Sandy and I have run the Army Ten Miler for years. It’s a local event for us, and it’s pretty much a must-run if you’re a runner who’s in the military. It’s a much more crowded race than I typically prefer (35K runners, if the race announcer is to be believed). The ATM marks the end of the running season for us, and is usually characterized by decent running weather. But with the edges of Hurricane/Tropical Storm Matthew passing through the DC area, we expected rough conditions this year.
Woke up to a horrible day. Poked my head outside at 5:15, and it was cold and rainy, with gusting winds. Not good for a rhythm runner!
Oh, well. Nothing we could do about it but get ready. I decided to go with a long sleeved tech, and compression tights, which turned out to be a great call. Sandy went sleeveless with full-length tights.
We arrived in the starting area around 7:30, in time for the 8:00 start. We huddled under a bridge to escape the rain and wind, but both of us were still shivering – even in the throwaway sweats. It was no fun at all when our corral surged forward, and we had to peel off the layers to run.
If you’ve been following my blog, you know I’ve been dealing with chronic Achilles tendinosis, and haven’t been able to train regularly for the last three years. In fact, I was only able to get in about 10 runs over the last month leading up to this race. Only three of the runs even reached five miles (or so I thought – more on that later), and none were faster than 9:00/mile.
Add to that the fact that both my calves had been very sore all week, which has historically been a precursor to another Achilles flareup, and I wasn’t optimistic about this run. If they didn’t loosen up, I feared I might not be able to finish the race at all.
I figured the best-case scenario had me finishing around 1:33:00, if at all.
So the plan was to run with Sandy, who normally paces out between 9:00 and 9:20/mile. We’d start slow and build up from there. Of course, in a race with 35,000 runners, we usually don’t have much of a choice, anyway. The first two miles are typically slow-moving, with nothing but asses and elbows everywhere.
The good news is that the rain stopped just before the gun (well, in this case, an artillery piece) fired, sending our corral onto the course.
We logged a 9:34 first mile, followed by a 8:54 second, and a 9:03 third.
My left Achilles finally loosened up during the third mile, with my right following suit in the fourth. Sandy dropped back around the fourth mile marker, urging me to go ahead.
I decided to just focus on form, and treat the run as a workout. Being a competitive creature, I had to really work to keep myself from watching the clock as I went. I felt if I could limit myself to a peek once per half mile or so, I’d keep the race-monster in check.
Then a strange thing happened. My Garmin lets me know what kind of pace I’m on, but that is less about how quickly I’ve completed the current mile, and more about how fast I’m moving at the moment.
Even though I wasn’t pushing to go faster, the times kept falling.
8:43, 8:35, 8:25. I started thinking that a 1:30:00 finish might be possible.
Midway through the seventh mile, I was a little gassed, but I knew at that point the Achilles wasn’t going to be an issue. I felt that if I could just keep my form together, I’d be fine, and would finish below 1:30:00.
I pulled my sleeve over the watch to keep me from looking at it, and resolved only to check after each mile.
The eighth mile is fairly tough, with the last half of it being a long, straight uphill along I-395 that eventually gives way to an off-ramp. Today, this portion was into the face of 15-20 mph wind gusts, adding to the challenge.
For whatever reason, this spot always ends up being a bottleneck, as gassed runners cruise slowly down the single-lane ramp and make the sharp left turn. The pace almost always slows to a near-walk right before the 8-mile marker, before the course opens up again.
Anticipating this, I did my best to attack the hill. That paid off as I looked at the split at the marker.
The short time in Pentagon City is flat and wide, so race congestion isn’t an issue. At this point, I was feeling fairly strong, but didn’t want to risk a full-on surge. Part of me didn’t want to run out of gas with a half mile to go, and the other part worried about the Achilles, which, over the past 2-3 years, has flared up every time I’ve gone to the track to do speed work.
So, nothing aggressive – just keep chugging along, and maintain good form. Midway through this mile, my flexors started to burn a bit. Nothing unmanageable, but highly unusual for me.
As I passed the 9-mile marker, I still didn’t feel I could really open up for an entire mile. So I decided to keep doing what I was doing, and try to surge over the last third of a mile. Once we made the turn, and passed back under I-395, I stepped it up a bit, resisting going into a full kick at the end. Nearing the finish line, I slid over to the left side of the road (which, for some reason, was not very crowded) so I could at least see the video and finish pic later.
The extra weaving over the course of the race cost me about 100m, which is to be expected. That’s about as small a variance as one can expect in a race this crowded.
Final time: 1:26:24. That’s a time I can live with. Of course, it’s nowhere near a PR, but given where I am in terms of training miles logged (nowhere near enough), I’m very happy with it, and I think I learned something today.
I’ve never been one to focus on negative splits. I’ve always taken the approach of targeting a pace, and sticking with it for as long as I can. This marks the first time I’ve ever deliberately taken it easy over the first portion of a race, and slowly built from there, dropping time with each split. I couldn’t believe I felt as strong as I did at the end.
This might be my new approach toward anything longer than a 10K.
Sandy finished a few minutes after I did. She crossed the line in 1:31:55, and she said she was pretty happy with how the run went. She had trained a lot more than I did, but still not as much as she would have liked. Still, the results weren’t bad for a less-than-ideal day.
Only a frigid walk from the finish line to the Pentagon City Mall stood between us and the post-race reward: Starbucks and a warm ride home.
But what about the time drop?
So – how the hell did this happen? With limited opportunities to run over the last few months, there was no way I should have been able to end up with that kind of time. I had developed a hypothesis by the time I got home. My training routes had to be longer than I thought they were.
The routes were the same ones I used years ago, but have had to avoid over the last three years because my doctors told me to stay off hills. But over time, I had apparently forgotten the exact distances. For example, I thought the longest route I had run leading up to the ATM was 5 miles. I had been typically fairly gassed after covering it in between 47 and 48 minutes. I was disappointed at the 9:20-ish pace, but attributed it to a lack of fitness, and accepted it (for now).
Turns out, that route is actually 6 miles, putting me just under an 8:00 pace. A YUGE difference that made today’s performance make a lot more sense.
Now I’m debating whether I should remeasure all my other routes, or just enjoy the occasional surprise!