Saturday, March 19, 2011

Race Recap: The St. Leo School 10K

It used to be that nearly every road race other than marathons covered the 10K distance. When I was a college student and on the track team, the coaches encouraged us to sign up for 10Ks over the summer, and I signed up for one, the Bar-S Stampede. I have a vague recollection of running it in about 45 minutes, and being quite disappointed. A few years ago, I ran my second 10K, a turkey trot in Hickory, North Carolina, and I would have been thrilled to run it in 45 minutes. In fact, I was thrilled with my actual result, about 49 minutes for an 8-minute pace.

Today I ran my third 10K, the St. Leo School road race, and I was hoping once again to do better than 45 minutes. After completing a 5K in 21:32 last month, I thought I might be able to do a 10K at the same pace, for a 43-minute overall time. I might have been able to do it under perfect conditions -- cool weather, a good week of training beforehand -- but conditions weren't perfect today. It was a little warm for me, in the mid-60s, and I had been off in the mountains of Colorado skiing instead of training for the race, and probably overextended myself trying to make up for lost time when I got back.

Me after the race
Still, my plan was to run 7:00 splits for as long as possible and see if I could run that elusive 43-minute 10K. One hitch in my plan was that this year's race covered a new course. I didn't know what to expect -- when I could run fast and when I just needed to hang on.

The race start was odd. Usually as many runners as possible push up to the starting line and there's a lot of jostling for position. In this race, only about 15 or 20 racers seemed to be interested in standing closer than 20 feet from the start. I started to wonder whether I really belonged among them, but I figured I might as well get close to the start and avoid the crowds. After the starting whistle (yep, there was no gun, and no chip-timing either), we all took off down a steep half-mile long hill. I took it easy on this part; I didn't want to injure myself before the race started. The next half mile was all uphill, and as usual, my Garmin beeped about 20 meters before we reached the official Mile 1 marker: 7:04. I'll give my Garmin splits for the rest of this recap; after the first mile the Garmin's mileage gradually creeped earlier, but I didn't keep track of my "real" splits. Overall the Garmin measured the course at 6.29 miles, about 120 meters longer than the official 10K distance of 6.21 miles.

After that first mile, the rest of the course was gradual, rolling hills. None of the hills were especially challenging, but there was also rarely the relief of a long downhill stretch, or even a flat stretch. We were running along lovely residential streets with really nice old houses. There weren't a lot of folks cheering us on, but every couple of blocks someone would be standing at a corner clapping and shouting words of encouragement. I ended up running at about the same pace as a woman wearing full-length running tights. I wasn't complaining because she looked great in them, but it seemed an odd choice for such a warm day. My Mile 2 split was 7:12, and I wasn't feeling great. A 43-minute race was probably out of reach at this point and I'd just need to hang on.

Just after Mile 2, we circled a roundabout and headed back on the same route, the same gradual rolling hills. My Mile 3 split was 7:13. As we turned the corner off of the road we had been running on, a teenager was calling off times: 20:30, 20:31, etc. I looked down at my watch and it read 22:57. This girl was nearly 2 and a half minutes off! I said "that's not right" to no one in particular, and a guy in a green shirt said "I wish it was!" Green Shirt Guy passed me, and we rambled along pretty residential streets with the same gradual hills. I was really starting to feel worn out.

Up ahead I could see we were coming up on a road with runners headed the opposite direction. Could that be the 5K runners, who had started 10 minutes earlier than us? They were clearly running too slowly to be the 10K race leaders. As we got closer, I could see they were wearing yellow 10K bibs -- the 5K runners had white ones. What was going on? Woman in Tights seemed very confused -- had we taken a wrong turn? Finally I figured it out: We had actually tripled back, and were running along the same road we had been on twice before. Those runners were the middle- to back-of-the-pack 10Kers. I reassured Woman in Tights that we were headed in the right direction. Finally, just before the Mile 4 marker, we turned off this street for good. My Mile 4 split was 7:30. Yegods!

On Mile 5 I tried to pick up the pace. There were, after all, only a bit more than 2 miles left. The gradual, rolling hills and the heat were taking their toll though. I was sweating profusely. I did manage to pass Green Shirt Guy again on a downhill, but he passed me for good on the next uphill stretch. I pulled away from Woman in Tights for good at this point, but not because I sped up. My Mile 5 split was 7:29.

Mile 6 started off with a slightly steeper-than-usual uphill stretch. I tried to stay focused on good form. I had warmed up on the end of the racecourse, so I knew that at least the final quarter-mile would be downhill. I was hoping for more downhill than that, and my GPS record suggests that most of Mile 6 was indeed downhill. It didn't feel like it as I ran it. I did, however, manage to pick up the pace a little: 7:19. Still, a couple of people passed me during Mile 6; they clearly had more left in the tank than I did.

The last two-tenths of a mile were a real struggle. I knew I should be sprinting, but I barely had the legs. I did manage to pick up the pace a little, and no one passed me during this stretch, which I covered at a 6:36 pace. I crossed the line in 45:41, about the same as I had done in my first 10K, 20+ years ago. I don't remember so many hills on that course, though! My average pace according to Garmin was 7:16, but for the official distance of 6.21 miles, that works out to a 7:21 pace. Not bad, but not as fast as I was hoping.

It did turn out to be good enough for third place in my age group, however -- that's my first age-group award, ever. Here I am "testing" the metal content of my medal:

The full GPS record of the race is below.

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