Sunday, November 6, 2011

2011 Rockville 10K: Ponytails, Englishmen, and Hills

Today's 10K race ended up being a rather exciting one.  I went in with hopes of winning and breaking 34 minutes, but would of course settle for a PR and a top 5 finish.  Little did I know what I was getting into...

This race starts at the King Farm Village Center in Rockville, MD basically right in the middle of a preplanned cookie cutter development where everything looks the same.  I never want to live somewhere like that...  Temperatures at the start of the race were in the low 40s and there was little wind, making for a perfect morning.

This was my first race trying out some new racing gear I bought, namely a Brooks singlet and the shortest pair of shorts they sell.  I opted for gloves as well, but was lightly dressed.  The clothing worked out awesome as I knew it would because everything I have ever purchased from the Brooks brand has been perfect.  The shorts with the split up the side never got in the way of my stride, and the shirt just sat on my upper body without impeding me at all.  I can see why people race in stuff like this, even if it may make you look ridiculous in a "normal" setting.

The race started at 8:30AM with a rather narrow timing mat and an immediate right turn about 5 seconds into the race.  I got a good jump off the start and darted out first to hit the turn without getting stuck in traffic.  I had only seen one other runner that I knew, a rival of sorts, but no one else looked to be a threat.

As I settled in behind the lead bicycle and motorcycle, I could hear footsteps and realized immediately I would not be leading wire-to-wire.  I really didn't expect to, and races like that are boring anyway.  A runner pulled alongside me whom I have never seen before, but he looked legit so I fell in stride with him.  We went over the first hill, made a U-turn, and started coming back down going through Mile 1 in:


I noticed my foe didn't look at his watch or the digital clock next to the mile marker.  I though that was odd; not everyone always takes splits, but most people at least glance at the clock, especially early.  No matter, we continued on and this guy really started pushing the pace.  I kept matching stride with him, so there was a lot of back and forth and some incidental elbows (I swear incidental!) as we tried to stick to the tangents on the many curves of the course.

We hit mile 2 a little faster, but I was still happy with the overall pace


The second mile was mostly rolling, but I knew the bigger hill in this course was coming up soon.  I also sensed weakness in my foe and remembering this was the spot last year that I took off and blew away the field, I kicked it up just a little bit.  It was harder to drop this guy than I thought, but eventually I pulled away.

The lead cyclist was enjoying the race, he would always hang back to tell us of upcoming turns (as he did last year) and said at least a couple of times "who's going to break away?"  As I approached mile 3, I once again heard footsteps behind me, but they were different.  I was shocked to see it was the local runner I had recognized at the start line.  We both run similar times, but I've had his number lately.  I had assumed this would be a two horse race and that he was out of the picture.  Man was I wrong...

I crossed mile 3 in 5:18.  At that point, I was a bit worried that I had just run a bit too hard, especially considering we were now going up hill, and I have seriously neglected hill training as of late.  The other local runner passed me and that's when I realized I had played right into his hands.  My 3 mile race with the mystery runner who didn't look at his watch ran both of us into the ground.  This other guy who held back the whole time just watched it play out and cruised past us when the moment was right.  He keeps his hair in a ponytail, hence the title of my race report.

I couldn't match him on the ~0.5 mile uphill and lost enough ground that I had to start considering defending second.  I was running scared now, realizing I may have spent too much energy early and that the two or three remaining hills were not going to be pretty.  As we made the U-turn at the top of this hill, the mystery runner was a lot closer than I had hoped, but I figured I could hold him off.

As we continued racing down on the other side of the street, mile 4 came through slow:


I picked it up a bit, trying to get back into gear and realizing I was probably losing ground to 3rd place.  It didn't help.  Eventually, I heard footsteps, then breathing, then I got passed cleanly with no answer.

We continued on a fudge factor out and back portion of the course, then continued uphill as we headed back towards the finish and the merge with the 5k race going on at  the same time.

Mile 5: 5:39

I eventually stopped losing ground and started to pull myself together, but I was running out of time to try and bridge the gap I now had.  To make matters worse, I didn't have the benefit of the police motorcycle to part the sea of slow 5K runners that were now in my way.  The hidden benefits of being the leader..

On this part of the course, there were 5K runners coming towards us, and 5K runners going in the same direction as us after having turned around, all running significantly slower than us.  Cones separated the two lanes.  Unfortunately, about 20 runners turned around just as I was getting to that area.  I was too tired to say anything to get people out of my way (I'd also probably sound like a jerk), so instead I just tunnel visioned on the mystery runner and tried to follow him.

He ended up taking the "oncoming" lane which was really smart.  Running directly at the other runners forced them to see us, and to get out of our way.  We both made it clear we weren't moving or slowing down.  We also kind of stood out with our red bibs, bright colored shoes, and general lack of clothing.

After another uphill, and a right turn, the road widened enough that we could separate ourselves from the 5K-ers.  I started closing the gap, hoping I could get to 2nd place in time, but we crossed mile 6 and there was still too much space.


We made the last hard turn to the finish and crossed, 2nd place less than 10 seconds ahead of me, and a 34:27 overall for myself.

I ran a PR at this race last year, 34:52 and blew away the field.  This year, I PR'ed again (no 10Ks in a year, shameful!), but ended up losing to first by a minute and 30 seconds, to a runner I had been doing well against this year.  It just goes to show how tough racing and running well can be!

It also turns out the mystery runner is from London, and was over here in DC for business.  He found this race and decided to throw his name in.  Wonderful...I got beat by some out of country ringer!!

Though I didn't break 34, faded a bit, didn't do well on the hills, and lost a race to two other runners, I still PR'ed and can't be too disappointed.  I think this race has shown me that the little things are starting to become more important and that I really need to plan my training a bit better if I want to consistently race well.  More on that in the future.  Starting next year, I'll be making some changes to my life in general to make my training as big a priority as I can make it.  In summary, it is going to be a "train more, race less, but make those races count" strategy.  Additionally, I'm going to better balance my volunteering/charity to the local running community.  Though I love giving back, my current running level and my hopes and dreams for the future are making it obvious that I need more time for my own training.  It also doesn't help that I went from just a slightly above average runner to a good local runner.

I had to skip my long run this weekend (which really, really sucks) because my left leg was very unhappy with the 4 hours I spent outside in the freezing cold Saturday morning directing a race (my first time).  I still got 10 in, so it could have been worse.  Overall, I'm not changing my goals for Philly.  And honestly, getting to the start healthy is more important than getting all my miles in.

I just have to avoid standing in the cold for long periods of time, because that seems to do a bigger number on my left leg than running on it!


  1. Don't sweat the runs you haven't done, be pleased with the ones you have done. You were going to run 22 miles this weekend? That's two weeks out from your goal race, and you had a weekend just three weeks ago where you ran a marathon, and a weekend after that ran a very hard 22 miles. I think you've got enough in your legs. If anything, this probably was a blessing. Go in confident and fresh, not tired and anxious.

  2. Nice work on the PR, even if it didn't totally meet expectations. Keep up the progress towards Philly.

    I like the move to more quality over quantity....I'm a bit biased on that one, however!

  3. I like the support :) Ultimately, I had a blast in that race. I just love racing people, and I got my wish with that one. It just hurts to lose to some English guy!

    I've had bad experiences in the past with tapers that were too long, or at least I thought that was the problem. In hindsight, it was probably just general lack of training back in the days when a 50 mile week was my max.

    I've put in three 20 milers (one at 6:07 pace), a slow 26.2, and a hard 22. I think RM is right, the hay is in the barn or whatever stupid analogy you want...