It was 24 degrees on race morning, the "feels like" was 18. I think it goes without saying, it was cold. I had packed a couple of race kit options in case the weather wanted to act up....and in this case, it did. I had really wanted to wear my club singlet and trusty black 2" split shorts, but I knew half tights, a short sleeve shirt, arms warmers, a buff, and gloves WITH hand warmers was a better option...but wow that is a lot to wear. As soon as Brad and I stepped outside, despite being in fleece pants and top, I knew I had made the right decision.
We had about a half a block walk to the bag drop off, and then we were going to hit the porta pots, then part ways, as the full and half had different start lines, and times. The half was scheduled to start at 7:30am, the full 7:45. Why? I have no idea.
It wasn't the most amazing send off, but as a porta potty door opened for me, we wished each other good luck and said our good byes. A quick hug, and then....gone.
As with any pre race warm up, I felt sluggish. I was scheduled for 3 miles followed by strides, but after 3/4 of a mile at 8:15 pace, I knew I should turn back and just get in some quality strides instead. It was so cold out I kept the fleece pants on for all by the last two pick ups, and the top stayed on right up until I lined up in the corral. Just before the gun, I squatted down and as always, said my runners prayer...."I am not asking for more than I have, just to give all that I have". Looking back, I had no idea how true a request that could have been.
Then, the gun.
The game plan was to start my first mile at 6:10 pace, then mile 2 had a slight uphill, so aim for somewhere around a 6:15 pace. After that, try to work my way down to race pace (6:04) and get into a rhythm.
I had lined up quite a few rows back, as I know how much adrenaline is coursing thru a runners veins at the start of a race.....this race was no different. Despite being 6 rows back, I was getting passed by almost everyone. I took a deep/calming breath in, and tried to settle in to 6:10 pace. I did have to pull back on the reigns a bit as the final bits of adrenaline were burning off, but quickly found my rhythm. Even 600m in, I was still being passed, unfazed, I got down to business.
"Alright Dan, you can do this!!"
I was confused, who did I know in Richmond? I looked over and saw Brad waving from the side of the road. Of course, he was probably in his warm up, as he still had 15 minutes before the gun. I waved back, and then back to the work ahead....approximately 13 more miles of work. My watched beep right as I passed the mile 1 marker, 6:07. Good.
The second mile had 27 ft of climbing in it. I know, I know, not a lot, but when you are racing near your red line, it is a lot. The goal was 6:15 pace....but this is when the reality of the task at hand bore down. My pace would go between 6:15-6:30 pace, and I already felt like I was having to put more effort in than I would have liked. To make it worse, my watch beeped, 4:45, way ahead of the mile marker. When I passed the 2 mile marker I hit the lap button again, reading 1:37.3. "Mathing" isn't exactly my forte while running, but I quickly guesstimated my second mile to be around a 6:25 (it turned out to me a 6:23), 10 seconds behind.
Mile 3 was more of the same, struggling to get comfortable at race pace, but I knew I didn't want to force anything this early in the race.....beep, 6:14, another 10 seconds behind.
Mile 4 had the only 180 degree turnaround of the course and at this time, most of the runners had settled into their pace so I started to look around. There was one guy in a blue singlet about 15 yards ahead of me that was holding steady, and it seemed everyone else was already starting to fade. Besides the 180 turnaround, this mile was very flat, and luckily it showed as my watch beeped, 5:59. My first reactions was "too fast, Dan!", but I knew I was behind, so I was happy to make up 4 seconds.
Sadly mile 5 came, and my watch beeped 6:07. Closer to race pace, but still not race pace, and still not comfortable.
As we started mile 6 we were leaving the neighborhoods, and entering a park. The foliage was pretty, but there were hills. I would open up my stride on the downs, and just comfortably get over the ups, my watch beeped, 6:09. Damn, another mile that was slower than race pace, this time, I added another 5 seconds. Just moments later I saw a clock, and below it, the 10k timing mat. the clock ticked away as I neared....38:24, 38:25, 38:26, 38:27...I knew I would be behind goal pace bc of the planned slow first 2 miles, but not almost 40 seconds behind. The same guy in the blue singlet was still ahead of me, I figured if I wanted to make up time, I had to start reeling him in.
This was also the time I had to make a decision....I was behind, my goal pace of 6:04 was not being clicked off comfortably as I had planned, and now, I had to run faster than goal pace to make the time. I truly believed I wasn't going to make my time, and that is an awful feeling. I was frustrated. My breathing was labored, but I needed to speak to myself out loud....I reminded myself of the work I put in.
I recalled my 20 miler with a 10 mile progression thrown in the middle https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/2166873995
I recalled my 16x400m workout https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/2193051335
Then I thought about my final workout before the taper, a 5k tempo followed by 5x1k intervals https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/2257710299
I was 100% sure I was going to miss my goal, deep down I knew I had set a tough one. But I was not going to let all that work go to waste. I took a deep breath, then spoke truth to my inner voices...
Listen to the MUSTN'TS child,Listen to the DON'TS
Listen to the SHOULDN'TS
The IMPOSSIBLE, the WONT'S
Listen to the NEVER HAVES
Then Listen close to me-
Anything can happen, child,
ANYTHING can be.
Mile 7 was 6:04. I was relieved to see goal pace, but I knew that was no longer good enough.
Mile 8 had hills, so in desperation I concocted a plan. Survive this mile, then....GO. My watched beeped 6:12.
The desperation kicked in, the plan was to go, and that is exactly what I did. The next thing I knew I was crossing the 10 mile timing mat, I saw the unforgiving clock ticking away. It could care less about my goal, about my feelings, all it would do it give me facts, one.second.at.a.time. As I approached, it ticked 1:01:23, 24, 25, 26, then as I crossed, 1:01:27. The first thing I did was math. If I could run the tangents perfectly, I needed an 18:30 5k to get my goal. Lucky for me, I was desperate. That desperate person did not stop to think that I hadn't run a 5k that fast since St Patricks Day 2015...in an actual 5k race. That desperate person did not stop and remember his last 5k was a 19:14 that June. That desperate person didn't care. That desperate person just knew that I had done it before, which means it was possible. For the first time in the race, I felt a sense of hope. That was all I needed.
I had already been pushing since my watch beeped with the mile 8 split, but I started pushing harder...the needle was already at my red line, now I felt it go past that red line. Then, as I continued to push I realized....damn, that was a 10 mile PR.
As my watch beeped for the 12 mile split, I saw an aid station up ahead. I was still cold, my gloves were still on, and my hand warmers were still there as well...I also realized my tongue was bone dry and sticking to the roof of my mouth. I hadn't taken any fluids during the race. I was tempted to grab a drink, but the sense of urgency was too strong...I didn't have time. Then I tried to look down at my split, but it was too late. I pressed harder. The guy in the blue singlet had been catching, then spitting out runners for the past 4 miles, to keep myself occupied I would keep a laser focus on him, and make sure to not get sucked in to the slower pace of the fading runners I would pass. There seemed to be a lot of them.
As my watch beeped for the 13 mile mark, the 13 mile marker was still up ahead. I had ground to gain. I had no interest in looking down to see the split, all I wanted to do was get to that finish line as fast as I could....I was literally in full sprint. As I rounded the corner for the last 1/10th of the race I saw the clock, it read 1:19:12....I didn't need to do any math, I knew I could do it. I wish I could have pushed harder, but I was already at my top speed. Looking back, I have no idea how I could have managed a full sprint after all that.
I kept pushing right up until about 4 yards from the finish. At that point the nausea I was fighting off finally became too much, I started to dry heave and all I was thinking about was getting past the finish line without puking.....
Luckily there was nothing left in the tank (literally and figuratively) and no puke came up. I stumbled to a stop, still dry heaving, and took a knee. The next thing I knew, a volunteer was tapping my shoulder....telling me to keep moving thru the chute. Obviously not a runner. Not my proudest moment, but as I fought off another urge to vomit, I showed him my middle finger. Quickly, another volunteer came over and told him to give me a minute. It didn't take long, I was finally standing, and moving forward. I slowly turned over my watch to read 1:19:55. I stared in utter disbelief. I had really done it.
If I had cared to look back at my last 5 mile splits, they would have read 5:59, 6:00, 5:57, 6:01, 5:52 and 45 seconds for the last 0.16 (a 4:41 avg). All that went thru my mind was "man, I really didn't have time to grab that drink".
It wasn't until much later that day that I realized I had also set my 10k PR with a time of 37:14 as well....Shel Silverstein was right...ANYTHING can be.
The tears welled up, I was empty....physically, mentally, and emotionally drained. All it took was all I had....my runners prayer had been answered.