I do not normally write race recaps for throwaway races like this. I like having a race or two I can run just for fun. I am still at a point where most of my time and attention spent on running is spent on obtaining PR’s but I find it refreshing to lace up, head to a small local race with no expectations, and just see what I can do. The Towpath 10-10 fits the bill. Held every Father’s Day, the 10-10 offers racers the option of running a 10 mile or 10k distance. My spring race is done by Father’s Day and I am usually not at the start of my cycle for fall. Running the 10-10 allows me to just enjoy the pure act of racing.
And so last Sunday I lined up at 7:00 am with my fellow 10-milers. For the first time I can remember, the sun wasn’t scorching us, the clear skies replaced by a fog that settled over the Cuyahoga Valley, the 80 degree temperatures common to this race replaced by a cool but humid 64 degrees. Ideal racing weather, or as ideal as you can get in mid-June. I was not sure what sort of pace I could expect to sustain. I have been running steadily around 35-40 miles a week for a month, but I am three months removed from any speed or tempo work. My lone goal was to find a rhythm I could settle into, one that felt challenging but manageable until the final miles when I would empty the tank.
My initial pace felt hard on the legs but easy on the lungs, somewhere around a 6:45. This was the pace I sustained last year, but I had been in much better shape then. I was unconcerned about my legs; they often take a mile or two to settle in and feel comfortable in a race. What was concerning me was the dialogue going on inside my head. I have finished top-3 overall in a race exactly once in the 8+ years I have been running. It was this race last year when the residual fitness I had kept from my Cleveland Marathon BQ somehow put me near the front of the pack. The heat was brutal last year and I overplayed my hand inching my way into second place. It caught me in the last two miles but I somehow hung on to third place. Well, a year later my head was asking if I could do it again. Two miles in and I was running through different scenarios, wondering if I could pick up the pace, wondering how many runners were in front of me, remembering this stretch where I ran myself into the position to challenge for that top-3 finish. My focus was everywhere but where it needed to be, on the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other.
Last week I wrote about the parts of the process I am looking forward to as I train for the Columbus Marathon. I made my case for the idea that the process is far more important than the result. Mid-race, in an event that was simply supposed to be fun, I was far too worried about a result, one that was frankly out of my reach. I don’t have the volume to run truly hard through ten miles. I don’t have the speed training under my belt to tap into my highest gears. I needed to simply settle into a pace and enjoy it. I also needed to take the time to practice a skill that I hope will serve me well when I’m running my marathon this fall, that of working my early miles to put me in a position to attack the final 10k and challenge for the sub-3 marathon time I crave. Getting to this position goes beyond running through 20 miles at a specific time. It requires me to run smart, saving as much energy as I can, even while maintaining a fast pace, so I can attack at the end. It means I have to run relaxed, letting go of worries about what could happen if I don’t do X, Y, or Z. Two miles into a race I knew I could not possibly challenge for a top spot in, I was squandering the important opportunity to use it as practice for races down the road.
I returned to basics. I checked my breathing. Relaxed and controlled. The legs? Getting into a rhythm. My upper body? Upright but loose. I was simply running again. My plan from the start had been to run easy through the first four miles and then check how I felt. I did. Could I pick up the pace at all? No, it was not time for that. Two bridges remained at Mile 9 and I preferred to save whatever energy I could for that final stretch. I tracked a runner who was cruising about 50 feet ahead of me. I tried to reel her in but could not. I did not have the training volume to kick. The lack of heat made the going much easier that in years past and my pace remained consistent, somewhere between 6:50 and 6:55. When I hit the two short bridges, in the ninth mile, I was rewarded for my decision to hold off on picking up my pace five miles prior. While I did not have the energy to attack them, they did not kill my momentum as they have in year’s past when the heat and sun combined to finish me off. I crossed the finish line, not far off last year’s pace, winning my age group. Even better, I woke up the day after without stiffness or soreness. I felt ready to train. Columbus was waiting for me, 18 weeks away.