On the weekend I ran my first 10K race in London Ontario’s annual Run for Retina Research (which also has a 5K and a half marathon) and what a great time I had. I’ve been working up to this race for months, sticking it out through the polar vortex of a winter we had.
But I hadn’t done much very recent training. Since the 13K long run more than a month ago when my left knee started giving me grief, I’ve taken it easy. I managed two slow 8Ks with the run club (hanging happily at the back with my running friend, Fatima) for the two Sundays before the race, but not without knee pain and not with a lot of other mileage each week. So I had reason to be uncertain (not exactly nervous) about how the race would go.
The weather cooperated, with some cloud cover and a warm-ish morning. It was mild enough for shorts and a light long sleeved T that I could wrap around my waist if I needed to go down to the tank top underneath. It was the first morning this season I could leave the house for a run without gloves.
The race started down in Harris Park at the Forks of the Thames (yes, our little London has a Thames, even a Covent Garden Market!). Sam was running the 5K at 9:45 and I ran into her about 10 minutes before my race began at 9:30. She too had concerns about her left knee.
Pre-race is such an exciting time. There’s always a palpable anticipation in the air and everyone is in a good mood. The half marathoners headed out at 8:30 and I would see some of them run past me a but later when they came back from the other direction and overlapped the 10K route.
I had a simple strategy and goal. Stick to the 10-1 run-walk system I’d learned and practiced in the 10K training clinic I did with the Running Room through the winter. My goal was a modest 70 minute 10K. If you’re not a runner, you can get an idea of just how modest by this: the announcer asked the people who were going to finish in 30-35 minutes to go to the front of the pack at the starting line!
I tuned to Fatima, ‘People actually finish in 30-35 minutes?!’ Seriously, that’s a good 5K time for me. These folks are twice as fast as I am. But they weren’t my competition.
I have a specific goal, which is to be able to do the 10K run of my Olympic distance triathlon in August in under 70 minutes. If I’m going to do that after swimming 1.5K and biking for 40K, I need to be able to do it by itself. Actually, the coach says I should be able to do 15K if I want to do a comfortable 10 in the triathlon.
At least 200 people crowded at the starting line, maybe more. I stayed near the back. My timing chip would only start timing me once I crossed the inflated red arch over the start/finish line. Just seconds before the race began, I took off the long sleeved T-shirt and tied it around my waist. Good call — it got hot quickly.
After a slow start as everyone jostled for a position and before we all spread out, I found my rhythm. I wanted to maintain a 6 minute 30-45 second/km pace for my 10s, and I didn’t pay much attention to the pace on my 1-minute walks (probably a mistake, in hindsight).
I ran with music this time, which turned out to be my undoing in the end. It kept me company, but the playlist needs refreshing. I skipped through too many songs and the music stopped just when I needed it most — in the last kilometre!
Overall, I had an energetic run at a comfortable pace. I engaged in quite a bit of self talk to try pushing myself at times. I hate being out of breath, but I kept reminding myself that it’s not like it would kill me. And, as cliche as it is, learning to be uncomfortable will make me stronger.
The spring in my step gave way to a more labored and ambling effort at the turnaround. Not once did I think I wouldn’t do it, I just questioned whether I would do it in under 70 minutes. My Garmin Forerunner told me that my pace had slowed in the second half. Everything I’ve ever learned about the benefits of negative splits came back to me, and I tried to pick up the pace.
The water stations didn’t help much. I mean, I felt grateful to have the water, but I can’t run and drink. So every time I hit a water station and wanted to drink I had to walk through. I wasn’t with a crowd of people most of the time so I have no clue whether this is the same for everyone. I found it awkward.
I have been experimenting with gels. After 20 minutes I popped a Vega sport endurance gel. I should have done the other one 20 minutes later but I opted against.
A little before the turnaround the half marathoners started to pass us. Every time one of them did, I thanked the Universe that I’d only signed up for 10K.
My legs began feeling heavy with about 2K to go (it was hard to tell because–and this is the one criticism I have this otherwise excellent race–all the markers after the turnaround gave the half marathon distances, not the 10K distances). My mind started telling me the time didn’t matter that much. I recalled a study that said the mind bails out long before the body needs to. That helped me push a bit harder.
If I really pushed the last 1.5K, my watch said, I would make it in about 70 minutes. But that would mean going all out for longer than I ever had before. Then the music stopped. It was a toss up. I could forget the music but I worried that it would slow my pace. So I slowed to a walk, fiddled with the iPhone to get the music going again, and hoofed it as fast as I could through the final stretch.
Time: 70 minutes and 40 seconds. The 40 seconds longer than my goal was just about the time I spent messing around with my music. Silly, silly. Next time I’ll be better prepared. Ideally, I should probably just leave the music alone altogether. I train without it most of the time anyway.
I met Sam at the finish line. She made her 5K but her knee had a rough time. The sun came out. Fatima finished not far behind me despite her back pain. Our friend, Azar, who’d done the 5K, found us. We took a few photos. Everyone felt good about their race.
What I’ll do differently next time:
1. Take my water belt. The bottles are easier to drink from than paper cups, and I can time my own water to coincide with my walk breaks rather than having to slow down at the water stations.
2. Run without music or have an extra long playlist with very zippy music the entire time. No ballads.
3. If I’m running with music and the playlist ends, keep going without it!
4. Do some hill training and more interval training to build speed and stamina (as well as comfort instead of dread on hills).
5. Run the 10K in under 70 minutes. I know I can.
Next up: the Cambridge Triathlon (750m swim, 30km bike, 6km run), Sunday, June 15th.
P.S. No knee pain!