Oof. Hi. Last week was one of those insane work weeks — the kind where I worked more in four days than I usually work in five and exercise seemed like something that some alternate version of me used to do. It’s over now — and better yet, I’m soon to start a two-week vacation — but I still feel like I’m digging out from inside a cold, deep hole.
Said hole includes some fragments of blog posts I never finished, though, so let’s rewind to the Sunday before Thanksgiving, when I ran the inaugural Berkeley Half 10-mile race.
Way back in 2011, I made a 1:30 10-miler a goal, figuring it would be a stop on the way to a sub-2 half — not something I’d finally get around to attempting almost a year later. And yet, my loose goal for Berkeley was still 1:29:59; I wanted to finally claim a sub-9 pace for a longer race. (My half PR is 9:05/mile pace.) In the weeks leading up to the race, I’d been debating what my strategy should be: Go out hard and try to hang on, which worked fine for a 10K but might be awful over four more miles? Start slow, finish fast? Try to run exactly 9:00/mile? I do have the ability to run consistent splits, but only when I’ve been doing tempo runs, which I hadn’t been.
The one thing I definitely didn’t intend was to run without data, but when I tried powering on my Garmin at the start line and was met with a pathetic beep and a gray screen, apparently I was going to be doing just that. My phone was in the car on the way to the finish line; my Garmin was my only clock. I figured I’d take note of the time at the start clock and compare that to the clocks along the course, but it turned out there weren’t any clocks along the course. All of that meant that this was the first race I’ve ever run where I had no sense of how I was doing until I saw my time at the finish line.
Downtown Berkeley (miles 1-3ish)
We started in a park downtown, looped around to the southern edge of the Berkeley campus, and ran through some residential streets I vaguely remembered from grad school. There’s a minor but steady uphill in the first mile, which I suspect is why I felt tired early on; maybe I was running too hard for that early in the race, but I’ll never know, because I have no data.
I’d decided at the last second to run with music — my first race in 2013 with music! — and I’m glad I did, because being legitimately surprised by the songs shuffling through on an ancient running playlist distracted me from how exhausted I felt in those first couple of miles.
I’d find out later that most people hated this part of the race. We were, apparently, running on a frontage road next to Interstate 80. I say “apparently” because I was too busy looking at the water to notice. If there’s one thing I learned from the Berkeley race, it’s that you can basically plop me down on any shoreline and make me do anything and I won’t even care as long as I can see the water. We hit this road and I finally felt strong.
Besides staring at the water, I was also scanning through the droves of runners coming the other way. I knew a lot of people running the race, but the only one I saw was grad school friend DR, who was near the front of the 10-mile pack. It was weird — I figured I’d have been able to find a friend, or spot a pacer, or see something that would give me a sense of how I was doing, but there was nothing, so I just kept running.
The Marina (miles 7-9ish)
On the way around the Marina, I started thinking about the long runs I’d been doing with a faster friend. Running at her easy pace had pushed my easy pace to the quicker end of my range — 9:20s instead of 9:40s. I remember thinking very clearly that if I could run 9:20s while chatting, I was probably running 9s without having to talk at all. I briefly considered asking someone near me what pace they were running, but I’m not sure if that would have meant anything anyway — there were half-marathoners, 10K runners, and 10-mile runners all on the road together, but because of the staggered start and the course deviations, I wasn’t sure if I was running with 1:45 half-marathoners or 2:30 half-marathoners.
I did realize, though, that I was passing a lot of people. I’m not sure I’ve ever passed that many people that steadily in a race before, other than maybe in Berlin, when I managed to get a second wind around mile 24. I felt weirdly guilty passing half-marathon runners who had already run more miles than I was going to run the whole day … but feeling fast was fun.
Part of this stretch was on what had been noted in the race guide as “gravel trail” but was in real life more like “large, slippery rocks and/or broken-up road.” It was also at a particularly crowded point, right where half-marathoners, 10-milers, and 10K-ers were all converging, and I backed way off my effort in favor of staying upright.
That Damn Hill (the finish)
I knew about the hill from reading Angela’s Let’s Go 510 race report, and I could see it for maybe half a mile before I actually reached it. It was a little blip on the elevation chart, but I knew even a blip would feel like a mountain at mile 9.5. And it was pretty terrible, though at least it was back on solid pavement and at least I’d get to tear down the back side toward the finish.
And that’s exactly what happened: I crested the top, saw the finish arch, and started gunning it. On the way down I saw Pete and my parents, who managed to capture photographic evidence of what I thought was graceful galloping toward the finish but was actually more like pained lumbering with a mean heel-stike. Regardless! I whooshed down the hill and into the 10-mile finishing chute, where I finally, finally saw my time: 1:28:26.
I’d find out later that my one official race split — at mile 7.6, because sure — had me at 8:48/mile pace, and I finished at 8:51/mile pace, so I did slow down some on the trail, but maybe not as much as I thought. I wish I had my mile splits, just out of curiosity, but I’m glad I didn’t have them during the race. I think I might have been thrown by my rough start, or by the wobbly “trail” miles, if I’d been looking at my watch. I don’t think racing without data is going to be my thing forever, but I can’t pretend it hasn’t worked for me so far.
This was my last race of 2013 (there was also a turkey trot, but that doesn’t count), and it was exactly the right note to close out the year. This year I took multiple minutes off my 10K PR, hit a long-set goal for a 10-miler, and (while I think PRs matter less in triathlons) dropped more than 30 minutes from my Olympic tri time. And I think finishing a half-ironman is the axis on which all of those things turned, because it gave me a base of fitness and taught me how to get things done even when it wasn’t comfortable or easy. It was a very good year.
(Next up: I climb a mountain on my bike! A small mountain, but a mountain nonetheless.)