I had a great run over the weekend. For the second year in a row, I ran the Plaza 10K. Here is my account from last year. I did even better this year, beating my time by nearly four minutes. It’s a 10K PR for me, which is always nice.
We’ve had a spate of cooler weather around here lately, with nightly lows actually dipping under 40 degrees. That’s just about perfect running weather (as long as it doesn’t rain), but just as I had to get acclimated to the summer heat, I needed to do the same with this cool, and it’s come so fast that I haven’t done that. I watched the weather reports through the week, and Sunday was looking good. Anticipating a chilly start, though, I had my wife scavenge in her basement hoard for a throwaway jacket I could wear in the start corral until I had run far enuf to get the engine warm. Then I could cast the jacket to the side of the road and run like the wind without it. (These cast offs are generally collected by the race organizers and donated to charity.) She found a nice fleece jacket that my son had worn in middle school and, astonishing as it may sound, the thing fit me and was even a bit large. Throwaway jacket achieved.
You see most of my kit in the photo above. I’m still wearing my summer white hat, though it’s getting time to switch to my winter black. Not shown are the compression shirt and shorts I wore as a base layer. I wanted the added warmth they would provide (and hoped I wouldn’t regret them later) as well as the chafing protection (no need to go into detail). You see that I wore my Olathe Running Club shirt. I do that in part to represent the club at these events, but I did it specifically this time since I was to run with the woman in the club who is in charge of the club-branded gear. I figured she would show up with one of the new shirts on and I had better do the best I could with my older version.
I had told my wife that she did not need to be my support crew this time. It’s only a six-mile run, which wasn’t going to destroy me the way a half would, so I could get myself there and back on my own. Plus, our youngest son and his wife were moving into their new house over the weekend, and she (and my truck) needed to be available if called. (They weren’t.)
When I rose on Sunday morning (a few minutes before the 4:15 alarm was to go off) I let our little dog out the back door and stepped outside myself (with far less on than I would run in later). It was clearly not below 40 degrees, and when I checked the temp online later, I found it was actually 53 degrees: perfect! And so I went in and began my ritual/routine of getting ready for a race. Mostly that involved getting dressed very slowly and going over my gear check again and again. I checked for last-minute emails from the race (none), brushed and flossed, fretted, walked about, ate a banana, then left an hour and a half before gun time to make the half-hour drive (in the dark) to the start at the swanky Country Club Plaza District. Since I got there too early to stand around in the cold, I drove the course just to see if there were any surprises. (When I ran my first half marathon, there was a quarter mile stretch where we had to run across freshly chewed up pavement. That was not fun.) There were no surprises, and though I was by no means the first one to arrive, I still got a great parking space close to the start and then sauntered over there to look for my running partner and other friends from the club that I knew would be there.
I wandered for a long time before we met up, and then we stood around in the chill and listened to the usual announcements and such. We saw some familiar faces and chatted aimlessly as we waited. About fifteen minutes before gun time, I told my friend (let’s call her ChrisAnn) that I wanted to do a short warm-up run around the block and that I’d meet her in our pace section of the corral. The trip around the block took me close to where I had parked, and I made the spontaneous decision to throw away my throwaway jacket in my car. It was warm enuf that I didn’t really need it by then, and I would regret losing it unnecessarily, especially with a full marathon coming up next month in Oregon and a half marathon coming up in Kansas in November. Throwaway ditched, I continued around the block and looked for my friend in her Volt yellow jersey (which was not branded with our club name). Eventually, of course, I found her. I should tell you about ChrisAnn. She had run the Plaza 10K last year. We had started out together, but she had lost me in the first quarter mile and I never saw her again. It turned out she had finished something like fifteen minutes before I had. She’d had a head cold then, and she said she had run so fast simply because she wanted the race to be over! This year, she asked me to run with her to pace her. She hadn’t been training much (for various reason) and didn’t want to burn out by running too fast too soon. So would I please run with her and keep her in check? (You see what this means, of course. She needed a slower runner to set the pace for her. Sigh!)
There was so much chatter among the waiting runners around us that the national anthem was nearly over before I heard even a snatch of it. I whipped off my cap, and most of the people around me noticed and did the same or put their hands over their hearts. Soon after this, we heard the starting horn, but as these things go, it was more than five minutes before we people at the back of the pack were even moving forward, much less running. I started my watch, it grabbed some satellites, and we shuffled toward the start. As we crossed the starting mats, I switch on my run counter, and we were off.
I had been talking to myself all week (all summer, all year) about this run. I had been telling myself positive things, confidence-boosting things. It was only six (point two) miles. Easy. I’d done this many, many times. I was rested, fueled, and ready. The weather was perfect. The kit was shaken down. The boy could do it, and now was the time. The trouble was that I had done such a fine job with this run last year that I knew I had to have a fine run this time or I would be a complete and utter failure to all of humanity and the running community in particular. (Sometimes it’s no fun being me.) So I had set myself an unreasonable standard, and I was worried sick about it. Yet I’d had a year of training and tangible improvement since the prior run. I had newish shoes on. I had a running partner, which tends to make these things easier (don’t ask me how). Plus, she had asked me to run with her. And in any case, we were underway.
And doing well. We were trying to maintain a slow pace to save our energy for the long haul. (You run six miles and tell me it doesn’t take management!) And we were chatting. I’ve run with ChrisAnn a number of times on club runs, and we know about each other’s families, work, running ambitions, and the like. But we hadn’t run together in a while, so we had some catching up to do. Plus, a fine chatter helps distract from the inevitable agony of running long distances. The course pretty much runs along Brush Creek, so we went west first on the south side of the creek (really more like a small, very picturesque river) then turned around and headed east for a much longer distance on the north side of the creek. People were passing us, but we were passing others, including many who had already succumbed to walking within the first quarter mile. We’d both run the course the year before, and I had driven it that morning, so there were no surprises in store. Thus we could chat and visit and talk about other runners. (Not as many tutus this run as I’ve seen in the past, but colorful clothing was common.) We each asked the other how we were doing. I knew that ChrisAnn wanted to stay at a moderate pace, and just as when I’m driving on the highway, I tend to get going too fast. When I’m running I usually burn out and can’t sustain it. When I’m driving . . . But we were both doing well.
Which is not to say my body didn’t want to stop this foolishness right now! It was telling me very clearly that it did not like being used in this way. It’s usually my lungs that are the last to join the party, and they weren’t disappointing me this time. I had intended to have a good run (as I already mentioned), but I also had another plan with this run. I wanted to pay attention to my thoughts and feelings and moods and motivations. I wanted to watch how I mentally powered through the difficult parts and how to recognize the moments when I felt I could run forever. (It happens.) I wanted to get a sense of what my mental make up was during a challenging run because, well, I have a full marathon coming up in less than a month! I’m going to need to rely on the 90% mental part of running then.
What I found was that there is a huge difference between wanting to stop and needing to stop. And there is a huge reserve within me that I am able to call upon when the running gets tough and the goal is still a long way off. Yes, I wanted to stop. I wanted to take a walking break. But I wanted — more — to keep going to the end and show myself that I have it in me. (Note, I ran the entire distance of the Vancouver USA half marathon in June. But these are lessons that need constant reinforcing.)
ChrisAnn, however, was struggling. Around mile four she had to begin walking breaks. This is an honorable solution to the rigors of running, and I’ve certainly relied on them on many of my long runs. I had no disrespect for her choice, but it did present a problem for me. I wanted/needed to keep running. The solution was as easy as it was obvious. I ran zigzag. I ran in circles around her. I even ran backwards! (More jiggling to that than I expected but kind of fun.) I ran about until she could pick up her pace and I could slot in beside her. We repeated this a few times for most of the rest of the run. ChrisAnn was managing her run as well as she could, and I was maintaining my role as running partner as I could. (Note: There was a selfish quality to this. I’ve done a 5K and a half marathon that did not record the proper distance on my running watch. I blame solar flares. Or bad karma. I worried that the same would happen with this 10K. So if I managed to add a little distance to the route by my zigging and zagging, that would help ensure that when I crossed the finish line, I would have 6.2 miles on my watch, which Nike would then recognize, and the world would be in order again.)
We were eating up the miles. The route from about mile 4.5 gave us a good view of the tall buildings near the finish. They looked impossibly far away, but, of course, they weren’t. I kept my eyes on the ground before my feet and played wingman for ChrisAnn. By this point she didn’t respond to my chatter. She was concentrating on managing her run, and I recognized the signs from my own run of the Kansas City Half Marathon nearly a year before when my wingman, Todd, chatted with me until he recognized that I was beat and just called out mile markers, hills, and other hazards to a man who was ready to die and ready to run.
We kept at it, keeping pace with each other, calling out the curiously contradictory paces and distances on our watches, and otherwise pushing, pushing, pushing.
The last quarter mile of this run (and of the Trolley Run) is the most glorious in the city. It comes back into the Country Club Plaza, downhill all the way, with screaming crowds on each side and the finish arch within view and getting closer. Unfortunately, ChrisAnn needed to walk one last time. She urged me to go on without her, and since I still had some gas in the tank, I did. I picked up my pace, darting past people who were running along at a nice clip themselves. I dug deep to find a good finish in my legs and lungs, and though I think I may have started too early to begin my kick to the finish, I kept at it. I came in to the finish as fast as I could, and I even remembered to close my gasping mouth so I’d look fabulous in the finish photo.
And then it was done. I had run the entire 6.2 miles, and I had run them well. (And it wasn’t lost on me that in a few weeks I’m going to need to complete this run again only I’ll also need to add another 20 miles to it.) I had the sensor clipped from my shoe. And I accepted what you see below.
The medals for these runs are getting bigger every year. Honking bigger. I’m not sure what I think of that. I wore it for the rest of the morning (including to breakfast, dammit!), but now it will hang on a wall and compete for attention with the others I’ve been accumulating.
ChrisAnn came in behind me only about a minute and a half later. We found each other in the crowded finish chute and pushed our way through the sweaty humanity to the chocolate milk and Chinese food (!) vendors waiting for us. So did everyone else, and once we collected our rightful chow, we found a quiet wall to fall against and slide to the ground where we ate and talked and rehashed our runs and talked about future runs and more or less settled down. It happened that the man who was delivering the cases of chocolate milk to the nearby booth happened to pass right before us, and after a couple of passes I realized I could ask him directly for some tasty milk. He obliged us. And then he obliged us again. We rested. We finished sweating. We started to get a little chilled from the still-cool morning. And then we decided we’d had enuf of the run and that it was time to go. ChrisAnn had to go into work (on a Sunday), and I still had that possible obligation to help my son move into his new house. So we sauntered out of the area. We considered briefly getting a printout of our times, but the line was long, and the info was already online, so we didn’t. We parted and made our ways to our homes.
So it was a great, great run for me. Yes, if I hadn’t zigged and zagged to keep pace with ChrisAnn, I might have had an even better finish time, but a) that’s not what a wingman does, and b) I might not have run the entire distance at all if I didn’t have the accountability of a witness (and friend) beside me the entire way.
I have a small 5K coming up in two weeks. Then I board a plane and fly to Portland to face the hardest run of my life. But I’m going to relish today’s run for a while first.