As much as I love half marathons, the next favorite distance for me is the 10K, or 6.2 miles. This is not an event you see frequently, so I (almost) always take advantage and register if I can find one nearby.
Sunday, April 28th was the date and the location was at Drake University in Des Moines, IA. Every year, Drake hosts the famous Drake Relays, which attracts elites, professionals, collegiate and outstanding high school athletes from near and far. They also have events for average folks, like myself. This year there was a 6K, 10K and a half marathon to choose from, and all took place on Sunday morning.
Since I have had some piriformis discomfort issues, and have been taking it pretty slow and easy working my way back, I elected for the 10K instead of the half marathon. This is a distance I truly enjoy racing. As I have said before, I am not a super fast runner, but I can hold a decent pace for 6.2 miles. The 10K is a bit of a challenge because it's not really a short distance (it's a bit too far for the average non-professional to sprint), but it's short enough I don't have to be too concerned with running out of energy for the duration.
I was lucky to have a fellow runner friend, Barb, to ride to the race with. Des Moines is approximately an hour drive from our town, so we were on the road at 5:45AM to allow time for parking and packet pick-up before the 8:00AM start. We scored on a great parking spot 2 blocks from Drake Stadium. The race would start outside the stadium and end inside, on the famous Blue Oval (the blue colored track).
The packet pick-up went smoothly, except for the fact that I had to settle for a medium-sized unisex shirt. Grrrrr. I registered three months ago, and requested a small size......but some other person (luckier than myself) got the last small shirt. This is a huge race-day-annoyance of mine, and this is not the first time it has happened. I am not a race shirt collector, but I think if you have the racers list their shirt size on the registration form, the racers should RECEIVE that size. In addition to the (oversize) shirt, we also received socks and a nice draw-string bag. If I was an avid race shirt-wearer, I would have caused a small scene, but I chose to just let this go. One of my kids might like the shirt, and it would probably fit my husband as well.
Even with the recent events of the Boston Marathon fresh in my mind, I couldn't help but feel that race day excitement. There's something about pushing through the crowds of fellow runners that gets my heart pumping. Barb and I wore the Boston bibs on our backs, and I also made us blue and yellow ribbon pins. This was my first official race since Boston, and I was excited and ready to hit the road.
My fastest 10K finish time is 53:46, so that number floats around in my mind whenever I run a 10K. This day was no exception. Drake University is situated within a neighborhood of hills, so I knew this course would not be flat or fast. And I knew the ole piriformis could flare up at any time.
After a moment of silence for Boston, and a beautiful rendition of the National Anthem, we were off and running. The weather was perfect, in the low 60's, and there was plenty of sunshine. The 10K and half marathoners started at the same time, so it was a little crowded for the first mile as we slowly spread out and headed toward the streets of downtown Des Moines.
It didn't take long for me to realize we were on a downhill grade, and this continued for most of the first three miles. Personally, I have a difficult time pacing myself at the start of a race. I tend to start out too fast, and then have to play the mental game of telling myself to "Keep pushing! Don't stop!" if I feel winded later on. Also, it's difficult for me to hold back on the downhills. I know it's not wise to fight the hills, but I also know you can get injured if you totally let loose and go too fast. So, I concentrated on my pace, trying to keep it steady and not let myself get too fast and furious. All this downhill running meant, at some point, we'd be heading back uphill eventually, and I wanted to have some energy left
My watch is a very basic sport watch. It allows me to time myself, and that's about it. It doesn't tell me how far I've gone, or even in which direction (I am a technology idiot, so this suits me fine). There were water stations, but I didn't see any mile markers to know how far we'd gone. I estimated my first mile to be around an 8:20 pace, which is a bit fast for me, so I knew I needed to take it easy.
I hit the second water station, which I think was before the 2-mile mark, and still was unsure of how far we'd run. We were still gong downhill, so there was bound to be a change of direction pretty soon. Finally, there was a sign for the halfway point, and my watch said I had been going for approximately 26 minutes, just under a 9-minute pace. I'm usually around 8:30-8:45 pace, so I was doing alright. Hoping for a negative split, I gulped some water and took off, eager to finish the remaining 3.1 miles strong.
I passed the 4-mile marker, and turned a corner....to see the start of the uphill climb that would take us back to Drake Stadium. And this climb was pretty steep, and pretty long. UGH. I knew this was coming, but didn't expect it to be so sudden and so forbidding. Thankfully, this took us through a residential area, so there were people along the curbs and on their porches waving and cheering.
I make it a habit to run hills when I train, so I am no stranger to the mental toughness one needs to run them. This particular hill was a beast! It was probably 5-6 city blocks in distance, but felt much longer because of the steep grade. I made it up most of the way, but walked the final block or so. A lot of fellow runners walked it as well. A little game I play with myself is if I allow myself to walk, I have to resume running before I reach the top of the hill. There's something about running over the crest of a hill that makes you feel like you really conquered it, even if you didn't run the entire way there.
This conquest was short-lived, though, because a few blocks later, probably around the 5-mile mark, we turned a corner and had another hill waiting for us. This second hill was not as steep nor as long, so I was able keep running. I think the second hill actually gave me a much-needed second wind, because I felt a surge of energy after finishing it. Soon after, I knew the end was in sight. I could hear the roar of the crowd near the finish line and my natural runner instinct kicked my legs and feet into high gear.
We turned onto the street in front of the stadium and ran a few blocks, before running into the stadium itself...and onto the Blue Oval. To see the stands filled with people cheering is pretty awe-inspiring! For a brief moment, I had a glimpse of what it might actually feel like to be a world-class runner, as I sprinted to the finish line.
I have run many races. Half marathons, 20K's, 7-milers, 5-milers, 5K's, and now another 10K. No matter the distance, every finish line feels euphoric to me. It seems there's always someone (usually a stranger, but a fellow runner none-the-less) who will congratulate me or give me a high-5. And, I am always honored to do the same to someone else.
I finished with an official time of 55:39, just under a 9-minute pace. Not a PR, but I'm happy with it. Given the fact that there were some treacherous hills, and I had to walk briefly, my finish time is still respectable for someone not blessed with intense speed. My official stats said I placed 498th out of the 1317 who ran the 10K. I was 12th in my age group (out of 56 ), and I finished 184th out of the 727 women racing against me. I even had another racer ask me about my Boston bib...and they wondered if I had ran the Boston Marathon. I had to laugh, but I was flattered to think someone actually thought I could have been a marathoner, and a Boston marathoner at that.