Weather was high 40s at the start and low 60s at the finish. Windy but fairly protected by the trees.
I woke after a fitful night of sleep feeling hungover with a sinus headache. I was still coughing up sludge out of my chest and my sinuses were blocked up. Oh well, I have dealt with this many times. The real test will be how my legs feel during a brief warm up.
I drove over with my teammate, Alicia, and coffee and conversation were starting to release me from the fog. We both seemed relaxed and in good spirits having each run hundreds of races. We got our bibs and did the usual pre-race small talk with friends. I saw the competition and tried to shut out the negative self-talk. When I went to check my legs, they felt great. I thought, the training has really paid off along with the easy week leading up to today. I had been running 70 miles per week for about six weeks and that is a lot of volume for me.
At the gun, I took it out much harder than the previous two years.
I wanted to break things open, because this race tends to start out very casually and I wanted to get to work early. More importantly I had two tough goals before the finish. 10 miles in 65 minutes and 20 miles in 2:10. This meant averaging 6:30 pace throughout the first 20 miles. I knew that with the single-track, which included two new miles on Sycamore, and all the hills this meant lots of 6:10-6:15 effort. I was confident I had the fitness for this endeavor. I wasn't really sure who else would be interested in this sort of work and somehow I was content to race the clock and not others.
The best marker that things were well on course or even ahead of schedule was around mile five. There is a very steep hill on the Sycamore Trail and I anticipated good news on the clock. This is shortly before the course pops off the single-track and turns left toward the aid station and turn-around on Graylyn. In years past I have seen this mile split at about 7:50. This year I clocked 6:40. That's fast if you know the hill. I was really clipping along and the proof came when the 10 mile marker showed 64:30 (6:27 pace) on the clock. At that point, I was alone in 2nd place and feeling very good about exceeding my first goal.
Soon I was making my way out on the Turkey Creek Trail trying to find a rhythm like I have had on many tempo runs these past few months. These miles (11 and 12) are along a steady down hill and I clipped off 6:12 and 6:05. The sun was starting to make its' presence known louder than the mild tempartures, but nothing unrelenting. Drink as much as my heaving stomach could take and all would be well. I remembered a run out here in the Fall that was a bit too hard an effort and I kind of blew up on the tough hills on the backside of Turkey Creek. I hoped the same would not be my fate today.
I was doing okay. Blasting the downhills and making up time wherever I could. I knew holding 6:30s was only going to get tougher and I had to really concentrate and go deep into the hurt locker searching for motivation, oxygen, guts, muscle tissue, songs—whatever could take me further and further into the struggle.
As the pain intensified so did the demons. Strides were becoming a little more numb as the minutes clicked forth. Each step hurt more than the one before and doubt and self-flogging would creep in against a fierce opponent--Reality.
Doubt would interrupt: Run up here to the end of Graylyn (about 14 mile mark) and drop out. That will be a great workout. You can still run those 5Ks at the end of the month you were planning. Maybe even break 16 minutes.
It's a saavy deception that doubt tries to play.
Reality chimes in: What are you talking about? This can be your day. You can break three hours. Stop trying to renegotiate. Shut up and Run.
Sounds harsh, but it is actually a much kinder word.
The slightly schizophrenic runner looms inside us all, or so I hear (or would like to believe). On some level, it's a blood sugar issue. Still, the voices must be shut out. All I needed to see was the closest thing to 6:30 at each mile marker. That was my job. Short goals. Short assignments. Every few minutes clear and rational feedback as to my progress. No new deals. No renegotiating. Not now.
The day was immaculate. Hikers and bikers leisurely enjoyed the quiet Northern side of the park. They looked on with something like pity. I got it. Why put the body under such distress on a perfectly good Saturday?
Spring was reaching out to all of us. The wind was clearing out the debris of Winter from tree tops. Birds chirped and busied to welcome new family members. I huffed and puffed under great distress.
All the way out to the turn-around again on Graylyn and then back on Turkey Creek. I could only give the thumbs up to passing runners. It was all I had left and I was thankful for their words of encouragement, but mostly I could only gesture.
I reached the 20 mile marker in 2:11:30 (6:34 pace). This was 90 seconds over my goal, but still it gave me a very realistic shot at breaking my bigger goal. If only I could run a 48 minute 10K I would break three hours for the marathon. I knew I could do it even with the looming hills ahead—Corkscrew, Wheel Fell Off, and Cemetery. The goal was in sight.
It wasn't the prettiest 10K ever, but I moved my legs as quickly as I could. I was in a rush even though I knew the pace would slow. I had run 20 miles on a hilly course and basically felt like that could have been the end of the days work. But I wanted to see “two” on the left side of that finishing clock.
I knew I was being stalked by runners behind me, but I didn't let it get me down. Whether I fended them off or not, I had my goal in sight. I ran a humbling 46:20 for the final 10K (7:27 pace), but it was far from a blow-up and brought me to the finish in 2:57:52. George IV and Kathryn ran with me from the 26 mile mark. I knew they were there, but I could only look straight ahead and pump my arms as fast as they would take me. It was my day.