Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Some places have the blossoms, we have the pits

Sunday was my favorite 10 miler, the Cherry Pit. This a small (although growing, this year there were nearly 500 runners) local race put on by my running club, the Annapolis Striders. The course takes you through horse and farm country in southern Anne Arundel County. While it doesn't have the scenic cherry blossoms and monuments of the Cherry Blossom 10 miler in DC (which is held on the same day), it also doesn't have 15,000 runners. And, the Pit, if you registered in advance, cost you $5 max. I've managed to sway several of my Looper partners in crime to the joys of this fun and well organized race.

This was my first ever 10 miler back in 2009, and I did it in what I thought was a pretty respectable 2:21:22. In 2010, I decided to give it what I had and as I charged across the finish line, missed a sub 2 hour time by mear seconds. My final time was 2:00:01. I managed a 21 minute PR - taking 2+ minutes PER MILE off my pace. That's generally unheard of. A year later I still look upon that race with nothing but pride and I realize how much confidence it gave me. It was probably one of the first times I felt like a real runner.

This year, I was determined to get my sub 2 hour. While I had been managing good long runs leading up to it, my weeknight runs were pretty much none existent, so I began to worry whether my body was going to cooperate with this endeavour. Jen and I started out the race together. It was a bit chilly at the start, but the sun was coming up and warming things on the early Spring morning. The company made those early miles enjoyable and fly by. Every now and then I would glance at my watch - some of our run intervals were around 9:30, fast, especially considering the general incline of much of the course. I already had it in my mind though that if I was going to break 2 hours, and do it well, I had to test my limits and push as hard as I could.

We made it through the first 3.5 or so miles and turned onto a country road, one of my favorites of the course. We kept our intervals until we got to this great downhill stretch and I decided to just keep going. I really wanted to enjoy this downhill and bank up some time for the later miles when I would probably need it. I flew down the half mile or so. Jen took a breather and sent me ahead. I was excited when she caught up to me a bit later though. How much fun is this portion of this course? According to my watch, the point we started at is roughly 164ft in elevation, and you finish below sea level. Fun! Of course, you can't have a downhill that fun without paying for it on the other end.

We finished up our adventure on the country road and made our turn off of it around mile 5. The lovely Laura was waiting and cheering for us as we stared at the next hill on our way out of the gully. I kept pushing and pushing, and Jen decided to fall back a bit around 5.5. She kept me in her sight as long as she could though, following my intervals. I kept pushing, even though I saw THE HILL coming up at mile 6. I remember this hill well from last year - I felt like I was flying up it effortlessly, picking off runners all along the way. This year, I got about half way up, was exhausted and overheated and decided to power walk.

The course then made a turn onto South River Clubhouse Road. Mentally this was the hardest for me. I knew at the end of this road was mile 8 and my turn towards the finish, which would then be mostly downhill. It was a fight between mind and body, full of more hills to keep it "interesting" as well. Then, just before mile 8, I heard a voice enthusiastically cheering. Wait, I know that voice - it was Margaret! Or was? Maybe I was halucinatting thanks to the exhaustion that was setting it. I turned the corner and realized it was her. I was hurting at this point and nearly cried as I gave her a huge hug. And, just over her shoulder, I saw the last water stop and turn onto Rt. 2 to head back to the high school. Plus, I was still on target (as best as I could tell given my horrible math skills) for my sub 2. I made the turn and chugging along, getting closer and closer to the finish.

Just before mile 9 is when the glorious downhill I had been anticipating came. I ran most of the next half mile plus. Get me there quicker, I kept think, I'm sooo ready to be done. And couple of more turns, by now my legs felt like lead, and I was near the finish. I took a couple of seconds to catch my breath and made my turn to the finish. As I got closer, I gave it all I had left in the tank. My final time (per my watch) 1:57:17. I had done it, and with time to spare. I was happy.

So, with this now behind me, my crazy Spring race schedule is now in full swing. I've got the first of the Women's Distance Festival 5K's this weekend, followed by another 10 miler, and then at the end of the month my first race trip of the year - the Country Music Half Marathon in Nashville. This half is very well known for it's hills, particularly in the first half. Cherry Pit was probably a good representation of this. If there's one thing I learned this past weekend, it'll be that if I want to enjoy myself in Nashville, I will have to take it easy on the hills or I will pay for it later.

I could not believe how sore I felt after Cherry Pit. I don't remember feeling that bad after my remarkable race last year. Maybe I did and just race amnesia had set it, who knows. I can't help but think that my slacking on my weeknight runs had something to do with it. Getting into a better routine is definitely imperative if I'm going to make it through the Spring. Now is just this cold, wet weather we've had as of late will cooperate...