Sunday, March 7, 2010

Blackburg Classic 10 miler race report

Yesterday was our big local winter race that was postponed from its original Feb 20 date due to crazy winter weather and record-setting snows.We were blessed with a sunny day and temps in the mid-40s which was a dramatic departure from the frigid temps we seem to have had for the last 8 weeks or so. Much of the pre-race conversation concerned what to wear in such unfamiliar conditions! At any rate, it was nice to see bare arms and legs as a true sign of the impending arrival of spring.

Last year I ran this race in exactly 1:15 which translates to a 7:30 pace. (for comparison I ran the marathon at an 8:21 pace and my fastest 5K was a 6:51 pace.) I've often thought that last year's Classic was the race that best exemplified "leaving it all out on the course" for me. It's grueling because the pain lasts a lot longer than a 5K, and there's no fluctuations or opportunities to let up a bit like in a marathon. It's pretty much full tilt for over an hour.

I had no idea if I could expect to improve over my previous time. Until just this week, for about the past 5 weeks, we decided I should take responsibility for my own running program to remove some structure and provide a much-needed mental break. I enjoyed it and it worked especially well considering the unpredictability of the weather which made planning more than a day out futile. But coming into this race, I didn't have the same level of confidence that I usually do and no guesses on the kind of pace I could hope to hit. (It didn't help that the night of the race we hosted a sleepover party with 4 kids plus our 2, and sleep was very limited.)

I had a spontaneous (and fortuitous) pre-race Facebook "conversation" with my friend, Shannon Price, who is an amazing and fast ultra-runner and who was my pacer at Richmond. He always gets me fired up and excited, and this was no exception.

Shannon: Leave it all on the course. Remember you will never get this race back in this day so run your guts out. Go home knowing you gave it 100 percent! Go Hard or Go Home!!!
Me: I'm thinking should I try to lock in on like a 7:25 for a few miles and see if it's sustainable. Or just run the whole thing by instinct and not look at the watch.
Shannon: Run by instinct...just run. Don't over think it...just run and run hard.

So that's what I did. I ran by instinct and never ONCE looked at my watch. It was definitely the right move considering I tend to obsess about the numbers.

The race began with the 10-milers and the 5K-ers starting together. It's easy to get caught up with the speed of the 5Kers and I went out a bit fast with an initial 6:44 mile. I knew it was too quick when I was up ahead of Coach Jim (he passed me soon after!). I settled in behind a group of four male masters runners who looked like they had done lots of these sorts of things and they were clicking away like pros. I was glad to tail them and let them lead the way on the convoluted course. At about mile 4, Don Leo caught up to me. He is the VP for Energy Research at VT and our paths cross often, professionally AND in running (literally). We have always finished races very close together, sometimes he leads, sometimes I do. So I locked in on Don, and stuck with him for all the middling miles which are the toughest for me (with thoughts of "and why am I doing this?"). The VT triathlon club had apparently used the course as a qualifier for nationals and they had written words of encouragement along the route. I read every word!

We approached the turnaround at mile 7 and the fastest runners were beginning their return to the finish. I looked at the leaders and was pretty sure there were no women ahead of me. As I left the turnaround I saw another master's female maybe a minute or so back and thought "this is my race to lose". I reminded myself to stay calm and consistent, slow down as little as possible, and keep "turning the screws". I got a good second wind and broke away from the pack I had been running with. I saved just enough for a nice little pickup sprint into the finish chute, and my work was done. I finished in 1:13:11, for a 1:49 improvement over last year. I'm very happy with that...this year anyway!

It was enough for the top female spot. (Had all the high schoolers not been volunteering to support the race, and had it not been the first day of Spring Break for VT, there is no way I'd have earned the top spot. But hey, I'll take it.) Of greater importance is that I ran a tough mental race again and proved to myself that I can do it, that last year was not a fluke.

I did pay a price for my success with major GI issues the rest of the day. I laid low and recuperated, but couldn't eat in the way I wanted to for a really solid recovery. It's the day after and I'm feeling a little beat up, but pretty much back to normal.

These races are incredibly HUMBLING. They are a big reminder of how much support and love carries me through - from my family, my kids, Jake, and Jim. Am I passing that (and more) along? The running community lifts one another up and I am grateful for such a wide and growing circle of friends who share in a healthy endurance lifestyle. I welcome and encourage newbie runner friends (go Barbara, Woodrow, Lori) who bring such a contagious enthusiasm. I feel so blessed to have been led in this direction and more than anything I want to inspire others (particularly moms) to discover their own inner athlete.

Two years ago today, I hadn't yet run a single step. Yesterday I ran about 14,000. If I can do it, anyone can.

Race stats
26/119 overall
1/44 women (approx)