On Sunday morning I ran the 10K in the Forest City Road Races. What a great event! The weather gods cooperated with a sunny morning and moderate temperatures. The usual race-day buzz filled the air. And I loved the route–familiar roads well-supported with police at intersections, guides to point us in the right direction, and cheering squads along the way.
I went in with a modest goal: to beat my last 10K time enough to take me in under 70 minutes. To know just how modest that actually is: the top finishers get to the end of the race in less than half that time!
I have a watch-style GPS that tells me my pace. I knew going in that if I could maintain an under 7 minutes a kilometre pace, I should be able to beat my previous time. I met up with Sam’s friend Helen at the starting line. She said she planned to run at her usual pace, which typically brings her in at around 66 minutes. The only difference is that her race plan doesn’t include walk-breaks. Mine so far is all about the 10-1 run/walk system I learned at my 10K clinic.
I also had a new strategy on the table on Sunday. Are you ready? Here it is: push myself! Sam laughs when I tell her that I don’t like feeling uncomfortable. But it’s true. Most of all, I get a bit panicky when I feel out of breath. This makes her laugh even harder. “How can someone who races etc. not want to be out of breath or uncomfortable?”
True, pushing ourselves to discomfort seems to be what racing is all about. That’s why race day is not the day for the slow, easy run. No. Race pace is another thing entirely. In my case, I just haven’t done enough races to know what my race pace is. But I set out on Sunday prepared to push beyond my usual running comfort zone.
This strategy started to materialize during the Run for Retina. During that race, I engaged in quite a bit of reassuring self-talk along the lines of “it’s okay to be out of breath. Push yourself a bit harder. The end isn’t all that far away.” That sort of thing.
In the two weeks between these races, I consciously adopted it as my race strategy. I would ignore that voice that wants to stop at the first sign of discomfort and push harder instead.
Running alongside Helen during the first ten minutes I felt strong and energetic. When my timer told me it was time to walk, I ignored it and committed to running through to the next walk break, 11 minutes from then. By the time that one came around, I felt as if I could probably run through it too. But we weren’t even half way yet. I didn’t want to sabotage my goal by hitting a wall from pushing myself too hard too early in the race.
I watched Helen trot away from me. Her neon pink top kept me on pace when I resumed my run less than a minute later. I amended the 10-1 plan a bit, never taking the full minute for walking. I just walked enough to take a few sips of water.
That was the other element in my race strategy on Sunday: bring my own water and drink when I felt like it, out of bottles that were easy to sip from. That paper cup thing at the water stations just doesn’t work for me.
At the halfway point, I could still see Helen. My pace stayed in the range it needed to be for me to hit my goal. I hauled out some of the focusing techniques I read about when I was studying up on chi running. One is to keep your eyes fixed on a high point way in the distance — the top of a tree works best for me. Another that I like is to think of your feet coming off the ground the way self-sticking postage stamps peel up off of their backing. When I do that, my ankles always loosen and relax. Finally, I remembered that the chi running folks say to tilt the whole body slightly forward, sharpening the tilt when you want to pick up speed.
All this kept me much more focused and present than music ever has. I am pleased at my decision to leave the music at home on race day.
So all that, as well as regular glances at the pace on my watch, kept me focused on what I was doing. Meanwhile, each kilometre was well-marked. So I knew as I came up to the 8K mark that if I could maintain my pace and not take up the next walk, I’d make my goal.
When I came into the home stretch, with less than a kilometer to go, the route took us past the Symposium Cafe on Central Ave. Renald and my mother-in-law and our friend, Peter, were standing outside to cheer me on. Renald, who had been planning to meet me at the finish line at 11:10 (because I told him that’s about when I’d be crossing, and I had admitted to him the day before that it would mean a lot to me to have him there), yelled out, “You’re early!”
I picked up my pace for the final two blocks. I felt a bit tired, but coming into the home stretch of the race, running on Wellington down the long side of Victoria Park, I let my strategy kick in. I no longer had to worry that I would hit a wall before the finish line. The line was just around the corner.
I approached the arch and heard “Hey Honey!” in what sounded like Renald’s voice. But he’d just been at the Symposium, so how could it be him? When I crossed, the clock said 1:08:08! Yay for me! It’s times like that that you really do wish to have someone you know there to share the moment with you.
As I stopped down to get my medal, Renald shouted out again from the sidelines. He’d run down from the restaurant to meet me and take pictures.
All in all, it was a really fabulous morning. I implemented the things I’d learned from the last race: bring my own water and leave the music behind. And best of all, I embraced the idea of discomfort on race day.
Next time, I’m going to get even more uncomfortable. I’m feeling hungry for an even faster time. New goal: sub-65 minute 10K.