After being humbled by the heat (and beaten by Chas) at the Leprechaun Loop 8K two weeks ago, I wasn't sure I had a sub-40-minute 10K in me. To run a sub-40, you need to average 6:26 per mile — the same pace it takes to run a sub-20 5K, something I had only accomplished once.
But if I did have a shot, it would probably be with Chas there to pace me. I checked the weather, and it looked like the temperatures would be ideal on race day, in six days' time: About 40 degrees at the start. I gave Chas a provisional "yes" unless we got an unexpected sudden hot spell.
The race was the Lake Norman Rotary 10k, and yesterday we previewed the route and found it to be fairly hilly. Here's the elevation profile I recorded:
The major hills are in Miles 1, 4, and 6. We decided that the critical hill was in Mile 4: You're fresh on Mile 1 and by Mile 6 you can smell the finish line. So the plan was to run at about a 6:20 pace for Miles 1 to 3, then try to hang on to that pace up the hill in Mile 4. The mostly downhill Mile 5 would allow us a rest before the difficult final hill in Mile 6. We also agreed that if either of us found ourselves falling below a 6:26 pace, it was okay for the other runner to drop him. For Mile 6, if we were still together, pacing would end and it would be a race to the finish.
The race was a combined 5K and 10K, starting simultaneously, with most racers signed up for the 5K. As best as we could tell there were only 20 or 30 10Kers in the group. It was a perfect, brisk morning, and I decided to run in a singlet and shorts. At the starting line, most of the other runners seemed to be less experienced than me and Chas, and we heard lots of "watch out for those guys in tank tops, they look serious." We chatted with one runner who also looked serious—he said he'd be running around a 5:40 pace—but he was running the 5K. It looked like Chas and I might be competing for first place in the 10K.
As the race started, it quickly settled into groups: Serious Runner and one other runner out front, then a pack of 7 or 8 including me and Chas about 20 seconds behind. We maintained our pace almost perfectly for Mile 1, a 6:18. About two minutes into Mile 2 I noticed the pace of our little pack had picked up a bit and we were now running closer to a 6:09 pace. I told Chas we could slow down a bit and we let the pack ease ahead of us.
But then we hit the point where the 5K split off from the 10K route. The entire pack was running the 5K and Chas and I were in the lead, right behind the pace bike! We hit the Mile 2 mark on perfect pace: 6:20. One runner, a guy in a blue T-shirt, was fairly close on our heels. Would he be a threat to pass us? We tried not to concern ourselves with that and focused on maintaining our pace.
Mile 3 was a slight downhill. Chas asked if I wanted to pick up the pace or "float" down the hill a little faster. Knowing we had a tough Mile 4 ahead, I suggested we just maintain pace. We hit the Mile 3 mark on perfect pace again: 6:20.
Then we turned the corner to face the hill that started out Mile 4. It was gradual at first, but we knew there would be steeper sections ahead. Looking at my Garmin I could see I was beginning to fall off pace. I dug in deeper and tried to pick it up. Finally we hit the first steeper section. It wasn't exactly a San-Francisco-style hill, but it had a definite gradient to it, and as I tried to maintain my 6:20 pace, it felt like someone had just strapped a bag of bricks to my back. As we crested the hill, the Garmin showed a 6:33 pace -- not bad, given that we had banked a good 20 seconds in the first three miles. I tried to pick it up as the road turned briefly downhill, but we finished Mile 4 at that same 6:33 pace.
This race was odd in that it didn't have mile markers, just kilometer markers. Since I always use miles-per-minute for my pacing, it didn't match up to my GPS display. But fortunately a 40-minute 10K means you need to run 4-minute kilometers, so it was easy for us to check whether our Garmins matched the official course distances. I don't usually race with a total time display on my GPS; instead I have current mile pace, previous mile pace, and total distance. But at the 5K marker I did manage to scroll to the total time window and found that we were 50 seconds ahead; our GPSs were measuring longer than the actual course—always a relief compared to when the error works in the other direction.
Mile 5 was supposed to be an easy downhill, but first we had to contend with some rolling hills. I found myself falling further off pace in anticipation of the downhill relief. Chas was starting to pull away from me, which was perfectly okay according to our pacing plan; I wasn't maintaining a 6:26 pace. As we crested the last hill before the sustained downhill, my pace read 6:40.
I tried to pick up the pace on the downhill but found it difficult. Blue Shirt Guy had fallen back a bit, but now I began to worry that he would catch me. Gradually I picked up the pace, until I hit 6:33 at the end of the mile. Had I lost too much time? Would I be able to hold on for the final uphill in Mile 6?
There wasn't time to think about it; I just had to run. Halfway up the hill I passed the 9-kilometer marker. If I was on pace, my overall time should be below 36:00. I scrolled to the overall clock and saw that it read 35:20. All I needed to do was run a 4:40 final kilometer. Surely I could do that, right?
Chas continued to pull away, and Blue Shirt Guy's footsteps got louder behind me. I tried to run hard over the crest of the hill and maintain my momentum for the final push downhill. Blue Shirt Guy looked young, and I thought he might have a good kick. I could see the cones of the finish chute ahead, and I was still in second place. My watch beeped 6 miles, and I didn't look down (I later saw that my split for Mile 6 was 6:35). I strode around the final corner, and up one last hill to the finish line as the clock ticked 39:15, 39:16, 39:17... I made it! My watch read 39:19 at the finish line, but my official time was 39:17.8. Blue Shirt Guy was three seconds behind!
Chas and I congratulated each other on setting our goals — Chas had crushed his with an amazing 38:59 — and then shook Blue Shirt Guy's hand (his name turned out to be Donald McKenzie) and told him he had done a great job. "I was just trying to keep up with you," he said. Chas had won the race, and I was second.
As it turned out, fellow DARTer Chad Randolph showed up to watch the finish, and he got pictures of me and Chas crossing the line:
|Chas and I assume the standard "stop your Garmin" finish-line pose|
And here's the obligatory finish-line portrait:
|DART goes 1-2!|