Ohhh the Big Ten Network’s Big 10k.
This was my second 10k ever, and the second time running this specific race. Two for two!
Looking back, this race has a special place in my heart for one big reason; it was on this course that I first understood that my potential far exceeded anything that I had allowed my mind to believe. It was on this course that I first RACED, and on this course that I first experienced the excitement and joy of crossing a finish line with numbers I could only dream of. Don’t get me wrong — we’re not talking Jordan Hasay numbers here. We’re talking 8:30s. But they were MY 8:30s.
This makes more sense in the context of my running history – much of which was spent in the 9:30 -12:00 minute/mile range. I simply didn’t believe that my body was capable of more, and I didn’t have the confidence (or any real reason) to challenge that notion.
This year, I wanted to run the course again as part of my Grand Rapids Marathon training, so I worked with Coach Abby to make it work. A few days before the race, we set up a strategy that I could begin to wrap my head around. Sure, I wanted to PR (big time), but I also wanted to run a smart race that helped me to better prepare myself mentally for the type of strategy I need to employ in my training and racing moving forward. While I want the short term goals, I’m starting to shift my perspective. If I learn… if I absorb… if I train smart now, I’ll set myself up for success in the future.
Coach wanted me to focus on two major, inter-related goals for this race: 1) a slow start; and 2) a negative split. She had also given me specific time goals and parameters, and I was essentially treating this like the progression run I had been so excited about a few days prior. I expressed a bit of frustration that these times seemed so “slow,” but fully admitted that my impatience drove that frustration. In light of that frustration, she gave me more of a “reach” goal that was driven more by feel than actual numbers, which helped me to understand where my head needed to be. With that, I was ready to race.
The Guy and I hopped in a cab on race morning and quickly made our way south to the race site near Museum Campus. I had wanted an hour pre-race, but the wait for a cab knocked that down to around 40-45 minutes. We actually hopped out in the middle of an intersection as our cab idled in traffic, and made our way East to the staging area. For whatever reason, the race only had about 20 port-o-lets available to runners pre-race, and with something like 13,000 runners, this seemed like… poor planning. I waited in line for a few minutes before the Guy suggested I go in search of a free restroom on my warm-up miles, which, in hindsight, shows way more brain power than I normally have that early in the morning. Luckily, the park had opened REAL restrooms that had been locked only a few minutes earlier, so I jumped in and TCB’d after about a mile of warm-up. I hurried back to the race start area, adding some strides to my warm-up, nervous that I was going to be late for a start for the second race IN A ROW.
The start corrals were also a bit of a cluster, as they wrapped around in a U-shape, and the earlier corrals were only accessible by walking all the way around the 1/2mi of later corrals. I guiltily weaved through runners as the National Anthem played, feeling frustrated by the set-up. When I finally got to my corral (A), I might as well have been an elite runner, because I entered with them and lined up right behind them. NBD for this n00b.
Miles 1 – 3:
(1) 8:25; (2) 8:14; (3) 8:00
I fumbled around with my shuffle (I decided to run with music for this longer race, as it has been helpful when I’m pushing the pace), and before I knew it, we were off. Immediately, there was a giant WHOOSH of runners as those around me passed me, starting fast and strong. In the first half mile, I really had to fight to stay slow. I kept muttering “start slow to finish strong,” and “Abby’s gonna kill you if you start too fast.” Oh, and I was still fumbling with my shuffle in the first 1/4 mile, because why would I be prepared for a race start? Ugh… another goal to work on is clearly “improve pre-race timing.”
The first two miles were fairly uneventful. I was right on pace for the first mile, and shifting to the second mile pace of 8:15 felt a little fast at first, but my legs eased into it pretty quickly. I think it was also around this time that my right foot fell asleep. This is the second time this has happened – two different pairs of shoes, but both times I was wearing compression socks. Nothing debilitating, just annoying.
I skipped the first water stop and focused on my feet. The first half of the course was run on a closed street, which was great for the sheer size of this race. Last year (the first year), I believe the course was an out-and-back run completely on the narrower lake path, which made for a pretty congested race. I did grab some water shortly after the turnaround, which brought us off of the street and onto the lake path.
Miles 4 – 6.2:
(4) 7:57; (5) 7:43, (6) 7:33; (0.2) 1:25 (6:22 pace)
The second half of the race was where I knew I wanted to turn on the jets, albeit slowly and smoothly. About halfway through mile 4, I started prepping myself for the steady uptick in pace, and started focusing on targets in front of me (namely the couple clad in Iowa gear about 10 feet in front of me – I could totally beat a couple from Iowa, right?). I started seriously pushing with about 1/2 mile left, and really kicked it in for the final 1/4 mile. Around this time, I also had to actively speed up to avoid the guy running with untied shoelaces. I gave him wide berth, and remember thinking that it would be just my luck to go down in a tragic shoelace pile-up mere minutes from the finish line. Around the time I rounded the corner towards the finishing chute, I got it in my head that I didn’t want my finish photo to have headphones in it, so I spent the majority of the chute trying to shove them down my bra. I probably could have clocked a faster pace if I didn’t have my hands down my shirt. REALLY hoping the finish line photographers caught that smooth move…
Looking at the race results, I realized how FAST this race really was, and how competitive (and huge) my AG was. While I was really pleased with my time, my sub-8s only netted me an AG spot of 86 out of 1155.
As I mentioned to Abby, I was nervous to start any kind of push or kick too early, and ruin any “fast finish” I had spent the whole race setting myself up for. I also noticed that, while my splits were pretty spot on, I felt like I lost a bit of focus on the last mile or so of this race. I shifted from focusing on shifting my times down to just wanting to be done with the race. While I’ve recently learned that I really respond well to “the chase,” I was focusing less on actively chasing, and more letting my brain take a bit of a rest. We agreed that mental focus through the finish, and knowing when to kick, will come with time and practice. I’m putting them both on the list of goals to have for the Chicago Half in Sept.
After the finish line, the race funneled us through the world’s longest finishing area, including a spot to receive our medals (My thought: “We get medals for this?! WUT?!”), millions of snacks and the largest variety of gatorade flavors I’ve ever seen at a race (I counted three different flavors of “blue.”); and a finish photo. Really, I just wanted to get back to the start area where I had designated a meeting place with the Guy. The tunnel finally dumped us out by the gear check and post-race tailgate, and while the beginning of the race only had like ten toilets, the tailgate area had about 10,000 that formed a perimeter around the gear check/finishing area. It created – quite literally – a village of shit. Not my favorite… especially immediately after you finish a race and kind of already feel like puking.
After pleading with various security personnel and volunteers to let me cut through a “restricted” area to get back to the start line (the alternative was to walk like a mile out of my way), I finally met up with the Guy and Jenny, who had just finished a long run and was there to cheer on Manny at his first solo race. (He blasted the 5k – hellll yea!) I didn’t stick around to enjoy my free beer or sausage, so I can’t speak to the Tailgate, but I enjoyed some bubbly & pizza later in the day. The race site was kind of nice (located on the North end of Northerly Island), but it meant a long walk back to civilization.
All in all, this was a fun race that I will (in all likelihood) do again, despite some serious pre- and post-race logistical issues.