Sunday, March 5, 2023

Race Recap: The 10-Mile Challenge

 At the beginning of January I signed up for  a 10-mile race that took place at the end of February. I wasn't sure if that gave me enough time to train, but I found an 8-week training plan so I figured if that piece of paper thought I could do it, I could probably do it.

Past Stimey strikes again.

I knew I could get to 10 miles in my 8 weeks, but I also know that I am a person who can use a longer training plan and work up more slowly. I knew that my pace at that time was slower than usual. However, the race was an RRCA running club challenge and my local club sent out an email saying you could be slow and still participate. It was scored cross-country style and after reading the runners' guide I knew that I wouldn't be a drag on the team.

I was, however, a little concerned by the very stern paragraph on page 3 of the runners' guide that said:

"You have seen it repeated often: website, during registration, and multiple times in this guide. You must be trained and able to run 10 hilly miles in the winter within a 13mpm pace. There is a strict time limit on the course of 2h10m from the gun."

It was followed on page 6 with:

"The 10 Mile Club Challenge course is not for the faint of heart. It is a very hilly, challenging route that winds through Columbia, MD."

Complicating this vaguely threatening language was the fact that last year at almost this exact same time, I tried to train for a half marathon and couldn't do it. My body, most specifically my right leg, said no. That said, I'd spent the past year building my base and started going to physical therapy, with great results. I got custom orthotics to offset the weirdness of my foot and started running in them in mid-February.

Training was going really well. And then. A few weeks before race day, my left leg starting bothering me. Two weeks before the race, when I started running in my orthotics, I got giant, full foot arch blisters because of the different way they touched my feet. These were not good omens for this particular race.

Once that leg started hurting, I let go of any pace goals and slowed way down. I just wanted to baby my leg through the race and then let it rest and do some rehab and strength work. I did long runs, including up to 9 miles, but the last miles were slow and I took untimed breaks that I knew I wouldn't have on the course.

I knew I could at the very least run/walk ten miles. I didn't know if I could do it in under 2 hours and 10 minutes. I hadn't been so nervous before a race for a really long time. I showed up on race day with the race map on my phone so if they closed up shop before I finished, I could still complete the course. My goal was to finish; my stretch goal was to finish under the course time limit. My method was to be slow and steady and work really hard to have fun.

Selfie of me at a start line in a shirt that says "MoCo Road Runners" I have necklaces on and sunglasses on top of my head.
You probably can't read it, but the very apropos word on my necklace is "concerned."

I wore a shirt repping my run club even though I don't know anyone in my run club and my social anxiety was super freaked out by the possibility that someone would pay attention to me because of it. But Ten-Mile-Stimey decided to fuck it and embrace the experience.

I even struck up a conversation in line for the porta-potty where a guy who'd run the race a bunch of times before was complaining about the hills.

"I like rolling hills," I said, which was perhaps the dumbest thing I could have said, especially once I remembered saying it when I was running those hills.

I set off cheerfully with a few people behind me. I said hello to all the volunteers and thanked them for being there. I waved to the people on the sideline who were cheering. I greeted dogs. One runner dropped her bandanna so I picked it up and sprinted to return it to her. I passed one runner. I was really enjoying the first couple miles of the race. Related: Those first couple miles were mostly downhill.

Here I am right near the start line. You can see the oh-shit-we're-really-doing-this look on my face, can't you?

Photo of me in a group of runners. My pony tail has swung up so it's standing nearly straight up.
Why doesn't anyone else's hair do this?

I was glad I'd worn my MoCo shirt because I got some cheers from other MoCo runners and some spectators. I continued to have fun, even when it got hard -- and it did get hard. I took the whole race at what felt like an easy(ish) run and just kept chugging it out.

Empirically I ran exactly the wrong race strategy. What you're supposed to do is start easy and slow and pick up pace as you go. I did not do this. Every single one of my miles, except the last, was slower than the one before it. My first mile was 11 minutes, which was a pace I knew I couldn't maintain. I'm chalking that one up to the downhills at the beginning. 

Then I hit some hills.

Graph showing the elevation which is shaped in a V and has little jagged hills the whole way.
Hills upon hills upon hills.

I finished the first half of the race in slightly under an hour. "Banking time" is a thing you are really not supposed to do (see paragraph about race strategy), but in this case, I was so glad to do the math and realize that even if I ran every one of the last five miles at a 14 minute mile pace, I would hit the time limit. I knew I wasn't trained enough to speed up, so I was okay with the positive splits. 

I kept on grinding through the hills as people who had raced smarter kept passing me. I walked for a couple of short stretches in miles 8 and 9. Honestly I spent most of mile 8 fighting my Flipbelt to get my water bottle out and back in, but at least it kept me busy.

By mile 10, I was back in a slow, steady run that I kept up until the end. The hills eased up and I cruised into the finish line where I was handed gloves as a prize for finishing. I watched the woman that I passed way back in the first couple miles come in with the sweeper bike.

Screenshot of the results of the last five finishers. I am in the middle, #633 out of 635.
These were the last five finishers.

The people behind me were close enough that they got official finish times, but I would like to point out that I was literally the last person to come in under the course time limit of 2 hours ten minutes.

People always worry about being the last person to finish, but I'm here to tell you that the people who finish last are really fucking proud of themselves. We ran the same ten miles and we spent twice as long on the course. Back of the packers are tough and I am proud to be one of them.

Photo of me smiling after finishing.
See? Proud. And bright red.
I have plans and schemes and goals for future races and distances but before then I'm taking some time to work on my knees. Until then, I can rest knowing that I can do hard things -- things not for the faint of heart.