Summary: 1:13:15, 16/126 AG (M 45-49)
"Lean forward," I said to myself, "Pick it up -- you've got this in the bag."
I was 7-1/2 miles into the 10-Miler, and everything had gone right so far. Know I was within reach of beating my PR, set 10 years ago. It was time to see what was left in the tank.
The morning of the race had dawned colder than expected. Temperatures were hovering around 40 at my house as I had my breakfast. Just to be on the safe side I threw a short-sleeved shirt in with my bag along with my singlet. The rest of my gear -- hat and gloves were already set to go.
I drove down to the race start with plenty of time to spare. Although the race had a record field this year -- over 2100 finished -- the race starts by the University of Virginia's basketball arena, so there's plenty of space for parking. I got in my warmup run, hit the men's room, and lined up towards the front, not too close to the speedsters, but away from the crowd.
With the gun, we were off! My location was good. I went out conservatively, and had room to run without dodging other runners. At the half-mile I was at 3:50. That was perfect -- Debi's instructions were to do the first mile in 7:40 and pick up the pace from there. I was determined to follow the advice, after heading out too fast in my last race.
Like all the 10-Miler course, the first mile has some hills. I kept my effort even, but stretched it out on the downhills. At the first mile I was at 7:30 -- maybe a touch fast, but there was a long downhill stretch in there. More importantly, the effort felt good. I was breathing easy and running relaxed. I could hear some of the runners around me who'd gone out to fast breathing heavily, and it was a good reinforcement to me.
Mile 2 circled the football stadium, and the pace stayed consistent - 7:25, despite a couple of hills.
Mile 3 continued through the University grounds, passing many of the University's original buildings and Thomas Jefferson's enlightened architecture. At the close of the mile I was at 22:23 -- nice consistent pace through three of the more challenging miles on the course. Most runners leave too much effort on the ground after three miles, but I felt good -- relaxed, running well and in control. Now it was time to take it up a notch.
Mile 4 passes out of the University of Virginia grounds and into the city -- it's a fast mile, with a long downhill stretch. I took advantage and hit it in 7:05.
Now I was approaching the Downtown Mall, a pedestrian mall that's at the heart of the city. Good size crowds were out as we ran up the brick paving, and turned north into some of the older residential areas of Charlottesville. Despite the slight uphill, I came in at 7:17, hitting the 5 mile mark at 36:46.
This was a key moment. The 10-Miler is notorious for sucking runners in during the first 5 miles and then chewing them up. Negative splits are the exception, not the rule. I felt good after 5 -- plenty of gas in the tank, and prepared for the next couple of miles.
Mile 6 hits with a downhill, then a tough uphill. I gathered strength by starting to pass some of the runners who had left me early in the race. Every hill seemed to take a little more out of them, and I started passing more and more familiar faces from the first few mile. 7:24 for this tough mile.
Mile 7 is the breaking point for a lot of runners -- a long uphill past a cemetery (today featuring a bagpiper mangling some Scottish airs) and then a turn onto a short, steep uphill. The course passes back by itself, so I could see the crowd of runners still coming on behind me. A short jaunt back onto the Downtown Mall, then off onto another street. 7:29 -- the pace was a bit slower, but I was holding my own, picking off other runners consistently.
As I ran back towards the University I started doing the math. My PR was in site. 1:13:01. I'd need to average a little over 7:00/mile and I'd have it in the bag. The longest straight stretch of the race, Main Street, was in front of me. "Lean forward -- you've got it in the bag."
Mile 8 -- 7:23. Damn.
Mile 9 -- The University "Corner" -- shops, restaurants, and one of the toughest hills on the course. Keep it going -- fast legs, go hard. A left turn back onto the University grounds, and then a sweeping downhill. Here's the mile marker -- 7:19. This is going to take a heck of an effort.
Mile 10 -- There's no rest on the home stretch -- it's a tough section of rolling ups and downs as you retrace the opening mile back to the start. I focus on each runner ahead of me, focusing on catching one runner at a time, rather than the growing fatigue. Then I see him, up ahead. My co-worker, Tommy. I've been trying to beat him all year. I'd seen him at the start, then put him out of my mind, knowing he'd go out much faster.
Now I'm gaining. I keep digging. There's the finish. I'm not going to get him -- or the PR -- go hard anyway.
Finish -- 1:13:15.
No PR, no victory over my co-worker. But one of the best races I've run in years, and 3-1/2 minutes faster than last year. That's a good day's work!