This morning, I ran a 10 mile race – the Super Saturday 10 Miler.
As I explained in yesterday’s training recap, my goal was 1:05. I knew there were some hills in the beginning and the end, but I hoped that I’d be able to power through them.
I woke up early, had a bagel with honey and two cups of coffee, and drove out to Millington. It took about a half hour to get there.
On the way there, I saw an electronic sign on the side of the road. It said there was a 10k race today and warned of traffic. I chuckled, and I heard a few people joking about that throughout the morning. Somebody made a mistake programming the sign.
I arrived just after 8. Found parking easily. Registered and grabbed my t-shirt. Was beset by crippling doubt and started to rethink my whole race strategy. And ultimately decided to just go with it – but giving myself a little grace that 1:05:XX was still a win.
I jogged two miles to warm up, going out and back along the first mile of the race. It’s then that I realized just how steep the first hill was. Uh oh…
By the time I was done warming up, it was 8:50. Ten minutes to wait around and then go time.
Miles 1 to 3: What Goes Up Must Come Down
I lined up towards the front of the race. I didn’t expect the crowd to be huge, so I figured I’d go out just behind the leaders and settle in.
At the gun, off we went. There were a few super fast guys that shot out ahead. Another 10 or 15 strung out behind them. And I settled in at the back of that group.
Almost right away, we were going up the first hill. The course shot up 90 feet over the first 0.45 miles, then it started to level out but still climbed another 30 feet over the rest of that first mile.
I didn’t bother looking at the pace for the first mile. I focused on attacking the hill – short strides, rapid steps, trying not to go too hard.
At first, there was a little shuffling in the order, but by the end of the steepest part of the hill the order was pretty well set. I passed a couple people, including the lead woman, and there were maybe 15 people ahead of me. As it flattened out, I settled into what I hoped was a normal pace.
We hit the first mile marker: 6:36. 6 seconds over my average goal pace – but perfectly reasonable with the hill.
The next mile included a steep drop off. When we finally got to that decline, I tried to ride it down as hard as I could – but still maintaining control of my breathing. The hill was so steep, it felt like I could have dropped into a somersault and rolled down. The total descent for that mile was 158 feet.
We got to the bottom, and things leveled out. I heard footsteps behind me, and a man passed me. He was followed shortly by the lead woman. But that was it. I checked my pace once we got on the flats, and it was around 6:30 +/-.
When we hit the 2 mile mark, I didn’t look at the individual split, but I checked for the cumulative time. It was just under 13:00. Perfect. From here on out, it was flat for a while, so if I could stay on pace I’d be in good shape.
The next runner ahead of me, behind the two who had passed me, was a guy in an orange shirt. He seemed to be drifting slowly towards me, so in the third mile I made it a goal to reel him in. There were two guys in red farther ahead of him, and if things went well they’d be my next target.
At this point, the course was going through the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. It was a secluded, flat road, with woods and wildlife on either side. Not exactly scenic, but certainly serene. The weather was nice, but it was overcast, so the world had a kind of dull, gray, feel to it.
Over the course of mile 3, I checked my watch a few times. I was hovering just above 6:30/mi. Orange shirt kept getting closer and closer. I tried to latch on to the woman who had passed me, and I stayed a couple paces behind her. The man who had passed me was pulling ahead and he’d eventually move up in the pack.
Mile 3 split: 6:31. Cumulative time: 19:27. Perfect. Right on target.
Miles 4 to 6: Cruising Along
The next three miles, I just cruised along.
Over the course of mile 4, I caught up to orange shirt. We passed him and never saw him again. He seemed to be struggling a bit, and he’d definitely slowed down since the beginning.
At some point, I saw a big bird ahead cross the road. I thought it might have been a turkey. Then, we got closer and I realized it was a vulture. He was crossing the road to chew on some roadkill.
Mile 4 split: 6:32. Still good.
We passed the road that we’d eventually turn down, but we had to go out and back another half mile or so. I saw the Mile 5 marker on the right side of the road, and I couldn’t wait to turn around and get there.
At the turnaround, there was a water stop. I grabbed a cup of water and took a sip. I was hoping for Gatorade, but I don’t think they had any. My throat was a little dry, and a little sip of water felt great. Didn’t feel the need for any water after that.
As we turned around, we started to pass the rest of the field that had been behind us. I was a few paces behind the lead woman, and she got plenty of shout outs and encouragement from the other runners. I just tried to keep her close and stay a few paces behind.
We hit Mile 5 in 6:35. A little slower, but still fine. In my mind, I’d given up on coming in under 1:05, but I still thought 1:05:XX was possible. My elapsed time was just over 32:30 (1:05:00 pace), and even if I slowed down a bit at the end I’d be good.
A little further on, we turned left and started back towards the finish. I heard some footsteps getting closer behind me. A man pulled up next to me, and I realized I had slowed down a little bit. I turned it up a notch and stayed in front of him.
Once I sped up, I noticed I was slowly gaining on the woman ahead of me. Everyone else was way too far ahead to worry about. But I was gaining on her inch by inch.
By the end of mile 6, I passed her. I was still ahead of the other guy. But we were close together, and I could hear their footsteps right behind me.
Split: 6:36. A little slow, but right on target for 1:05:XX.
Miles 7 to 10: The Return of the Hills
In the middle of mile 7, we turned off the main street that ran through the Great Swamp and into a residential section. We’d loop through here for the next two or three miles.
This also meant a series of hills. The roads were mostly flat east-west, but every time we turned north-south to jog over to the next street there was a steep hill.
The two runners in red were far ahead, and we only caught a glimpse of them here and there.
At the first hill, I attacked. Short strides, quick steps. I didn’t feel like I was getting ahead of myself, and my breathing was under control. I heard the two runners behind me drift back a bit. Maybe this was where I could separate.
When we got to the top of the hill, I had pulled ahead a bit. At this point, I wasn’t paying attention to the pace. I just paid attention to the other two runners.
The next hill, I tried to attack again. I got to the top, but I wasn’t pulling away anymore. They passed me and pulled ahead slightly. We’d gone through the mile 7 split, and I hadn’t noticed the time. My legs were feeling heavy.
When we got to mile 8, we split 6:58. Eugh. This was not good. But I still wasn’t far behind the other two.
We crested one more tough hill, and then there was a steep decline. Again, I tried to ride it down as fast as I could. It was so steep I felt on the verge of losing control – like I could tip forward and fall.
At Mile 9, I glanced at my watch: 6:36. Hey now. Back on track. The last mile can’t be too bad, can it? My elapsed time was 59:38, I could still hit low 1:06:XX.
I tried to gain on the two ahead of me, but I just couldn’t. My legs were starting to feel dead. If I managed to speed up, so did they. We left the residential neighborhood and went down a paved trail in the woods. There was another long, gentle climb that shouldn’t have been that tough – but it hurt coming at the end of the race.
We got back to the road we started on. But instead of going up the steep hill, we got to charge down the last quarter mile. I tried to gain on the two ahead of me, to no avail. But I still surged forward and finished strong.
Stopped my watch: 1:06:37.
I was 15 seconds behind Ashley (the #1 woman) and 30 seconds ahead of the next runner.
Although the hills were draining, I felt surprisingly good when the race was over. I wasn’t too out of breath and my legs were just a bit heavy.
Gave a fist bump to the guy who had passed me. We exchanged a ‘Good race,” and he thanked me for pulling him along in the middle.
I saw the lead woman talking with the guy who had passed me in the beginning, and I gave them both a fist bump.
I walked back to the car to grab my phone and my wallet, and then I returned to the start to grab water and a banana. I watched a few runners come in, and then I went inside the Millington Station Cafe for a breakfast sandwich and a coffee.
I found a seat under a tree, where I could watch the end of the race. The rest of the field continued to come in, while I chowed down on a Taylor Ham, egg, and cheese sandwich. Yum. I looked at Garmin Connect to review my splits and think about how the race went.
By the time I finished my coffee, they were about to hand out awards. So I stuck around. A girl walked by and said, “I saw you out there! You were fast as %!*# bro!”
I waited until they got through my age group (35-39 for another week) to make sure I didn’t place, and then I climbed in the car to head home.
Reflections On How It Went
Am I thrilled with the results? No.
Am I happy with them? Yes.
If the end of the course had been flat, I think I would have hit my revised goal of 1:05:XX. I wasn’t quite able to keep up 6:30/mi pace in the middle, but I was cruising along pretty well at 6:35/mi. Even if I faded a little in the last couple of miles, I should have been fine.
So to some extent, any feedback from this race is a colored a little by those hills. Still, I thought I should have been able to keep up better at the end. I would have been happier with 6:45-6:50 splits instead of 6:55-7:00.
My next race is a 15k in March. That race bills itself as ‘fast and flat.’ I checked the course measurements, and the max elevation is 5 meters above the start and 10 meters below. So there must be a couple small hills somewhere, but that’s pretty flat.
I’ve got 6 weeks between now and then, and tentatively I hope to hit about 1:00 (~6:26/mi pace). Between six more weeks of training and a flatter course, I’m optimistic I can pull that off. That would be equivalent to about a 3 hour marathon – setting me up for a great race in Jersey City.
For now, I’ll be taking it easy for a week before I launch back into training.