Sunday, October 9, 2011

Army 10 Miler Race Recap

~.75 mile w/u
Target: 10 mile race @sub-60 (6:00 avg.)
Actual: 58:55 (5:53-54 avg.); slowest mile 6:00, fastest mile 5:48, 10k split 36:30
10th female; Results
2.25 mile c/d
Total: 13 miles

After a full day of traveling in a severely overloaded ve
hicle, Jordan and I arrived to Jilane's place in DC just before dinnertime on Saturday. She and I set off on an easy 10-minute shakeout while Jordan put in a more substantial run before reuniting with Caitlin, Garrett and former Charlottean B-Mac for a pre-race dinner and strategizing session. We left eager to get a good night's sleep and toe the line in the morning.

Full of nervous energy, I awoke immediately at the sound of my alarm and was out the door by 6:20. The plan we'd decided on the night before was for both me and Caitlin (along with Boriana, who came in from Tyson's Corner) to rendezvous at the Pentagon metro stop near the race start/finish. Jilane lives just a block away from a metro so it should've been no problem for me to hop on a train there and ride it all the way to the race. But as I was approaching the Capitol South metro station in the early morning darkness I could tell that something was a
miss. A dozen or so other people, each dressed similar to me and sporting an Army 10 Miler race number, were standing on the sidewalk outside the station wearing expressions of annoyance. Turns out that for some inexplicable reason the station was closed. Trying to stay calm, I asked the guy next to me where the closest alternate station was, assuming I'd jog there. Overhearing my question, another guy said that he'd just parked nearby and would be happy to drive us to the next station. Despite having no indication that he was anything other than a deranged serial killer masquerading as a runner who'd staged the station closure as an elaborate ruse to kidnap and murder us all, I happily agreed. (Dad, don't tell Mom.) I piled into his car with the randos while texting Caitlin about where she should start looking for my body in case things went awry. Fortunately he whisked us to the next station without a hitch, and a few minutes later I was safely on a metro train bound for the Pentagon station with smooth sailing--or so I thought.

The first part of the ride passed uneventfully. As our car emerged from the underground to cross the Potomac River, revealing a stunning sunrise splashed acro
ss the backdrop of the Mall, the man sitting next to me turned and said approvingly, "It's going to be a beautiful day." I'd barely begun to nod my agreement when he added, "Last year I ran this race in Afghanistan." Wow. Talk about putting the event in perspective. In an instant my earlier transportation difficulties were all but forgotten--until a few minutes later, when our train lurched to a halt amid crackled words from the conductor about door trouble from the car ahead. My anxiety level slowly began to rise with every passing minute as my watch ticked to 7:00, then 7:10, then 7:15. At this point I was already 15 minutes late to meet Caitlin and, with no reception in the tunnel, I figured she'd already gotten tired of waiting and decided to head to the elite tent without me. Once the train finally pulled into the Pentagon station, however, I learned that the "door trouble" mentioned earlier was actually the result of 30,000 participants trying to exit for the race. I was barely able to shove my way out of the door and onto the platform as it was covered with wall-to-wall people. I soon learned that Caitlin and Boriana faced the same obstacle, and by the time we'd fought our way up the escalator it was already close to 7:30. It took us several minutes and a few uses of the iPhone compass app to figure out where our elite tent was located, but once we had our bearings we took off in more or less a dead sprint. This wasn't exactly the warmup I'd envisioned, but it would have to suffice. We arrived at the tent with just enough time to change out of our warmups, stand in line for the bathroom and take a few gulps of water before being directed to the starting line. After the ordeal we'd just endured, it seemed as though the race itself would be a piece of cake.

For the first few miles after the starting cannon sounded
, it was just that. Caitlin and I settled into a rhythm next to each other, consciously allowing a group of 4-5 women to go out ahead of us while we adhered to our goal pace. We split our first mile in 5:51, then the same for the second, then the same for the third, all the while telling each other we needed to back off and conserve energy but still clicking off the same splits. I was pleasantly surprised to feel so comfortable running what amounts to an aggressive pace for my current fitness level, but in the back of my mind I feared the early miles might catch up with me later. Through the halfway point, however, I felt terrific. It was amazing to run the race with Caitlin at my side--believe it or not, with as much as we train together we rarely have the opportunity to race this way--and despite our increasing effort levels we managed to offer each other bits of encouragement every few minutes. It also didn't hurt that the day was, in a word, perfect. The 60-degree start temperature, though unseasonably warm, was tempered by low humidity and no wind. To be honest, anything colder would've been to my detriment due to the extremely abbreviated warm-up. The course itself, which begins and ends at the Pentagon and offers a running tour of the National Mall, the White House, the Kennedy Center, the Watergate Hotel and plenty of other attractions, was mostly flat and fast. Several times during the race I found myself just feeling thankful for the opportunity to enjoy such a fantastic race on a beautiful day while feeling healthy and strong.

Caitlin and I running with our male escorts early in the race

Eventually, however, my euphoria gave way to fatigue. I stuck with Caitlin through six miles, then through the 10k, before the quick early pace began to take its toll. At some point during the seventh mile I inexplicably caught back up to her, excitedly proclaiming, "I'm back!", only to watch her pull away decisively a few meters later. From that point on she would remain fixed in my field of vision, at times slightly farther away and at times a bit closer, but all the while decidedly out of reach. The last 5k, which just happens to feature the only hills of the entire course, found me in no-man's land. Remember when I said I needed to work on my mental toughness? Well, be careful what you wish for. Somewhere toward the end of the seventh mile Jordan popped up on the sidelines, entreating me to stay focused and telling me I was in the top 10. In reality I think I was in 11th or 12th at that point, but his comments and a few cheers from Jilane renewed my determination to finish strong. I split 5:51 for mile 8, my fastest thus far of the second half of the race after a few 6:00s in a row, passing two girls in the process. With two miles to go I was able to roughly calculate that I'd need to split two 5:55s in order to break 59 minutes.

The bad news is Caitlin dropped me shortly thereafter. The good news is I then
dropped the girl in pink.

Unfortunately, with the ninth mile featuring a long uphill grade on one of the bridges, my best efforts could not prevent another 6:00 split. At one point I passed a wheelchair racer, who looked at me and said, "Hey, I think you're the first woman!" I have no idea why he thought that since he'd clearly been passed by quite a few other females, so I quickly replied, "I'm not." His response--"Well, you are for me!"--brought a fleeting smile to my face, once again putting the entire race in perspective. With just five minutes of hard running remaining and determined to meet my goal, I forged up the final hill before taking a sharp downhill to the finishing straight. I could see Caitlin crossing the line just ahead as I managed to sprint in just a few ticks under 59 minutes. Not only had I beaten my goal, but I'd finished with my fastest split of the day and achieved what is realistically my best case scenario for where my fitness is right now.

Me, Caitlin and Boriana looking fresh as daisies as we represent CRC post-race

Wogging back to Caitlin's hotel after the race--there was no way in hell we were getting back on the metro--we recapped the run and how much we enjoyed the course. Though I might plan my pre-race preparations a little bit differently, I have every intention of returning next year in better shape and improving upon this year's finish. As for the rest of 2011, well, now all I have to do is get fit enough to run 16 more miles at this pace and then I'll be all set!


caitchris said...

great recap!! those are some awesome pics too...shows off our cute butts and the awesome weather since the sun is making our skin glow. have fun in beantown!!

Danielle said...

LOVE the picture of you and Caitlin running. You girls look super hot and fit.