Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Getting The Work Done

This past weekend I made my way back to Arlington, VA for the Army 10 Miler. (ATM) This is the 5th year in a row that I've done this race. Each year I get a little bit faster on the course. I was hoping that I would be able to break even this year. I've been hovering around the same time the last two years and wasn't sure I would be able to break through this barrier. I've been running well this year keeping the injury bug away so far. Aside from a small hiccup that required two injections in my foot recently, I've been able to string together a good year of running.

The flight down was supposed to be 40 minutes in the air. I was half asleep on the flight down so I wasn't paying attention to the time. But at one point I could tell we were doing a lot of turning and ascending/descending/ascending/descending. I could feel my stomach turn and I got very sweating which is a precursor to full blown motion sickness for me. I made sure there was a bag in the seat pocket in front of me as I expected my lunch to make an appearance on this flight. But I was fortunate the we landed just before trouble reared it's ugly head. Then the pilot came on and said "we had to make a landing at Dulles due to weather at Baltimore and we need to refuel." Obviously what were we doing for over an hour was circling the airport waiting for clearance to land. Once the plane ran low on fuel, we had to be diverted to another airport. We were on the ground for over an hour before we could take off again. So far this trip was not starting well.

We finally made it to Baltimore and then drove to our hotel in Virginia. We grabbed a quick bite to eat and then we went to sleep. Saturday morning was Expo time. This is a highlight for me. I get to walk around and get as many freebies as I can fit into my bag and then go outside and play with all the Army Special Forces weapons I want. This year I had my eye on a grenade launcher that would look AWESOME on my front lawn. I hope Santa will bring it to me..........

We took it easy Saturday afternoon in an effort to save some energy for Sunday. Friends and family were asking if I would be setting a PR and I told them it was highly doubtful. My 10 mile PR is on an extremely flat course. The ATM course has a few rollers on it and the last ~2 miles are killer on the highway - constant up/down/up/down. You will be punished if you push too hard too early. I figured a course PR was possible if I played my cards right. Pacing is important on this course.

First thing I noticed race morning was that it was very cool. I had quite a chill and was afraid to ditch my warmup shirt until the last possible moment. When they announced 1 minute to my wave start I threw my extra shirt to the side of the road and got ready. Each wave is started with a large cannon and a ton of smoke!! I was able to find some clear space and get moving. Within a quarter mile I noticed that I wasn't breathless or having any difficulty running. Usually it takes me at least a half mile to settle in to my pace, but I found my rhythm early. Hopefully it would be a good omen.

I decided to keep my Garmin covered and just run by feel. Since I was comfortable early in the race, I knew my pace was OK. I had studied the course over and over again to make sure that I would run the tangents and cut all the turns tight so I wouldn't tack on extra mileage by running wide. As soon as I made a turn, I was planning where I needed to be on the road for the next turn. I wouldn't know if my strategy would pay off until late in the run when I finally looked down at my watch.

The miles ticked by easily. I was waiting for the wheels to fall off and for the real suffering to begin. I got to mile 5 and noticed on the race clock that it was starting to go in my favor. I still had no idea how I was doing on time, but I knew I wasn't losing anything yet. I kept my foot on the gas and decided to not let up.

Mile 5-7 takes you up and down Independence Ave. I knew this would be my last stretch before I hit the rollers on the highway. I didn't make a conscious effort to pick up my pace, but inadvertently I did. I was still feeling fresh and didn't have that feeling that I could not maintain my pace any longer. My legs just kept going and going. When I saw the 8 mile marker I knew this was where the hard work would begin. It was here that some words came to mind. I remember reading Ian's race report for the Pumpkinman Triathlon and one line he wrote about starting his run stuck in my head:

"I told myself 'here was my chance to be great'"

These words were true at this moment. I looked at my Garmin and saw that, unless I literally collapsed on the course, I would set a course PR. A ten mile PR was going to take some serious effort over the next two miles. I could not let up for a minute. It was going to take everything I had to hang on. This was going to be my chance to be great..........

I seemed to float over the next mile. Normally I am suffering at this point, but I still seemed to be moving well. My pace certainly dropped down a little, but I was still running well. I knew I could afford to slow up a little on the uphill as long as I gunned it going downhill. Before I knew it I was heading up towards the exit ramp for the Pentagon. Only 1 mile to go!! At this point I could feel the fatigue starting to creep in. The last mile on the highway was taking it's toll on me. But at the same time I knew I wanted that PR badly. It's funny how it wasn't even a thought earlier that morning, but at this time it consumed me. I kept the intensity up. I didn't want to get to the finish line with any regrets. This was like a poker game and I was all in on the final hand........

The way the road winds near the end, it's hard to know exactly where the finish line is. When I was ~1/10th from it I could see the black and gold balloons. The finish was near. I saw my watch and knew that unless I stopped to take a nap, the PR was mine. I crossed the line and stopped my watch. I knew it was a course PR, but was fuzzy about my 10 mile PR. When I checked my times later I knew I had the 10 mile PR by ~2 minutes and a course PR by 5:30. BOOM!!

Once I made my way through the finish line corral and food line, I went back to get my clothes. I was getting chilly in my wet clothes.  I can honestly say I had no idea that performance was in me. When I looked at my splits later, I was very consistent. 8 of my 10 miles were less than 10 seconds apart in pacing.  The two 'slower' miles (mile 1 at the start and mile 8 on the highway) were at most 20 seconds off my fastest pace. 

Looking back, I can't complain about my performance. For the first time in a loooooonnnnnngggg time I am happy with how the race unfolded. I feel that this was a complete race from start to finish. I really can't see where I would make any changes. My course strategy paid off as my Garmin measured 10.12 miles so I didn't stray as badly as I did last year.  I really surprised myself with how the race unfolded. I have a half marathon in December and I have already changed my goals for that race. So between now and then, it's time to Get The Work Done!!

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