6:50s really easily, and it felt just that: easy. It felt like 7:30. There was no need to slow down with my heart rate and legs in check like they were, so I didn’t. This meant that I actually ran ahead of Steve the entire race. I could hear him talking behind me though, telling the runners around him they were right on a seven minute pace.
Miles 1-4: 6:53, 6:58, 6:55, 6:46
The best part of the entire race came after the first turn-around, where we crossed onto the other side of 2-lane Paxson Ave. and could see the rest of the runners heading out in the opposite direction. First, it looked pretty sweet because there was a total of 1,432 runners, and the crowd hadn’t thinned out yet, since it was still the first mile. Second, it turns out I have some sort of fan club. All of a sudden, Brennan cheered my name. Then Lisa (and another Lisa). Then Stephanie. Then Anne and Michelle. Then Jody. Then others I can’t even remember now. It got to the point where the woman I was currently running alongside was definitely amused, and I was trying not to laugh (laughing + running = not the best). “I’m not famous, I swear,” I said. All the cheering and waving gave me a mental boost, and I did a good job of saving it instead of letting loose and dropping a too-fast mile so early on. The loop around the West Picnic Area lot was another spot where I saw runners going in the opposite direction. I was in ninth place then, I counted. Steve was still pretty close behind me at that point, but I felt myself pretty quickly gain ground on two women ahead of me. I checked my watch and saw I was running the same pace, so they must have slowed down…so I moved right on past.
Hughes Dr. is a bit of an incline, so the fifth mile started out a little slow. I managed to drop the girl who was running next to me here though. Just as I got onto campus, I passed another girl, who had been in second or third last I checked. It was time for the fun part now; I had done these sections at this pace the week before.
First, let me just say that the first part of the course on the MCCC campus was not anything like the map suggested (and therefore what we ran last week). It’s not important, but for the sake of anyone curious as to what the course actually was, this section looked like this:
So, we still got to blaze straight through the middle, after the little turn-around, where I got to gauge my place again (I was now sixth, and the girl I broke away from wasn’t far behind). There was a rock band playing at mile 5.5 actually, which was pretty cool. At that point I was kind of alone, just chasing one girl, so it felt a little weird. Sorry for not cheering or anything, guys. Hopefully I smiled or something.
Miles 5-8: 6:57, 6:41, 6:39, 6:37
The clock sitting at mile six indicated I was running basically the same average pace as my 10k PR (from last summer). I still felt like I had a couple more gears, one of which I had switched on just as I entered the straight walkway through campus. This was subconsciously my plan (I think). At the turn by the softball field, the girl just ahead of me started to continue straight, so I yelled, “go left!” (I’m too nice to have let her find out when she reached a random grass field and tree line…). We entered earshot of the band again, and ran onto the road leading to the trail that would take us back to the park. The effort was beginning to feel harder at that point, but I had dropped down to 6:35-40 by then, so that made sense. One good thing about the course being different from what we’d thought was that by the time we got off the path and onto Paxson, mile eight was actually done.
Then, THE WIND came. I am not one to complain about the elements; they are race conditions one cannot control. But OH MY GOSH THE WIND DURING MILE 9 WAS HORRIBLE. I guess I never experienced being held back by the wind during a race before. It certainly made up for the course being pancake flat – there might as well have been a big hill on Paxson right there. I was gaining on the girl ahead of me, but I felt like we were running the same exact pace, and the wind was sucking the energy I would’ve used for a two-mile kick out of me. I couldn’t wait to turn right just to get out of the direct headwind (and it was very direct). It got marginally better. There was more of a crowd on that small road, and a couple guys said my name and told me to “go get her”…not sure who you were but thank you, I really did try! I kind of wish I could go back and re-do this ending (and smile for the camera at the finish…I still look like I’m wind-battered) – catch the girl and steal the AG win and the last spot on the “Leaderboard” chart at the top of the results…but it didn’t happen. And I guess it’s okay. I kicked it in as much as I could at that point and finished sixth overall with a time of 1:08:24.2 (miles 9 & 10: 6:55, 6:32). I placed second in my age group (F20-24), missing first by 1.7 seconds…but as I explained, it was one of those instances when more ground would have been needed for me to make up that time; I was significantly farther away from her a mile or two before!
Some official finish pics…
If you were wondering how Steve did with his pacing duties after last weekend‘s speedy course preview tempo, the answer is very well: 1:09:48.1, finishing just three places behind me. He was almost invited onto the podium to receive his first place 25-29 female award, but it was quickly realized he was a.) a pacer, and b.) male. When I went up to receive my AG medal, I learned that the girl I’d been chasing for the whole race, Allison, works at another Running Company (in NYC)! Her mom ended up winning her age group too. So, I would’ve ruined it for them if I’d beaten her in the last mile, right? We’ll just leave it at that.
I had an awesome time after the race chatting with so many awesome people. It was really great to hear some of them say they were glad I told them about the race at the store, that they read the course preview on my blog, and that they were inspired to see me up near the front at the turn-arounds. I can’t thank the ladies who cheered for me while they were also running enough! Also, major shout-out to Black Girls Run – they had such a huge, supportive, positive team! Great signs, great cheering, great post-race dancing! (Look for a BGR singlet somewhere you least expect it soon…such as on a 120-lb white guy on the Oklahoma River, but I won’t mention names.)
I could go ahead and list the 10 best things about this race, but it can be summed up with this:
It was like a party with a 10 mile PR in the middle. Can it get better than that? Oh wait, yes, I forgot to take a picture of the banana I had dipped in chocolate. And [good] beer. That’s excusable, I think.
What it means…
Aside from the awesomeness of the event as a whole, I believe this was actually my best race to date. Never before has 6:50 felt such like cruising pace, nor has dropping the pace to 6:37 felt so automatic. I know that if not for the insane wind, I would have been able to hold that pace for the ninth mile also. I remember doing tempo runs in college and not being able to average under 7:00 for four or five miles. My first mile would always be the fastest, and I would always get really nervous before the run began. The Perfect 10 felt like a celebration of finally having overcome all of that. I’m finally at the point where I can make goals for myself, respect those goals for what they are, fear them a little bit, and then make sure I obliterate them. It’s time to look forward to the Philadelphia Half Marathon now, and I wanted to use the Perfect 10 as a guide for setting my goal. I was going to run it with Steve and he isn’t able to do it anymore, but our loose plan since the day we registered was always “sub-90.” Translation: that was his plan and I was skeptical I could keep up, but I was planning to try. Now, after Sunday, I am going to officially set it as my goal. A couple more miles at ~6:50 before I pick it up, and I should be at under a 6:52 average for 13.1 without a problem. (My B goal would be to average under 7:00, i.e., under ~1:31:40). A sub-1:30:00 half is definitely no easy task though, and I understand that my 10 mile time doesn’t necessarily correspond to that goal. I think it might be good for me to go ahead and say something scary like that, and see what happens. That being said, don’t let me continue and run 26.2 a month from Thursday. That is off-limits ’til April 21….