Sunday, June 3, 2012

Countryside 10K

This morning we ran the Countryside 10K race. I got up around 6am to get a few things picked up before the babysitter arrived at 7. We left shortly afterwards and I was worried that we'd be late since Google projected a 38-minute driving time. Fortunately, the route was mostly on country roads where you can drive pretty fast, so we arrived about 20 minutes before the race start. Lenore picked up our bibs and "ag swag bags;" they were running out of safety pins but we were able to score one each. Then I queued up for the port-a-potties while Lenore listened to the pre-race announcements.

I emerged from the port-a-potty as they were playing the national anthem; it was kind of disorienting to walk around the crowd standing solemnly with hands on their hearts. The announcer also described how we'd be running around some of the finest farm land "god gave us," and gave a warning that the start of signal would consist of "ready... farm sound ... set ... another farm sound ... go!" I guess it was good he gave that warning because I couldn't hear anything from the start line, so I wouldn't have gotten to experience that bit of "country" flavor!

Anyway, a few people did hear the start signal and they relayed it to the rest of us, so we started racing. Right away, I knew I was in trouble. My legs felt very tired. I wanted to make sure I have a good training week this week, so I ended up swimming Friday night. I also decided to ride my bike to work and back, and even though I tried to take it easy to save my legs, I still used up a fair amount of energy during nearly 20 miles in the saddle. And I don't think I was fully recovered from the speedwork session on Wednesday. So my legs simply did not want to move very fast.

And moving very fast they were. Lenore, once again, just took off ahead, and I took off after her. Shortly, I had to slow down, but my iPhone was still showing me running very fast, 8-something per mile! I started slowing down and started getting passed by more and more people. Eventually, I reached the 1 mile mark, where they had a volunteer calling out times... 8:26, 8:27, 8:28. I was definitely going way too fast!

I slowed down a little bit more. Ahead of me, Lenore was slowing down, too, and in fact I was closing the gap. I thought to myself "Great, maybe we can run together for a bit!" As I caught up to her, I asked her about her ankle (which had been hurting a bit), but this caused her to slow down and fall behind. I had figured that she had decided it was hurting too much and decided to rest, maybe walk back, so I just pressed on. The second mile was over in 9:10, which was at least more reasonable. I figured, if I could keep around that pace, maybe a bit slower, I could reach my goal of beating Lenore's 10K time from the Illinois Marathon.

The third mile was when the real pain began. My body was increasingly insistent on quitting. All I could think of was collapsing into a heap. I also felt like I was the last person in the race; the pack of runners I started with was all ahead of me and there wasn't anyone for quite some distance behind. Rationally, I knew that there must have been runners behind, but emotionally, it still felt demoralizing. I tried to distract myself with singing a song in my head. (I had left my headphones at home because I mistakenly thought that headphones were forbidden on the course.) The only one I could think of was the "green grass grows all around" song from one of our kids' music CDs. "The biggest tree..." step step pant... "that you ever did see..." step step pant...

I finished mile 3 in just under 10 minutes. I picked up a gatorade at the water stop, and walked for a few paces while I drank it.  I thought maybe that the little bit of sugar would pick me up, and indeed, for the next short while, I actually managed to run for a while without feeling miserable. But sugar rushes are, of course, short-lived, and by the end of mile 4, the pain was back. I didn't even bother calculating my split pace (9:55); I no longer was caring about how fast I ran, I just wanted this race to be over!

I did a lot of soul-searching during mile 5. Why was I doing this to myself? Everything in my body was screaming that it's time to stop. I was thinking back of a blog post I read that talked about whether you train so you can race, or you race so that you train. For me, I'm pretty sure I race to train. The race achievements are nice, but the important part is getting fitter and exercising regularly, not getting a PR. So in theory, there'd be nothing wrong with listening to my body and walking the rest of the way. Finally, I convinced myself that this was a good exercise in discipline. I also figured I only needed to make it to the next water stop, where I could walk for a bit as I'm drinking.

Once I was walking, starting to run again was the hardest thing. I ended up walking about 30 seconds, just catching my breath, before starting up again. But eventually, it was one foot in front of the other, repeat, until I was done. I started feeling curious about my time again. My average pace was now 9:38 or so, and I knew I wasn't capable of running much faster than a 10-minute mile anymore, but I still had a shot at making it under an hour. At the five-mile mark, they called out a time of 58 and a few seconds. I quickly calculated: 1.2 miles to go, at 10 minutes per mile... it was going to be close!

I wish I could say that this thought energized me and pushed me to run faster, but I simply felt like I had no reserves left. I started counting down the distance. The finish line felt so close, yet so far away! Finally, with about a half mile to go, I switched to 2-1 breathing (I had been doing 2-2 for most of the race), which allowed me to pick up the pace ever so slightly. Finally, I rounded a corner and saw the race clock at the finish line. 59:04! But it looked like such a long way to go. I lengthened my stride, pumped those arms, and finally crossed the finish line when it read 59:33! That was a minute and a half PR from my last 10K.

They tore off my tag while I gasped uncontrollably, then I made a beeline for the port-a-potty. When I was done, I tried to stand up, and my legs just gave out on me. I guess I had really given it my all. On a second attempt, I successfully made it out of the bathroom. I started downing gatorade and looking for Lenore. I figured that she had either turned back before the 2-mile mark, in which case she should have been there already, or she was run-walking because of her ankle injury, in which case she would probably not be there for quite a while. To my surprise, she came down the finish chute when I was on my 3rd cup of gatorade. Apparently, she had met up with another runner, who had encouraged her to keep running.

Lenore's ankle was pretty sore, so we got an ice pack from the car, and then made our way to the food area. I was feeling close to collapse, so I figured it'd be OK to go off diet and have some carbs. We refueled for a bit, but eventually got too cold, and it was time to go home and relieve our babysitter, so we headed home.


Nikita: 59:34.4, 9/10 in age group (ouch!), 41/51 gender, 75/129 overall
Lenore: 1:02:34.1, 16/27 in age group, 43/78 gender, 86/129 overall

Some final thoughts

Thinking about this race versus the 10K at the Illinois Marathon, they are like night and day. Back then, I started out going fairly slowly, and then negative split things and accelerated towards the end. This race, I started out too fast and then slowed down after the first couple of miles. And even though I finished the race faster today, I think I much prefer the negative split approach: accelerating towards the end feels empowering, whereas slowing down feels pretty demoralizing. After the first quarter mile or so, I did not pass a single person this race... except Lenore.

My other thought is that I treated both this race and the Wildcat race as `B' races that I would run while training for another race (in this case, the Chicago Triathlon), whereas the 10K at the Illinois Marathon was a race that I specifically trained and prepared for. As a result, I ended up doing a bunch of exercise in the week leading up to the race, and some the day right before. But as a result, instead of having a fun race, I felt pretty miserable for large chunks instead. So I think in the future, even if I'm trying to integrate a "fun" race into my normal training schedule, I should make sure that it's during a rest week, or at least has a rest day preceding it.

And my final thought is that, despite how I was feeling, I ran a great race! The first mile might well have been the fastest mile I have ever run, and I improved my PR by 90 seconds. And I very nearly caught up to Lenore's 10K time from the Illinois Marathon!

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