Parsley’s Tale of Two 10 Milers

In my buildup to the Richmond Marathon, I planned two early-autumn 10-milers as my big intermediate races to gauge my fitness. Here’s how they went.

Virginia 10 Miler, Lynchburg, Sept. 23

I grew up an hour away in Charlottesville, VA, and ran many high school track and cross country meets in Lynchburg. I moved away as an adult, and this was my first time running the Virginia 10 Miler. It’s a pretty historic race: 44 years running, hosting famous runners such as Bill Rogers, Frank Shorter, Rod Dixon, and Joan Benoit Samuelson, and serving as the RRCA 10 Mile National Championships in past years.

I put it on my schedule when the elite coordinator reached out to my running team, GRC, to see if there was any interest. They offer a very generous prize purse, including American-only prize money and time bonuses. With around 4,000 runners, they typically have a competitive field, including plenty of foreign-born athletes who seek out this kind of race.

I ran 82 miles the week of the race, but did cut back the two days preceding it, hoping to be rested. I wanted to run well here; halfway through my marathon training, this would be a good test to see where my fitness was. As a seeded runner, I also wanted to live up to expectations. This was my first 10 miler in quite a long time, and my first race as an invited athlete since I ran the 2016 Jacksonville half marathon leading up to the 2016 Marathon Trials.

Fast forward to race morning. As I stood at the start line with the other invited athletes, I felt completely out of place. Maybe because I had been out of it for so long, or maybe because they all looked so much younger than me. All I could think was, “I’m a 38 year old mother of 3. This is so not my scene anymore.”

It’s an extremely hilly out-and-back course. The first 1.5 miles are steep downhill, next few miles rolling, then turn around to end with the last 1.5 up. Not a flat part the entire way. I went out controlled, and unfortunately stayed that way the entire race. I never really let loose to take advantage of the long downhills. My plan was to pick it up at the turnaround point, but I never did. I stayed consistent throughout the race, and wasn’t bothered by the long uphill to the finish because I usually run hilly routes pushing a single, double, or triple running stroller.

I ended up finishing in a lackluster 62:38, 6:16 pace, for 15th overall female and first in my age group. Winning my age group just made me feel old. I was disappointed in myself because I didn’t race. Even my husband said at the finish I looked like I was just out running. On my 45-minute post-race run I headed over to the track and did 12 x 100 m hard just because I felt like I had too much left. I know it was the reoccurring negative thought “I’m a 38 year old mother of 3. This is so not my scene anymore,” that plagued me throughout the race. It didn’t help, either, that after being away from racing for so long and training completely by myself, I forgot how to really get out of my comfort zone to race.

Army 10 Miler, Washington, D.C., Oct. 8

After the Virginia 10 Miler, I took a last-minute trip to England with my husband, bringing baby and leaving my two oldest with my parents. I barely ran during the eight days, apart from 30 minutes here and there. This was partly because it rained almost the entire time we were there, and partly because I didn’t want to turn our vacation into my training trip. It’s just hard for me to train when I’m out of my routine. To help alleviate the effects of reduced training, I sandwiched the trip with a 20 miler/workout the day before I left and a 22 miler the day after I returned.

Walking the outer walls of Conwy Castle, Wales. Returned the next morning for a pretty unique run along the top, overlooking the town.

Physically, I wasn’t sure how I’d feel given the disruption of travel and lack of actual training the preceding week and a half before the race. I had logistical stress with finding last minute childcare since my husband was recalled to work and I was stranded in D.C. with my kids before the race. But that didn’t matter. My goal for this race was to race. I went into it with the expectation that to race meant I was going to feel bad. So no matter what the circumstances leading into the race, even if they were perfect, I should feel bad if I were racing hard.

This is a HUGE race (35,000 people) that I’ve run many times over the years. It’s always a fast field bringing many of the local elites out. Once you get through the masses to the starting line, it’s a fun race. Nice course, plenty of crowd support. It was fun to see many old Army friends before and after the race.

I ended up finishing in another lackluster 61:55, 6:12 pace, for 10th female, 5th in my age group. Finishing 5th in my age group instead of 1st in the VA 10 miler actually made me feel much better — there was hope that maybe I wasn’t too old and slow, getting beaten by plenty of women my age! But I was much happier about my effort than the VA 10 Miler. I’d give myself a 6.5/10 as far as competitive race focus. I went out somewhat hard but in control, ran the first few miles well, then lost focus a bit between 4-7 when I was passed by five women. Between miles 7-8 I stopped feeling sorry for myself, got my head back into the game, and reeled a few in. Played back and forth with two of them for the remaining 2 miles, and finished feeling like I actually raced.

Afterwards everyone was talking about how horrible the conditions were. I didn’t think it was that bad, maybe because it always seems hot and humid in North Carolina, but I’ll take that as an excuse for the slow time (the top times were significantly slower than they have been in years). They actually stopped official timing for the race two hours after the start, rerouted runners a shorter distance to the finish, and downgraded it to a recreational run.

What’s next?

The Army 10 miler was five weeks before Richmond (Nov. 11), which is really just 3 weeks of training followed by a taper. I feel like my training is going well, but I don’t have the confidence I need from my races. Granted, the first 10 miler was a slow, hilly course, and the second 10 miler was in slow conditions, but I don’t like to justify my results. I need fast times to validate my training. And running two 10 milers around marathon pace doesn’t make me feel well prepared.

Update: A few weeks after the Army 10 Miler I ran several 5Ks, and another 10 miler. My goal for each was to really race, regardless of the conditions and competition, and get back into a mindset of really pushing myself. The 10 miler I entered at the end of my last high mileage week ended up being exactly what I needed. I ran faster than my two earlier key race 10 miler efforts, but most importantly, pushed myself to the end even when running solo for the final 7 miles. None of these races were lightning fast, but they did boost my confidence by getting back into a racing mindset.

Any suggestions for building confidence if your race results aren’t what you’re hoping for?

I have fun trying to sprint, enjoy long runs in the mountains, and everything in between. Former competitive runner (3 x marathon OTQ & trail marathon national champion) currently working through a lingering injury. I write about trying to stay competitive while raising young kids and moving into a new post-competitive stage.

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