This past Sunday, I ran my first race of 2016: NYRR’s Spring Classic 10-K. Normally, I wouldn’t pay to run in Central Park, but the entry fee was only $10. (It was open only to NYRR members, and there weren’t t-shirts, medals, etc. ) And that’s a cheap pricetag for quality racing experience. Also, Earl and Coach Pat wanted a check-in race to gauge my running fitness.
No photos during the race, of course–I snapped this one as I cooled down.
Of course, I wanted a strong showing, but Earl and Coach Pat made it very clear the main objective was executing the race plan and running on feel (i.e. not shooting for a PR). With this in mind, we decided that although I would turn on my Garmin to capture data, I would not look at my watch during the race. Running is extremely mental for me. Although I’m becoming fitter, faster, and stronger, seeing certain values (read: anything in the sevens) intimidates me and makes me second guess whether I can sustain the pace. And as we determined from my splits below, thank GAWD I didn’t look at my watch.
Mile #1 – 7:56 – “Let it happen”
The opening mile contained Harlem Hill, so we figured this would be my slowest mile of the race. I didn’t complete a long enough warm-up, so I was still finding my rhythm here, and I was pleasantly surprised how smooth I felt while climbing the hill. Thanks to my Sunday Snowman Challenge, I’ve run Harlem Hill frequently so I knew how to pace it: I broke it up into three sections and gradually increased the effort as I neared the top. “Let [the first mile] happen,” Earl advised. “It was going to be what it’s going to be.”
Mile #2 – 7:43 and mile #3 – 7:32 – “Let the course do the work.”
A few days before the race, Earl and I talked strategy, and he said it was important to let the course do the work. That meant absorbing the “punches” on the uphills and making the necessary cadence adjustments and then smoothing out the effort on the downhills. My mantra during these two miles along the West Side Rollers was “let the course do the work” and “smooth, strong, and controlled.” If I had seen my splits during these two miles, especially the 7:32, I would’ve freaked out and eased off the gas—I didn’t and continued to run on feel.
Mile #4 – 7:58
With Cat Hill coming up, I ran the little hill conservatively. This was also the point in the race the lactic acid started to make itself known in my legs.
Mile #5 – 8:07 – “Hang on”
Dun, dun, duuuun: Cat Hill. Like Harlem Hill, I broke it into three sections, but struggled to find the next gear as I neared the top. In hindsight, this was the race’s TKO punch. My legs felt dunzo, and although “hang on” was not the most positive mindset, that’s exactly what I was doing.
Mile #6 – 7:45 – “I’m dragging.”
Again, I’m really glad I did not look at my watch. My legs felt heavy, and I felt like I was running through molasses; it felt like a 9:00 min./mi. pace. It’s important to run your own race, but around this time, I listened to the people alongside of me; they were totally gassed. I was still breathing easily. And that’s been the story of my running life—feeling the burn in my legs and not my lungs.
Last bit – 2:04
As per usual, I was feeling a lot of feelings when I finished. I was surprised with my average pace because it felt like I was running 7:40-7:45 throughout—which, if you take out the Cat Hill mile, is exactly what happened. It also gives me confidence to know that when I thought I was “dragging” I was actually fine and running a 7:45. It comes down to dialing in my mental game and trusting myself. As Earl said post-race, becoming a better racer physically is the easy part—the challenge is getting your mind to catch up.
How do you power through tough workouts and races?