I ran a 10K in Central Park on Saturday that I went into with big goals. I wanted to run sub-39 minutes, with a reach goal of 38:30. As it turns out, both of those goals were a little optimistic.
Anyway, to back it up, the temperature on Saturday morning was perfect for racing. It was about 50 degrees, overcast with little wind (which is lucky, since Sunday saw 30+ mile per hour winds). I had my pre-race breakfast of some peanut butter toast and caught the subway into Manhattan to arrive in time for a 2 mile warm up with some strides thrown in at the end.
I was feeling good and ready in the corral, though slightly terrified. I think the 10k is the hardest distance to race. But they had some bagpipers playing and some women doing some traditional Scottish dancing, and it was a fun atmosphere. Then, as they closed the corrals, it started raining. Perfect timing. Ha! It was fitting weather, though, for the race, since it was very Scottish.
Then the gun went off and we were on our way. I was in the A corral, which is the first one behind the AA corral reserved for elites and sub-elites. As such, I was surrounded by a lot of fast people. And maybe they were too fast for me. In the first half mile, my watch said 5:45. Yikes! That’s WAY too fast for a 10k, and I had to work hard to slow it down without getting trampled, since the start is always so crowded. I succeeded though, and went through the first mile in 6:15, right on pace.
The second mile included a series of three rolling hills along the west side of Central Park. And while the uphill segments were hard work, the surprising thing was how hard I had to work on the downhill portions. I was really struggling to pick up the pace on the downhill and to get good turnover, which was not a good sign. I clocked another 6:15 mile on my watch, but I’m a few seconds off the mile marker at this point.
Mile three included the dreaded Harlem Hill – a 0.32 mile 4.4% grade climb in the northernmost part of Central Park. The only redeeming quality of that hill is the downhill after you reach the top, but again…I just really couldn’t get my legs to turn over on the downhill. Ugh. Even worse, at this point, my left calf was on fire, and I knew I was in trouble. My watch buzzed at 6:19 for the mile, though it was likely closer to 6:25.
The problem with finishing the downhill after Harlem Hill is that you have to go back up the other side of the hill. It’s roughly the same climb of about 85 feet, but over a longer distance, so the grade isn’t as bad. That sounds great, but whereas Harlem Hill is followed by a downhill, this climb is followed by a section that is flat to slightly uphill. That means you don’t get a chance to really recover after that climb. And that was a big problem for me.
I crossed the 5k split somewhere near the top in an official time 19:40, which was only 6 seconds slower than my 5K PR, but I felt totally dead. I couldn’t get my legs to move after that hill, and so that ended up being my worst mile – 6:41 on my watch, which is slower than half marathon pace.
My bipolar internal monologue was going strong during the fifth mile. One part of my brain yelling at me for being weak and not picking up the pace, and the other just saying, let’s just go lay in the grass over there, doesn’t that sound nice?
On the bright side, this mile was pretty much entirely flat, with some slight downhill, but my pace was stubbornly stuck near half marathon pace, so I knew I had to do something. That something ended up being a water stop. I grabbed a cup and walked for a few seconds while I tried to choke some down (not an easy thing when you are breathing hard). Even though I really didn’t get much water down, that pause did the trick. When I started back up again, I was able to take about 10 seconds off the pace I had been maintaining before the stop. My watch buzzed 6:23 for that mile.
Mile six had a nice downhill (about 3.7% grade), which should have been awesome, but again, I just couldn’t get the turnover on the downhill, and struggled to get my pace any higher than it was going into the hill. At this point though, it’s all about the mental negotiation. Less than 8 minutes of running? That’s nothing! Suck it up! At the bottom of the park, my watch buzzed 6:26, which was still more than 10 seconds slower than my goal, but at least it was under half marathon pace.
Now, for anyone who has run the New York City Marathon before, you probably remember the small, but terribly annoying hill right at the end. Well, that’s what we had at the end here.
I was on the struggle bus at this point, and my left calf was a mess. I knew the finish was close, but I just couldn’t bring myself to push harder. The result: 40:01.
I was kicking myself. Not only did I miss my goal by a huge margin, but I was such a wimp at the end that I couldn’t even finish with a 39-minute handle.
I was beating myself up about the race pretty bad when my fiancé came to the rescue.
“It was the hills that killed you,” he asked. I said yes. “Could your body still be tired from the Palisades?”
Ah ha. Yes. The Palisades. As I wrote in my last recap, the Saturday prior to the race I ran my last 22 mile long run on a course with with 2,200 feet of elevation gain. That is a lot of elevation for anyone, and, in particular, a lot of elevation for me when I typically run about 400-500 feet of elevation in a week.
I think my fiancé is on to something, and I think my body just wasn’t in peak form going into this race. While that’s disappointing, what I have to remember is that this race wasn’t my goal for the season. That’s Boston, and that’s still another two weeks away. So I think it’s important that I try to brush this off and focus on my taper. It’s crucial in the next two weeks that I take my taper and recovery seriously so that my body is fresh and ready to go on April 18.
Have you ever had a disappointing race late in a training cycle? How did you handle it?
What’s your favorite and least favorite distances to race?