The Distance Challenge is a series of six races in the Austin, Texas area sponsored by Austin Fit Magazine, a local resource for athletes. Runners have to register for the series and also register for each race, so it ain’t cheap! There is a choice between the “half track” option and the “full track” option; unfortunately half track does not equal half price. The difference is in the length of two of the races: the last 10K is a 30K for full track, and the last half-marathon is a full marathon. I’m registered for the half track…so far. And this particular race was the first 10K.
A little background before we continue: I have spent the last year or so entering very small, not well advertised races, because I discovered I don’t have to run very fast to place within my age group. This race was not like that. This race had 1,214 participants. It was split darn near evenly between males and females (624 females) and had 102 female runners in my age group. I always look at previous results before a race, just to see what the demographic is made up of. This race is made up of fast runners, we’re talking folks who are running 10K in 32 minutes or less! In 2012, 167 people finished with sub 7:00 minute mile paces, and 32 of those were sub 6:00. I went in knowing I wouldn’t place, and not needing to. I was just chasing a 10K PR, and using it as a training run for the week and an opportunity to work on some race tactics that need honing.
The weather was cool and drizzly when I walked out the door. It had been in the 90’s all week (yes, in October!), so the drop into the 50’s that occurred overnight was dramatic. I was glad for the rain because it made the air feel a little warmer than it was, and I thought it might be kind of fun to run in. The rain had cleared by the time I reached the venue, and it was clear and sunny by the time the gun went off.
The little races that I usually enter have maybe a couple hundred people, so as I toed the line with more than a thousand other 10K runners I secured a place near the back of the middle, reset my watch, and got my RunKeeper ready to record–someday I’ll get a fancy GPS watch but for now I have to rely on the little voice in my ear and back it up with a $20 stopwatch!
Before the gun went off, I watched a gentleman join the group a bit in front of me. He didn’t look out of shape, necessarily, but not necessarily like he ran regularly either. He wore a visor that sort of resembled a karate headband from the back, and the back of his shirt had some sort of orange sunshine with rays going out and some kind of design that I can’t remember now. Later in the race I came to describe him as the Karate Kid.
The airhorn blew, and…nothing happened. For at least 30 seconds. The crowd was big enough that my back-of-the-middle position didn’t even cross the starting line until more than two minutes had passed on the clock. And that first half mile was agonizingly slow. I was shooting for 8:30 miles, and when RunKeeper told me I was averaging a 9:40 pace after a quarter of a mile I just got plain mad. I could see the Karate Kid way up ahead, so I stepped up on the curb and ran in the grass on the outside of the pack for awhile, passing many people as I went. When I had nearly caught up to him I stepped back into the group, and RunKeeper informed me that I had run a half mile and was working with a 9:15 pace. I decided to hold it steady; the pace I was at felt good and I have a bad habit of going out too fast during the first mile or two of a race and burning out at the end. I figured if anything, the bottleneck had done a good job of pacing me.
I finished the first mile at 8:36, still slower than my target pace but not too far off – and I hoped to pick it up toward the end anyway. I passed the Karate Kid just after mile one.
The course whizzed by, but honestly there were so many people jammed together that I didn’t notice much of it other than urban-this and highway-that and traffic-light there. I thanked the volunteers who handed me water, and I even caught the eye of one of the police officers and huffed out a “thanks for being here.” Miles two and three felt somewhat chaotic, as I picked up bits and pieces of other runner’s conversations, and reminded myself that I should still be running at a pace where I could carry on a conversation, if I wanted to. At mile three, the Karate Kid passed me. I was glad – he seemed to be running a steady pace, my pace, and if he didn’t do anything stupid I could at least keep an even distance from him and maybe not do anything stupid myself. I kept him in sight until mile 5.
I’ve been reading various race-strategy pages, and decided to play with an adapted version of Jenny Hadfield’s suggested yellow -> orange -> red half and marathon pacing strategy. Using this method, you run half of your race in a happy, comfortable pace, then pick it up to a pace where you are breathing heavily but can still wheeze out a word here and there, and finish in the red zone – which is a hard, controlled effort.
At mile 5 I turned up the effort, and it ended up being my fastest mile of the race (7:46, baby! That’s fast when you’re slow as Molasses). I ran out of steam as I passed the mile marker for mile 6, but pushed as hard as I could, which was significantly slower than 7:46. I checked my watch and it said 48:58. I wondered if I could possibly finish in under 50, but as my lungs and legs began to fail on what felt like a sprint, but was no more than a slow jog, I decided I would be happy just to finish. I pushed through at what felt like a red zone effort, and finished the race in 50:37.41. You can believe the D-chip time if you want, but I’m sticking with 50:37. That, my friends, is a 10K PR, with no one-mile PR in sight.
I wonder if, next year, I can break 50:00…?