I started walking three days after the bombings at the 2013 Boston Marathon. I didn’t know then that I would be running the marathon a year later. At the time, I was just trying to become a little more fit. It would be a month before my first tentative steps as a runner (15:11 pace the first time out).
Ten months and five days later, I just crossed the thousand mile mark. It happened around the half way point at the 40th annual Jones Ten Miler. It’s reason enough to pause and reflect. We like round numbers. And if you told me ten months ago that I would be running sustained nine minute miles, I’d have told you that you were full of it. But that’s where we are now.
Don’t get me wrong. That’s not fast by any stretch of the imagination. The Jones 10 Miler is not a casual race. The people that run this thing are intense. They show up wearing team shirts that say VO Max on the sleeve, or “distance project” on the front. I saw some of them in their cool down runs at my mile eight of the race… so they’d finished the race, grabbed some water and food, and had already slow-jogged two miles, and I still had two miles to go. When I arrived I was pretty much immediately intimidated. Most of the guys there were not just ten years younger (or more), they were four or five inches taller (or more), and I still easily outweighed most of the competition by 30 pounds or so. These people are serious. They’re not on their first thousand mile journey… they’ve lost track by now!
The course is very hilly, and is a traditional prep-course for people who are going to run Boston in April. If you can do well here, with almost 700 feet of climb in ten miles, you’re in good shape for Boston, with half the elevation climb over 26.2.
But how many people are going to win these races? One. And quite frankly, it’s never going to be me. So when I go out, I’m doing it to run my race, not anyone else’s. This was the end of my first thousand mile journey, and so I set out to make the most of it. It was also the first race of the USA Track & Field New England Grand Prix, which I hope to complete this year (unless I get a lottery spot to run the New York Marathon, in which case I will be in New York for the last race of the season).
Here’s my pace chart… you can see my pace gets slow… over 12:00 minute miles at around the three mile mark. To be fair, that’s the top of a pretty steep hill…
Take a look at the green chart. That steep upward line that runs from 2 to 3? There is nine tenths of a mile at roughly 5.5% grade hill. By the end of that third mile, I knew I’d be happy with finishing this race in under 1:35. I had shown up hoping for a finish under 90 minutes, but my third mile was 10:33, and I felt pretty spent by that point.
For most races, I like to start towards the back of the pack, then try to pass people as the race goes on. It feels pretty empowering, but maybe gives you a false sense of confidence, too. With this bunch of gazelles, I started towards the back, and then was passed by most of the remaining quarter of the field. It was humbling.
Around mile six I started to catch up to a woman easily old enough to be my mother. She had a headband that said “suck it up, buttercup.” I’d seen her briefly at the start of the race, as we were right next to each other at the beginning, but she had pulled ahead easily. Around mile six I saw her ahead, and over the next mile, I caught up to her. I stayed on her six for the next couple of miles, then exchanged some pleasantries as I pulled ahead and tried to kick in the extra gear for the last mile.
At the start of mile ten, I had been bouncing around somewhere in the vicinity of 9 minute miles, with downhill portions creeping up a little for bits and spurts, but I tried to really turn it up for the final mile. I ended up clocking a 7:48 mile at the end of the race, and I’m pretty pleased with that. I also managed to bag my fastest kilometer since getting the Garmin account at 4:22, and my fastest continuous 10K at 54:12. That’s a PR by over 30 seconds. My pulse climbed to 186 in the final minute, so I’m pretty sure there wasn’t much more I could have done. I certainly look spent!
Observations on the race itself:
- Pretty good conditions for February in New England, with some caveats. A little bit of ice on the road, and a complete log-jam at about a quarter mile in where there was a huge patch. I don’t normally advocate salting, but that section had everyone slowing to a very careful walk.
- The middle third of the race was pretty much all hard packed dirt roads. It was the flattest part of a very hilly course, and was a combination of mud, ice, and frozen mud. In a section that might otherwise have been where you made up some time after the really tough hill that is mile three, I found I needed to be careful and selective about where I ran and how hard I pushed.
- This race had zero flare. A simple long-sleeve tech shirt for runners, and that was it. No big banners waving. No vendor tents. It was all about running, and nothing else. I was okay with that.
- The race started and ended at the Amherst high school. The organizers for this race had the cafeteria open afterwards, and offered a couple different types of soup, whole wheat and white baguette, cookies, and brownies. It was very well appreciated. A hot bowl of tomato soup (with pasta in the soup – weird but delicious) was just the thing after that race!
- While I didn’t take advantage of it, showers were available, too. A nice touch.
Not too many people from the North Shore Striders were there, but I did meet a few of my new teammates, and that was nice. I’m guessing I’ll see more of them in three weeks when we run the New Bedford Half.
End of the day lessons:
- I need to do more hill work. The hills are killing my times.
- I am doing a good job with saving something in the tank for the final mile, and need to keep that as part of my repertoire.
- I’m so much faster than I used to be, but I’m still slow. I need to decide if I’m going to try to fix that or embrace it.
- At 83rd out of 93 for the 40-something men, that’s a lot of fixing!
Final results: 10 miles in 1:29:56, average pace of 9:00 per mile.
I’ll take it.