Before Sunday, I hadn’t run a 10K since August of 2011. I was, and am, damn proud of that 55:07 10K, but I’m a different runner now. In the summer of 2011, I’d just started doing speedwork; I hadn’t run a marathon or finished a triathlon; I was still more than a year away from running a sub-2 half marathon. After running a handful of 57-minute 10Ks in Olympic triathlons this year, I started to wonder what would happen if I ran 6.2 miles without going for a swim and a bike ride first.
That was the question when I signed up for the Run 10 Feed 10 10K. I had a feeling 55 minutes — my old goal — was a soft target, but I wasn’t sure how far that time could fall.
My immediate preparation for the race was less than stellar, but I had some promising workouts here and there — the 2-mile time trial from the end of Santa Cruz training and a good track workout last Wednesday that I ran entirely in the dark and entirely by feel. And I wanted the PR; I was ready to fight for it. I said to Pete while we were running in Vermont, I don’t think I’ll ever sign up for another 10K if it isn’t at least a stab at a goal time. I don’t need to prove I can run 6.2 miles at my normal pace these days. I needed that once, but again, I’m a different runner now.
That said, I sure didn’t spend Saturday acting like I was running a goal race. We got last-minute tickets to the Bridge School Benefit, which was fantastic, but which was also scheduled to end at midnight … and then actually ended at 1:15 a.m., a 30-minute walk in uncomfortable shoes from our car, an hour’s drive away from home. And there were 2 a.m. Jack in the Box cheese sticks. (The one saving grace is that I was sober, because I refused to pay $12 for a plastic cup of bad beer.) I fell asleep around 3 a.m. and slept a little too soundly, because I didn’t hear the first 45 minutes of my alarm and woke up totally confused at 6:45 a.m.
Luckily, the only thing my late start lost me was the chance to park across from the start before the street was shut down. Well, I’d planned to jog a warm-up anyway. I was out of the house in 15 minutes and parked a half-mile-ish from the start by 7:20. Bib pick-up and bag check were hyper-organized, porta potties were plentiful, and I ended up wishing I’d cut things a little closer, because it was windy and chilly and I wanted to get going. A little after 8, we headed down to the start corral. There were some half-hearted attempts to line us up by minutes-per-mile, but even though I lined up by the 9-minute sign, by the time the crowd crunched down, I was closer to the 7-minute sign. Oh well. National anthem, and we were off.
I had glanced at the course map, but I hadn’t really studied it, other than to know it was flat. The best way I can describe it is a 10K course in about a 5K’s worth of territory. If you know San Francisco running, the course went from Sports Basement down to the Mason/Old Mason split, turned left, picked up the trail, went along the water to Hopper’s Hands, U-turned there, and came back on the sidewalk and path to Sports Basement. That added up to somewhere between three and four miles, with the rest of the distance coming from two more (progressively smaller) loops on the same terrain.
It’s probably good I didn’t look more closely at the map, because if I had, I would have known I’d hate it. It loosely mirrors one of our go-to TAG training runs, and the gravel/sand trail (its exact composition at any moment seems to depend on the wind) always feels like it steals my energy — not to mention the nasty spit of cambered road on the way to Hopper’s, which I wish the ocean would hurry up and reclaim. Plus, it can have a nasty headwind going outbound. When we turned onto the trail for the first time, it slowly dawned on me what I was in for — and though it made the race harder than I’d anticipated, I was somewhat happy for the challenge; if I did PR, I couldn’t just shrug it off as “easy course.”I wore my Garmin but put it under my sock-armwarmer and never once looked at it. There were clocks at every mile marker, and that was plenty of feedback — almost too much, actually, because when I crossed the first mile somewhere between 8:50 and 9:00, I was annoyed. I knew I’d started a bit back from the clock, but my previous PR pace was 8:52, and I felt like I had to be faster than that now. At that point, I reset my expectations to run all sub-9-minute miles — so if I hit a marker, and I was below that mile’s multiple of 9, I’d know I was doing OK. That actually worked, plus it occupied my mind to remember all the multiples of 9.
Here’s what I remember:
Mile 1: Half on the road with the wind at my back, half on the trail with the wind in my face. Crunch, crunch, crunch. Guys behind me chatting merrily away, probably running sub-8s, passing me easily. Thinking “steady.” Thinking “breathe.” Thinking “please let that dumb song from the radio get out of my head.”
Mile 2: All trail. Felt long. Passed the 4-mile marker and realized how the looping thing was going to work. Mind mostly blank except for some dumb song. Why on earth had I turned on the radio in the car?
Mile 3: Stupid, rutted road. Saw the crowd behind me at the turnaround and realized I was relatively far up in the field. Weird! Coming back on the road — tailwind, slight downhill, real pavement — felt great, but I was also getting tired, and as I came near the 3-mile marker, I remember thinking I’d run a really smart 5K, but too bad this was a 10K.
Mile 4: We looped past the finish, where a very enthusiastic announcer was yelling things like “keep pushing! keep driving!” I started leapfrogging with a couple of girls and eventually tucked in behind one in a way that I hope wasn’t obnoxious but probably was.
Mile 5: The last bit of awful road. I passed the girl at the turnaround and never saw her again, but then a girl I’d passed a while back passed me. I think this mile might have been slightly long; my watch beeped a solid 2 minutes before we hit the 5-mile marker, but I recorded 6.2 exactly for the course.
Mile 6(.2): Looping past the finish again, I was not in the mood to hear the chipper announcer. The wind had really picked up, or maybe I was just tired, but I swear it felt like I was being pushed to the right. The trail cut across Crissy Field and deposited us near the mile-5 marker, which made it seem like there was a lot of race left, but there was a clock there for mile 6, too, and it said 51:xx. Wait. 51? I tried to kick — I later watched my finish line video, and my idea of a kick could use some work — and ended up crossing just as the clock ticked over to 53.
My final time was 52:50, which I cannot believe. I mean. My 10K time starts with 52! That sounds so fast! That doesn’t sound like a time I can run. It’s an 8:31 pace! That’s insane. Looking at the splits later, it was a pretty consistent race — everything was under 8:45, and my first and last miles were the fastest. The best thing is, I think I could do it again. I’ve been afraid to run another half because I worry that my one and only sub-2 was a fluke, but this feels repeatable.
I don’t think I’ll chop another big chunk of time off this PR anytime soon; this leap was definitely helped by the fact that it was my first 10K in more than two years. But hey, if I average a minute a year, I’ll be at 50 minutes before I’ve aged out of my current age group. Seems like a good goal.
ABOUT THE RACE
Cost: I registered via a LivingSocial deal for $39. Early registration was $50, regular registration $60. There were also various $5 discount codes floating around the internet. The race was one of three 10Ks (the others were in Chicago and New York) sponsored by Women’s Health magazine, and the big sell was that part of the fee would go to provide 10 meals “in my community.” I couldn’t find much info about what that meant, but in 2012 the race donated some amount of money to the San Francisco Food Bank. Fundraising was encouraged but optional, and I didn’t.
Parking: Free and plentiful at Sports Basement before 7 a.m.; after that, you were on your own. I parked in a free lot about a half-mile from the race start that had plenty of spaces when I arrived at 7:20.
Race Day Logistics: This gets its own bullet, because I was really impressed. Packet pick-up was Saturday at Sports Basement or Sunday on-site from 7-7:45. When I arrived at 7:30ish, I immediately spotted a volunteer holding a sign that said “Still Need Your Packet?” I pointed and said “that’s me!” and she directed me into a short line. There were two computers for pick-up and two for on-site registration, but if nobody was registering and the pick-up lines were full, the volunteers would use the on-site registration computers to re-assign your number. And bag check was brilliant! It was set up with different lanes by the last number of your bib – one lane for bibs ending in 0 or 1, another for bibs ending in 2 or 3, etc. Each had its own table and its own volunteer, and the process for both pick-up and drop-off was seamless. I don’t know if it would work for a larger race (there were about 530 finishers), but it was perfect for this field size.
Swag: A burlap FEED bag (similar to this tote) that is pretty handy (and my cats love to sleep on it), a bracelet instead of a medal, and all the free toiletries you heart desired. Say what you will about Unilever — and I have said some things — but they sponsored the race and, most directly, stocked a post-race “referesh” station with sample-size moisturizer, Vaseline, deodorant, and towelettes in giant buckets with volunteers encouraging finishers to “take as many as you want.” And the main swag was a bag, so holding stuff was not an issue. There were also bagels with various toppings and spreads, apples and oranges, Kellogg bars and cereal samples, coconut water, and Cabot cheese packets. This is what I brought home:
Post-Race Festivities: A 30-minute workout/yoga session I didn’t stay for because I got cold; foot massages; a station to get your picture on a faux Women’s Health cover; foam rolling stations; manicures.
Overall Organization: There were volunteers at every turn (and there were a lot of turns), ample porta potties (it likely helped that there were public restrooms at the far ends of the course), good signage, and computers for checking times after the race. Times were online almost immediately, and photos and finish line videos came on Monday, though all of mine were of somebody else until things finally got sorted on Monday night. Photo downloads are $10 for all photos, which is on the better end of the spectrum, but it appears to be all or nothing; there’s no single-download option that I can see. (I’d be cooler with that if all my photos were of me, but oh well.)
Would I Run It Again? I wish I liked the course more, because everything else was great (and while $60 seems a bit steep, I think $50 registration is fair given the charity aspect, and the $39 I paid felt like a steal). I’d do it again with friends or as part of a long training run, but I’m not sure I’d try to PR there again, unless I wanted to go for consistency.