The Cherry Blossom 10 miler was, from a physical perspective, the best run of my life. I felt fit, I had the calories I needed on board, I peed 8 minutes before the start, I was in the right corral. It was 37° Fahrenheit and windy. I was in shorts and my windproof running shell.
At the start, I was chatting with two women who looked like they had 20 years on me and were still going to blow me out of the water. We walked up to the start before I even really realized what was happening and then we were off. I just started running.
I saw the 8:00 min/mile pacer just ahead and knew I didn’t have to try to keep up with him. But I didn’t know where the 9:00 pacer was. Somewhere behind me, presumably. I stayed within sight of the eight minute guy for a long time.
There were a few times when the wind really began to whip in my face, as we ran past the Kennedy Center, and over a couple of bridges. But I felt like it was at my back more that it was blowing me down. And the cold wind helped me shed heat as I was putting down some hard miles.
I didn’t even look at my watch until 4.5 miles. And I was running too hard to do the math in my head. I could just tell that I was “ahead of pace”. I hoped to stay that way. It was around this time my feet went numb. I toyed with the idea of letting up pace to see if lighter pounding would ease it, but I decided that an hour of numbness wasn’t going to let gangrene set in and I kept running. They let up by the 10k mark.
At the 5 mile split pad my watch showed 42 minutes. This was when I realized I was going really fast (for me). At 10k it was 52 and change, about the fastest I’d ever run one. I gulped down Gatorade at the first two stops at full pace and at 5 miles I squeezed a 150 kcal shot of peanut butter and honey into my mouth and choked it down.
The rest of the race was an exercise in not surrendering to the gathering ache in my hamstring and my quads. I couldn’t tell how fast I was going, but I knew I was ahead of my 9:00 min/mile goal pace. By a fair margin. The last two miles were harder but I started to be able to make calculations:
“I can run 2 11 minute miles and still beat my goal.”
“So run faster. Crush your goal.”
I continued running as hard as I could, though my pace slowed some. I was starting to get hungry, and I was clearly out of fuel. If it were a half-marathon, I’d have been in trouble. But without having a real plan, I had chosen a good pace to be able to finish strong in a 10 miler.
There’s a low-grade hill toward the end before the downhill finish. It hurt a lot. Then I rounded the corner and came on the finish faster than I expected. I crossed the line in 1:25:23. Four minutes and thirty seven seconds ahead of my goal time.
So I managed an 8:32 pace for a full 10 miles. The last two were my slowest, at 8:45. The fastest was my first, at 8:13. I never knew I could run this fast for this long. It wasn’t that long ago I was incredibly excited to be finishing 15 minute miles.
I missed running with BB. The race was more work and less fun without her. I’m proud of my accomplishment but it was a good reminder of why I really do this. Health and companionship. Speed is a nice ancillary thing to enjoy. It’s not the goal.
But yesterday I felt fast. I finished in the top 36% of men my age, and 37% of men overall. Solidly better than average. I’ll take it.