Preparing for 10K in 39:xx.
Funny how things change.
Seems like only a little while ago I was going out of my way to avoid anything marginally redolent of strength training, stretching, and speedwork, and all the sudden here I am doing 15-20 minutes of strength and stretching after every single run. And here I am setting aside at least one day per week for quality speed that isn’t just some vague effort-based noodling about.
Seems like only yesterday that I was wondering how I could ever move away from Juneau, and now here I am feverishly researching and applying to jobs or schools or opportunities down south again. (Sidenote: It’s really hard to find a job in March when, due to current work commitments, you’re not available until July. It’s also really disappointing to find out you’ve been offered interviews for things you really, REALLY want to do, but you’re required to be present in person for the interview even though it will cost you $1200 just to fly out of town for the cumulative 30-40 hour journey, with no guarantee of getting an actual job after all that time and effort and monetary investment (waaaaiiit… spending a lot of time, effort, and money on something with no guarantee of a decent job afterward? Is it just me or does that sound like a great reason to avoid graduate school?) . (Sidenote within a sidenote: sometimes I complain about how expensive and exhausting and time-consuming it is to get out of Juneau, but then I think of the Oregon Trail game and remember that people used to travel across the North American continent via Conestoga wagons and they had to ford rivers with incompetent oxen before perishing messily of dysentery and frost bite and maggoty meat. So perhaps I should just shut up about the long and pricey flight. Especially since I chose to live here and I really do love it.))
There’s this 10K coming up on March 31st. I’ve been burning to take another crack at the 10K distance since I last ran one in September of 2010, and this upcoming 10K will be my only chance until who knows when.
This past Saturday, there was a five mile St. Patrick’s Day race I was excited about, figuring it could be a good fitness indicator or at the very least a nice tempo run.
Unfortunately, I had a bit of a rough time negotiating the course. The first mile was on road, and I was astounded to throw down a 6:11 (a blisteringly fast opener for me) and quietly thrilled that I felt strong and was even reeling in a few of the fast guys. Then we entered the woods for three hilly laps of a trail sheathed in ice. We were all taken by surprise, and none of us was wearing ice spikes. I weathered a furious internal temper tantrum as I watched my hopes of a fast race slip away (HA HA) with each hill.
There was a ~200m section of the course that offered a rather spectacular downhill. Since the entire trail was iced over, this segment was particularly treacherous. For people who are daredevil trail runners or skiers, the slippery downhill segment provided an enormous relative advantage over pathetically cautious pansies like me.
I was very disappointed that I had to endure this 200 meter section of ground-losing, time-killing, tippy-toe-elf-windmill-arms-slip’n’slide nonsense not once but three times. On the icy downhill, I got passed by people I was in the process of lapping, I lost ground on each lap, and I was grumpy.
Overall, a frustrating race effort, which made it obvious to me that after this snowy season of races I’m really not into trail racing right now. Running on trails, sure. But racing on them? Having to slow down due to crummy conditions or extreme downhills? No thanks.
(Speaking of people who are good at trail running and being mentally tough beyond any level of toughness I’ve ever encountered in my own brain, here is a fun article about our local ultra-running VIP Geoff Roes, who recently completed the Iditarod Trail Invitational. Which is some 350-mile slog through what more or less appears to be hell? Read it. I DO NOT KNOW HOW PEOPLE DO THINGS LIKE THIS. HOW?!! When I think about some of the running Geoff does, I feel this urge to slap myself in the face for my litany of theatrical complaints about running on a few inches of snow and ice in March. What I do is so small.)
In any case, after a lackluster St. Patrick’s day race, I redeemed myself with my last 10K prep workout before the March 31st 10K. It’s been clear and sunny here for a few days in a row, which has been magnificent for my morale despite the fact that temperatures have been in the high teens or low 20s during my runs, with a windchill that bites you in the brain and leaves your temples aching for hours if you are fool enough to venture out without sufficient head protection.
What follows is a run-down of the speed session. Preemptive PS: I just reread the bottom part of this post and laughed out loud at myself because there’s a MAJOR shift in tone and all the sudden I’m trying to be some kind of creative writing wizard, but whatever. Carrying on in the present tense:
Last 10K prep workout.
I set out into the dark at 5:30am, spirits buoyed by the clear roads.
As I shuffle over the bridge, stars fade weakly into the first smudged fingers of daylight that bleed across the sky and I can see migratory shorebirds bobbing in the water and sea ducks flying hectically overhead. They’re all coming back. It will be warm again someday and I know this because of the ducks.
Eagles whinny in the treetops of spruces and an owl arcs soundlessly across the road like a secret. The wind they call Taku is nothing more than a bitter whisper at my throat this morning and I can ignore it once my heart rate has climbed high enough.
I bolster my warmup with two half-mile pieces at a “fast” pace and am disappointed to realize that 6:40 pace feels difficult. Suddenly, 5K, 2.1 miles , and 1 mile at 10K goal pace all loom before me like some bit of viciously ambitious idiocy. It would be easy and not altogether incomprehensible to can this workout and acknowledge that I’ve had an ugly, phlegmy cough and a dull ache behind my eyes these last few days.
But I felt good enough to drag myself out here in the first place, so it’s almost a sin not to try.
I jump into the first 5K and am disheartened at the high 6:30s I see on my watch. Luckily, there are 2.5 miles remaining during which I can choose to turn this workout around. I focus on maintaining a sharp and quick turnover, and soon my sloggy marathon legs have settled into a 6:20-6:24 pace. Every time I feel myself slowing down, I focus again on the quick-quick-quick steps, short strides, black spandex ninja legs flashing across the pavement. I lock into this rhythm for the duration of the piece, feeling smooth and calm as I stop my watch at 5K in 19:45.
Oh, this feels so sweet. I’ve only raced under 20:00 in the 5K a handful of times in my life, so it’s sort of strange to clock a sub-20 5K during a 10K workout on a random Wednesday morning. I suppose when you’re trying to break a 40:00 10K, sub-20 5Ks shouldn’t seem scary anymore, but for me, they are still significant. Accordingly, I spend the subsequent jogging rest period feeling overly impressed with myself.
With the 5K done, the remaining 2.1 and one mile feel well within my abilities this morning. The only quarter mile that exists is the one I’m in, and before I know it I’ve strung several together and finished the workout. My 2.1 mile set shakes out to a 6:21 pace, and I let my legs loose for a final mile in 6:10. I sum the numbers in my head as I trot back home over the bridge, losing count a few times because I’m distracted by the brilliant view of the channel and the sunrise and the mountains and the eagles and all these happy shining things that can so swiftly erase the insult of a long winter.
I’ve completed a cumulative 10 kilometers of speed in 39:15 for an average of 6:19 per mile. I conclude that it was a good, focused, hard effort, but never a struggle at any point.
I decide that maybe this idea of 10K in 39:xx isn’t so farfetched after all.