Here is the summary, in case you are pressed for time: everything went great about this race, except for the finishing time. Which is, in hindsight (the kind you get after 7 hours and two glasses of wine), probably what I should have expected. But I like to dream big, even when said dreams are not actually grounded in reality. Reality was 45:20. Dream was better than last year's 43:54.
Here is the long version: I try to run this race every year. I ran it twice (I think--this is sort of pre-internet at the start) when I was in grad school in Boston. I think I didn't run it again until I came back to MA for my current job--I ran it the year after having my first child (pumped at a friend's apartment on Beacon Hill, did the race, came back and pumped again before heading home), skipped the year I was hugely pregnant with my 2nd child, and have done it ever since. I love this race. I love that it is often the US 10K championship, so when I am headed out toward the BU bridge on Memorial drive, I run right past the best runners in the country (and sometimes in the world). I love that it is flat and fast. I love that once I saw Bill Rodgers cheering for us on Charles Street. I love that it covers ground I ran all the time when I was in grad school--it feels like home to me. I love that it successfully combines an elite race with a huge horde of women, many of whom are far from elite, and creates a race that works for all of us. There were supposedly over 8,000 starters today, and except for a bit of a clusterf*** getting to my starting corral, it didn't matter--I had clear ground from the start (they have seeding that actually works if you're seeding yourself faster than 8-minute pace).
And of course, I love that this is the site of my all-time 10K PR, which is by far the PR I'm most proud of, and of course I am just dying to tell you it: 41:13 in 1994. It was the result of massive (for me) mileage, training for cross country with wicked fast runners in a Boston running club, and it came out of nowhere and felt easy. And then I overtrained myself into a vicious knee injury, but that's a (boring) story for another day (or maybe for never, come to think of it). I dream of getting back to that time.
But you know, my race today FELT just like that race. It was about 4 minutes slower, as it turns out, but it felt the same--kind of effortless through 4 miles, then putting the hammer down progressively for the last 2, complete with a totally respectable finishing kick. That the end result wasn't quite what I'd hoped for has got to be just a result of where I am in my training, so I'm accepting that and moving on.
Here's how it went down. I drove into Boston this morning and got to my favorite parking garage just after 10. I had my yearly conversation with the parking attendant about how, since it's a holiday, they really ought to offer holiday rates ($12 for the day instead of $39 for anything over 3 hours). He pointed to all the other cars, and said, "Lots of people are working." "The state offices are closed," I pointed out. "My husband works for the state. He has the day off." (Which is why, as we have this discussion, he's at home with 2 children under 8, settling in for a day of fun and bickering.) We amiably agreed to disagree, I locked all my valuables in the car, and headed off to the Boston common.
Somehow, in a race with 8,000+ runners, number pickup is always a breeze there. I got my stuff, found a shady spot, and sat down to people watch for the better part of 45 minutes. I took a photo for two mothers who were about to do the race, each with a stroller containing multiple children. I drank Heed. I stretched lightly. I used my favorite bank of Porta-potties, though I was slightly disappointed to see that, unlike in years past, other runners seem to have figured out that this bank exists. A little after 11, I started my warmup, which again included some interval stuff, since apparently my body likes that. I ate a caffeinated gel. And then at "first call for 7-minute pace," I headed up to Beacon Street.
Where the aforementioned clusterf*** was in full force. It's always a madhouse, but this year part of the herd decided to scale the grass hill and climb over the railing to the one staircase they let you out of, so it was worse than usual. No biggie--I figured they wouldn't start the race without us, and once I got up to Beacon Street, it wasn't hard to cross to the other side and jog down the sidewalk to my corral. On the way there, out of 8,000+ runners, I managed to bump into a friend from my hometown and say hi and good luck to her.
I found my corral, which was as usual sparsely populated (plenty of women will seed themselves at 8:00 pace, but apparently 7:00 pace scares people off. As it should have me, apparently), just as the Boston City Singers launched into the national anthem. And then we started.
For the first mile I was supposed to keep my HR at the top of Z4 (in a Frielesque sense of the word). I tend to go out too fast, and my HR also takes awhile to equilibrate, so this was good advice. I went through Mile 1 in 7:05 and felt terrific.
My instructions were then to keep my HR in Z5a through Mile 5. This required me to IGNORE everyone around me--I got passed a lot in the next couple miles. But it actually felt like the right 10K pace to me--pretty easy, but quick. I felt like I was running 7's. In fact, into a headwind, I was running more like 7:30's. But I didn't actually know this, because since I had a HR plan, I ignored the splits. This took a little doing--no looking at the clocks, no listening for the time that was called out, and no looking at my watch except to occasionally check the HR. I had some idea I wasn't quite at 7-minute pace, but I really did let go of it. Last year I had specific splits in mind, and it nearly made me bleed out my ears, because with the headwind I would increase effort, watch the split go up, and go nuts. This resulted in my dropping a 6:40 around Mile 4, which didn't do much for my Mile 5 and Mile 6 splits. So I resolved to ignore the output and focus on the input for a change.
Just before mile 3 we turned around so we now had a tailwind. I figured this would impact my splits in a positive way. Ha. I ran another 7:30ish mile. Not that I knew this at the time. For most of the first 3 miles, people (women, in most cases--though there are a few guys who run this, oddly enough) passed me fairly regularly. I just let it go. And then when I got to the Mile 4 marker, and I still felt really good, I increased my effort. Not a ton--my average HR for that mile went up only 2 bpm--but enough that I started passing people back as we went over the Mass Ave bridge. I also knew that they take some of the race photos here, so I was inspired to stand up straight and not look like a pathetic slacker.
When I hit Mile 5, I gave it everything I had, as per my instructions. It hurt, but in a good way--I knew I could keep it up, and by this point I was passing people pretty regularly. I passed back a lot of the women who'd passed me in mile 2 and 3, and that felt good--I truly felt like, if I'd gone out faster, I would have been one of them instead of me. No one passed me after Mile 4. Two of my friends came out to cheer me on along Commonwealth Ave--I had hoped they would, so I was looking out for them. (To be honest, 2 years ago I went out way too fast and felt like total s*** at this point, so I was, um, fairly grumpy when I saw them, which made me wonder if they'd ever come back to cheer me on again. But one of them is still paying back her karmic debt for not coming to cheer me on when I ran the Boston Marathon in 1995, so I guess she had no choice, even though she's 6 or 7 months pregnant. Thanks, Rebecca!) I had enough energy to wave, and to flip them off when one of them yelled, "Run faster!" Which amused all the other spectators.
The finish of this race, if you haven't done it, is a festival of long straights. First you have the long straight down Commonwealth, where you can count down the blocks by the alphabetical cross streets. Although today I actually felt so good, I didn't even do this--I just focused on the green blur of the Public Garden in the distance and tried to mow down the runners between me and there. Then there's the short bit on Arlington, a short bit on Boylston, and the long straight down Charles. I worked hard at "chunking" the finish--that's a term I think I read on the USAT website about dividing your effort up into manageable chunks, though I like how it also evokes the feeling one has during the last mile or so of truly wanting to, um, chunk. But today I just focused on one piece at a time. When I made the turn onto Arlington, apparently I had just passed someone named Annie, because someone cheered for her and said, "Only 2 turns left." I focused on that, and made myself accelerate at each turn. (Which is a relative term here--turns out my big surge at Mile 4 had given me a 7:20 5th mile.)
When I hit Charles, I picked it up once more and focused on the crosswalk about halfway down. I told myself I would do one final pickup there. And when I did, I passed yet another woman who had passed me earlier. And she responded and passed me back. I kind of laughed, because I was so surprised (although I suspect at this point in the race, it sounding more like chunking), and then I dug down and passed her back. And when I say "dug down," I mean that I really had to do that thing where you kind of dip your head down to accelerate. Only maybe you don't do that. And I really hope they didn't snap a picture then--I know they get pictures down that last straight, and those have never been my most flattering ones--but pretty or not, I found that extra gear, passed that woman, and passed one more as well. I definitely have an ego thing about my kick, and it's almost certainly unjustified at this point in my life. But I still have the mindset, if not the actual fast-twitch muscle, of a middle distance runner, so it's kind of a point of pride that no one should beat me on a finishing kick. For me the trick is to commit to it in the first place, but once I've done that, I'm all in. Someday soon I'm going to try this out on a 25-year old and it's not going to go well for me.
And then I almost took out Joan Benoit Samuelson. Because the other thing I love about this race is that Joan runs it, kicks most of our asses, then stands at the finish line and high fives all us pedestrian types as we cross. I have been known to gush incoherently, "You're my hero!" because she totally is. I started my running career, such as it is, in the early 80's, so I kind of grew up with Joanie. I also went to a NESCAC school, just like she did. And there the similarities end. But she is just. Freaking. Awesome. She ran the Chicago Marathon yesterday--in 2:47:50!--and then ran today's race in what was for her a fairly slow time (40 minutes and change), then took up her usual high fiving position. And because I finished with a hard acceleration across the line, I hit her hand, um, a little hard. But you know, despite her elvish looks and what I figure is about a 40-pound differential between us, she's actually quite tough (hence, you know, the 2:47 marathon yesterday), so she absorbed it without incident. Phew.
Final 1.2 miles: just a hair over 7:00 pace. Average pace: 7:18/mile.
I think I've said enough about the meta-analysis of my total time. But I will also say this: I read blogs of other runners, and I am totally inspired by them, and these other runners write of immense amounts of suffering they undergo during races. As I mentioned above, I am a former (now REALLY former) middle distance runner. I ran cross country, but frankly, I sucked at it, because I have never been good at that suffering thing. I am actually a much better distance runner now than I was in college, because despite the 40-year-old body, I've gotten a little better at suffering. (And no, it's not the whole childbirth thing--I had an epidural both times.) And although I was generally kind of a mediocre middle distance runner, when I did race well, it was because I could tolerate suffering for like 2-5 minutes, max. I can tolerate a lot during that time, and at one point I had some leg speed to go with it.
But if I am truly suffering at Mile 2 of a 10K, it's just not going to happen. I want to be tough, and I want to be able to be all Zone 5b or 5c for the whole thing, but it just ain't happening. When I ran 41:13 (oh, did I already mention that time? Silly me), it felt effortless. Only in a sense, obviously--had it truly been effortless, I would have stepped it up and broken 41 minutes. I gave that race everything I had that day, and I feel like I gave my race today the same. But for me, that means a gradual build--when I do that, I have the legs, stomach and lungs to give it all for the last mile or so. When I don't, I am what the kids today would call a hot mess.
Maybe this is an excuse, although I do think there's something to the science of HR zones and what anyone can sustain for a given length of time. But for me, the path to getting faster is simply to increase the speed I can go in those zones, as pedestrian and unexciting as that sounds. When I run well, it really is a weird combination of effortless and hard, until the last mile, when it's just hard. But fun. In a sort of chunky way.