Yesterday I made my debut as a member of the Greater Lowell Road Runners, aka The Angry Chickens, at the DH Jones Realty 10 Miler in Amherst, MA, the first stop of the USATF-NE Grand Prix Race Series. The last time I ran this race was in 2010 and it left me feeling…broken. I took a gel at mile 3. I walked hills several times. I finished dejected and eager to put the entire experience behind me. Given the race’s location and distance, I figured I likely wouldn’t run it again, and I was pretty cool with that. However, having decided on doing a race that is going to challenge me on every level in April, I decided it would be good to stock up my training with tough runs that would leave me prepared mentally and physically.
The forecast leading up to the race put the whole day in jeopardy before it even started. Eventually the race director decided to push the race up 3 hours, giving us time to make the trip to Amherst without being rushed. The forecast for the race was a potential for snow and a high of 39 with little wind, all things considered not too bad of conditions. We ended up getting to the race around 2 hours early, leaving plenty of time to get pre-race fuel in order and relax before starting.
Why did I have so much fear and trepidation headed into this race? Well, here’s the elevation chart:
It was during the wicked hill between mile 2-3 that I blew up during my first attempt at the race and even though the last hills don’t seem as bad in comparison, they feel never-ending, especially when you’re headed towards the finish. I distinctly remember walking during both. I also remember not being able to take advantage of the downhills, which are also plentiful, because I was just gassed.
Orders from the coach were to shoot for sub-9 minute miles, which would beat my prior time 1:30:35, though not by much. I think he specifically wanted me to 8:49. When the race started, I went out at what I hoped was a deliberately conservative pace with the goal of making it through the tough hill/mountain and then hitting the middle of the course hard to bank time for the last two miles, which I knew would be slower than the rest of the race just by virtue of the elevation gain. I went through the first two miles feeling comfortable with splits of 8:35 and 8:01, with the faster pace more attributable to a good downhill than increased effort. It was about this time that the snow began to fall, big heavy flakes that added to the picturesque scene without being uncomfortable.
At last, it was time to face my nemesis and, well, it hurt. A lot. This time though, I was ready for the pain, which made all the difference. I looked around me and didn’t see any walkers so I made damn sure I didn’t become the first one. By telling myself that this year wasn’t going to be like 2010 I pushed my way up, and up, and up some more until finally hitting the crest. Mile 3 clocked in at a 9:01 split with 105 feet elevation gain (compared the -148 ft. loss from mile 2). I was now in the meat of the course and feeling pretty decent even after the climb. I decided on a strategy of pushing the downhills and making use of that momentum on the flats. I also didn’t want to let the bumps I knew were coming get to me mentally so I tried to focus on taking powerful strides up them without overexerting.
As the miles ticked off, I actually felt myself getting stronger and stronger. A conservative start meant that I was slowly picking off the runners in front of me, a reversal of my usual race experience of starting off too fast then getting passed in droves. By my estimation, I was only re-passed by one runner in the race. My splits for miles 4-8 were, respectively: 8:34, 8:22, 7:43, 7:16, and 7:30. The only hairy point during the stretch came on the dirt road part of the course, which had begun to ice up towards the end. Some careful footing, though, averted disaster. By mile 8, I knew that, even if the wheels came horribly off, I’d beat my 2010 time. At this point I repeated to myself “The wheels are not coming off! The wheels are not coming off!” until I hit the last set of hills, at which point all brainpower was dedicated to defying gravity. At one point during that stretch, my pace was 9:23. Even though that was a snapshot in time, it’s indicative of the difficulty of the climb for me at that point in the race. Making up for it was the fact that the last quarter mile or so was downhill. One thing that kept me going was an attempt to beat the Whirlaway runner in front of me on the hill, even if it was a woman – call me equal opportunity. It’s no often I get to beat any runner from Whirlaway, male or female, so I was not going to let this opportunity slip through my fingers.
Miles 9 and 10 were 7:52 and 8:06, leaving me with a final time of 1:20:49, nearly 10 minutes better than 3 years ago. I tell you what, I will take that any day of the week, and twice on Sunday. It was great to finish the race with my new GLRR friends cheering me, it certainly helped push through the silly run around the parking lot that constitutes the home stretch of the race.
For those interested in a graphical representation of the race:
Was this the fastest I’ve ever run 10 miles? Nope. Was it one of the most satisfying races I’ve ever experienced? Heck yes! Congrats to the rest of the Greater Lowell Road Runners Angry Chickens out there yesterday!
Run Happy, my friends!