And the quest for sub-40 continues.
Ever since my first real shot at breaking that barrier in 2012, it’s been my goal to beat 40 minutes in a 10k. The subplot shifted this winter when I hired a coach and dedicated the winter training cycle to the sole purpose of hitting this goal at Monument Avenue. In what’s clearly becoming my MO, my training was strong and I was confident of nailing the race, but race day didn’t turn out like I had hoped.
On paper, the weather on race morning seemed good – 55 degrees and rainy. But when the gun went off the rain hadn’t started and the air was thick with humidity at 88%.
My approach to this race was to let the group pull me along in the first mile, which is historically a fast one for me at Monument (this was the 9th time I’ve run it). My training indicated I could probably expect to hit 6:15-6:20 to open. I always slow for 2 and 3, speed up for 4, struggle through 5 and then finish fast over the last 1.2 miles.
When my first mile ticked by at 6:24, worry set in. Sure, it was just below sub-40 pace of 6:26, but it wasn’t fast enough to give me a cushion for the next two slower miles. More worrisome is that my effort was one that would have produced a faster pace during training. I had already started sweating and I knew the humidity was holding me back.
Mile 2 passed in 6:33 and I really started to get worried. I didn’t want to be that far off pace so early. Mile 3 was another 6:33, which gave me just a hint of hope since I had maintained the same pace during what is always my slowest mile at Monument. Even so, I was growing more and more worried about my prospects. My effort felt harder than it should have.
As things grew tougher I tried to dig inside for inspiration. I thought about wounded veterans and others who might wish they were able to be running at all. I thought about my friend Steve, whose initials are written on my race shoes. But none of it seemed to work. I would dig in and quicken the pace, only to fall off again after a short time.
I crossed the 5k mark at 20:17, and I pretty much knew my chances at sub-40 had evaporated. I would not only have to hit goal pace for the next 3 miles – a task that had been too difficult already – but also shave off an extra 17 seconds, or almost 6 seconds per mile. Either that or have an awesome kick at the end.
Mile 4 is fast and slightly downhill, so I stepped on the gas and tried to make up a little time. I could feel that I was already digging into the reserves I’d need at the end of the race, but I had to move now if I even wanted to have a chance. Even so, mile 4 clocked in at 6:27. Not even goal pace.
Seeing that number flash on my Garmin after the fourth mile was pretty much the nail in the coffin of my mental situation, which had been steadily deteriorating. I had already spent the energy of my kick and nothing was working. What had felt so smooth and easy during training was out of my reach during the race. My mental strength collapsed and I simply phoned in a 6:48 for mile 5 – barely half-marathon pace.
I rallied a bit for the last mile, but, despite burning calves, could still only muster a 6:39, and a 6:19 pace for the last 0.2. To put that in perspective, I had real expectations of throwing down a sub-6:00 for the last mile in my pre-race plan.
I finished at 40:56 – a full minute slower than my goal and even 33 seconds slower than my PR. Sure enough, less than 10 minutes after I finished, the temperature dropped and the rain started falling, erasing the humidity. Of course.
(Despite my performance, I still had my highest overall and age group finishes at this race.)
There’s obviously a bit of disappointment after this race, having invested in the coach and the training over the past three months. I knew I was ready to run sub-40, and was thinking that somewhere around 39-flat might even be possible. I was confident and prepared. But it didn’t happen. All I can think is that the humidity slowed me (or the fact that my favorite race shorts were AWOL and I had to wear a backup pair). But at this point in my racing career, I almost expect to crash and burn on the day of a big race after a successful training season (see Seashore, Shamrock, and even my 50-miler attempt).
Thankfully, it is a little easier to seek redemption after a failed 10k because there is less recovery time after a race and less cost involved in signing up for another one. I’ve already got the Carytown 10k on my calendar on April 27, although it is a tougher course and the weather can potentially be much warmer. I’ll keep my expectations moderated and just see what happens. Maybe I can at least beat 40:23 and snag a PR.
Stats: 301/27,404 overall; 30/1,335 men 35-39
Garmin data here.