"Pink is my favorite color!" a hunky man with tan, muscular legs told me as I ran past him in mile 3 of the Leesburg 10K/20K this past Sunday. I gave him a big smile as I flew by in my sleeveless pink Nike top and navy running skirt.
Well, "flew" isn't the right word. The race, held on the beautiful and mostly-shaded WO & D trail on the western exurbs of metro Washington, D.C., was mighty crowded on Sunday morning. I was hemmed in on all sides by on this narrow trail until the 10K turnaround. That's when the 10K runners turned around and headed back to Leesburg.
Much to the relief of the 20K'ers, like me. Until then, I tried not to step on the runners' feet ahead of me, and threaded my way gingerly through an almost-solid mass of folks.
Pre-race: I was supposed to meet Jeanne at 6:45 am, as I picked up her bib and race packet the day before. I craned my neck. Lots of skinny runners and chilly-looking volunteers. But no Jeanne.
At 7 am, when I was about to send a posse for her, she strode up to me. "I've been pooping!" she explained, smiling widely. Ah.
Blase Bex: I signed up for this race planning to run it as a marathon-pace training run. I thought it would be too hot to race it, as last year's race was held in extremely hot and humid weather. But it was a beautiful spring-like day. Temps in the high 70's and low humidity.
"So what," I thought. "I'll run at marathon pace, anyway." That's 8:37/mile. I just didn't feel like racing all-out. I didn't have the fire in the belly. I don't know why.
But it was probably a good thing I didn't, as my right foot had been bothering me a bit ever since my 6-mile hard pace workout a few days prior. The arch was a bit tender. It didn't hurt when I walked, but if I stood a certain way, a painful twinge would shoot through my foot.
At 7:29 a.m., I lined up with Jeanne in the far back of the pack, after making a last-minute dash to the gas station restroom across the street. The starting gun fired. I crossed the starting mats after almost a minute. After running about a half-mile through town, we headed onto the trail, which was slightly uphill to the turn-around with one fair-size hill for the 20K'ers, then nice, shady, and slightly-downhill on the way back.
Hi, Neighbor!: I strapped my Garmin onto my arm, but I was scared to look at it. I was afraid that I was actually running slower than marathon pace. It felt strange not to really race. I felt a little guilty for not giving it my best shot. But it was nice to actually have the chance to look around, admire the countryside, and say hello to the volunteers and policemen manning the course.
I felt good, and after the first mile or so, my foot didn't hurt. I caught up with a former track-workout buddy, L., around mile 5. We chatted for a minute or so. She said, "You go on ahead. You're faster than me."
She always says that. Why does she do that? If I wanted to go faster, I would have. I stopped at the next water station (I ended up stopping twice for water or Gatorade, about 10 seconds each time) so she could pass me. Spectators were few and far-between. Water/Gatorade support was quite good, and I breathlessly said, "Thank you!" when I grabbed the half-full Dixie cups from their outstretched hands.
I saw Jeanne after the turn-around, and we cheered each other on. Then at mile 9, I noticed that more and more people - all men - were passing me. Huh.
I thought, "C'mon, open it up. They are!" Then, "Naah. It's too late to run a really good race."
At mile 11, I thought, "For god's sake. This is pathetic. Just run a little faster. Puhleeze?!" So I did. A little. Like 8:15/mile. We started coming back into town. More people cheered.
Then I saw the mile 12 sign. "It's now or never," I thought. I finally opened it up. Lengthening my stride, I started passing people left and right.
The last .4 mile was around 7:25/mile pace, the best I could do on tired legs and a tender foot. As I crossed a bridge and rounded the last corner, I saw my friend, P. (who finished in an incredible 1:34:39), pointing a camera at me. I smiled and waved. His camera clicked.
Then I saw Ray, a former Marine and a fixture at many local races, holding a big American flag. "Whooah!" I said as I ran past, and high-fived him. "Whooah!" said Ray with a big smile.
The crowds were thick at the finish line, and as I pumped my arms, they yelled, "Go! Go! Go!" I heard the race announcer call my name as I stepped on the red finishing mats. I nodded my head in acknowledgement. Then I bent over, hands on knees, gasping like a fish out of water. Done.
Race results: I crossed the finish line in 1:46:04, for an average 8:33/mile pace. That's actually 4 seconds faster than marathon pace. So I'm satisfied. The first few miles were quite slow because of the crowds. After mile 3.1, my splits were mostly between 8:21-8:25/mile, though there was one 8:07, an 8:15, and then the speedy last .4, which took me 3:16 to run.
Jeanne ran a great race, surpassing her own expectations. I have high hopes for her in the Marine Corps Marathon.
What not to do: Afterwards, I saw a man stagger across the finish line, fall to his knees, and vomit copiously at least a half-dozen times. Water gushed out of his mouth, the water darkening the concrete around him in a wide circle. Besides running too fast, it seemed like he drank way too much liquid. Poor guy.
Apres-race: The next day, to do penance for not racing the 20K, I ran 8 miles after work. Though I was only supposed to log 6 miles. The first five miles I ran slowly, at around 9:48/mile. Then I ran mile 5 in 8 minutes flat, grimacing as lactic acid flooded already-tired muscles.
"Court the pain!" I thought. I am such a masochist. The next half-mile I took a breather, and ran it in 4:45. Then, as dusk darkened the trail, I ran the last 1 and 1/2 miles in 12 minutes.
Once more, with feeling: It's funny, I feel the urge to race again. So today I signed up for a 5K on September 2, at Lake Tahoe, where I'm vacationing the last week of August. The race course is at 7,800 feet in elevation. Major high altitude.
So I probably won't PR. But I will run that race as hard as I can, for as long as I can. And it will feel good.