Sunday, October 20, 2013

Race Report: Let's Go 510! 10K

So. Um. Apparently this happened......

Does this make any sense in any way whatsoever? No. No it does not. Believe me, no one is more stunned about it than I am.

Let's start at the beginning, though.

In case you missed the post where I first mentioned this race, it was an inaugural event & collaborative effort between the awesome folks at Brazen Racing & a newer group called Represent Running, which I think mainly does races tied thematically to specific regions/area codes (hence "Let's Go 510!"). I knew I wanted to run a road 10K close to home in October, so when I saw that Brazen was involved with organizing this one just 15 minutes away, it was a no-brainer.

A unique feature of this race is that it finishes on the horse track at Golden Gate Fields. It was scheduled to start at 10 a.m., which I'm guessing probably has something to do with the track schedule & when the horses would need / not need access to it. When I arrived a little after 8 there were lots of horses & riders out on it, & the race had a strict two-hour time limit since they'd need to get back out on it at noon to start warming up for the afternoon races, so maybe 10:30-12:00 was the window that worked for having the track open for (human) finishers.

I will admit to a few nerves when I first arrived & saw how socked in the place was:

Starting line

Starting line

Beach near the starting line

Visibility was maybe 40 yards, so I suppose that's another reason why the late start time was a good thing. By 9-9:30 the fog had blown off, though, & after grabbing my bib & agonizing over whether to park closer to the start or finish & changing my mind at least twice, I had plenty of time to wander around the track & watch horses.

That was kind of neat.

Around 9:40 I pinned on my bib, stripped down, & ran a quick warm-up mile. I was happy to find that my hip felt good & nothing hurt, but a little disheartened by the fact that an 8:20 pace felt kind of tough to maintain. It was also HOT at that point--full sun & even in a sports bra & my lightest shorts I was pretty sweaty after just one mile. It was hot enough that I drank water at every aid station during the race, and I almost never drink anything in a 10K. (Seriously, there were SO MANY PEOPLE wearing knee socks and tights and long-sleeved shirts & all I could think was "Are you freaking crazy???")

Well, it'll be what it'll be, I reminded myself. While I kind of had a very loose goal of finishing under 50 minutes, it was more of a general hope than a goal since I didn't have much to go on time-prediction-wise. I really was going into this with no expectations whatsoever--all I wanted was to run hard, finish feeling good (and with no hip pain), and see how fit I was after ~2 months of running 10-20 miles a week with no tempo work and almost no speed work to speak of so that I'd have a baseline to work from going forward.

* * *

Race days are special. Your mind knows it. Your body knows it. While there's no substitute for solid training, somehow on race day we are always capable of a little more, of things that we have no logical reason to believe we can do.

My plan was basically to try to find a comfortable pace that felt like 10K effort & adjust as necessary, but I didn't know exactly what that pace would be. Last week during one of my runs I ran a "comfortably hard" mile (which is how I think about the first mile or two of a 10K) without looking at my watch, just to see what I could do. My pace ended up being 7:17, and while that felt "comfortably hard" for that one mile, I was quite happy to settle back down into the mid-eights and knew there was no way I could have kept that pace up for six miles.

I didn't know it until I arrived & saw the beginning of the course, but it starts off with a pretty significant hill:

Yes, I've run worse, and it wasn't terribly long, but I was still very glad that it was right at the start and I knew it was there, and that Race Director Sam pointed out that we'd be coming back over it the other way at the end of the race. Check. Psyche = prepared.

I tried to keep that 7:17 mile and how it had felt in mind when the gun went off & we started towards the incline. Don't try to run comfortably hard yet; just try to stay actually comfortable & don't push at all until after the hill. So I settled into what felt comfortable but just a touch faster than how I've been doing my easy runs & thought to myself, "Oh, this feels about right." Then I looked at my watch & realized I was running a 6:35 pace.

Shit. Out of practice, much?

I remember this moment specifically. I was so close to having a nice, normal-looking race picture & then this lady jumped in front of me. Now I'll never be on the cover of Runners World. THANKS FOR RUINING EVERYTHING, "SHABLET".
I actively slowed down, a lot, & let myself kind of float up the hill at a truly easy effort, making sure to use my glutes & hamstrings but not letting myself gun it, which was hard with people flying by me on all sides at ridiculous speeds. By the time I reached the top I was breathing hard & tried to use the downhill (just as steep as the uphill) as a little rest break, which sort of worked.

Once the course flattened out I went back to looking for that nice, comfortable, fast-but-not-too-fast level of effort, thought I had it, & locked in. And yet, every time I glanced at my watch, I'd see numbers in the 7:10-7:15 range.

No! I tried to tell my runner brain. Abort! Too fast! TOO FAST! The pace felt okay now, but hard enough that I knew I wouldn't be able to sustain it past maybe 4-4.5 miles & then I'd be crawling. I tried again to force myself to slow down; mile 1 ticked off in 7:19, which was a slight improvement.

The following couple of paragraphs might seem like a digression, but I think it's important in order to understand just how weird and bizarre and completely absurd the rest of this race felt. You know how people are always talking about "running by feel" rather than using a watch to keep a certain pace? Well, there IS something to that. But "running by feel" is a skill that is unique to each distance, and something you have to learn through experience and trial and error.

Friends, I've run a LOT of 10Ks. In 2011 I spent several months running nothing BUT 10Ks, and let me tell you, by the end of that summer, I had running a 10K "by feel" down to an art. I'd glance at my watch for the first mile or so just to make sure I locked into the right gear, & after that I could run the entire thing without looking at my watch, hit beautiful just-slightly negative splits mile after mile, & have just enough left toward the end for a solid kick.

During that time & in 2012 & early 2013, I think my body laid down some pretty serious neurological pathways, conscious & subconscious, labeled "HOW TO RUN A 10K." I didn't have to think about it--I could just sort of press a mental button that said, "RUN FASTEST POSSIBLE 10K," and my body would just do it on autopilot, every time. So I have a really, really good sense of how I should feel effort-wise at every stage of a hard, fast 10K.

But here's the problem with the whole run-by-feel mentality. I don't think my body hardwired the effort piece; I think it hardwired the physical mechanics. It hardwired the pieces that said "Run with strides of x size" and "Run x strides per minute." And during these first couple of miles, in significantly worse shape than the last few times I've raced a 10K, that's what my body was trying to do. The subconscious part of me that has memorized HOW TO RUN A 10K just didn't realize that I don't have the fitness right now to maintain that. If I kept up the cadence that felt right, I'd have to shorten my strides. If I kept my strides where they felt right, I'd have to slow my cadence. I could keep up one or the other, but not both, no matter how fervently my runner brain screamed, "BUT THAT IS HOW YOU DO IT!!!1!1!!"

So I'm not kidding you that I spent the entire rest of the race hauling on the reins, as if trying to stop a runaway horse. At every mile marker from 2 on, I felt dangerously close to wiped out, certain that I'd gone out way, way too fast & there was no way I would finish without blowing up. Every time I would almost succeed in slowing to a "reasonable" pace, I would find myself involuntarily latching on to the people around me, powerless to do anything but match their pace, in an absurd tug-of-war with my own body, desperately shouting at it to SLOW THE F*** DOWN, GODAMMIT! and completely unable to control my legs enough to actually make it happen. I've never had an experience like this in a race before and it was just *so* surreal.

Tapeta up-close. You can see why this was maybe not so much fun to run on/in. It was like fluffy, damp sand.
I did manage to slow down slightly in miles 2 (7:21) & 3 (7:27), but once we hit the halfway point the subconscious runner brain wrestled control back from me again and zoomed through mile 4 (7:15), which I paid for in mile 5 (7:32). In the last mile I was a little more willing to let my body run as fast as it felt like, but that was also where the big hill was, so those two things together averaged out to 7:22. After mile 6 all bets were off & I finished the last .2 at a 6:49 pace, which actually might have been a little faster had the last .1 or so not been on the horse track, which is surfaced with a thick, soft, cushy substance called tapeta made of sand, fiber, rubber, & wax.

I hadn't looked at my watch in a while at this point (I was just running as fast as I could), so I had no idea what sort of ballpark I was in time-wise except that I knew I was very safely under 50 minutes. I didn't have the brain space to process the numbers on the finish line clock until right before I crossed the mat, so when I saw 45:xx, I was completely stunned. By the time I remembered to stop my watch it read 45:34, and when the official results went up, my time was 45:31. When I saw the "1" by my name in the A/G slot, I was stunned for the second time.

(Not sure what happened with the gun time, btw. I crossed the mat maybe
2-3 seconds after the horn went off, definitely not 43 seconds after.)

Garmin: 6.18 miles / 45:34 / 7:22 pace
Official: 6.2 miles / 45:31 / 7:21 pace

Overall: 49/704
Women: 5/322
A/G: 1/89

Obviously I knew there was no chance whatsoever of running even close to my PR pace of 7:09, but honestly, given my lack of speed work (not to mention mileage in general), I was expecting I'd end up running in maybe the 7:35-7:40 range. So 7:21??? Given how hard that 7:17 mile felt the other day, and how meh that 8:2x warm-up had felt, that kind of average pace was *completely* unexpected.

Of course, the only thing I ever really cared about with this race was finishing strong and uninjured, and I'm happy to report that I felt GREAT immediately after the race and for the rest of the day, even with a bunch of public transit negotiating & walking around at the Stanford game. As of Sunday, I'm a bit sore in the hamstrings and have one rather tweaky spot on the outside of my right ankle/calf, but that's it--no hip drama whatsoever.


So yeah. After that, I basically couldn't stop smiling. Des'ree, this one goes out to you. :)

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*LOGISTICAL STUFF~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Location: Berkeley, CA

Date: Mid October (October 19, 2013 this year)

Price: $44 before 9/23; $49 before 10/9; $54 after; 10% off for registering with a buddy. To be honest $44 to me feels a bit steep for a 10K, but the buddy price feels about right. I was willing to pay it because a) I've run a lot of Brazen races & trusted them to put on a well-organized, high-quality event, & b) I had a specific time window where I wanted to run a specific distance in a specific region, and since the pickier you are the more limited your options are bound to be, I was willing to pay a little more.

Deadlines/sellout factor: Hard to say, since this was the first year of the race. There was definitely a healthy showing (~700 finishers), but people were also able to register the morning of the race, so I'm not sure where they'd cap it.

Field Size: ~700. (Srsly, I had no idea it was that many. I guess I just never saw all the runners in one place, but that's how many finishers were listed in the results.)

The Course:

The course begins in the lower parking lot at Golden Gate Fields (basically on the water), runs along roads and trails by the Bay, through the Marina & Cesar Chavez Park, & finishes on the track at Golden Gate Fields. The last few miles were particularly scenic, with lots of lovely waterfront views. As mentioned above there is one not-insignificant but totally runnable hill that you go up and then down at the very beginning and close to the end, but other than that it felt basically flat. Signage & mile markers were good & there were plenty of rabbits & course marshals (including two aid stations), but even so, I think it would have been pretty hard to go the wrong way.

If there is one thing that would keep me from running this race again, it's the surfaces. Most of it was paved roads and trails, but there were also a few gravel stretches, some packed dirt, and of course the finish on the track. I didn't mind the dirt at all but I just HATE running on gravel & running on the tapeta track at the end was really hard. That isn't a ding on the event, necessarily--just my personal preference. I'm sure that for lots of people it was totally fine & didn't bother them (particularly if they're used to trail races, which I'm not).

Parking: Free & copious -- there is an ENORMOUS lot between the starting area & the finish at the track.

Staging: The track area at Golden Gate Fields made a great site for the post-race spread & a little mini-expo (merch, upcoming races, coconut water, almond milk ice cream, post-race massages, etc.). We also had access to the real bathrooms there in addition to the row of port-a-potties by the start, which was particularly nice for changing out of nasty sweaty clothes after the race. As always the volunteers were friendly, helpful, & knowledgeable. Pre-race instructions encouraged folks to pick up their bibs ahead of time at Sports Basement Emeryville to avoid waiting in line on race day, but when I arrived I walked right up & had all my stuff immediately. (Maybe everyone but me took their advice? Lol.) I think I remember reading that there was a sweat check, but parking was so close to both the start & finish that I didn't bother & just left everything in my car.

Expo / packet pickup area

Swag: In addition to the BIGGEST MEDAL I HAVE EVER RECEIVED FOR ANYTHING EVER (see the top of this post), runners had the option of a cotton gender-specific race shirt or a tech shirt for $5 extra. I went with the cotton option, which is quite cute:

Try to ignore the copious amounts of wrinkles from being shoved hastily into my bag.

It's a little hard to tell in this picture, but it's a lady-specific cut shirt. The guys' shirt, as far as I could tell, was the more traditional T-shirt shape, & a darker green. (Honestly, I'm sure they would have given you whichever one you preferred if you asked.)

Of course everyone got the usual bag of samples & coupons, and also access to the horse races for the rest of the day. (I think spectators had to pay $6-7 to come in.)

Overall Assessment: This was a unique, fun, well-run event and I'm glad I did it. Personally, I think I'll probably stick to all-paved or nearly-all-paved races for the most part, but for someone who isn't too picky about surfaces, I would definitely recommend it.


  1. Congrats! I loved your thoughts on the neuroplasticity and running by feel. I find it so difficult to pace myself that way. I srsly need to loose the gadgets once a week.
    Great time! You're healing well!

    1. Thank you!!

      Running a certain distance by feel is definitely tricky--like I said, it's all about practice--but I think working on it really helped me learn to race certain distances smarter / more strategically, which I think can sometimes mean faster times with the same fitness.

  2. Congratulations! I'd say you're making a stellar comeback, especially with that time and place! Well done.
    I think this sentence of yours sums it up well: "While there's no substitute for solid training, somehow on race day we are always capable of a little more, of things that we have no logical reason to believe we can do." This is so very true, as I've learned more than once (but always seem to forget again). I guess sometimes we just have to give in and let our bodies carry us as far and as fast as possible, trusting that the big-picture, long-term training will come back to help us.

    1. Thanks!! The whole race day thing is *totally* crazy. I never expect it no matter how many times it happens.

  3. Fabulous recap and an incredible run - you are totally badass!! Congratulations!!

    Like Layla, I also really loved this bit..."Race days are special. Your mind knows it. Your body knows it. While there's no substitute for solid training, somehow on race day we are always capable of a little more, of things that we have no logical reason to believe we can do." It gave me chills - I'm sticking it on my fridge!!

  4. Ahhhhh, I love reading about race-day magic. (I tend not to experience it, myself, so I love living vicariously!) I think this race goes to show that you've put in really SMART work during your comeback. And I was so bummed not to get to do this race and finish on the track, but oof, that track looks like a mess to run on. Respect to the horses!

    1. Aw, thanks! Yeah, the track was weird. They told us that the tapeta was specially designed both to keep horses from breaking legs & also to keep jockeys from getting too hurt if they fell, so I guess that's good, but no, not so good for running!

  5. WOOHOO! Congrats on a great comeback from injury! Race day magic is the THE BEST.

    Having run most of this course several times before during training runs (minus the race track), you are spot on about the surfaces -- even though it's flat, it's definitely not PR-friendly with the gravel and unpaved portions. The tapeta looks insane to run on -- I never knew it was such a mix of different materials!

    1. Thanks!! I'm a big fan of race day magic. :)

      Yeah, the course was fine for my purposes, but I agree that it definitely was not a PR course, especially starting at 10:00 am. Boy was it hot!!

  6. Nice job! Congratulations! That looks like quite an interesting course and I love the horseshoe medal!