Monday, August 30, 2010

Annapolis 10 miler

Yesterday marked my first running of the Annapolis 10 Mile Run (A10). Even though I live in the town and have been running the distance for over a year and a half, this was the first year I felt confident enough to take it on, and even then I was still anxious about it even until the race was underway. It is a very fast race, technically requiring a 12 minute per mile pace. I had no real time goal in mind. I hoped not to exceed 2:15, not knowing how my body would react to the combination of hills, heat, and humidity.

The A10 is legendary in the area, perhaps part of my initial intimidation about doing it. This year marked the 35th anniversary, and it has been recognized by Runner's World as one of to 10 milers in the country to run. I almost felt like I was going through some kind of initiation right or something.

I actually slept til about 5:30. Not knowing what traffic would be like near Navy-Marine Corps Stadium (where start and finish are), I wanted to be on my way there around 6:30. Fortunately it's only about a 10 minute drive for me, and the parking staff had everyone moving very well. By 6:45 I was with my Looper buddies Jen, Sean, and Margaret, as well as Sean's sister, Heather, who came to town to join us in our craziness. We hit the bathroom and then stood around and waited for the 7:45 start. Why a race in late August starts that late in the morning I will never understand. Even the Frederick Marathon/Half Marathon started at 6:30 and that is in early May. We got pretty lucky on the weather, it was around 70 degrees at the start, with humidity equal to that or a bit higher.

We squeezed into a spot at the start. I think we were kind of in the middle of the 5,000 runner pack. Definitely far more forward than I am generally comfortable with, but there was not a whole lot of choices in the sea of humanity. Plus, the area where the start/finish is has horrible drainage and a small pond had formed from the hoses being use to fill water cups for after the race. Last year I had to run through a river in the same spot at the start of the Zooma 10K. The start came and it took us nearly 5 minutes to cross thanks to the crowds and manuevering around the water.

The first mile took us around the stadium complex. I felt like the pace around me was pretty good, but it was far too crowded for me to do intervals, so I ran the first 1/2 mile+ nonstop until things spread out a bit. We headed towards the historic downtown area. The first water stop was around the mile and half point, and conveniently across the street from my office, lol. We continued on towards the State House and hit the mile two mark. Someone trying to help cheer everyone kept saying "You only have 8 miles left!" While I appreciated her enthusiasm, I hope someone told her that wasn't really a good idea.

At this point I was averaging under a 12 minute mile, feeling pretty good but hoping I wasn't overdoing it too early on. We continued on and hit the second water stop just before heading down Main Street, one of the most picturesque spots in town. This is a great long downhill and I opened up to take advantage of it. The crowds were great. Then my buzzkill happened as I hit the bottom - a family decided to cut in front of me and cross the street. Not only was it a family, but it was a man pushing a woman in a wheelchair and they were accompanied by a woman in a full arm cast. WTH???? There easily had to be another 1,000 runners behind me at this point.

I was mad but kept moving, as we swung past the historic Market House and past the main gates of the US Naval Academy. In previous years the course had actually gone through the Academy, but post 9/11 security concerns have changed that. We kept chugging along, this time a mostly uphill mile journey on King George Street as we headed out of downtown. At this point I caught back up with Jen and Heather. We stayed with each other for the majority of the race. I had mentally prepared to go it alone, so it was wondeful to have the company.

We kept going and I knew the mile 4 marker and the infamous Naval Academy/450 bridge were looming. At the water stop just before the bridge, the lead runners passed us on the left on their return to the stadium. They were at mile 9. We hit the bridge and I took a walk break and Gu. The rest of the incline was a mixture of a light jog and a walk. Why push it now when you know you've got to climb this thing again in 4 miles? We reached the summit and opened up to about a 10 minute pace on the downhill. Ah, the joys of gravity and ability to make up some time.

We turned towards some neighborhoods, happy to be off the bridge and into some shade. Jen commented that this was the hardest 4.75 mile she'd ever done. We loooped through the houses near the Severn and residents were out with houses, sprinklers, and radios. As we continued on, we grew excited knowing that are awesome Looper cheering squad - Erica, Jon, Kelly, Kim, Laura, and two week old little Madison - would be just ahead. They provided great smiles and encouragement, as well as ice cold towels to take with us on our journey. Ah!

The next couple of miles were uneventful - an out and back with rolling hills and a couple of turns and cambers. The residents though were awesome - more hoses, cheers, and music. It seemed like it was a party. When I did this stretch of road in my dry run the week before I had really struggled, luckily thing went smoothly this time. After the out and back and we headed out of the community - again another steep downhill. We were on our way towards mile 8 and our final journey back over the bridge.

At mile 8 we had the pleasure of seeing our cheer squard again. What a wonderful surprise that was! Another downhill and soon we were back to the bridge. We trudged up it, pretty much everyone around us was walking as well. It was comforting though knowing that when we reached the other side we'd be at the 9 mile mark. At mile 8 I had looked at my watch and been pleasantly surprised to see that I was at 1:40. With Jen and Heather's help, I had been keeping a really good pace. I knew I wouldn't meet my two hour PR, but I was happy knowing I probably wouldn't be that far over it either.

The last two miles were pretty much completely in the sun, and it was getting hot. While the downhill coming off the bridge at mile 9 felt great, there was another incline right after. This is where knowing this portion of the course as well as I do became a negative. Rather than giving my all and focusing on what I was facing then and there, I just kept thinking about what was ahead and worrying about whether or not I could do it. I knew there was going to be some flat ground, but not alot. I got into a zone and pulled slightly away from Jen and Heather at this point. I kept willing myself along. I knew there was a quarter mile uphill finish in my future and I feared flaking out partway there. I walked much more of that final three quarters of a mile than I wanted to, trying to reserve whatever I had.

I made the final turn towards the Stadium. For some reason they took us through an area of grass, but not only that, it was wet and slightly muddy. Huh? Not cool. I can't imagine what kind of mess that would have been had it rained. I kept moving, turning off the path and onto the parking lot. I saw the finish arch and immediately thought, wow, it's closer than I thought it would be. I was oblivious to everything around me except for a couple trying to decide whether or not to hold hands as they crossed the finish. I decided to get ahead of them and charged over the line.

I would love to tell you my time, but they are still sorting out some "issues" with database. By best estimates from my watch, I was just at or under 2:05. I was exstatic. To be that close to my PR on a hot and humid day was definitely an accomplishment. The leg strength I've been developing thanks to my awesome trainer definitely helped me propel up some of those hills. And, to make it better, I finally beat the joggler! He shows up to many of the same races I do, and I always hate to see him juggling as he runs past me. Surely there are fewer signs of how slow you can be than that, right?

I couldn't have asked for a better first A10 experience. It was such a treat to run this race on my home turf. I lost track of the number of friends I saw along they way, whether it was fellow runners or friends volunteering their time at water stops or as course monitors. Seeing friendly faces and exchanging a quick Hello definitely helped make the time go faster. Having the support of my Loopers was priceless as well. I am constantly reminded of how fortunate I am to help me get through all of this craziness. I also got to meet up with some of my "scary internet friends" as Kate (one of them) likes to call ourselves. Kate and Meredith are friends I've met through my online knitting community and this was the second race I've gotten to see both of them at. I was touched when Kate said she recognized Kelly from our meeting at the Baltimore 10 miler in June and how seeing a friendly face even helped her. I also got to touch base with Kim, a blogging buddy, and her husband. I was happy to hear everyone had good races, especially since I was partially response for getting Kate and Meredith to register.

Next year, I bet I can beat two hours. ;)

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Training schizophrenia

This time last year I had just signed up for and begun my training for the Disney Marathon. This August, I've kind of felt like I've had training schizophrenia while trying to train for two races at the same time - being knee deep in MCM training, while trying to bring in some additional elements for the Annapolis Ten Miler (A10). Add to that my twice a week Summer Intensive boot camp and needless to say it's been a hectic month.

The good news is that the IT Band has been cooperating. I've had two great long runs - 12 and 14 miles respectively. I've been trying to do the long runs up north of Baltimore on the NCR Trail. It's nearly an hour drive for me to get there at the crack of dawn, but the crushed stone surface is so much kinder on my body, and the shade the tree cover helps provide has been a savior some days this summer.

I've been using the "fall back" (i.e. 8-10 miles) weekends in my training schedule to re-introduce hills, thanks to trying to stay on mostly flat surfaces because of the ITB, and prepare for the A10. I have run portions of the course before through either training or other races, but not a large chunk of the middle section, so I had total fear of the unknown.

I was fortunate a couple of weeks ago to run the majority of the course with Margaret. While it was good to catch up with a friend, she also played the vital role of course guide (I had misjudged it a bit from the course map and would have missed nearly a half mile chunk without her!) and calmer of nerves. She patiently reminded me as we approached and finished each section "see, that wasn't bad at all, was it" and "you've done FAR worse than this before." Her wonderful coaching worked, and I finished our 9 miles that day feeling much more confident about the race.

With the race quickly approaching next Sunday, this morning I did another dry run of the course, about 8.5 miles this time. In true fashion, when left to my own devices, I started off way too fast and hit a wall around mile 4.5. I walked more than I wanted to while trying to recover - the speed, hills, and high humidity took their toll on me. I kept plugging along though, knowing the goal I had to fulfill that day. In the end I finished strong, under two hours, and just under a 13:30 pace, good stats for a training run.

Technically, the race requires a 12 minute pace. I did this in April at the Annapolis Striders' other 10 miler, the Cherry Pit. This requirement has kept me from even considering doing the A10 until this year. Many of my local running friends gave me a hard time last year for not doing it, and when I said I'm too slow, they laughed in my face. While yes, there is an advertised pace requirement, if you look at the results from previous races, there are people who finished with over a 14 minute pace. So, while I do want to push it, I do have a bit of a mental cushion.