Sunday, November 7, 2010

Race Report: 2010 Rockville 10K

After coming off my 17:03 5K on Saturday, I had to turn it around quickly for the Rockville 10K.  A good performance would earn me quite a few notable accomplishments.  I had a chance to blow away my one year old PR, solidify my 1st place position in the Maryland RRCA Grand Prix Series, and even place in the open division (top 5) in a relatively competitive race.

Temperatures at the start were cold, barely breaking 40 degrees, though the sun was out.  There was a slight breeze, but a lot of the course was sheltered by either buildings or trees, so it was not a huge factor.  My legs did not feel all that great until after my warm up was done.  Even a few minutes before the race, I still was not sure how my body would respond to back-to-back efforts.  I took my spot in front and saw about 3-4 other runners who would probably make a race of it.

The gun went off and a group of 5 immediately took the lead and put about 5-7 strides on me.  I was alone with some faint footsteps behind me.  The pace felt reasonable.  As we continued and made our first turn, I had an early decision to make: stay where I am, or link up with that pack.  I decided to link up with the pack.  After their initial burst at the start, they never gained more ground on me.  One runner faded and I never saw him again.  After he faded back, I caught the pack on the first of many uphills on the course.  As we made our first hairpin U-turn, we hit the first mile:


I was looking to run roughly 5:40s.  The pace actually felt slow to me.  The other runners around me all seemed to be breathing a lot harder and generally sounded much more uncomfortable than I was.  Of course, I wasn't exactly on a Sunday morning stroll either, but I made a mental note of my observation.  The course took a sharp downhill, another turn, and the hills rolled a bit from there.

Every time we hit an uphill, I took the lead, and could hear the other runners struggling.  Every time we hit the next downhill or extended flat, I was caught again.  Eventually, all but one other runner dropped off the pace.  It came down to the two of us.  2nd mile:


We continued running side by side, clearly neither of us were going to give in easily.  However, I noticed especially on the next two uphills that my foe was having more and more trouble getting back on my shoulder after the hill ended.  I finally started putting distance on him around mile 3:


The pace was a bit faster than I had intended on running to this point.  However, I still felt ok, and was not about to slow down now that I was leading the Rockville 10K.  The next ~1/2-3/4 mile proved to be the hardest part of the course.  It was a sustained, steady uphill.  Though not particularly steep, it just never ended.  The race was decided right here.  At first, I could hear breathing and footsteps.  Eventually it was just breathing, and then there was silence.  I had buried the final runner that had stayed with me and was now building a lead.

The hill crested and we pulled a sharp u-turn to run back down the hill on the other side of the road.  All I had to follow now was the lead police motorcycle, and the lead bicyclist.  The bicyclist was extremely helpful, making hand signals when turns were coming up and telling me where to run to get the best line for upcoming turns.  The best part about a u-turn is being able to see how far back other runners were, without having to "cheat" and look back.

After the turn around I saw I had a rather sizable lead.  The lead bicyclist told me I had a 30 second lead.  That hill conquered everyone behind me, but I just plowed through it.  Mile 4:


Considering the hill, that was a crazy fast mile.  By now, my breathing was labored, just as labored as the runners in the original lead pack.  My legs felt a bit tired and me feet were really hurting.  I think by this point they had become rather cold and all the downhill running was just irritating them.  I thought to myself (at least something like this): "there's 2.2 miles to go, I have a huge lead, and I'm on pace for a massive PR.  I feel like shit, but I'm not giving in."  My actual thought process was probably more profanity-laden and much more disconnected and illogical.

The course eventually made a right turn for what was clearly a "fudge" factor out and back on a side street.  Another sharp U-turn (I was really pissed at this u-turn since I was already so tired) showed my lead had grown.  After another quick uphill we made a right onto what was almost the home stretch.  Mile 5:


I didn't believe my watch.  I felt awful but somehow was still running the same pace.  I thought maybe the cold had caused it to stop working (I was rather delirious at this point).  But I continued to push on.  Aside from the 10K, there was also a 5K that started 15 minutes after our race and would end at the same finish line.  The two courses overlap for the last ~1.1 miles.

I expected this, since I ran the race last year.  I remember having to pass through quite a lot of traffic, people running substantially slower paces for their 5K race while I was trying to finish up a 10K.  However, this year, I had a couple of advantages.  First, since I hit the overlap sooner, the 5K field was much thinner.  Though the runners I encountered were slower than me, they weren't extremely slow, so there was both time and space for people to manuver.

Perhaps my biggest advantage from last year was my escort.  The police motorcycle used it's sirens and horn to get people out of the way, and the bicyclist shouted "lead 10K runner" a few times to get people to move to the right.  This was especially helpful in the narrow section of the course immediately after the 5 mile marker.

Though there were elite athletes running the NYC marathon at a pace faster than I was running my 10K, it still felt awesome to be referred to as the "lead runner" and have my own escort to clear the way.  After an extremely steep but short uphill, we made a hard right onto a much wider stretch of road, so I now had all the room I needed to finish my race unimpeded.

Unfortunately, that hill almost killed me.  I was completely spent at the top, and knew that I slowed a bit.  Whenever I'm ahead of runners, I am always worried that I will be caught.  Even if I know I have a massive lead, I'm constantly thinking they are right behind me, that I'll get passed and all my hard work running ahead of them will be for nothing.  Leading does nothing but haunt me with ghost runners.  At this point, I was worried to death that I would be caught.

After about a minute of cresting the hill, I started to feel just good enough to turn the jets back on.  I knew at that point the finish line was close, and I wasn't about to bleed time.  Though I was guaranteed a PR and a victory, I wanted every single second I could get.  All those tempo runs in Druid Hill Park, and all those laps I ran proved helpful.

Even though my mind and legs were screaming to slow down, I picked up the pace as much as I could.  The lead bicylist, who probably saw I was digging deep told me the 6 mile mark was right around the corner.  And he wasn't wrong!  As soon as he said that, I could see the digital clock for the 6.  Mile 6:


Not terrible, still faster than my first mile.  Of course, I only realized that in hindsight.  In my adrenaline filled, running on fumes mad dash for the finish, I could only think: "Shit, that was too slow."  I threw down everything I had left, and continued passing 5K runners.  A few tried to run with me but stood no chance.  I only hope they realized I was in a different race.

The finish was actually around a corner, you have to take a left before seeing the "last stretch."  I knew this from last year, and knew exactly where I was as I closed in.  I was able to maintain my form, despite my exhaustion setting in.  I made more than a few grunts along the way.

Finally, mercifully, we took the left.  I heard the race announcer mention my name, and that I was the 10K leader.  The police motorcycle and bicyclist moved out of my way and I threw myself across the finish line.  Two clocks were going, one for the 5K and one for the 10K.  I could barely read them, but saw that I was sub-35, with an overall time of 34:52. After crossing the line, I was simultaneously fired up, and felt completely awful.  It probably made for quite a scene.

The finish chute was huge, and almost completely empty, with only a handful of finished 5K runners.  I spent a while walking around, stopping and knelling over, cursing like hell under my breath, trying to catch my breath, etc.  At least one person asked if I was ok; I'm not sure if I actually said something to him.  Eventually though, my composure returned just as the second place 10K runner came through, and proceeded to empty the contents of his stomach everywhere.

I didn't even bother asking if he was ok.  I've been there more than a few times and hated when people asked me that.  I shook his hand between bouts of puking and walked out of the chute.  I made sure to find and shake hands with each runner in that original pack, as is my custom.

Once recovered and in sweats again, I was able to bask in the awesomeness that was the race.  My hamstrings tightened up badly thanks to the cold, but it did not take away from the good feelings.  I ended up winning a $50 gift certificate to a local running store, and a free dinner for two at Hard Times Cafe in Rockville.  I must say, not bad for a $30 entry fee and 34:52 of work.

Now it's time to focus on the last few weeks before the NCR Trail Marathon...

1 comment:

  1. Way to go Dan - SO awesome! I was proud of my 3rd place age group finish at the Columbia metric this weekend but you take it to a completely different level! Glad you'll be out there at NCR - i'm running it too and will be cursing you when you've been done for an hour and I'm still running! - Katie N.