Sunday, January 27, 2008

2008 Groundhog 10K

There's nothing like watching the start of a race. Or, the finish of one for that matter. One of the reasons I love the Groundhog 10K is you get both with the 5K starting 45 minutes before the 10k. I stood with a mass of 3,000+ runners in the caves somewhere near the starting line, hearing the national anthem and feeling the excitement.

Standing behind a tall blonde girl, probably similar weight to me but even thinner and a bit taller. She stood in shorts, and also stood by to watch the 5Kers take off. She flexed her legs, stretched and I kept thinking, wow, look how muscular her legs are. She had definition around her shins and calves that would make any woman proud. I wonder how fast I'd be if my legs were that muscular. I cast a glance downward, in something of a leg-envy and wishful thinking, and looked at my own legs. Whoa! I had the same definition, even more pronounced and impressive. Hm. Maybe I should preen a bit more. How did I miss this key development?

Then, just a minute or two before 9 AM sharp, another girl parts the crowd right by me, almost touching me. She is led by what appears to be her coach, and I don't know why this is, but it's clear that's the relationship. She carries herself with such confidence, much smaller than I, perhaps 5' 2". And one sold brick of muscle. Her abs are bare and as flat as any runner on the cover of Runner's World. Her body fat must be well below ten percent. I am struck by the thought, this girl is going to win the race, but how will she even get to the starting line in time? I am quite a bit back from the 9 min. / mile pace group. Hm.

The start begins and the runners are off. A sea of people move in front of me.

At around 14 minutes elapsed, I took a quick break and a diversion to watch the first few 5Kers come across the finish line. I waited an eternity until the first runner crossed in a little over 17 minutes, a young male flying well head of anyone else. A few more cross, some impressive kicks, but I must see the first female finisher. I'm not surprised, just a few seconds later, that it is the girl who brushed by me that I thought was going to win. I've never seen her before, but her attitude and confidence was unmistakable. She was the first female by far.

I'm 5 minutes late to get my warm-up started, but who could resist seeing another group of runners off. I begin to jog around as slowly as possible, and it is clear by my absolute lack of direction I'm lost and found in the caves at least a half dozen times before its time to start running myself. I make a last minute pit stop in the porta potties, and wonder why that is. Must be nerves.

With just a few minutes left now before my own start, I decide to let my legs stretch out briefly beyond my ultra-slow jog. I'm feeling seriously outclassed, but determined to meet my goals somewhere in the middle. That's why I'm here, after all. Yeah, If I can break 52 minutes, life is good. I let myself go, feeling my stride length more than double, and wow, it just feels amazing. It's just a reminder that I'm ready to go.

I line up at the 8 minute per mile pace sign, and wish I could get a little closer to the starting line. I don't see mats, so I wonder if it's only gun time that matters. Without being rude I can't get any closer. Finally, it's 2 minutes to go and I begin to count backwards from 120 seconds. And we're off.

My music, carefully selected last night to keep me in a heightened state of excitement, begins blaring too loudly. But I like it, and leave it that way. Could be a good thing. I feel great, and try to find a position that doesn't leave me feeling too boxed in. I hate that feeling. I have a hard time with this, spurting through holes, thinking, "please get out of my way," and wonder why all these people lined up at 8 minutes per mile when they are running so slowly.

I have no Garmin, no idea my pace. I pick a pace that feels comfortable, something like my three strides at 8:30 yesterday. Legs strong, but no strain. I have my elapsed time per mile written on the inside of my wrist in a sharpie marker, picking an aggressive finishing time goal just under 51 minutes. Why not? My first mile is supposed to be in 8:30, and then 8:20, and so on. As I pass the first mile mark, I glance down at my stop watch, which reads 7:06. Oops. It really didn't feel that fast.

My next mile is in 7:30, and that was after I really pressed for a slow down. I then passed the blonde runner with the impressive legs. By the half way point (the course is two loops on the 5K course), I looked down at my watch: 23:40. Two thoughts come to mind: I'm going to break 50 minutes, even if I slow down dramatically. Second, I'm starting to get a little tired.

By mile four, I have really noticed the smell of diesel fuel and fertilizer, and feel my chest begin to wheeze. I wonder how I'll hang on, but everyone else seems to be doing it, so I will too. I cough a few times and think this must be what it is like to have exercise-induced asthma. I don't remember fumes from the last time I ran this course, but it will be over soon. Just keep running.

Whenever I race, there is usually one factor that is my hardest to overcome. Temperature (usually too hot), hills, legs feeling weak, lungs, or "the wall." But today, it's the lungs, it's the wheezing that seems to be caused by the fumes. The course is fast and flat, and must be the flattest 10K course possible. I think that my lungs will hurt for days to come. My legs never feel weak though, and there are moments when I just check out and feel my legs carry me and not much else. There is no scenery in the caves. Just the music, and it's perfect.

At last, the finish line is ahead, and I'm spent. I have a little kick left, but not much, and I leave everything I have on the course. I sprint through, and hit my stopwatch as soon as I cross the timing mat. The time is 49:25. I have, somehow, broken 50 minutes. I do the math, that's an average of two sub-25 minute 5Ks (all the higher power my brain could handle was 50 divided by 2). I couldn't have run 10 more steps. I find a spot to rest for a second and someone clips my chip off.

It's a long time until the awards ceremony. I didn't really think I'd place in the top three in my age group, and I didn't. But third place had a 48 in front of it, so I wasn't too far off. I'm totally satisfied, surprised even, with my performance today. An outstanding 10K PR. Time to celebrate. My well-earned bottle of champagne chills in my refrigerator.

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