There is a great big pile of races out there in the universe that feel jinxed to me, for one reason or another. The Cherry Blossom 10 Miler is one of them. I’ve been registered for it at least two or three times, yet I’ve never been able to run the darn thing. The first year, I got a stress fracture in my foot and came off of crutches only moments before the race started to run the 5K. Another year was the first injury I tracked through this blog, the IT band dream sequence. For some reason, the spring ten miler has always evaded me. This year I did not register, but when the last day of official bib transfer came along and a friend of a friend had a bib to transfer, I decided to roll the dice. All the universe could throw at me this year was a partially torn calf, and after I was able to run RnR Half with very little carnage, I sheepishly told my coach what I’d done. I’m actually registered for the GW Parkway 10 Miler, which is another in the pile of jinxed races (the poet has now run it multiple times under my name, for shame), so I told her that I’d just like to run one of them somewhat hard and she could decide my fate for the other. She decided that I would run this one as a MAF test.
I tapered for the race by doing my longest and hilliest bike ride of the year to date and then trashing myself on a big pile of 100s in the pool the day before. Instead of going to bed early, I had a complete meltdown on the living room floor in my underwear, trying to get the pedals off my bike. I didn’t even lay out my clothes in little piles and take a picture of my bib number the night before. Somehow I woke up early enough to walk out the door with everything I needed (except a thin and even coat of body glide). Despite the hot mess of my race prep, I was actually looking forward to the race. A MAF test does not (should not?) hurt, and I was anticipating running ten relaxed and perfectly precise miles.
We got down to the mall early enough for me to do my warm-up and get settled. I actually really like the pre-MAF test warm-up. I start out walking and let my heart rate climb up only a few beats per minute for two miles, hoping to end somewhere within five beats or so of MAF. The other end of the mall was quiet and it was nice to just relax into the sound of my feet scrunching on the gravel and breathe. However, once my HR got to the low 140s, it didn’t want to budge. I came flying back down towards the bench where the poet was parked, and I think I managed to get it over 145 for just a few seconds. There’s a fatigue/fitness correlation that I still don’t quite understand, but what it generally means is that when I’m fatigued, I have to run my sweet sweet ass off to get up to MAF. Crap.
I climbed up the side of a light pole to look for my friends, and finally found Liz and her sister. Side note: taking perfect race pictures apparently mutated genetic abnormality.
We had talked earlier in the week about starting together, but I warned Liz that I wouldn’t be able to snort or giggle or chat because all of those things eat heart rate. While we were lined up, I warned them that the opposite might be true. Our corral was extremely crowded, and we shuffled forwards and were suddenly across the line. Every race I’ve ever run with crowded corrals usually thins out by the end of the first mile, and like I said, I’ve never run this race so I had no idea what to expect. We started running, and I tried to haul up my heart rate, and when it wouldn’t move, I started chattering non-stop about fitness and science and fatigue and bicycles in hopes that I could cheat out some extra beats. Here we are about 1/2 mile in. Holy ridiculously crowded race.
When I lapped my watch at mile one and saw that my heart was still in the 130s and how slow we were running, I decided to try and pass a bunch of people in hopes of getting to a clear spot where I could run hard enough to get my heart rate up. I spent the next nine miles passing people, looking for this spot, and never found it. The race was just as crowded at the finish as it was in the starting corral. This is roughly mile five.
Around mile three I realized that this might be the case and just decided that I wouldn’t get upset about it, I’d just do my best to keep my heart up and enjoy the morning. My hamstring that’s part of my pissed-off-posterior-chain started grumbling around mile four, so I started cycling the loop of form questions in my head over and over. The only places where the crowds were really a problem was in the water stops around mile six and eight, where I was actually forced to walk for 30-40 feet because there was simply no way to get through. Around mile seven I started to feel a bit tired, and annoyance at my uneven splits and the crowds really crept in. We were running around Hains Point at that point, and people were running across the grass and down onto the sidewalk by the river, just to have a clear space to run.
Usually what happens at the beginning of the last mile in a MAF test is that I flip my watch from the HR-only screen over to the screen that has my average for the run. I do this because sometimes I need to run a tiny bit harder to bring up my average. When I flipped over my screen at mile nine, my average HR for the run was 145. I don’t have enough HR in my body to bring that up to my MAF average in one mile, but I did make sure that last mile was the fastest of the day.
And then I was done. The post-race corrals forced you to walk about two blocks until you could get out, and then I jogged very slowly back to where I was meeting the poet to cool down. My legs felt a little more tired than a long run but not nearly as tired as a hard race effort. And I got several shots during the race of some pretty decent form, including this prizewinner from Cheryl. However, this picture plus the fact that I have a 6-inch chafe scab on my left thigh means that I am throwing these CW-X shorts in the garbage.
I’m glad I ran this. I’m glad that I can now lift the voodoo off of yet another race and file it away, but until I’m fast enough to get a seeded spot in this race (aged 60?), I don’t think I would run it again. Trying to PR in these conditions would be rough. Some of my friends who started in faster corrals managed to PR and have great days, so maybe the trick is to be extremely ambitious about my “estimated” finishing time, but regardless, I don’t think this is for me. The last three half marathons I’ve run have been enormous races - certainly larger than this one - but they’ve been run on streets large enough to not throttle the traffic down, and that is what this part of DC lacks. I’m not sure if I’ll be running the GW Parkway ten miler in a few weeks or not, but I know that it doesn’t have this problem.
And now that I’ve run two mid-distance races extremely fatigued on no taper, I’m starting to get very curious about what my rested fitness looks like. I have no problem with the way I’ve executed either of these races, but all the aerobic training I’ve been doing is starting to poke out of the mush at me. Despite the calf setback and the fact that I basically feel like I’m the disastrous red-headed step-child of my coach most of the time, progress is being made. I might not get a chance to see what this rested fitness looks like until my 70.3 next month, and a 70.3 is certainly a very different animal than a stand-alone running race so who knows what will happen, but indeed. Curious.