Monday, May 01, 2006

Race Report: On Your Mark, Get Set ...

So there I was, in Mile 4 of the Sallie Mae 10K yesterday morning, and all I could hear was the heavy breathing - wheezing, really - of the tall, skinny man I had passed moments ago, as he caught up to me.

Well, almost. He stayed a few feet behind, hanging by my left shoulder. I quickened my pace a little. He started hacking and spitting, and I reflexively ran even faster, out of striking distance.

If there's one thing men hate, it's being beaten by a woman.

It was a gorgeous spring day in Washington, and I ran the race almost on a lark. I hadn't really trained for it, so I used the race as a fitness gauge. My friends L., K., and H. also ran the race with me, though we lost each other after the starting gun fired.

Remembering Austin: I ran the race a tiny bit conservatively, as the memories of bonking at Austin, Texas's Go for the Gold 10K in March are still fresh.

And I almost gave up on actually racing the Sallie Mae in the early miles. I got stuck in the very back of the 1,322-person pack, and I had to weave my way through clusters of folks, running along the perimeter, jumping curbs, and wasting precious energy. I crossed the first mile marker a whopping 45 seconds off pace, at 8:35.

Whoa! I felt like I was running slowly, but not that slow. I got discouraged, my mind already tired from navigating through throngs of runners. My pace slowed even further.

After about two minutes, the crowds thinned, and I thought, "C'mon! Don't be a wimp!" I fixed my eyes on a woman about 20 yards ahead of me, and reeled her in, willing my legs to eat up more road. The second mile went by in 7:45, and the third in 7:50. Back on pace.

At the turnaround, I resolved to keep running strong, but I wasn't sure if I had it in me to run negative splits. I didn't want to run out of steam at the end, as I did in Austin.

Nobody talked. All you could hear was heavy breathing and the pounding of thousands of rubber-clad feet on asphalt. We ran on Haine's Point, an outcropping of land bordered by the Potomac, with clear views of the monuments, but we could've been running in a tunnel for all the attention we paid to our surroundings.

I slowly started picking off people. Every time I passed a man, he tried to catch up to me. Perhaps so did the women I passed, but I couldn't hear them breathing hard while doing so.

Blondie and Bex: Except for one. A muscular blond woman with sturdy legs and blue shorts. A little after Mile 4, I passed her. A few minutes later, she returned the favor. I passed her again. Thirty seconds later, I saw her rapid arm swing as she ran past me again.

Fine, I thought, letting her go. I wasn't going to turn on the few jets I had until midway through Mile 5. She stayed about 15 yards ahead.

Then she did something that made me almost do a double-take. She started walking! I almost yelled at her, "Keep going! You're almost there!" But I kept my mouth shut. I wanted to beat her, didn't I?!

Sayonara, baby, I thought as I flew by.

But I was starting to really tire. Even though I was running at the same intensity, I hit Mile 5 in 7:58, 8 seconds off pace. The volunteer manning the clock at Mile 5 looked at our red, straining faces as we passed and said, "C'mon folks, turn up the heat!!"

Well, all-righty then. Still a bit wary of bonking, I started to run faster. I passed some more people. Then someone caught up to me and hung on my shoulder. I couldn't shake him or her off.

I glanced over: Blondie!

She had me in her cross-hairs, and must've sprinted to catch up. Her ponytail bobbed jauntily, but her jaw was hard-set and her eyes grim. We crossed a final bridge, rounded a last corner, and hit Mile 6 together, stride for stride.

We were on a straightaway, with the Potomac on our left, the Lincoln and Washington monuments on our right, and the finish line dead ahead. I thought, Less than a lap to go, and hit it as hard as I could. I lengthened and quickened my stride. My lactic-acid-engulfed thighs screamed in protest and my stomach started to cramp dangerously. I had to ease up a little, lest I vomit (or worse) all over myself.

But apparently my pace was still strong, as I heard Blondie grunt and pound her feet faster on the pavement. I kept going, eyes a bit unfocused, and finally lost her for good. I ran the last .2 in 1:33.

The race clock said 49:33 as I crossed the finish line. I was happy. Then I became even more pleased when I saw that my real time was 48:48 (7:50/avg mile pace). It turns out that I didn't cross the starting mats until about 45 seconds after the starting gun fired. My friends also did well, finishing the race between 56 and 58 minutes.

So I PR'ed. I took almost 1 1/2 minutes off my last 10K PR, in November. I must be doing something right.


  1. Way to turn up the heat!
    Congrads on your PR :)

  2. Congrats! You've inspired me to sign up for more races.

  3. Great report, it actually got my competitive juices flowing. Congrats on the PR.

  4. Whoa! That was awesome. I feel like I need a nap now but I'm sitting here in running clothes so maybe I'll run instead.

  5. I'm exhausted just reading that!! What a fantastic race!! next time, go ahead and hurl. no one will care!

    Awesome time and great write up. Love the description. Blondie is probably crying her eyes out. hee hee.

  6. Wow, somehow you make hurling sound like fun!! Way to go Bex. A race to remember. See ya soon:)

  7. Nice race, Bex! I love that challenge at the end. I usually end up being the one that gets stomped on. Way to hang in there. Guess you had alot more in the tank than she did. She must have used up alot trying to catch up to you again after falling behind.

  8. Great job!! Do you owe your success to the running skirt?

    I love having someone to race to the finish, it really helps with that final kick!

  9. Blondie gets 15% credit for your PR. Nice. I love to race someone like that in a race. It just keeps you going!!
    Give Susie some of that on Sunday.