Army Ten-Miler Race Report
Some things are just out of your control as a racer. The weather, for instance. But the best possible planning helps you overcome those things as much as possible. Train well, eat well, pack well. It’s a lesson I apparently need to relearn.
I’m running the Army Ten-Miler as a warm-up for the Marine Corps Marathon. I’ve been struggling through most of my post-partum recovery training just trying to get the miles in at whatever pace feels right that day, and I want to leave it all out there and see what I can do, and hopefully get an idea of what my marathon pace should be.
So I have 3 goals:
Beat my 2006 time of 2:00, set while 4 months pregnant, and avoid a PW
Beat my husband for the first time since 2006. He’ll be running a 10:30 pace.
The forecast for the day is 90 and sunny. I know that spells bad news, since most of the course is in the sun. Following my mantra “Always be prepared” I buy a visor at the expo, some spray-on sunscreen, and pack my Race Ready shorts with some Carboom and eCaps. All set.
I get everything out and in a place where I won’t leave it behind.
At 6:30 AM my brother shows up to watch Baby Balgera. He’s 15 minutes early. I’m off to a good start. One thing out of my control went smoothly. Hop in the car, up to the start, find parking, arrive in plenty of time to use the bathroom and line up. No traffic. Another thing going smoothly.
DH and I cross the start line around 8:20. The crowd is not too bad. The three-wave start seems to have worked well. We trot along at what I think is a “comfortably hard” pace, but already DH is falling behind. This worries me. I have no idea how my pace should feel anymore. I ask him if this feels like the normal pace for his training runs (10:30), or faster. He says it feels about normal so I go with it. It’s a race after all.
He falls significantly behind, and I pass the first mile marker. 9:47. Woops.
Mistake #1 which could have easily been overcome by preparation. Not learning what the right pace for the race feels like.
So I decide to slow it down a hair. Good thing because by the time I cover the next two miles I’m starting to feel some fatigue. I miss the next mile marker, but mile 2 and mile 3 I cover in 21:30 or 10:45 per mile. Better. I decide I’ll keep it there.
Mile 4 passes and I’m feeling pretty good. 10:23. Here I stop for water. Unfortunately the Army Ten-Miler suffers from an overload of rookies who have no idea how to run through a water-stop. They all pile up at the very first table. Smartly, I think, I will run to the end. But I have outsmarted myself - at the end there is only Gatorade. Not what I want. Full-strength Gatorade will upset my stomach. But it’s that or walk against traffic for water. Preventable mistake #2 – listen to the volunteers handing out the water and plan the water-stops better.
Mile 5 goes fine however with no stomach upset. With the water-stop fiasco and a minute of walking I have an 11:40 split, but that means I’ve run in the neighborhood of a 10:40 pace. I seem to have settled in.
I push through mile 6 and I’m starting to feel it – 11:02. Another water stop is coming up just past the mile marker so I take a gel, get myself ready to grab a water and pick up the pace again. Only 4 more miles to go and I can push through that at under 11:00 per mile, I confidently tell myself. That will put me at the finish around 1:48, an excellent time for my current fitness level.
Only – there’s no water. Or Gatorade for that matter. Now it’s 90 degrees with the sun beating down, the band of my visor totally saturated with sweat, the overflow spilling into my eyes, my teeth coated with goo, and there’s no water. A group of soldier volunteers is standing around. I shout “Where’s the water?” They tell me to keep going. I near the end of the line of tables and realize that’s it. There’s just no water. A group of people is digging dirty cups out of the trash and scooping water out of a garbage can. I do the same. The water is full of dirt. I pour it over my head for momentary relief. Preventable mistake #3 – not bringing my own fluids.
This is demoralizing. I shuffle for a minute along with a crowd of grumbling people. I’ve spent 2-3 minutes searching for water so my goals seem shot. But I don’t want this to become an excuse, so I pick it up again. As we pass the Capitol, people start diving into the fountain on the lawn and drinking from it. This looks momentarily appealing but I decide heatstroke is a more pleasant affliction than dysentery so I run on past. Mile 7: 12:47. If subtract two minutes for dumpster diving I’ve run around 10:47, so at least my legs are still working and I’m theoretically maintaining pace.
After the 7 mile marker I can see down Independence Avenue to where the next water stop will be. There are two stone arches over the street where we’ll make the turn onto the 14th Street bridge. I’m on the edge of bonking, and I focus on the arches. I’ll get some water and Gatorade there. I count down the minutes.
The 8 mile mark is a few hundred yards beyond the tables. I make a quick estimation – if I can grab some water quickly I can speed (relatively speaking) on through the next mile in about 11:00. I round the corner prepared to grab the first cup I see and power past the crowd. And I see – groups of people bent over garbage cans, dirty cups blowing across the plains of empty tables. There’s no water here either.
Fully preventable mistake #4 – harboring optimism.
I spend a couple of minutes rooting for a cup and water. Since the last stop had no water, everyone who planned on getting some here has given up and is doing the garbage can scoop. I drop several minutes trying to find a clear spot.
I’m fully prepared to go ahead and drink this – I’m desperate now – but there’s just too much debris floating in the water. I pour it over my head again. I walk to the 8 mile mark. 13:57.
On to the 14th street bridge. Almost 2 miles of undulating concrete baking in the sun like the Iraqi desert, the river below like a fetid Persian Gulf. I’d rather swim through the Potomac than cross this.
I’m totally wiped, but I can’t decide if it’s from running faster than I should have, the lack of water, or the prospect of the bridge. A thick crust of salt coats my body and cracks with every movement. I decide it’s mostly mental and push on. Mile 9: 12:01.
My lower back is killing me. I’ve been leaning forward going up the hills on the bridge. My form and spirit are totally broken. I take a brief walk break. I look at my watch. I can still get in under 1:55. There’s a half-mile to go and one more hill. Time to dig in. I start to run. Not shuffle – run. I pass pretty much everyone on the bridge. I pass a double-amputee. He’s running. I pass a woman missing an arm. She’s running. Everyone else has been reduced to walking by the heat, the bridge, the dehydration. Or is it loss of faith?
I’m dizzy, my hands are tingling, and I’m shivering. Oh yay. Heatstroke. Well there’s an ambulance a few hundred yards back tending someone else. Maybe I can catch a ride.
I run through the finish at what feels like a sprint but probably looking like a lame Snuffalupagus at a gallop. 11:30. Total time: 1:54:42. I grab some water and nearly kiss the feet of the volunteer handing it out.
I don’t know what to think. I’m mad at the race organizers, I’m mad at the weatherman, and mostly I’m mad at myself. Because I’ve left myself with a lot more doubts than confidence going into Marine Corps Marathon in 3 weeks. Was this really a good test race? Did I bonk because of my early pace and my fitness level, because of the heat, because of the water situation, or because I let it all get to me? Do I take a few minutes off my final time due to the water stop fiascos for purposes of estimating my marathon pace or not? Do I use the time I think I could have run had everything been perfect? Did I really leave it all out there? I’ve had faster training runs, after all.
I just don’t know myself any more. I don’t know how to gauge my pace. I don’t know what to expect from this marathon. I don’t know if I can be satisfied with just “finishing” MCM. I don’t know if there will be excuses to make – I just had a baby, it was hot, the course was crowded… Or if I can be satisfied with my performance no matter what the outcome.
All I can do for the next three weeks is train well, eat well, pack well. I’ll leave nothing to chance, leave no doubt that I’ve done everything I can to control the outcome.