LL Cool J said it best, "Don't call it a come back, I've been here for years...." Ok, so maybe the rest of the song isn't so applicable to me, but I couldn't help but run that part of the song through my head after yesterday's race. The last race I ran was back in April, but it was only 2 weeks removed from running a marathon, which I would truly consider my last real race. And then we all know about my injury, which brings me to Sunday. So to say I was a bit excited to get back into racing would be an understatement. Coming off a solid 2 month block of training, I knew my fitness was right were I left off before getting hurt, so I felt it was appropriate to get back out there and see what I've got.
After a process of scoping out every possible 10k race in the area, I finally settled on the Rockville 10k. In most cases, the other races I was considering were either on dates I couldn't race due to other obligations or recently forced to change to 8ks (gotta love how DC can just pull the permits of established area 10k races and force them into 8ks in the name of "security"). But I digress. After reading a brief description of the race on the site which says "Montgomery County’s oldest-continuing and
fastest-growing race - the 2010 race featured a record number 1,206
finishers coming out and tackling the rolling hills of the King Farm
community featuring lengthy straight-aways to make this a PR-friendly
race.", I figured it was good enough. I even charted the course out on MapMyRun to get a better sense of how to pace it. It helped a lot, and I got took note of the mention of the dreaded "rolling hills" as well as the fact that there was three 180 degree turns and ten 90 degree turns(never PR friendly in shorter races). Now typically, "rolling hills" and "PR-friendly" don't go hand in hand. So the morning of the race, I drove the course to get a better sense of what I saw online and came to realize that the course was going to be a bit hillier than I planned. Oh well I thought, this is MY COMEBACK, so it is what it is.
I got a solid 1.5 mi warm up and then did some 20s strides at race pace and everything just felt really good. I lined up 1 row back from the font with about 10 minutes till the gun was to go off and took in the perfect weather - sunny, no wind, 40 degrees. After my nice warm up, I was just fine wearing a racing singlet and shorts. Never a moment where I felt cold and I couldn't have been more comfortable while running. After some words from local political figures, we were off!
In my pre-race prep, I had developed a pacing plan based on my knowledge of the course/terrain that would handily bring me in under my PR (41:37), which I have always considered "soft", since I've run 5ks in the 19:05 range, but never raced a 10k while in that shape. So needless to say, among my goals for the day, a PR was one of them!
Mile 1 started with a flat/downhill for the first 1/4 mile before making a right turn for the biggest uphill of the course to the first turnaround right about at Mile 1. The grade is pretty steady for about a 1/4 mile, but then kicks up to about 8-10% for the last bit, before you crest the hill, run downhill for about 100 meters, hit the turnaround, go back up for 100 meters, and cross the Mile 1 marker. I was a little bit fast through here at 6:22, mostly due to the fast start, but letting my legs and HR stay within myself for the entire climb. My goal was to stay around 6:27, but my RPE was well within where I should have been.
Mile 2 was mostly downhill, going back down the big hill (which felt nearly as hard going down as it did up), a few rollers after a right turn, and then a left to head to more downhill. Of course, in my head I was thinking about having to push back up this when my legs are tired later in the race on the return trip. However, I hit the Mile 2 marker in 6:22, still feeling pretty fresh and just rolling with the course. My goal was to be right around 6:25, but I had not anticipated the downhill to be as steep, which gave me the extra few seconds.
Mile 3 included another left turn while continuing the downhill and onto the start of the longest out and back stretch of the course. While Mile 3 started downhill, it ended right at the base of the start of a steady uphill till the eventual turnaround. I came through Mile 3 in 6:24, with a goal of 6:25.
Mile 4 was where things started to unravel a bit. In my research online, I hadn't noticed that this section contained such an uphill steady climb (it looked more like a false flat), so when I drove the course, I made a note that I'd have to make up the time I'd likely lose on this mile in those previous miles, which is partly why I took them a bit faster than goal pace. The constant climbing, combined with the 180 degree turn at the top of the hill slowed me more than I would have liked. I didn't want to blow my race up by pushing too hard, because I knew I'd have more up hill than down hill on the way back, so I ran strong and passed a few people, but decided to hold back a bit. My split was 6:36, with a goal of 6:25, however that goal was before I knew about the longer hill that this section entailed.
Mile 5 was where I could mentally start to force my body to push harder as I knew it was only 2 miles-ish to go. It started mid-way down the hill, so I was trying to use that momentum to pick the pace back up. Unfortunately, at the bottom of the hill, I had to make a sharp right turn into an uphill for about 100 meters, before doing another 180 degree turn to head back down that hill and make a right turn (dizzy yet?) to head uphill again and back onto the main road. I managed to pull it together enough to eek out a 6:28, despite all those turns, but started to feel the race a bit out of my control at that point, due to the course.
Once I hit the Mile 5 marker, I really started to push now. Only problem was it again, was largely uphill. This was the same hill I ran down for part of Mile 2 and 3, but with an added bonus! You see, they started the 5k runners 10-15 minutes after the 10k runners started. I don't really get the logic here, but needless to say, that by the time we got to the 5k turnaround, the course was littered with walkers, runners, etc without any organization. So while I was charging uphill at 6:25 pace, I was having to weave in, around, and through people that were in the 11-12 pace range. Not smart and downright dangerous if you ask me. To add to the complexity, after reaching the top of the hill and making a right, there was a water stop, which was further congested with people, some of which were running perpendicular to the course by cutting over, while those of us in the 10k are trying to blast on through. Despite that, I kept on pushing, passing a few more of the 10k people I was running with as we crossed the Mile 6 marker with a 6:25 split. I think as future recommendation for this course, the last half of the race (at the 5k turnaround) should be coned off to split the road between the 5k and 10k runners so as to avoid situations like this.
Looking down at my watch, I could tell, despite my best efforts to run the tangents on the course, that the last 1.5 miles forced me to run a good bit extra and that I wasn't going to quite hit my "A" goal for the race of running sub-40. But with the competitive side of my still running, I pulled past 2 more people in that last .2, only to hear the crowd and the announcer join in cheering us on as we made it into an all out sprint to the finish after the final left turn with 100 meters to go. As a former sprinter, I couldn't let anyone by (not to mention, I knew I was pretty far up in overall placing, so every spot counted) and I turned on the afterburners and held off both guys to the finish. My pace picked up as I averaged in the last .2 miles a speedy 5:30 pace, but the 100m sprint at the finish clocking as fast as 4:27 pace! That's adrenaline for ya! Turns out we were so close that one guy got the same finish time as me and the other guy finished 1 second back!
As I crossed the line, I looked at the clock to see 40:20 as my finish time, a PR of 1:17, on a pretty tough course, especially compared to the relatively flat courses my previous PRs were set on. And with that, my official comeback is complete. I was patient, trained hard, and the results speak for themselves. I also know that if I ran a 10k on a flatter course that didn't have 5k runners to weave through, that sub-40 is well within reach. I ended up covering 6.29 miles (give or take minus Garmin standard deviation) and my average pace was 6:24/mile, which in an exact 10k distance (which I know isn't possible), would have translated out to a 39:40 10k and my 6.2 mi split was 39:55, so the fitness is already there, especially on a faster course. Even my pacing was rock solid. If you use the 6.29 mile distance and split it, I came through the first half in 20:09 and the 2nd in 20:11. Can't really do much better than that!
But that's why there's always another race to sign up for - to improve!
Overall, I finished 16/539 racers. If I had an age group for 30-34 (which will be a topic for another post), I would have won it. However, the details of exactly why there was none will be described, so stay tuned for a follow up on this and the larger topic of age group categories...