Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Yankee Homecoming 10 Mile Race Recap

AM: 4 miles easy
PM: 1.5 mile w/u
Target: Top 4; 60-61 mins.
Actual: 5th; 61:33 (including bathroom break)
1 mile c/d
Total: 13 miles
Daily total: 17 miles

Coming off of my highest mileage week in the better part of a year, I really had no idea how this race would go. I haven't done a 10-mile race or tempo effort in quite some time, and I certainly wasn't tapering for the effort. Between Sunday's long trail run and Tuesday night's race, I managed to shuffle three short, easy runs around Salem, fervently willing my legs to miraculously spring to life. They didn't. Fortunately, the weather was on my side. After a hot, muggy Sunday and Monday, the humidity lifted and brought milder weather on Tuesday morning. Apparently this race is almost always run on what seems like the hottest day of the year, but that would not be the case for this edition. Warm and sunny, sure, but nothing like the conditions we've battled on runs and races in recent weeks.

Jordan and I snuck out of the office just past 4pm and hit the road for Newburyport. It would be at least a 40-minute drive, and we wanted to make sure there was plenty of time to locate parking, grab my number and jog around for a few minutes. No sooner had we turned on a side street near the race start/finish at Newburyport High School did we spot Brian Harvey, Stef Penn and Ian Nurse--all Boston-dwelling BAA friends--and another BAA runner, Melissa, who had hitched a ride with them. After grabbing my number we jogged along the waterfront together, chatting about the race and discussing our collective odds of finishing in the money. Both Brian and I were chagrined to learn that several B-level Africans were in attendance, as were accomplished New England runners Heidi Westover and Matt Pelletier. My "rock-bottom" goal of finishing fourth and barely earning back more than my entry fee was now looking like the best case scenario.

The 5k took off at 6pm, with the 10-mile field lining up 10 minutes later. Just before the start, I also spotted the two women who had beaten me when I was seeing stars on the sidelines during the Seacoast Seven last weekend. I was confident I should be able to beat them in normal (i.e., non-heat wave) conditions, but nonetheless I found myself growing even more dejected. What I'd naively hoped would be a lighthearted romp was now turning grimly serious. A few seconds later, we were off--and were we ever. I'd been warned by Ian that the first mile was fast--both due to the flat/downhill terrain, and to the excessive eagerness of the racers--and his assessment was proven accurate. I split 5:45 and was well off the back of the lead Africans, and of Heidi, and of the two women from the Seacoast race. This was a terrible idea, I thought, not for the last time. My mood did not improve two miles later when we came upon the slower end of the 5k field in downtown Newburyport and I spent the better part of ten minutes zigging and zagging this way and that in order to avoid bulldozing the young, the old, the infirm and the four-legged. I'm no race director, but if I were in charge I might suggest a larger buffer than 10 minutes between the two events' start times. Just a thought.

Around four miles in my pace and effort began to normalize, but for the first time I felt my stomach begin to rumble ominously. Pretend it's not happening, I instructed myself, as if that's ever actually worked before. I'd since passed one of the Seacoast Seven women, but the other one--and any other female competitors--was nowhere to be seen. The downtown spectator crowds had dwindled as we approached a quieter residential area, but there were still clumps of people grouped at regular intervals near street crossings and in front yards. It would've been a welcome diversion, had another diversion of sorts not been brewing down below. No sooner had I split five miles (just a few ticks under 30 minutes) and begun running uphill did I begin scanning the perimeter, head on a swivel, for any secluded wooded areas or sections of particularly dense foliage that were also far enough away from the improbably large crowds--since when are there spectators at a random road race on a Tuesday night?!--to not permanently scar any impressionable young children. (A personal aside: My wonderful mom, who has recently purchased a laptop computer for the first time in her life and has since become a regular reader of my blog despite having no personal proclivity towards running, finds the idea of doing one's business in a Port-a-Potty disgusting. She is a layperson. I get it. In her mind, it's on par with the equally inconceivable idea of using the restroom on a plane. Mom, I'm sorry you had to find out this way, but it is a stone-cold reality of my life as a runner that a Port-a-Potty is often best case scenario. As it turns out, I sometimes use the bathroom in the woods. And by "sometimes," I mean all the time. And by "all the time," I am including mile 7 of this race. Please don't view this as any parenting failure on your part.) Was I still running? Sure. Was my head in the metaphorical game? Hardly. I barely even noticed the rolling terrain, or the fact that I was swiftly gaining on the other Seacoast Seven runner. There were more pressing issues to attend to.

Once I did, and was back on the road again, I found an inexplicable second wind. Sure, my legs were heavy, but there were only three miles to go and the most challenging terrain was behind us. At one point a few minutes later, a bystander had pointed to me and yelled, "You're fifth female!" Shortly thereafter, I'd passed the other Seacoast Seven woman (who subsequently appeared to drop out), and though I'm no math whiz I knew that meant I'd be finishing in the money. There were no other women in sight, but a furtive backward glance told me there were none gaining either. Knowing I had another race in less than 48 hours, I resisted the urge to press the pace and instead relaxed into a comfortably hard effort for the remainder of the run. I was less than a mile from the finish when another spectator cheered, "You're almost there! Fifth place!" Waaaait a minute. How did that happen?! I was so confused that I literally held up five fingers toward him and reiterated, "Five?" Perhaps I'd misunderstood. But no, he nodded in agreement and gave me a vigorous thumbs up, apparently unaware that this was the worst possible news I could've received at this juncture. Somehow the previous person had miscounted. To be honest, it wouldn't have mattered--results would later confirm I was over two minutes behind fourth place finisher Heidi Westover--but still, the distinction was disappointing. I'd hoped to at least finish on the podium, and that was clearly not happening.

As I rounded the final bend and charged the uphill finish into the high school parking lot and toward the finish line, a glance at the clock confirmed I would finish well outside my goal time. Zero for two, awesome. But despite failing to achieve either of the objectives I'd listed at the outset, I was not nearly as dejected as one would expect. If you subtract my bathroom detour, I would've come in right at 61-flat, no small feat considering I could barely shuffle through four easy miles this morning. Don't get me wrong; racing 10 miles slower than marathon pace is always humbling, regardless of any asterisks applied to the effort. But with over 10 weeks to until Hartford and a 100% healthy body, I'm confident I can get there. And I'll definitely return to this terrific local event again to redeem myself!

P.S. Later that evening, we ate dinner with Brian (fellow fifth-placer), Ian (dropped out) and Stef (bum glute) at a divey sports bar called Winners. It wasn't, and we weren't, and the irony was not lost on us. But they did make a mean pizza burger.