Another weekend, another race in Brooklyn. This past Sunday, I ran around Prospect Park not once, not twice, but three times for the Cherry Tree 10 Miler.
Rabbits who run!
Originally scheduled for February, this “race for the hardcore” gets a great turnout thanks to its versatility: You can cover the 10 miles as a three-person relay (which I did last year) or as an individual. Also, the swag is solid. Last year, we received fleece-lined Buffs; a few weeks ago, we got singlets. Yes, for a winter race.
Far from wintery, though, the weather was perfect: sunny, around 45 degrees Fahrenheit, plus no snow, slush, or ice. And even though I thrive in the cold, these conditions were ideal—especially for executing my race plan. Coach Pat passed along my target splits, and our goal was to start off slightly fast, settle in for a few miles, then build the effort and finish strong. Unlike the four miler a few weeks ago, I wouldn’t be heading into the paincave until late in the race, and I knew this would be a challenge for me mentally: being disciplined enough to cruise, run easy, and stick to the plan, especially since as a short-course triathlete, I associate the good kind of discomfort with doing work; and that feeling wouldn’t surface until mile eight.
Another factor I sort of failed to consider centered on the course: three loops. Three mind-numbing loops of a short, three-ish mile route with one gradual hill. Granted, I was prepared to deal with the hill, but I underestimated how mentally taxing it would be to run in a circle three times. Case in point: During the third loop, I had to work harder to maintain focus and prevent those mental slip-ups.
Anyway, here’s the best way to break it down:
Miles 1 and 2 (7:46 and 8:10) – ‘Easy, Red. Ease into it.’
My primary focus during these opening miles was not to go out too fast (semi-accomplished?) and feel things out. My legs felt pretty good, and I knew a solid outing was feasible if I stuck to the plan …
Miles 3-5 (all 8:0X) – ‘Settle in. Discipline. Smooth and strong … and smart.’
… but then I hit mile three and was tempted to throw the plan out the window. ‘What if I hit my off-the-bike pace now? I feel good!’ To talk myself down, I added “and smart” to my mantra. Also, a friend/fellow EduRunner was doing the race, and told me he would be running easy. Our easy paces are not the same (read: I’m a bit faster), so I was confused when he passed me, and I was maintaining something between easy and steady for me. It became a mind game, and it took a lot of effort to keep my brain turned off and simply run my race.
Miles 6-8 (all 8:0X, except when I hit the hill for the third time; that was 8:13) – ‘Smooth and strong.’
I thought about taking off my long-sleeved Philadelphia Half-Marathon shirt, but ultimately decided I didn’t want to blink anyone with my paleness.
Miles 9-10 (7:30 and ?) – ‘Here we go! Smooth and strong off the bike!’
I tried not to look at my watch because honestly, seeing anything in the seven-minute ballpark still freaks me out. (I know, I know; don’t become emotionally attached to the numbers.) There was some pain, but there was also a strong finish, so I’ll take it!
Official time – 1:19:39 (7:58 min./mi.)
And I was that runner/triathlete who asked 30 seconds post-race if anyone wanted to swim. Who am I?! Oh yeah, #wannabeswimmer.
In all seriousness, though, these two Prospect Park races give me confidence heading into South Beach. For the four miler, I was able to run smart, hang tough, and execute the plan for the most part. And the same goes for this past weekend; I ran my race (slash solid training run), stuck to the plan, and finished feeling strong (and was back biking and running the next day).
What are your tricks for staying mentally focused?