Well, I had one of those races on Sunday. Except not in the way that you generally hope for.
I ran this race last year as an early tune-up for CIM. It was cheap and reasonably close to home and looked fairly flat and fast, except for maybe the fact that it's in San Jose during the summer and thus likely to be hot. Let me also say that I didn't have the highest of expectations last year because after running possibly my slowest marathon ever (or pretty close, anyway) at the end of April, I took May more or less off, spent most of June consuming LOTS of dairy, whisky, & other not-particularly-healthy things & getting basically zero physical activity, and returned at the end of the month pretty darn out of shape and unable to fit comfortably into most of my clothes.
Knowing I had just two months to prep for a 10K and five for CIM, I got straight to work running 40+ easy miles a week & lifting three times a week. I didn't have much hope that I'd get very far in eight weeks (including only three not-that-intense speed workouts), so I was utterly stunned to run 44:38, just 17 seconds off my PR, and come in 1st in my age group and 2nd overall. I think I spent a solid five minutes staring at the official results going "HOW?????" But hey, I'll take it! And when the race organizers sent out a $25 re-run offer for next year, I figured, why not?
So, here we are, next year. I'm certainly no longer in the shape I was in for CIM, but for the last few months my mileage has been in the 40+ range and pretty darn consistent, including reasonably intense speed and tempo/threshold workouts twice weekly. I haven't been in the gym three days a week without fail, but I've been making it twice a week pretty regularly (and I can squat and deadlift a LOT more than I could last summer, which should at least theoretically translate into power). So part of me felt like, "Surely I should be in the same ballpark as last year, and maybe even faster."
On the other hand, I've mentioned many times lately just how exhausted these 40+ weeks have left me, which seems silly. I can't ever remember feeling so worn out, even running 50+ miles a week. My speed workouts have been fine but my last two threshold workouts were the worst I can ever remember in terms of just plain not being able to run the target paces, by more than a little. So another part of me has not felt that confident about this 10K at all.
The week leading up to the race was weird. Our bathroom was scheduled for demo on Monday, so we spent Sunday packing things up, cleaning out the bathroom, and getting ready to move out. We spent that week house-sitting for our friends, which was fantastic because a) no construction noise at 7am, b) no constant worry about the electricity and/or water going on and off without warning, and c) bathrooms.
Then towards the end of that week the heat wave hit, and I don't mean a heat wave by San Francisco standards, I mean like triple digits everywhere, even in the city (we broke the all time record on Friday at 106F), and 110F+ in surrounding inland areas. (Climate change is a hoax? Come at me, bro.) Sure, I grew up with this in Texas, but in Texas and most other places that get that kind of heat regularly, there are air conditioners. Not so here. So we mostly collected all the fans we could find and tried not to move too much.
Except, move was exactly what we had to do. As in, move house and all our crap. So we spent Friday and Saturday packing, unpacking, and hauling things up and down hills and stairs and in and out of cars, etc. In triple digit heat. With no A/C.
By Saturday night I'd done basically no race planning. All I knew was I was going to get up and drive to San Jose and then have brunch with friends and then--thank the sweet baby Jesus--go swimming at a friend's parents' house. I got in bed at 10:30pm feeling like crap, but it was still 95F in our temporary bedroom, so I'd guess I got about 3 hours of sleep total. I was so tired when I got up that I almost felt sick. (You'd think this would have been demoralizing, but honestly, there have been so many times when I've felt like crap and completely surprised myself with a good or even amazing race, so I wasn't too down about it.)
Generally I pack my bag & lay out my clothes the night before a race but there'd been no time for that, and given the moving situation, I only kind of 60/40 even really knew where anything was. By some miracle I managed to get out of the house with everything I needed for the race, brunch, and swimming by 6am, stopped for a latte, and got to the race venue by a little after 7am. Like last year, parking was easy, and after a bathroom stop and a little warming up, I easily found Jen & BT & got my bib. (Because THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for volunteering for bib pickup duty, BT, and saving me an 80 mile round trip during the chaos of moving on Friday and Saturday. Words cannot describe my gratitude.)
We'd all braced for a debilitatingly hot race, and though it was certainly not cold, I think we were all relieved to find that there was enough cloud cover to keep things in the mid-70s as of 7:30am. There was also a stiff breeze, which was both a blessing and a curse. I was relieved to find that I felt pretty good warming up (as opposed to last year when I felt awful), but a little nervous to see that my heart rate was sort of insanely high. (It's just race nerves, I kept telling myself, nothing but good old race nerves...)
Finally, with just a few minutes to go, I finished my dynamic stretches and strides, changed shoes, and seeded myself where it seemed appropriate. Easy 7's to start and then we'll reassess from there, I told myself. At 8am, the horn sounded and we were off.
And ugh, I felt like garbage from the very first mile. I settled into what felt like the fast side of an appropriate pace, not-comfortable-but-doable, hoping for maybe a sub-7:10ish first mile, and was saddened to see that it was more like 7:25. Fine, then let's pick it up a little, I guess. I managed it, but all I could think was, wow, this feels really unusually hard. Then again I almost always think that in the first mile of a short race and just tried to put it out of my mind. Mile one ticked off in 7:12, which was not what I'd hoped for but also not terrible. You can do this, I kept telling myself through the second mile. Only, I really didn't feel that way at all.
You can tell this is early in the race because I'm still moving at a pretty good clip. #foreshadowing
I kept trying to speed up and definitely felt like I was working harder, but my pace just kept getting slower and slower. 7:15, then 7:20, 7:25, 7:30. When you're running a 10K & *slowing* to half marathon pace in the second mile? Not a good sign.
Mile 2: 7:16
By the end of mile 2, I felt like I was losing the mental game and really just falling apart psychologically. I kept trying to think, strong, smooth, in control, etc., but those thoughts kept getting pushed out by the numbers on my watch and much louder thoughts going, Oh geez, we're not even halfway and my legs feel like jello. I remember at one point thinking for some reason that I was really close to the turnaround, like maybe a quarter mile to go, but then I looked at my watch & saw it only read about 2.5. That's never good for morale.
Nevertheless, I kept trying to interject positive thoughts in to my internal monologue ("I often rally in the second half! I'm a really good closer!") but it's difficult when your legs just aren't cooperating and you've got concrete evidence right in front of your face that you are in fact NOT rallying, that what you are doing is in fact kind of the opposite of rallying, whatever that's called.
Mile 3: 7:36
I tried so hard to smile. I really, really did.
If mile 3 was the Legs-of-Jello mile, mile 4 was definitely the Shoes-of-Lead mile. It wasn't a cardiovascular thing; I just plain could not get my legs to move any faster. I saw my pace drop from mid-sevens to high-sevens, then finally pass 8:00 pace, a new low for me in the 10K. I can't even say it's that I quit or gave in or said "Fuck it, this sucks, just get to finish." Like, I was really, really trying, giving it everything I had, and I couldn't even run marathon pace.
Mile 4: 8:13
Afterward, some people said, "Well, but it was hot," and to that I can only say, sure, it was warm, but not weirdly warm for this time of year (in fact I feel like it was warmer last year), and we had cloud cover, and the trail was mostly shaded. Like, sure, I'd give myself a few extra seconds per mile due to the fact that it was a little warm. But the bigger issue for me seemed to be the humidity, which we just do NOT get here and I am NOT used to. I felt like my body was wrapped in a blanket of warm, soggy air, and around mile 4/5 I started having a hard time moving air in and out of my lungs. So no, that didn't help either, so okay, sure, I'll give myself a few extra seconds per mile for that.
But this was crazy. Even on days when I've had really tough tempo runs where I just cannot hit the pace for whatever reason, we're talking about running 7:45s instead of 7:25-7:30s for four/five/six miles, un-tapered and un-fresh, at significantly less than race effort. Here I was racing a 10K and seeing numbers above 9:00 pace.
Mile 5: 8:44
Guys. I have run 10Ks on crappy training. I have run 10Ks in the heat and in crazy headwinds. I have run 10Ks tired and injured and sick and NEVER, in all those situations, have I ever seen a split slower than 7:40 (yes, I checked) before this race. Like. My legs just. Would. Not.
I did get passed some at this point, but not as much as I'd have expected, so it does seem that a lot of us were in fact slowing at similar rates. I'd run most of the race as the 3rd woman but finally somewhere around mile 4-5ish, maybe, a girl passed me and there was just nothing I could do about it. I wanted to quit and phone it in so, so badly, but something about giving up like that when you've committed to racing and aren't having a physical crisis feels dishonest. (Also, I frikking *hate* being passed, so my brain probably wouldn't have allowed it anyway.) So, I just ran as hard as I could, started counting back from 400 (100 = .25 miles) and said, "I am going to try to catch this woman." I didn't really think I could, not with the way things were going, but hey, the faster I ran, the faster this god-forsaken death march would be over, and that was really the main goal at that point.
I wasn't thirsty but even from mile 1 I was grabbing cups of cold water to pour over my body (GOD BLESS YOU RACE VOLUNTEERS) and I was extra grateful for the ones with spray bottles of cold water on the way back. I don't know if it helped much but it was such a wonderful gesture! I really did not know how I was going to get through that last mile, so I just started thinking one tenth of a mile at a time, and focusing on the 3rd place woman up ahead (who, btw, was just getting farther and farther ahead). Around the mile 5 marker I was passed by another girl and fell into 5th, and again, there was just nothing I could do. I did manage to pick it up a bit, but we're talking about maybe just getting back under 8:00, maaaaaybe 7:45ish, which felt like sprinting.
Mile 6: 8:04
As we approached the mile 6 marker, I was gaining on the 4th place woman again and part of me said, "You can catch her, you know you can, don't you DARE let her beat you this close to the finish!" And oh god oh god oh god I did not not NOT want to gun it, but somehow I summoned up every scrap of anything I had left and knee drove it, balls to the wall, all the way to the finish line, just managing to squeak into 4th*.
[*Note: A number of people told me that I was the 4th woman they saw cross the line, but the official results list me as 6th. The only explanation I can think of is that two women crossed the start WAAAY after me so they ended up with faster chip times? I am so confused. Though, honestly, I don't care that much about where I placed. It's just weird.]
Last .16: 1:00 (6:15 pace...maybe? These last little bits together with GPS error are always so weird)
And this is where I had that moment of looking at my watch, which read 48:05, and thinking, "Wait. That can't be right. Can it?" But it was, and I thought back to not being able to run even marathon pace, to eventually even seeing 9:00+ pace on my watch, and, well, yeah, I guess that's just about right. At the time I was thinking it was my slowest 10K by over 3 minutes, but looking back, the one I ran in February 2016 as I was getting back into shape after a stress fracture was 46:00, so it was really only my slowest by a bit over 2 minutes.
That isn't what bothers me, though. What bothers me is that I knew I wasn't in great shape going into that race, but with this one, I really felt like I was in pretty good shape, and I would have said certainly better than when I ran the same race last year. I can handle having a bad race; it's a lot harder to handle having a bad race and not understanding why.
I've noticed over the years that there are some races where I give it everything and leave it 110% out there and finish stumbling and gasping and seeing spots and throwing up a little and there are other races where I feel like I worked just as hard but within a minute or two of the finish I feel totally fine. PRs tend to be more like the former and this race was much more like the latter. I have a theory that when all the limiting factors (cardio fitness, muscle freshness, mental game, etc.) are all more or less aligned and I'm able to draw on the full power of all of them, I have my best races, but I feel the worst after because I have truly used up everything there is to give. But when something is not up to par as the others, that factor limits the extent to which I can draw on the other things, so although I feel like I'm working hard, there's still a lot that didn't get spent because I wasn't able to access it. So I kind of wonder this time if, even though my fitness really should be pretty darn good right now, my legs were just so tired and un-fresh and I was so mentally unprepared and not there that it didn't really matter how fit I was in a cardiovascular/running economy sense.
Or, that could be a lot of bullshit navel gazing. (YMMV)
Afterward, of course, there were the obligatory photos with friends. I finally FINALLY got to meet Erin in real life after reading her blog for years (seriously, how did it take this long to be at the same place at the same time??) & goof around with her & the rest of the Wolf Pack. And then finally, there was lovely lovely brunch with Jen, BT, Mr. BT, & her friend E who also ran the 10K.
Me, BT, Jen
Erin (who took 2nd woman in the half barely trying WHAAAAAT), Jen, me
Goofing off with the Wolf Pack
Much-needed (and earned!!!) mimosas
To be honest, I probably still have some processing to do re: this race and WTF!?!?!? was going on, but it was kind of timely to have an article from Trail Runner Magazine pop up in my Facebook feed today re: the amazing Clare Gallagher, who, if you don't know that name, went from podium position to DNF in a matter of steps due to an injury in mile 93 of of Western States (100 miles), then went on to WIN CCC Mont Blanc (100K) just eight weeks later on less than 100K--62 miles--of training per week. For a pro ultra-runner, that's, like, nothing. To quote her coach David Roche (who wrote the article),
- "The brain is not designed to think about the contours of training over many months and years. The default setting is to think about yesterday and the last few weeks. In reality, a week or even a training cycle does not tell the story. Instead, training is like a massive wall—each day is a brick or two, and it takes months and years of building to make something special....The main lesson from Gallagher’s performance at CCC is that perspective on inevitable failures may be the most important trait of top athletes, and that smiling through the stuff life throws at you can change everything."
Now, I am obviously very very far from where Clare Gallagher as a runner and my failure was very different in nature, and I do still want to try to understand WTF!?!?!?, but I 100% take the point: A few weeks or months isn't everything. You are not your most recent training cycle. Even for those of us who are no longer 25, endurance running is still a bit of a long game. So I'm trying to take Gallagher's mantra to heart--"I can't go back in time!"--and instead focus on what I can do in the next month to give myself the best possible shot at RNR San Jose.
Location: San Jose, CA
Date: Early September (Sept 3, 2017 this year)
Price: In the modern world of race fees, I count this one as pretty reasonable if you get in early. From the website:
Note well, though, that a) I registered with the $25 re-run offer way ahead of time, and b) I think pretty much all my friends registered with a 50% off Groupon that was floating around. So it can be even cheaper if you're on your toes.
Deadlines/sellout factor: Apparently all the distances sold out this year, but I think that was due in large part to a big PR push at the end involving the 50% off Groupon, so you've got time if you're on the fence about this one.
Field Size: Finishers:
- Half Marathon - 118 finishers
- 10K - 154 finishers
- 5K - 120 finishers
The start & finish for all three races was on Embedded Way, which dead ends right between NexTest & the Silver Creek Sports Complex. Most of the staging was set up towards the dead end. This was a pretty tiny local race, so staging consisted of the start/finish line, a handful of sponsor tents, & maybe half a dozen port-a-potties (which was plenty).
This was right after the half marathon started at 7:00. Both fields were small & an hour apart--I think a lot of people didn't arrive for the 5K/10K until 7:30ish, so it was pretty dead once the half marathoners went off.
No gear check but parking is just a few minutes' walk away so it wasn't really needed. (As per usual I just dropped my bag behind one of the sponsor tents & figured no one would bother it, which they didn't.) Speaking of parking, there was loads of it available at both NextTest and SnapOn, neither of which were very far from the start/finish. (I was also grateful that they had volunteers standing out in front of the driveway waving flags because I might have missed it the first year otherwise.)
There was no race day bib/shirt pickup. You had to get it either in Sunnyvale on Friday or Saturday in San Jose. I don't know whether there was a special reason for this or just to avoid dealing with more logistics on race day, but I find it a bit frustrating as nearly all other races I've run of this size have had race day pickup at least as an option. Living in San Francisco, this meant that I had to make an additional 80+ mile round trip the first year (though thankfully BT saved me from that fate this year).
All three courses began the same way--heading south on Hellyer, then right on Fontanoso (which kind of curves south and then east again), then another right to head west on Silver Creek Road, then jump onto Coyote Creek Trail just past the 1-mile mark. From there, the 5K & 10K were both out-and-backs along the trail/roads. The half course did something very windy & convoluted, going out & back on the trail for a while & then a whole bunch of other places (?) before heading back to Embedded Way.
I can't speak for the half course, but I thought this was a pretty decent 5K/10K course. The local roads we ran on were closed to cars, wide, very nearly flat, and very smoothly paved. There wasn't much shade on that part, but it was only the 1st & last miles so I didn't mind it much. Coyote Creek Trail is fairly narrow, but after a mile of running, people were pretty spread out so it was never an issue, even with people coming back in the other direction. There were a couple of little dips & short inclines, but I would still call this course pretty flat. The paving was smooth and, best of all, the trail was almost completely shaded, which makes SUCH a difference when it's full sun as it was in 2016. The only iffy part of the whole thing was the spot where you jump on to the trail head from Silver Creek Road; the ground was a bit chewed up & rocky there so I'm glad I knew about it ahead of time because you really do have to watch your feet if you're moving quickly. (It was maybe 10 yards total.) There were aid stations maybe every 1.5 miles or so with photographers & cheering volunteers, and I believe they added a couple extra when the heat wave hit.
A nice light tech T & cute medal.
There were prizes for 1st, 2nd, & 3rd male & female at each distance (I got a $25 gift certificate to Sports Basement last year, and I think the 1st place winners also got something extra, but no idea if the amounts were different.)
If you decide to run:
- It's San Jose in the summer. The races start early enough & there's enough shade on the course that it might be totally comfortable, but there is always the potential for a warmish race.
- No race day packet pickup. This is a complete mystery to me given how tiny the race was, and if you live 50+ miles from the closest pickup site, it's inconvenient.
Pretty much the same as last year. This is a solid, totally PR-ale course and has been well organized both years I've run it, the price is right, and although it's a *bit* of a drive for me, it's close enough (and the logistics are easy enough) that I don't mind making it the morning of at all.