If you want the short short version, I can sum up the race in 2 words: pleasantly surprised. For a tad more detail, continue reading.
As any runner knows, race day is completely unpredictable. You can do everything right in the days, weeks, and months leading up to it and come race morning it could still all fall apart. I definitely did not do everything right leading up to the Army Ten Miler. I'm still not close to 100% healed, although the source of the pain just seems to change. I also made just about every newb mistake you can make in a training cycle, including using an overly ambitious training plan. Not only did my body not tolerate the training load well, I had the added bonus of hating on myself because of it. Also incredibly helpful.
A little more than two weeks out, I brought someone much smarter than me into the mix. Coach K took over the sad remainder of my training cycle and probably banged his head into the wall a time or ten as he discovered how messed up my calves had become. You mean running through the pain ISN'T how things get better? Huh. In a feeble attempt at damage control, I had another run analysis done last Wednesday. I knew ATM was not going to be what I wanted it to be, but I had to figure out why I was in pain and how to fix it before entering into a marathon training cycle. I was 100% certain that something in my form was to blame and I was correct (an explanation for another post).
With a professional opinion in hand (and Coach K in agreement with the results), a shake-up was made in my training plan. I was also strongly encouraged to re-consider attempting ATM. Since this post is clearly a race recap, you know I decided to run it. I had my reasons (both smart and less smart) and I definitely do not regret it. Friday and Saturday were rest days. Saturday night was spent making a pre-race checklist, assembling all the things, and taking the obligatory flat runner picture.
I was in bed by 10:30, had a little chat with God about the race, and conked out until I woke up at 4:41 am. The alarm was set for 5, but I guess my body thought I should just get going. ATM is a wave start and I was in wave 6 of 8 so I was not in a hurry to get out the door and to the starting area. I don't usually take my time on race morning but I did yesterday. I made my usual english muffin with peanut butter and ate it on the couch while I watched SportsCenter. Sipped on some water as I slowly got dressed. Foam rolled a little. Got my handheld ready (Nuun Plus and Grape Nuun, in case you care). Slipped 2 GUs in the pouch (Jet Blackberry and Just Plain, both with some caffeine).
Once MS and I were ready, we headed out the door. We decided to drive in to Arlington from Fairfax and park at the local mall, as it was about as close to the Pentagon as you can get. Looked like hundreds of others had the same idea. We had a lot of time to stand around in our holding area before we were walked over to the start line. I went through a warm-up of sorts as we approached the start line, and timed it pretty well. Other than nerves about how my legs would feel once I started running, I felt good. The weather was incredible, the other racers were pumped up. It was hard not to get excited.
I 100% believe that you cannot judge a run by the first mile, but I would be lying if I said miles 1 and 2 didn't have me second guessing myself. I had committed to a run/walk approach (5:1), and tried to focus on the cues that I'd be given during the run analysis, but my calves didn't get the message. I stopped to stretch a few times but nothing seemed to loosen up. Right after I crossed Memorial Bridge, I caught a break. I spotted another runner in her Oiselle singlet and trotted up to say hi. At the very least, it would be a needed but brief distraction. It turned out to be three amazing runners who pulled me through a really tough spot. Each was either sick or injured, so they were rocking a 3:1 interval and suggested I join. Since 5:1 wasn't working, why not?!
We chatted a bit as we approached mile 3, but I dropped back a little as the pace felt a little hard at that moment. Gel #1 went down after I passed the mile 3 marker, and that is where things turned around. I honestly don't know what changed, but things clicked. I stopped feeling discomfort in my lower legs. I kept the girls in my sight and could maintain the 3:1 easily. Through mile 5, I felt like I was getting stronger. I caught up to and eventually passed the girls. I saw MS coming the other way as he approached the 10k mark and gave him a thumbs up. The crowd support was good and I really felt like I'd hit a groove.
Gel #2 went down during mile 7, leading up to the 14th Street Bridge. Having run it during MCM, I knew exactly what to expect and I had no plans to let it get the best of me. I ran out of water on the bridge but I knew there was a water station just past the end of the off ramp. I felt like I was doing work, but it felt good and I thought I could continue to maintain the effort and likely have a push at the end. A gracious volunteer refilled my handheld from their water pitcher just after mile marker 8 and from then on I just wanted to dig in. As good as I felt, I had no intention of stopping the interval approach. It was working, this wasn't an A race for me, and I didn't want to mess with a good thing.
I could not see the finish line for quite some time, but I could hear it and spectators started the "you're almost there" "only 800 meters left" business. Knowing I did not run the tangents, I knew I had to wait for my Garmin to get well past 9.5 miles before I went for it. I drew from the energy of the crowd and the joy of knowing that I was going to finish the damn thing. I ran hard with whatever kick I had and once I crossed the line, I stopped the Garmin and literally jumped for joy. I really hope the race photographer caught it! Between the finish line, the finish area, and where the car was, a lot of walking happened. Maybe too much. But that smile wasn't going anywhere.
Super-special thanks to Kyle, MS, my family and #teamsexypace. Much love to Oiselle and Nuun, I'm so proud to represent your kick-ass brands and appreciate the amazing opportunities that you've given me. Head up, wings out!