I’ve always been a little more than freaked out around the idea of running 6.2 miles really hard; in actuality I’m rather offended at the idea. I mean, ten kilometers all out? What’s the point?
I think the question is the answer for this one, it’s simply ten kilometers, run at around 92 to 94% of your maximum heart rate- think of it as a pop quiz. The actual question isn’t actually “what’s the point?”, it really should be “how fit am I?” and the answer is your 10k time. It’s a great distance to put right after the base (or introductory) phase of a marathon cycle; once you see where you’re at upon starting the fundamental period it hones your focus by acting as both a key workout AND a chance to see how your pacing strategy is working- I figured if I can go somewhere around 6:15 to 6:20 per mile pace for the 10k (right around 39 minutes total) I’d be right at where I should be, so it’s really a test that you don’t necessarily have to be ready for- hence calling it a “pop quiz”.
The week leading up to this pop quiz was a pretty decent week in terms of volume and intensity- 70 miles with two solid workouts; Tuesday was four six-minute repeats at 10k pace (around 6:30/mile) with three minutes of rest between repeats. Thursday was two fifteen-minute repeats at half marathon pace with only one minute of rest between; 6:40/mile pace. I then switched the days of the weekend, so I did my long run Saturday which was 18 miles with 12 30-second pickups at 5k pace. What a week. To say I went into my first 10k race with tired legs would be an understatement.
But I figured, hey- running a solid 10k on already tired legs is really what a successful marathon demands, right?
I honestly can’t remember what I had for dinner the night before, I think gnocchi with pesto? Either way, 10k isn’t going to even remotely tap into my glycogen stores so I think I had a pretty light dinner followed by a small cup of vanilla gelato.
Morning of; small cup of coffee upon waking, then on the drive up I had about 200 calories of Vitargo S2 about 60 minutes before the start and didn’t bother with Gu or any kind of gels during the race, there’s no way you should need any calories during a 10k, even if you’re running 10 minute pace (that’s 62 minutes total). I remember drinking a decent amount of water beforehand, maybe 15-20 ounces, again- unless it’s blazing hot you’re really only going to need maybe two sips of water the whole race.
Did a quick little shake out-slash-warm up on the track, just back and forth up the straightaway, probably more to get the nerves out than a real warm up. I figured this was gonna hurt, so let’s just get it over with…
I tried to weasel my way up to the front as best I could, met a few other Excelsior runners, stopped to introduce myself. The race starts and I feel light, tried to hold back but ticked off the first mile at 6:04. Earlier that week I thought I’d try to “taper” for the race by not doing my long run at all but I’m in the school of thought that the long run is the single most important run you can do for marathon training and wasn’t about to sabotage Santa Rosa for a 10k that’s really a glorified tempo run. I had it in my head (briefly) that I’d go for sub-37 (5:57 pace) and might have been able to without an 18-miler two days prior, but again; ego is a terrible thing and hopefully I’m mature enough to delay instant gratification for long-term success.
So miles 2 and 3 were pretty uneventful- it’s a long out-and-back with a lollipop loop, pretty much all the elevation gain (a little more than 50 feet) happens between miles 1 and 2, and then you lose again very gradually over the next two miles. Then it’s basically as flat as a pancake the last 5k.
I pretty much settled in to a pace that worked for me, miles 2-4 were 6:14, 6:08 and 6:15. Saw Jorge Maravilla and said hi, probably pretty weakly (my breathing was pretty labored)- he was beaming, holding his little boy while cheering on runners. That dude oozes positivity, so I got a boost hearing him say “go Jimmy Mac!”.
I think mile five was tough for whatever reason, a 6:23 being my slowest mile but still put me ahead of my loose goal of 39 minutes- I think that was that damn bridge crossing, not one but two really narrow 90-degree turns, basically forcing you to dodge around a corner. That shit is hard to do running at full speed, I would’ve much rather taken my chances trying to jump the creek (I would love to be a steeplechaser!) That bridge was a pain in the ass, but the path that runs over that creek starts to widen, as does the creek itself and turns into a canal totally out in the open so it’s basically straight into the wind. I vaguely remember a photographer here.
Anyway, I passed a few more people in the last mile, was hurting a little but not too bad, wanted to save something for the last two-tenths of a mile. There was a turn in off the road back towards the track, I guess it was the entrance to College of Marin’s parking lot and saw Nakia Baird here with his dog, I think he said I looked good, “or maybe I looked “dead”, either way he was right. He might have actually not had a dog with him, maybe I hallucinated that, or maybe I saw him earlier in the race. It seriously happened so fast.
I hit the track and suddenly felt really fresh and springy again- seeing the finish line has that effect on me. I passed maybe 4 or 5 more runners in the 300 meters around the track and crossed the line with a 38:35, I was completely gassed. I immediately went hands-on-knees and felt like I needed to puke, forgot to turn my watch off for about 10 seconds. There were Excelsior guys everywhere, I introduced myself to a few of them- then I went and drank a 20-oz bottle of water and tried not to puke it back up.
I was pretty happy with my first 10k, like I said it went so fast I feel like there were flashes of memories; it’s not like an ultra or even a marathon where it feels like one long movie, complete with full conversations with other humans, this was like “holy shit is this pace sustainable?” and by the time you think you can’t hold it for one second longer it’s over.
So as far as my “pop quiz” score, a 38:35 is a 6:13 pace for the race, which for me, coming off a 70-mile week is pretty good. This puts me on the Jack Daniels’ VDOT scale at between 54 and 55, and going back to February’s Kaiser Half marathon, that performance of 1:29:03 put me between 51 and 52, so there’s been some fitness gains, at least for the shorter distances.
If I can continue to improve my current level of fitness, not get injured, make increases to my specific endurance from doing faster long runs AND put it all together on race day, hopefully a Boston Qualifier is in my future.
I think one of the coolest things about training for a marathon is putting all the things you already know together with all the things you’re still able to learn- call it an experiment of one stimulated by curiosity; I know a few things that work for me through years of trial-and-error, yet I’m still eager to discover the things I don’t know yet.