Sunday was finally the day for the much anticipated Christmas 10K in Newport. Last year, I had no idea what to expect as it was my first attempt at this distance. This year, I had a clear idea of what my goals would be: sub 36 minutes and a WTAC team win.
There is something really fun yet hard about racing 6.2 miles. Using the VDOT and McMillan running calculators, you notice that 10K pace is only a few seconds slower than 5K pace. But it's twice the distance! I wouldn't believe it if I hadn't had it work for me last year. In fact, I beat them. This year, the calculators were telling me I would run just over 36 minutes, so my goal was to beat them again. I needed to average 5:47 pace to sneak into the 35's. I've been using 5:45 pace as a target in recent 10K pace work, and would use that again during the race.
Adding to the excitement, was the fact that the WTAC (my running club), would be competing as a team in this race. We began team racing after the Christmas 10K last year. The fastest top three times for each team were used for scoring. TNT won last year, but depending on who showed up, it seemed that we had a good shot at the title.
All of this led to a lot of excitement and nervousness before the race. My wife (running her first 10K) and I headed over the bridges after a stop to pick up WTAC's newest member, Mike Galoob. We registered and found the rest of the team. We noticed a group of Turtles (technically a bale of turtles) that included Bob Jackman and Alan Bernier (top two finishers last year). Then we saw a couple of BAA and New Balance jerseys and hoped neither entered as teams. The field was packed!
Justin, Jeff, Mike, Seth, and I headed out on a warm up. I was looking forward to the trails across the street. We wandered around there and then ran the last mile of the race course. Despite last night's margaritas and general nervousness, I was feeling great. My legs were fresh, thanks to actually tapering for once. We ran back to our cars for last minute prep, and then jogged down the road to the starting area. Besides exchanging greetings with the usual people, I was happy to run into old friend Matt Crowley.
Quickly the gun went off and the race was on. I did not want to go out fast, but it was frustrating to watch so many guys in front of me. I stuck to the plan and used my GPS watch for pacing. Justin moved up and went by. I decided to stick with him, and the speed was right. Jeff moved up to us on a downhill, and the three of us in our WTAC singlets ran together briefly. I crossed the 1 Mile mark in 5:40 (before my watch beeped the first mile). This seemed perfect: a little faster than my goal, but not too fast. During Mile 2, Justin pressed ahead, and I chose to stay the course. I muttered something to Jeff about keeping up this casual pace for five more miles, and then next thing I knew, he was moving ahead of me as well. I figured that this was one of those days when he was feeling really good. I stayed my course and watched them gain ground in front of me. I passed the Mile 2 marker in 11:31, and was happy about the pace so far. Justin seemed 20-30 seconds ahead of me and Jeff looked possessed trying to catch him. The conditions here were spectacular: sunny, 50 degrees, wind at your back, with views from the rocky shoreline. Then I turned the corner at the end of the point and was greeted with a decent headwind. I was already running hard, but pushed harder hoping to not slow down. I could not hear anybody behind me and I stayed focused on my teammates in front of me. I passed mile 3 (need to upload my watch data for split) still trailing Jeff by a wide margin, but soon I was gaining as the terrain began to roll. On the rather steep hill before Mile 4, I was able to pass him. We were close to a Turtle and I told Jeff to keep working and catch that guy. When Jeff didn't catch back up on the long downhill, I then focused on my pace (seemed consistent) and the TNT jersey I was closing in on. I was able to pass him on a hill during mile 5. I may have picked up my pace here as I now was not too far behind Justin. I couldn't believe it. I was feeling good about finishing strong and wondered if this might be the day that I actually beat him in a race (something that has never happened before). I passed the Mile 5 marker in the high 28's (was it 29's?) and wondered if there was too much distance left to finish sub 36. Justin made his way by another runner and turned the corner. I passes this runner as well, but I felt awkward making the turn. I think I was full of nervous energy. I felt so slow climbing the slow long hill on this new road. Justin was just a handful of seconds ahead, and I debated the merits of sprinting up to his side, or just holding back and keep grinding. Basically, my body told me what to do, as I was working pretty hard already. I steadily gained until I was literally two seconds behind him, before another sharp turn and a long fast descent. Again my turn felt awkward - my legs got out of rhythm and Justin increased his lead to 5 or so seconds. My only hope was the last steep climb right after the 6 Mile marker, but Justin was digging in and I made up no ground. I glanced at my watch and sub 36 was still very much in play. I didn't have a finishing sprint in me, but I tried. Final time 35:54, seven seconds behind Justin, and 12th overall.
I was chatting with Justin and Mike when we noticed Jeff locked in a battle to the finish with the TNT guy from earlier! Jeff just missed out and looked like he had given it his all out there. Still a two minute PR for him. Soon, it was Seth completing his race in an impressive 38 minutes. The team title was going to be close as Mike had finished ahead of Bernier but behind Jackman. Justin and I were the next finishers. We had to wait for the awards ceremony to find out who won.
Our team then headed out for a cool down. We ran the course in reverse so that I could see my wife on the course. Well it wasn't long before she yelled out to me - she was way ahead of her predicted time and finished with a 8:55 pace overall! We continued on our slow shuffle until Mike wanted to head back down to Ocean Drive. I joined him and the rest of the guys went back. The cool down proved to be longer than we thought, and I was getting very hungry and tired. We walked the last hill back to the car. We went back to the post race festivities and met up with the remaining teammates and other running friends. Looking at the posted results, it seemed that we just narrowly lost the team title, and eventually TNT was awarded as the winning team. This was a bit disappointing, but will serve as motivation for the upcoming winter trail series.
Overall I was very pleased with my race. I attained my goal of sub 36 and beat the calculators again. I ran smart and I believe I ran faster the second half of the race. My training has been paying off and I'm motivated to keep working hard.