After the incredible physical and mental challenges I faced down in Jamestown a few weeks ago, I told myself that even if it was a really hot and humid night, the Blessing of the Fleet 10-miler was going to feel easy in comparison. And I really did believe that, and I was confident that I was going to walk away from the race with a PR.
Then I saw the weather forecast, and I knew that the only way I would't PR was if something went horribly wrong. The day's high was predicted to be 80 degrees, with unusually low humidity. Warm, but not hot, and blissfully, wonderfully dry - you can't ask for much better than that in late July in New England.
I had every intention of getting to the start early, but misjudged the amount of traffic there would be, and ended up dashing over to the starting line with just 10 minutes to spare. Clearly an improvement over being 20 minutes late like I was in Jamestown, but not quite the relaxed pre-race routine I had hoped for. It was fine, though - I was ready to go, so it may have been better to not have a lot of time pacing around anxiously.
I was so nervous standing at the starting line. I felt like I should be able to run between a 7:20 and 7:25 pace, but you never know what's going to happen until you're actually out there getting it done.
Going out too fast is a big problem at most races, but even more so at this one. The first mile is mostly a slight downhill, and the energy of the crowd and the pack of runners is overwhelming, and it's so, so easy to get caught up in it and burn yourself out before you've even gotten started.
I did a decent job, though, and my first two miles were both 7:20 - maybe not holding back, but definitely not going too fast. As I expected, the 7:20s felt great for miles 1 and 2 - I felt like I could run that pace forever. I knew that feeling would fade, but I figured I'd enjoy it while it lasted.
I ran with music in Jamestown, but decided not to for this race. The crowds at this one are so great, and I knew there were at least a few people who would be out there cheering for me, and I wanted to hear them :-)
I had planned to try to keep a consistent, moderate pace for the first 3 or 4 miles, and then see how I was feeling and see if I could pick it up at all. I wasn't looking at my watch too often, but I was checking my splits at each mile mark, and I was happy to see 7:22 for mile 3 and 7:23 for mile 4, and 7:22 for mile 5.
My legs just felt locked into that pace, and it wasn't feeling easy, but it wasn't feeling any more challenging than any tempo run I've done the past few weeks, so I was doing ok. Miles 5 and 6 are the worst on the course, though - a stretch that runs along a secondary highway that's just a long, boring, hot stretch of road. Thankfully it wasn't all that hot this year, but it was as boring and seemingly endless as ever.
I've run that stretch of road countless times on training runs, but no matter how prepared you are for it, it still sucks. But I knew I had to just put my head down and keep moving and get through it, and once I turned off that road, I'd be on one of my favorite stretches of the course.
Mile 6 was actually my slowest of the entire race - 7:27 - but it didn't concern me. I was getting tired, but I also knew I was more than halfway there, and only had a few miles to go.
As we headed into the shady, wooded area on Kinney Ave, I breathed a sigh of relief. This is very much a turning point in the race for me. It's when the fatigue sets in, but it's also when you're nearing the end, so you know it's time to push the fatigue aside and just get it done.
I desperately wanted to stop and walk at a water stop during this mile, but I felt like stopping would make it worse, so I opted to grab my water on the run, as I had been doing all along. I was only taking a couple small sips each time, but it felt like enough, since it wasn't too hot.
Getting some amazingly awesome cheers from one of my friends just around the mile 7 mark gave me a big boost, which was helped along by a little downhill stretch to the next corner, where there were some huge crowds and another friend yelling my name.
But as we turned that corner and headed toward the mile 8 mark, I wanted so badly to be done. I was exhausted, and my legs were not happy to still be running. I started having to remind myself that no matter how tired I was, mile 8 of a 10-mile race is NOT the time to slow down.
And I didn't. Mile 8 - 7:15 - even with a little hill in there. It really is a very small hill, but it comes at a very bad time and can definitely take the wind out of your sails. I kept pushing, though, knowing that mile 9 was right around the corner. When I heard the beep for mile 9, I looked down to see 7:13 on my watch. The thought that went through my head at that point was - "well, that explains why this hurts so much."
Then it was time to ignore the watch and just run. Like I tell myself in every race - it doesn't matter what the watch says at that point - the last mile is just about pouring your heart and soul into it and running as fast as you can, and it will either be good enough, or it won't - but I don't need a watch to tell me when I'm doing that. I know full well when I'm giving it my absolute all, and that's exactly what I did, and it did turn out to be good enough - good enough for a 7:04 mile 10, a 1:14:11 finish, and a PR.
There is no doubt in my mind that I left it all on the course for this race. I ran the absolute best race I was capable of running, and I'm pleased with the results. I always wish I could have run faster, but I'm happy that I was able to run as fast as I did - and as fast as I thought I would be able to run.
I'm even more pleased, though, with the fact that my splits were so incredibly consistent. Even pacing is not an easy thing to pull off, and it's always great when you're able to do it. And to top it off with negative splits for those last 3 miles - that's just the icing on the cake.
I love this race, and I love that I've set a new PR every single year that I've run it. The 10-mile distance is a fun one, and a great challenge, and I'm glad to have this event to test myself at this distance once a year.
The final numbers -
1:14:11 (official times say I ran 1:14:23, but I am going by my Garmin, because I know I started and stopped it the second I crossed the mats, and what was posted as my official time is actually my gun time, not my chip time - so when I run next year, 1:14:11 will be the time to beat)
6 of 330 in my age group
292 of 2881 overall
Another great year, and one of the highlights of my summer racing, but I'm also glad it's done, because now that this race and Jamestown are behind me, it's time to move on. Philly training begins next week, and I'm incredibly nervous, but incredibly excited, too.
I hemmed and hawed about creating my own training plan, but in the end, I decided to stick with the tried and true, and am returning to Run Less, Run Faster. But this time, the goal time is a rather scary 3:25.
Three hours and 25 minutes. Which equals a 7:50 pace. For 26.2 miles. It's daunting.
But I honestly believe it's within reach. I wouldn't go after it if I didn't.
And as I think about how scary (but exciting) that sounds to me right now, I can't help but think about how the 3:45 I was aiming for in Hartford 3 years ago felt exactly the same. It seems crazy to me to think about how far I've come in just a few years, yet I can still remember precisely what it felt like when I stood in downtown Hartford on that chilly race morning, looking at the arch that I'd finish under a few hours later.
I was driving around doing errands today, listening to music in the car, and I had hit shuffle on my iPhone and "Lose Yourself" by Eminem came on - a song I haven't heard in years, but a song that was at the top of my playlist for Hartford, and the song that I listened to as I stood waiting around for the race to start that morning 3 years ago.
And when it came on today, and I heard the words that resonated with me so much that year, and that almost instantly turned my nervous anxiety into fierce determination, I was covered with goosebumps. "So here I go it's my shot, feet fail me not, this may be the only opportunity that I got."
Yes, I know this isn't necessarily the only opportunity I'll ever have to go after a 3:25 marathon, just like that wasn't my only opportunity to go after a BQ - but at that moment, and at this moment, it's good to think of it that way. This is my shot, and I need to go after it with everything I've got.
It may be hard for some people to understand how passionate I am about my goals. I know I'll never win a race, and I'll never be anything other than a recreational runner - but when I look back and see those race results, and that tangible proof that I can accomplish so much more than I ever would have thought possible - there's just so much pride and joy and satisfaction in that; it's difficult to put into words.
So now the journey begins again. The journey to my sixth marathon finish line - in a new city, and hopefully with a new PR. I've got my work cut out for me, and it isn't going to be easy - but that hasn't stopped me yet.