Some days, things just come together. Today was one of those days.
I had no expectation of setting a PR at the Monument Avenue 10k today. That doesn’t necessarily mean I had totally written it off, either, but my goal for the race was simply to run hard and have fun. So it was a nice surprise to cross the finish line with a 2-minute personal best - a time of 40:23.
Despite having just run a marathon a couple weeks ago, I’ve had some solid runs in the past week and I knew I could produce at least a respectable time today. If I did have one general goal it was to finish with a time that would justify my placement in the first wave – 42:59 or faster.
Without any real pressure to hit a certain time today, I came into the race with a very relaxed attitude – nothing like the all-consuming stress that preceded the marathon. My race-morning routine went very smoothly and it was fun to go through the now-familiar motions. I parked at my office about a mile away from the start and got in my usual warm-up run to the race site. However, I arrived about 30 minutes early. The goal with a warm-up is to be ready about 2 minutes before the start. So I walked around the corrals for about 15 minutes before starting a second warm-up of some easy running with a couple race-pace pickups at the end. Everything was coming together – I had been able to use the restroom at the office and even found a water table near the start corrals to grab a sip to combat my dry mouth – I didn’t want to have to worry about getting water during the race. After the national anthem I tucked into the corral and waited about three minutes for the start.
The start was quick, which was one of the nice things about being in the first wave. We were running before we even crossed the start mat, which is unusual in a race this large. These people were itching to go. I went out at a comfortable pace and didn’t get too caught up with the runners shooting out of the gate. The first mile ticked by at an even 6:30. Knowing that a 39:59 10k represents a 6:26 pace, ideas started to flash through my head about going for that goal. But I told myself to just hang steady through three miles and see how I felt after that. I knew that I would likely become tired quickly because I’m still in marathon-recovery mode.
When Mile 2 clicked by at 6:37 I pretty much abandoned the sub-40 goal but continued to keep the pace and enjoy the run. I was feeling great – almost like I was holding back. I knew I wanted to push over the last two miles and I was trying to keep some gas in the tank for that effort. Mile 3, which included a small but steady incline, passed in 6:39, my slowest of the day. I crossed the 5k marker in 20:36, and I thought to myself how cool it would have been to run a sub-20 5k as part of a longer race. Maybe another day…
After the turnaround the fourth mile has a gentle downward grade, so I took advantage and opened my stride a bit. This is when I really started to pass a lot of the people who had gone out too fast. I turned up the effort but still was under control – I wasn’t even breathing hard yet. Mile 4 passed in 6:27. I kept it steady through Mile 5, making sure to maneuver to the side of the road so I would be visible to my 4-year-old daughter who was cheering with my wife and sister-in-law. It was a nice boost to see them, and I gave my wife a thumbs-up because I knew at this point that a new PR was in the bag. The gentle rolls in the course held me to a 6:33 in the fifth mile.
Entering the sixth mile, it was time to let go. I passed people even more aggressively now, and finally started breathing harder. This mile seemed to fly by and, because of the tunnel vision I sometimes get during a hard effort, I don’t remember much about it. I just know I was going for it. Eventually I could see the finish line ahead, even though it was still three or four tenths of a mile away. I glanced down at my watch and saw 38:22, and I was hit by the possibility of still finishing under 40 minutes. I broke into an all-out sprint, giving everything I had. I don’t remember ever running that fast, except maybe at the end of my 5k last October.
It turned out I wasn’t that good at judging the distance relative to the time available, and was not quite to the finish line when the clock ticked over to 40 minutes. Knowing I wasn’t going to make it, I backed off the pace and cruised under the finish banner. I knew I would still be in the low 40:XX’s, and I was very pleased with that outcome. Mile 6 had been covered in 6:13 and the last 0.2 at a 5:46 pace. (I later checked my Garmin data and found that my pace was below 6 minutes from the time I looked at my watch through the end of the race.) I crossed the line at 40:23, an overall 6:29 pace.
As a nice bonus, I negative-split the race by running the second half in 19:56, notching the meaningless but satisfying milestone of running a sub-20 5k during a longer race.
The fact that I held back in the first four miles today and still came so close to finishing under 40 minutes fills me with hope when I think about actually trying for that milestone in about 5 weeks at the Carytown 10k. Other factors will be different – it has the potential to be much hotter in early May while today’s weather was essentially perfect. And I have to keep in mind that, even though I sailed through the first half today, I still fought pretty hard at the end. In May I’ll need to fight hard at the end after having battled through the beginning, too.
I don’t know if it was the lack of pressure to hit a certain time or the confidence of coming into such a relatively short race so quickly after the marathon, but today’s run was nothing but fun. I felt happy and confident all the way through, and came away with a substantial PR. And the icing on the cake? This performance guarantees me a Monument Avenue A bib for the next two years!
Stats: 335/33,241 overall; 48/1,702 men 30-34
Monument Avenue was my very first race, way back in 2005. I started running and signed up for the race at the urging of my friend and coworker, Steve. I wrote about Steve after he passed away last March, but he’s been on my mind a lot recently, particularly as I trained for the marathon this spring. It was a journey I wish I could have shared with him. Monument Avenue was one of his favorite races, and, in a way, I took him along with me today. I wrote his initials on my race shoes, and I think a large part of the fun I had in today’s race was the mental conversation I had with him along the way.
In truth, these shoes and Steve’s initials were with me during the marathon as well. However, I didn’t feel like my performance in that race represented an effort that was worth dedicating to his memory. Steve was a true runner – he respected a strong performance but knew running was about more than the numbers. I feel like my race today, on a course Steve loved, was an appropriate “thank you” to the guy who got me started.Bike: 0/334.5 miles Run: 8.7/477.8 miles