I signed up for the GW Birthday Classic 10k race last Tuesday and was looking forward to it all week. I'd been debating signing up for it for a few weeks because I thought I had a good chance at taking down my PR. I hesitated because after feeling less than motivated towards the end of January, I wanted to see how I was feeling closer to the race before committing myself. I knew that if I was still in a bit of a running funk, a poor race might be the last thing I needed. Fortunately, I was feeling better as February progressed and a strong 14 mile run last Saturday, combined with a good track work on Monday night convinced me that I was in a good place to race.
I knew that Saturday's weather forecast called for some wind, but I didn't think it would be a big deal. However, driving to Alexandria on Saturday morning, I realized that it was not a windy day, it was a WINDY day. And I realized this might be an issue.
Pre-race I got to meet Dash for the first time. (Strangely, we parked right next to each other in the somewhat giant parking lot). While warming up, it was confirmed that this would be a rather unique race experience when a particularly strong gust of wind more or less stopped us in our tracks. The idea of abandoning the race was slightly tempting, but I figured I had to get the miles in anyway, so it might as well be along the course. And I wasn't quite ready to give up on the PR goal.
The most important of all race facilities were also not immune to the wind - at least one porta potty was blown over. When I got there, runners where in the process of helping to push them against a nearby concrete wall. Needless to say I was a bit nervous (and quick) during my pre-race stop.
When we got to the starting area I let Dash head up towards the front of the pack and found myself a slot somewhere in the middle. The course was a straight out and back and fortunately it was clear that we'd be running into the wind in the first half. I don't know if I would have been ready mentally had it been the other way around. I decided to attempt to shoot for miles in the 8:30-8:45 range and just see what happened.
Mile 1 - The race started with an overpass, but I knew this was the only hill (until we hit it again on the way back), so I hit it in stride and didn't slow down. Then there was the nice downhill on the other side that really got my legs moving. It was a bit crowded at the beginning and I did a fair amount of weaving, but I settled into a good pace relatively easily. It was also in this mile that I naively thought "Oh hey, the wind isn't that bad." 8:34
Mile 2 - I was right on pace in my first mile, felt great, and just hoped I could continue to cruise along at that speed. Then the wind started. And try as I might, I could not keep my pace down. 8:55
Mile 3 - This is when things got pretty tough for me. The wind was really gusting and there were no available tall guys to draft behind (I think it would have helped!). And then I saw the hill, the one that I had no idea was coming. I attempted to power up the hill but the wind was particularly brutal at this point. I glanced at my Garmin and saw that my current pace was in the 9s and I figured that my PR might be out of reach. Ugh. 9:08
Mile 4 - Fortunately at the top of the hill there was a flat stretch to the turnaround point. All the way up the hill I worried that I was going to have to go downhill, turn around, and come back up again. Once I hit the turnaround point, it was a like a switch clicked inside of me. Yes, the wind was now behind me, but I think it was just as important that mentally I knew that the rest of the race was going to be easier than that first half. My pace immediately picked up and I also got the added bonus of going back down the hill. 8:12
Mile 5 - The wind was at my back, I was feeling strong and cruising along during this mile. I would periodically glance down at my Garmin and see that my current mile pace had a 7 in the front. What? Not exactly a pace I see very much, but I figured that the tailwind was my friend and I tried not to worry that I was going too fast with a ways left in the race. I also got passed with surprising regularity this mile. I decided not to stress about it since I knew I was running well, but I still found it odd. Where were all these people before (or for the rest of the race)? 7:55
Mile 6 - I knew after mile 5 that a PR was possible again. So I just focused on continuing to push and not slow down even though it hurt. I knew I was SO close to my goal and I was not about to let up, even when I had to head back up the overpass hill. There was a guy in highlighter yellow who I kept trying to catch and pass, but he held me off. 8:04
The end (.28) - We hit mile six at the top of the overpass so the last .2 (or .28 according to my Garmin) was a downhill and short straightaway to the finish. I'm not a great downhill runner, but I just tried to get my legs moving and let the hill do the work for me. Then I gave it all I had on that last flat stretch to the finish. 1:57
The final result was a 52:44 - a new PR by over 2 minutes!! Goodbye, 55:06, it's been fun knowing you.
To be honest, I was a bit shocked by the time. I was pretty confident that I could finally break 55 and thought that maybe I could even break 54 if I had a good day. But I was definitely not expecting to see a 52, especially with the way the first half went. Perhaps the wind was actually good for me since I tend to feel good, start way too fast, and then die. It certainly wasn't possible to do that on Saturday and it left me with plenty in the tank for the second 5k.
Such a strong race makes me even more excited for the National Half in five weeks. I feel like I have been training well and this 10k definitely shows that what I have been doing has been working. Now I feel like I may need to do a bit more thinking about my goals for the race and reevaluate what is a reasonable pace.