Sunday, October 21, 2012

Army 10 Miler Race Recap

1 mile w/u
Target: 10 miles @57:00-57:30
Actual: 57:21 (5:44 pace); 6th place female
Splits that I remember (gun): 2 miles @11:11; 3 miles @16:52; 5 miles @28:20; 10k @35;23  
2 mile c/d
Total: 13 miles

Ever since having such an awesome time running this race together last year, Caitlin and I have been planning to return. In 2011 I entered the race feeling relatively unfit and unprepared after taking some time off due to injury the previous month, only to surprise myself in on game day by sneaking in under 59 minutes. (I'd only been hoping to manage 6-minute pace.) This time, coming off a solid summer of base mileage and a few great weeks of marathon training, I expected much more from myself. Jordan set my goal at 57:30, an even 5:45 mile pace, but for some reason I was convinced I could run close to 57-flat if not faster. (I'm not sure why, since I haven't done nearly enough pace-specific work to indicate that my fitness levels corroborated this idea. Good thing he's the coach and not me.)

I flew in to DCA late morning on Saturday, then was immediately picked up by Jilane and whisked off to meet Caitlin, Garrett and Garrett's sister Elyse at perennial brunch favorite Open City. We spent the next few hours waiting eagerly for our food to arrive, catching up, devouring said food, and making a plan for the following morning. After last year's Metro disaster, we decided not to take any chances. Fortunately our invited athlete status also afforded us a parking pass for the Volunteer lot just on the other side of the Pentagon, so the plan was for Garrett and Caitlin to head over early and stake out a spot, then for Jilane to drop me off at their car shortly thereafter.

Way too much energy for 6am on a Sunday morning.
Shockingly, all the logistics went perfectly to plan in the pre-dawn Sunday hours, and before long the three amigos were walking toward the starting area on the opposite side of the Pentagon. Things got a little hectic as we merged with the other 30,000 runners all trying to make it through the baggage screening area--at which point Garrett was not allowed into the starting line zone since he didn't have a race number, which was slightly panic-inducing since we were planning on ditching all our warmups with him before the race--but soon we were through and ready to begin a somewhat hasty warmup. The air was cool and crisp with just a light breeze, and as the sun slowly crested the horizon it became obvious that the conditions were going to be absolutely perfect. I was nervous and a little anxious but also giddy with excitement on the starting line.

In hindsight, maybe I was a little too excited. When the starting cannon (yes, cannon) sounded, my body sprang into action as though I were racing a 5k. Knowing that Caitlin has been struggling with iron issues I didn't expect us to be able to run side by side for the entire race, but I was a little surprised to see her fall behind me almost immediately. "Man," I thought to myself, "she must be starting very conservatively." After seeing the digital display on the first mile marker flash 5:37 as I passed, it became obvious that Caitlin was probably running exactly to her plan. Instead, I was the one who was disobeying orders--having been firmly instructed to go out no faster than 5:45--and I knew that if I kept up this dangerous pace I would pay the price later. I needed to slow down.

Except, in an incredibly bizarre way that I have a difficult time articulating, I really couldn't. It was almost as if my legs were being moved by an invisible, intangible force, propelling them along at an imprudent speed but powerless to stop them. I truly didn't feel at this point that I was running hard, despite the cold reality that my pace was faster than what would be sustainable mere minutes down the road. Instead I allowed myself to be carried along, intermittently tucking in with groups of men and the occasional woman, watching the captivating backdrop of the Lincoln Memorial and the National Mall and the Potomac River flash past me. By five miles, it was becoming work. I was pleased to split a 10k road PR and see that I was still well within my goal 10k split of 35:30, but I also knew the hardest effort--and the most difficult section of the course--was yet to come. At 6.5 I heard Jilane screaming for me from the sidelines, but I was already too tired at that point to expend any energy searching for her face in the crowd.

Less than a mile later, as I knew it would, the incline began. From 7.5 to 9.5 the course rolls over a series of bridges and overpasses that transport the runners back to Virginia, and just like last year all I noticed were the uphills. Two girls passed me during this section--undoubtedly my slowest of the day but mercifully I didn't have the mental energy to calculate splits based on the mile marker clocks--and I fought hard to stay with them. Intuitively I could feel my upper-end goal of 57:30 slipping away, and all I could think about was how disappointed Jordan would be if I managed to throw the entire race away in the first feverish miles. With a mile to go, the girls gradually pulled farther away, and as I pushed and flailed over the the final hill I found myself growing increasingly frustrated. "There's no way they're running 100 miles a week like me," I thought. "Use that strength and get your head back in the game!" As we rounded the final bend with a few hundred meters to go, I could almost imperceptibly feel one of them foundering. I charged hard, passing her definitively with less than ten meters to go. I don't need a finish line photo to tell me it wasn't pretty, but I'm proud I was able to track her down. As I crossed the line just over 57:20 I found myself filled with mixed emotions: excitement that I'd chopped over 90 seconds off last year's time, disappointment in my rookie pacing tactics, and eagerness to come back next year and give the Army 10 Miler another go.

Caitlin came through a few minutes later and we found Garrett shortly thereafter. I could tell they were both disappointed that her race didn't go as she'd hoped, but all hurt feelings were at least temporarily assuaged once we entered the "commissary" area chock full of freebies. If 80 protein bars, 7 jumbo packs of gum and 21 chocolates--this is the real true tally that she later sent me via text--can't turn that frown upside down, I don't know what will. More than anything, I was so happy we had a chance to spend some time together this weekend and be running buddies again just like the old days. I hope we can do it again for Army 10 Miler 2013!

(P.S. f you have a chance, read this post-race article. Women's winner Kerri Gallagher started training under Matt Centrowitz Sr. a few months ago and sliced a whopping 3 1/2 minutes off last year's Army 10 Miler time! The article also mentions that the runner-up (who won last year) is training for the Philly Marathon, meaning my chances at an overall victory just got even slimmer.)


Caitlin Chrisman said...

Awesome Meagan! I"m so proud of you! I wish that I didn't have to jet out of DC so quick, because otherwise we could have hung out more and celebrated your huge PRs! So proud of all the work you've put in. I still don't know how you manage it with a full time job. I think you deserve some sort of medal for achieving what I see to be a very hard task!

Jilane said...

I know you thought that no one could possibly love the free loot at the end of this race more than Garrett. However, when Dan came home and saw the stash of power/granola bars you had left behind... I swear it was like a kid going through his stocking on Christmas morning, complete with an ear-to-ear grin.

I'd like to partially attribute your PR to the homemade pop tarts at Ted's Bulletin.