I wrote last week about how I wasn't really aiming for a big goal at the Blessing Friday night. And I really hadn't been - until I saw that the weather forecast was calling for a high temperature of 75 and drier air. Then, I started thinking that maybe I could get a PR after all.
When you run a race on a Friday night at the end of July in New England, you expect it to be hot. And humid. And very uncomfortable for running. Which it has been every other year I've run this race.
But this year's weather was a gift, and I wasn't going to leave it unopened - I planned to take full advantage. I went from feeling very ambivalent to feeling really excited and anxious to get out there and see how my fitness had held up.
I also planned to NOT go out too fast. With a downhill start, and a field of nearly 3,000 runners, it's very tough to start this race conservatively, but I really, really wanted to hold back this year.
After Boston, I had three kind of crappy races in a row, and I've been feeling very unmotivated to race and uninspired to train for any races. So I knew that, more importantly than getting a PR, I wanted this to be a good race experience, which meant I didn't want to be gasping for air and wishing I could stop at the 2-mile mark.
I lined up relatively close to the front of the pack, but I did a pretty good job of not flying through the first mile. I was aiming for 7:40, and ran a 7:27. A little fast, but not nearly as speedy as last year's 7:17 first mile.
I very consciously made an effort to slow down just a tad for mile 2, and ran that in 7:33.
This route is such familiar territory for me, I could practically run it with my eyes closed. I know every dip and rise and twist and turn in the road, and there really is something nice about that. And I love the initial stretch down Ocean Road, when you know you're heading down toward the beach, and you can see the crowd of runners stretching out ahead of you.
It was definitely a much cooler night than anyone had expected, but the humidity levels had been creeping up throughout the day, and although it wasn't anywhere near oppressive, I was warming up quickly, and grabbed some water at the first couple of water stops. There are plenty of them in this race, and plenty of spectators, too, so I was happy to be running sans music, as usual - so nice to hear everyone cheering on the side of the road!
Mile 3 takes the runners past Scarborough Beach, and I went back to 7:27 for that nice, flat stretch, but then slowed down for mile 4 (7:38), which is one of the only real hills on the course.
I was really feeling good at this point. I certainly felt like I was making a good effort, but if I'm honest with myself, it felt more like a tempo run than race pace. And I think I knew that at the time, and I knew that I could maybe have been pushing myself a little more - but I also knew that even if I could just maintain this pace for the whole 10 miles, I'd still run the same time I ran last year, and I truly would have been happy with that.
So I didn't push it yet. The effort felt comfortably challenging, and I was good with that. Mile 5 and 6 - 7:35 and 7:34.
Mile 5 - 6 is mentally one of the toughest spots of the race - it's a 4-lane highway, and you can see the entire mile stretching out ahead of you. And instead of focusing on how fun it is to see all those runners ahead of you, all you can focus on is the fact that you have to run All. That. Way. - and then still run 4 more miles!
I know this, though, and I've run that stretch countless times - including on the second loop of Gansett, when I wanted nothing more than to curl up on the side of the road and pass out - and I knew I felt a million times better at this point than I had then, so I was doing just fine.
I was starting to get a little tired, though. The 'comfortably challenging' feeling was turning into just plain challenging. But once I made that turn off the highway, I felt better.
Got back down to 7:27 for mile 7, and this is one of my favorite parts of the course, as it runs through a nice shaded side street. It wasn't as important to have the shade on this cooler evening, but mentally, this is the part of the race where I always feel like it's time to kick it in and finish strong. This was also where a bunch of friends were out cheering for me and all the other runners from the running club, so that gave me a nice boost : )
Mile 8 was only a touch faster - 7:25 - but as we ran back past the starting line, and I knew there were only 2 miles to go, and I started doing the (very fuzzy) math in my head, I was pretty certain I'd be able to get a PR, so it was time to go after it.
What had previously been 'comfortably challenging,' and then 'challenging,' had now become 'oh my god this sucks' - but I wasn't about to throw in the towel now.
Mile 8 - 9 felt like it lasted FOREVER, but in reality, it took me 7:19.
And once I passed that 9-mile marker, I devoted all my energy to shortening my stride and increasing my turnover, and flying down that final downhill stretch. I heard a shout-out from someone just a couple hundred yards from the finish line, and turned to see that it was the kids' librarians from the local library - so fun to hear them cheer for me!
Mile 10 clocked in at 7:03 - nice little finishing kick : )
And so, with very little real training, I pulled off just over a one-and-a-half-minute PR, and ran the same pace for 10 miles that I ran for my current half-marathon PR last October. And I am very, very pleased with that.
What I'm even more pleased with, though, is that I finished a race feeling GOOD! I finished feeling proud of what I accomplished, and feeling tired, but strong (sounds impossible, but anyone who's ever run a race knows what I mean). And I finished thinking "yeah, parts of that sucked, but mostly, it was awesome!" That's how I like to feel after a race. I like to feel like the suffering was worth it, because in the end, it worked out ok.
After those three not-so-great races this spring and early summer, I needed this. I needed a good one. And I'm glad I got it.
And of course now that I've had a little taste of success, I'm ready to get back into training mode. Because I know if I can manage a pace like that for 10 miles with little to no preparation, then a few months of consistent speedwork and tempo runs will definitely get me the shiny new half-marathon PR I'm hoping for in October.
Break time is over - ready to get back to work!
The final numbers -
7:30 pace (a 7:27 pace, according to my Garmin - hmmmm.....)
8th of 320 in my age group (tremendously proud of this, as this is a very, very competitive race!)
352 of nearly 3,000 overall
And just as an aside - we were treated to this spectacular double rainbow shortly after finishing. A very fitting end to the evening.
Photo courtesy of South Kingstown Patch.