I’ll go ahead and lead with this awful self-shot taken minutes after finishing. As an almost-37 year old man with short hair and a cowlick, wind-swept hair is not something I wear well. Despite looking completely exhausted, it was actually a great race for me.
10k’s are not my thing yet. I’ve run one other 10k race to date, even though I’ve done innumerable 6 mile training runs. They’re very different things, aren’t they? That first 10k was the Kalamazoo Klassic, and I ran it in 46:33. the race’s tagline is “The Thrill, the Will, the Hill” due to a massive uphill climb in the exact middle of the race which has most runners walking, hands on knees. But the rest of the course is very downhill and fast. Is this a good benchmark race? No.
Coming into the race I didn’t have many expectations for myself. I ran the 5k at this event last year, and it’s a very small, almost intimate race. Since the marathon I hadn’t been hitting the training runs hard at all, just 2-3 a week with no structure, but I still had much of that fitness banked. My rough plan was to shoot for 7:30/min miles and then go for broke the last mile or mile and a half. Not being familiar with a 10k race, I figured that was a reasonable plan. I never plan well.
I am always bad at estimating time in the morning. I get nervous and want to leave enough time for myself, and I am always early. The race is held on Ang Air Force Base in Battle Creek and I pulled up to the security checkpoint a little before 8 AM, an hour before the race was due to start. That morning I had stopped into the gas station and purchased a big blueberry muffin from the baked goods case. As the security guard checked my ID he noticed the white, waxed paper bag on my passenger seat and smiling, said, “do you have any suspicious contents in that bag that I need to confiscate?” I laughed and told him he had a good nose. The man had obviously purchased a doughnut or two in his day.
Packet pick-up was painless considering the early hour. Having time to kill, I was very meticulous in affixing my timing chip to my shoe and pinning my race bib on straight. I texted my sister Kari to let her know I was early, and she was still a good 30 minutes out. I took a spirited jog around the parking lot to get the blood pumping, but my legs felt a little unresponsive and dead. Oh well. It was a grey overcast morning with a little wind and temps around 52 °F. I hadn’t slept well the night before because I worked late and I wasn’t too worried. No pressure or expectations, right? I was just going to go out and run my 6 miles and have a good time.
Kari eventually arrived and she got her packet squared away as well. All pre- and post-race gathering is handled in a cafeteria-like room, so we had a warm place to hang out prior to the start. Soon enough the appointed time came and we all headed outside to the start line. With only 180 or so people competing between the 3 events (5k walk, 5k run and 10k run) it felt very relaxed compared to the crush of other running starts, yet still organized.
I lined up a way’s back with Kari and we chatted away about the race and anything else that came to mind. After a couple speeches were given via microphone and a moment of silence, the race began. The crowd shuffled forward and as we crossed the timing mats Kari offered me good luck as I set out on my pace.
It was a cool morning, grey, and I LOVE running through the pack. The beginning of any race is full of infectious energy and this one was no different. When the blood starts pumping and your legs get moving, and there are so many people to move through and work around, it’s hard not to get a little Foo Fighter with your pace. “Done, done, and on to the next one” as I pass one runner after another.
I was feeling great and running easily when something terrible happened: I hit the first mile and my watch read 7:02! I suddenly realized that I was running my 5k pace and that entire first mile I had been running with, and passing, 5k runners. Oh no….
The course is held on an Air Force base and the majority of it is run on the campus and runways. The 10k actually dips out onto a dirt trail on the edge of the property while the 5k is entirely on pavement. The 5k and 10k courses share most of the first two miles and much of the last mile.
In the first 1/2 mile there is a slight rise in elevation for about 100 yards but the course is otherwise flat until the 10k splits from the 5k at around 2.25 after a good 3/4 mile straight-away along a runway. The 10k then veers off to tackle a steady climb up an overpass above train tracks. The rise and corresponding downhill take up about 1/2 mile, and then you enter onto a dirt service road surrounded by woods at the 2.75 mile point.
This back trail is really a well-maintained dirt road and you’re on it until around mile 3.6-3.7. It has a couple steep inclines and one very sharp decline that’ll have your feet slapping the ground hard. From there you’re back on pavement and you reach the incline to the train overpass again at mile 4.3 or so. With no more hills, it’s just a few turns to the finish line.
I am not a wise man.
After a freakishly fast 7:02 first mile, I was worried. I felt great, but I knew I couldn’t maintain that pace for 6 miles. The small pack of runners was really starting to stretch out at that point anyway, and I figured I had passed most of the people I would that day. The blazing fast 5k runners had set out a good lead and it was lengthening. I thought I had better slow down and get back to the 7:30 pace I had initially planned.
As the race moved onto the tarmac I crept up on an older gentleman that seemed to be running my intended pace. I mumbled something about “5k or 10k?” but he had headphones in and didn’t notice me. I passed him too quickly, not doing a good job of holding back on my pace and turned into a very long straight-away into the wind on one of the runways. I slowly reeled in a couple runners along this stretch and unceremoniously passed them as my 2 mile mark read a 7:17 pace. Ouch! Although I had slowed down a little, I didn’t think it was enough. I was starting to notice the EFFORT I was putting in. Sweat was starting to flow at that point and though I could control my breathing, it was coming in heavy. One of the guys I passed at mile 2 was sounding like a steam locomotive trying to break inertia though… I hope he made it through his race OK.
I made a turn at 2.25 to start the gradual climb up the overpass. I was completely alone, with no one behind me in sight and a lone runner near the top of the rise before me. Some speakers set out by the road played some horrible pop-techno song from the early 90’s and I hope I never remember what it was.
At this point my run suddenly felt like a training run. If I have a hill in front of me, I push up it trying not to lose pace. If I see a runner in front of me, I can’t help but to try and catch up. I powered up that overpass and made up some good ground on my new runner-friend. He probably didn’t know I was creeping up on him, but he was my new runner-friend all the same. The downhill side of the overpass was pretty long and I had a hard time catching up to my runner-friend as we both used it to good advantage.
We entered the dirt track around mile 2.75 and were immediately greeted by a little hill. My runner-friend apparently didn’t like hills that much because I easily closed the gap on him and passed as we crested the rise. He had grey hair under his hat and was older than I thought. “Some good old fashioned trail running,” I said as I passed. “Takes you back to cross country,” he replied. I spouted back a “Yep!” but I was already rolling down the back side of the hill and leaving him behind. At the top of another, steeper hill mile 3 came and went. 7:06. Fuuuuuu…antastic!
I began to question what the heck I was doing. I was 3 miles and 21:25 into a 6.2 mile race. My PR for a 3.1 mile race is 21:24. While that’s maybe 40 seconds off, it was a blow to my rational brain. Mile 1 - not sustainable. Mile 2 - not sustainable. Mile 3 - not sustainable and FASTER than mile 2. I tried to slow down.
The course soon turned a corner and out in the distance I caught sight of two young runners, well ahead of me. Wow. This race was really spread out!
I was into mile 4 and really worried about my race. I had started out too fast and I couldn’t seem to let go of the pace no matter how my brain tried. I was quite certain my legs were going to give out on me before the end; it was simply too fast. An 8:30, and even an 8:00 pace is pretty leisurely, but a 7:00 pace is ACTIVE! I’m up on toes, ahead of the hips, in the air and driving the knees. Why was I doing this?
The two guys soon passed out of view and I was left to myself again. I was deep into mile 4 and my legs were feeling odd… weak. I passed the mile 4 marker and a guy with a stop-watch told me some numbers and that I was doing a good job. Soon after my Garmin beeped in with a 7:10 mile. 2 miles left, plus a little.
I was feeling a little sick. A little weak. My legs kept moving underneath me and didn’t seem to be a part of the mental conversation I was having. Up ahead, I could see that the two guys I had been chasing had split. One was gone, and the other was lagging and getting closer. I knew I was done pushing, but I set my sights on him.
He was a 1/4 mile ahead of me when we started the climb up the overpass and when we reached the top I had passed him. I tried offering some encouragement to him to see if he’d come with me, but he seemed spent. All the same… DAMN I can run a hill. Seriously, hills appear to be where I shine the most in every race.
The overpass downhill flowed into my 5 mile split ay 7:05, and my mind was pretty broken at that point. I had NO idea what I was doing or why I was still doing it. Most of me knew that the reason I was running as fast as I was, was because it was the speed I started off with. I had been flirting with disaster for over a mile, running almost as fast I was able to for 3 miles, and then holding it.
Man, that last mile… I ran. I held it. I think the 6:42 split tells a good tale there. I’m not sure I understand the 10k race yet, but…
My best 5k time is 21:24 and now my best 10k time is 42:41, 7 seconds faster than double my 5k. This is ridiculous.