Today I ran my second 10k in five weeks, once again hoping to break the elusive 40-minute barrier. At least, that was the goal when I signed up for this race. But some physical issues have hampered my training over the past three weeks and it had become increasingly clear that I probably wouldn’t meet that goal today. And I didn’t. In fact, this was the first race in almost two years in which I haven’t set a PR. I guess the streak had to end sometime.
Despite knowing that I probably wouldn’t meet my goal, I still wanted to show up and put forth the effort. This is a relatively small race (900 finishers) that I had never run before, and I was looking forward to covering the course. The weather was also looking good – overcast skies with a light drizzle and cooler temperatures than what we’ve had recently.
I parked about a mile from the start and got in my usual pre-10k warmup routine of some easy running with race-pace strides thrown in. Then I lined up close to the front, a couple rows behind the really fast people but purposefully in front of the bashful and aimless people who drifted slightly behind the lead pack. I still knew I would be running close to 40 minutes and didn’t want to cede too much ground at the start.
It still surprises me how many people go out too quickly in races. You’d think the people up front are the more experienced racers and would know to open conservatively, but invariably I feel swarmed at the start as runners fly by at obviously untenable paces. (Hint: if you’re breathing audibly a half-mile in, you’re probably going too fast.) Today was no different. But because of the smaller overall field, it only took about a mile for things to start to fall into place.
My first mile passed in 6:38 and I realized that I had probably already dug too deep a hole to finish under 40 minutes. But I held steady and casually started to pick people off. By mile 2 I realized what kind of space I had opened up between myself and the runners behind me when cars waited for me to pass before making their turns. In fact, only one runner passed me after mile 2, and that was a guy who found his kick at mile 6. Otherwise I found joy in confidently and powerfully passing runners all along the course, probably moving up 25 or more places from my standing a quarter-mile after the race started.
Mile 2 was 6:39 and mile 3 – which was entirely uphill, according to my Garmin – was the slowest of the day at 6:43. After the turnaround I locked in at 6:35 for the next two miles. I was mostly alone through the back side of the course, occasionally catching and passing individual runners. It was still my hope to come in under 41 minutes, but I wasn’t concerned enough about it to do the math and figure out how to make it happen. I just held my steady pace, even acknowledging to myself that I was kind of phoning this one in. I wasn’t feeling bad – I was having a good time and running well – but somehow I was just mentally checked out.
I bumped up the effort in the last mile for a 6:30 and then covered the last quarter-mile at a 5:56 pace, realizing too late just how close to 41 minutes I really was. I crossed the line at 41:06.
Not too long ago it would have been difficult for me to imagine finding disappointment in a 41-minute 10k. For many years I was a solid upper-40s 10k runner. But now that I know my potential lies south of 40 minutes, it’s a little hard to still come up short. But, in a way, it makes it more exciting to still have that carrot in front of me. The longer I chase it, the sweeter it will be when it finally happens.
Stats: 41:06 (6:37 pace); 33/869 overall; 4/69 males age 35-39
(My birthday was Saturday and this was my first race as part of the 35-39 age group. While the competition in my old AG was a little closer, I still would have placed 4th in that group with today’s time.)Bike: 61/435.5 miles Run: 30.5/608 miles