Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Sweet Smell of Success - Hot Chocolate 15K Race Report

Okay, so I'll just come out and say it - I kicked ass. Final time of 1:39:26, for an average pace of 10:41. Just want to point out that at the beginning of this season I ran a 5K at a 12:08 pace. Despite the ups-and-downs of this season, clearly my training is paying off.

Now for the report.

It was a beautiful day, clear, sunny, not too breezy. I was running late as usual but had no problem finding Allison at the entrance to the park which was good since she had my race packet. And then it turned out that the start for the 15K wouldn't be until 8:30 anyway so we had plenty of time. After gear check and porta-pottie visits there wasn't really anything to do but go line up, so we bounced up and down to stay warm and I talked her ear off about running and Buster's current illness. She is very patient with me. The 5K folks started, we moved forward into our pace sections and waited some more - at that point it was too loud to talk.

At exactly 8:30 we were off, though it took about eight minutes before we actually crossed the start line. LOTS of people on this course which was actually pretty narrow, so I ended up going at a faster pace than I meant to, just to make sure I didn't get boxed in. To be honest, I loved it. I loved the way the course changed constantly, with curves, rises, dips, bumps, curbs, grass, sand, dirt, even tree roots. I loved how I had to constantly pass people, not for the sake of passing them but to make sure I always had room to move, looking for gaps and moving into them, seeing where spaces were closing and moving to avoid them. And there were hills! - little ones to be sure but I loved the feel of them, trucking up the rise and then letting myself fly on the way down. I knew I wasn't going to be able to maintain the pace I was at, but oh gosh, it was fun.

This went on for about three miles, and then things started to spread out a little bit (though I was surprised at how crowded the course was at every point - I really am used to being "back of the pack" in all my races and there's a bit more room back there). I had been waiting for a good moment to drop my speed down and just could never find it, until I got a wicked side stitch which decided the matter for me. Luckily I'm pretty used to side stitches so I knew I could keep running, I would just need to slow down a bit and breathe into the stitch to recover, though this one was strong enough that I actually did stop for a moment to stretch.

And then I kept going, and let myself just run. I had worried a bit about how I would keep myself going without my iPod, since I almost always listen to music on my runs (not during races). An hour and a half with just your thoughts can be a long time. But there was so much to pay attention to it was never an issue. Mostly my feet, to make sure I wasn't going to trip on the curb or another runner, but I tried to remember to look up and around from time to time since the course was so pretty - through the lakefront park, back along the lake, back onto the path with all the trees in full fall color, through the playing fields and golf course. From time to time I would catch up with Allison, chat for a bit, then slip back again. I thought about when I would want to pick up the pace again - not too soon, so I could be sure to sustain it for the rest of the way - but not so late that I missed the opportunity to shave off some time.

At 5 miles I stopped, had my GU*, and drank some water. Then after that I must have spaced out for a bit, since I missed the time clock at 6 miles. I remember thinking that it had to have been 6 miles already, and then as we came up to another time clock praying that it would be the 7 mile one, please God, not 6 miles. I was feeling okay but didn't really want to have another 3+ miles to go, especially if I wanted to finish strong.

At that point I decided to seriously think about picking up my speed, at least for 100 meter increments if I didn't feel like I could stay at the quicker pace for the rest of the race. I saw Allison in front of me and caught up to her, planning on dropping back after a while, but we were talking and then suddenly the harbor was in front of us and there was only another mile and a half to go. I stayed with her as we swept around the curve of the harbor arm, out into the lake with the Chicago skyline spread before us, let her slip ahead as we made the tight turn back around the other side of the harbor arm into the park, and then we were at half a mile left and I started going even faster in 100m bursts, and then we hit the 9 mile clock and the finish line was just visible in the distance through the trees and around the curves and then we were at 200 meters, then 100, then 50 and I sprinted ahead to finish just before her. Because I am a competitive little weasel, after all, and Allison, bless her heart, is not.

And then we were done. Almost immediately volunteers popped up with bags full of Halloween candy for the taking, waves and waves of them. (It is called the Hot Chocolate 15K, after all.) We walked around to get our bearings, then went to gear check, meaning to meet up again on the other side to get our hot chocolate and post-race food (fruit, pretzels, graham cracks in, oh yes, chocolate fondue). But we both got held up at gear check which was the only thing about the whole race that seemed poorly organized, and by the time I got through I assumed she was already done and lost somewhere in the crowd. I texted her to let her know I was leaving and headed home.

So how is it that I did so much better than I was expecting? Well, all season long I've been working with the McMillan Running Calculator, plugging in my best times and then using it to determine my training paces. It had given me the estimate of 10:38 pace for a 15K, but honestly, I just didn't believe it. I think I don't yet have enough experience with racing - really racing, as opposed to running races for fun - to have a good sense of how the race itself changes things.

My watch doesn't allow me to record splits but this is what my approximate ones were:
  • miles 1-3 @ 10:30
  • miles 4-7 @ 10:55
  • mile 8 @ 10:45
  • mile 9 @ 10:30
  • last 0.3 miles @ 10:03
In my age group, I placed 387th out of 546, so about 2/3 of the way back. Not Speedy Gonzalez by any means, but certainly no longer "back of the pack." This is new, and exciting, and a little bit scary. What might I do next? What could I have done in that race if I had really believed I was capable of running it faster? These are exciting, and scary, things to think about.

At the same time, it's clear to me that I could not have done it without support. Support all season long from The Dude, who listened to my obsessing and encouraged my heading out every Sunday, even if sometimes I came home to "I thought you would never get back!" and a crying child. And support from Allison around the actual race, from being willing to do it with me in the first place, to picking up my race packet when it was clear I couldn't negotiate taking Buster way up north for his shots and then back south to the race expo (all on public transportation), to being an unsuspecting pacer through most of the race and then not giving me grief about my urge to "win" at the end. (For the sake of complete honesty, in the official time-keeping she actually placed before me - I must have crossed the start line before her as well).

So I am grateful to The Dude and to Allison, and grateful to the McMillan race calculator (I will heed its counsel more closely in the future), and grateful for my health and opportunities and this funny odd desire to run fast - at least as fast I may be able.

*For my non-runner readers, GU is a sports gel for easy digestion on long runs. It's the only brand I've been able to tolerate - the stuff is as nasty as it sounds.

1 comment:

  1. You are a kind and generous competitive little weasel and a complete original. I'll be your pacer anytime but next time i make no promises...perhaps my latent competitive juices will kick in.