. . . or, "The Blossoms didn't really come out, but I did."
I've been over the "whys" and "hows" of losing time to injury, but fast foward to:
2 years, 5 months, and 1 week after my last race, I had trained for the Cherry Blossom, from doing the Thanksgiving to New Year's Run Streak, all the way to regular runs through March. I lost a week in March due to Achilles soreness, but still hit 100+ miles for the month. I felt ready.
In fact, I felt completely hyper. I wasn't sleeping super well, I was evaluating, and re-evaluating my time goals, and all over my Garmin Connect account, studying my training runs. I finally settled on two reasonable goals:
1. Don't die.
2. Shoot to break 85 minutes, so long as you don't run afoul of goal #1. My PR was over 86 and a half minutes, so this wasn't an easy goal, especially for not having run a race. But it was a soft goal, because, you know . . . Goal #1.
On race day, I was up (this is true) at 1:15am, freaking out that OMG I OVERSLEPT RACE OVER I'M FUXORED WTF. It took me until 3:00am to settle down and sleep again. I was up again at 5:15am, and out the door at 6:00am. Bear in mind, I'm on Capitol Hill, maybe 5 or so Metro stops from the race start, and had NO bags to check.
So there I stood at 6:20am. Shivering, wearing a purple MCM shirt from 2005. I planned to sacrifce it to the Red Cross at the race start.
I figured that the corrals would be well-marked, and they were. They were also quite empty. I had a few reasons for showing up so early, but also ran into what proved to be a significant issue:
1. I wanted to break 85 minutes, and had seeded myself at 1:25:00, which earned me a position in the blue corral
2. Hitting 1:25:00 takes a pace of 8:30 -- BUT --
3. The 8:30 pace group was in the red corral.
4. I was one corral back. The blue one would start 3-5 minutes after the red.
So I figured I'd put myself as far to the front of the blue as I could. But already I realized I would not be able to follow a pace group. I tried to remind myself that this was just as well, because SEE GOAL #1.
Soon enough, 7:30 hit, and off we went.
On the Cherry Blossom Blue Wave Start video page, you can see how close to the front I was, because in the first 10 seconds, you'll see my purple MCM shirt go flying across the screen from right to left. I didn't hit anyone, and I think it actually landed ON the metal railing, almost like it was hung there.
Mile 1 was fast (for me). 8:22. It was also gloriously uncrowded, and I just worked my position as best I could, aiming for good lines. My heart rate wasn't really taxed (except at the beginning, which had to be from excitement/nerves),and I had only 1 scare, early in mile 3 where my Garmin lost satellite reception under the Kennedy Center (it reaquired and recalculated quickly).
My 5 mile split came in around 42 minutes and X seconds, and I was feeling good. It looked like I'd finish a little above 85 minutes (by mere seconds), but I hoped I could burst at the end to challenge that. Still, I was already looking forward to just past mile 6, and the water/gatorade table, which meant a BIG slowdown.
I pretty much lost my sub-85 minute goal here. I passed mile 6 and slowed to a walk in order to take Gu and drink at the water station. I just CANNOT run and drink. I'm awful at it. Once that was done, however, we were heading into Hains Point, and right into a headwind.
I think, with climate change being what it is, we are collectively just going to have to accept bigger extremes, bigger "swings" in temperatures. So the nasty winds were expected, but still not anything I was pleased with. Mile 6-7 was slow, reflecting my walking/drinking break, and I didn't increase speed at mile 7.6 or so, when the course turned, and we picked up a tailwind. I sped up SOME, but not enough. For some reason, I had in my head to wait for mile 8 and THEN calculate what I needed to do. I could have used the remaining portion of mile 7 to really pick up my pace and go.
I'm pleased by these last two miles. They were my fastest of the race. In fact, mile 10 dropped below 8 minutes. But, I was 17 seconds slower in my 2nd half of the race, and had a LOT of traffic towards the end (I almost ran over/through a MarathonFoto photographer as I tried to dodge a 4-abreast group petering out on the final uphill). This whole section was also tough to run because Hains Point is quite narrow there, and it was the most crowded portion of the whole race for me.
One high point: A couple dressed as ketchup and mustard bottles, imporing us to run "with relish." I would have hugged them both if I wasn't trying to pick up speed. And really, who eats relish anymore?!
Anyway, I finished in under 85 and a half minutes, beating my 3-year-old PR by over a minute.
--Apparently, I can run again!
--My Garmin clocked in at 10.10 miles, so I only was "off" the course by a small amount (I have friends at work who came in at 10.4 or higher from their weaving).
--No serious pain that day or the next morning!
--I finished in the (roughly) top 25% of all runners, and (roughly) the top 41% of males in my age group.
I would have liked a couple of dozen more seconds, or even a few seconds more per mile, to get sub-85, but this is a TOUGH course to PR on. Sure, it's flat, but it's quite crowded. You really have to stake out a spot at the front of a corral if you want to minimize dodging. I would have loved to have been paced by the 8:30 person, but the corrals gods apparently wanted me alive more. ;) :P
The truth is, I really don't have much to complain about. It's been so long since I pinned a number on and ran that I was just happy to be out there. And posting my best-ever 10 mile time. Maybe, if I get in next year, I'll print pace bands to have an idea of how I'm doing, even with half mile splits.
But, the bottom line is this -- as I said in my last blog entry about the Cherry Blossom -- nothing tastes as a good as a PR feels. Turns out that's true. :D