Day by day:
19 February: 11 miles in the morning (85 minutes), in the vicinity of Loch Raven with Luke and Seth; 11 miles in the evening (80 minutes), in scary West Baltimore neighborhoods
20 February: 1 mile (10 minutes)
21 February: total 10 miles (70 minutes): ~2 mile warmup, 5x800m, 90 sec rest between reps (2:57, 2:56, 2:55, 2:56, 3+awful), 2x(3x400m), 60 sec rest between reps (83, 81, 79; 81, 79, 80), ~2 mile warmdown
22 February: 7 miles mid-day at APG with Eric (50 minutes), 7 miles in Mount Vernon in the evening after Ash Wednesday service, because God told me to (50 minutes)
23 February: 15 miles (105 minutes), mid-day, straight-through, straight-up
24 February: 11 miles (80 minutes), on a gray Friday morning
25 February: 1 mile (10 minutes), "resting up" for Club Challenge
Total time: 540 minutes
Total distance: 74 miles
A "lazy" week by recent standards, but maybe necessarily so, considering that I wanted to have something in my legs for Club Challenge. Did it work? Well, I knew you were going to ask . . .
I hate Club Challenge.
The Club Challenge 10-Mile Run is the big "running team event" in Maryland, and every year, Falls Road Running (the club I run with) fields a competitive team here, and the competition from the front of the pack to the back is as fierce as it comes in any road race.
And I like all of that, but that's where the fun stops.
The race is always the last Sunday in February, when probably nobody's in top shape for anything, on top of which, Sunday morning, which is the last morning that anybody wants to get out of bed early to do anything. It's always a little uncomfortably cold at the start, and at least half the time, it's raining/sleeting/snowing lightly. Sometimes, the wind blows relentlessly in your face (okay, at least once during every race it will do this).
And speaking of every time, there are brutal hills that don't start showing up until a little after Mile 3, after you've had the most likely unwitting good fortune to be running mostly downhill, throwing off your sense of pace and making your slowdown on the uphills seem even more demoralizing. The mile markers are completely wrong (no doubt, the host team's strategy, although for future, they need to change up which ones are wrong, and by how much, because we're starting to catch on); running with a watch is futile. It's better to just viciously, aggressively race against whoever happens to be in your vicinity, until you cross the finish line or throw up/crap yourself/pass out trying (and yes, the former two did actually happen in this year's edition of the race, although thankfully, not to me).
So besides a new pair of gardening gloves with the 10-Mile Club Challenge logo printed on them, what do you get for your trouble? Frustrated, sick, full of regret? Does any of that sound awesome?
Of course, keep in mind that the flip side of this is that you manage to triumph over all of this adversity, and run an awesome race there. And then you feel like a big shot, which might be some of the draw.
So with all of that in mind, predictably, I thought about not showing up for this race. But a combination of guilt and a vague desire to test myself (as if I needed any more of that lately) brought me to the starting line, stubbornly wearing my classic red Falls Road Racing Team jersey, because it matched my shoes better than the new black-and-neon-green numbers. (Please note that one other runner on our team did this, so I was not the only such jerk.)
The start was the typical mumbling cluster, where you could barely hear the commands, but then gradually, everybody lurched forward, and apparently, the race had started. I went out feeling relatively fast and comfortable; apparently, lighter mileage this past week had done something for me after all. Based on the chatter of the GPS-watch-obsessed around me, I surmised that I was running just under 6-minute-mile pace. It was probably bad that I realized this, because based on past experience, when I hear that number, I assume that it won't last.
When I saw Melissa on the side of the course, somewhere in the first three miles, cheering "Go Dave!" and then, about ten seconds later "Go Chrissy!" (Olympic-Marathon-Trials 1:14-high half-marathon qualifier Chrissy), I realized that that was the wrong order in which to be hearing that, and that got inside my head a little more. In the next couple of minutes, Chrissy passed me. Then, for a while, nothing I remember happened until Meg D passed me (and politely cheered me on as she did).
Then the hills started coming, and things started turning around, to some extent. While I wasn't going faster on the hills, I wasn't slowing down much, either - apparently, last Sunday's hilly trail run at Loch Raven with Luke and Seth had helped, because I felt like I was either closing in on or passing people on the hills, more on good form than on abject strength. This helped me at least feel as though I wasn't going to totally tank, as I usually do in this race at this point.
I reached Mile 5 (the marker, anyway - who knows how incorrect it was), to see one of our runners walking slowly off to the side of the course, apparently having a bad day. It turned out that what I thought he said when I asked if he was okay - "I had a cramp" - was actually "I had to crap." I wish I had known that at the time, because it would have made the rest of the race more bearable. At any rate, Meg D's neon yellow jersey and matching headband weren't running away from me as quickly as I expected, so I gamely soldiered on through the seemingly endless hills of Howard County suburbia, against the intermittent protesting of my somewhat high-mileage-battered quads.
Somewhere in here, another runner in an orange shirt and gray shorts (so I have no idea what team he was running for) passed me, and asked "didn't you pace at the Richmond Marathon?" I said yes, and he said "I recognized you from the back," (creepy), and then "You had a rough finish there, didn't you?" to which I replied simply "yeah, it happens sometimes," and then, he took off, end of conversation. Nice demoralization tactics, jerk.
But I wasn't slowing as much as I typically do at this point in the race, and, compared to the runners around me, I seemed to be maintaining a lot more strength. Fortunately, thanks to a pack of about four or five runners from different teams that, from mile 7 to 8, were, quite literally, bearing down on me (as in, relentless footsteps, inches behind me), I had sufficient motivation to keep pushing. A little after this, one of the Falls Road girls passed me, breathing like she was flirting with a heart attack, and I decided that enough was enough of that, so I stepped on the gas and really passed her hard, and somewhere in that surge, I passed Ryan and Remus (bad and whatever days, respectively), and, before I had a lot of time to think about anything, I was nearing the finish line, and some random lady was calling out times at some random distance from the finish line, and I heard "1:01:47" and vaguely suspected that my vague 1:02:30 goal was out of reach, but that wasn't going to stop me from making one final push. (Plus, even though I was supposed to let her pass me, I wasn't about to let heart attack girl beat me after I put that much effort into my surge, and besides, the Falls Road women were probably going to win handily, anyway, and one point would likely be irrelevant.)
Nearing the finish, hating every second.
1:03:57, just in time to see Joel, aka "Barf," living up to his nickname and puking his guts out in the grass to the side of the finish line. It was an impressive show - usually, people puke once, and feel a lot better, but I saw him puke twice in succession, nothing but bile, and he claims to have puked twice more after that on his way to the gym.
Also, speaking of purging, orange-shirt jerk, who finished less than a minute ahead of me, saw me at the finish, and amended his statement to "I appreciate that you were out there pacing not a lot of people do that sorry if what I said during the race came off sort of mean." Apology accepted, or whatever.
For my part, I wasn't feeling too terrible, which I suppose makes sense, because I ran this race at what is roughly marathon pace for me these days. I took a pair of gardening gloves, ate a couple of banana chunks, a really gross Star Wars lightsaber Berry Go-Gurt, and a styrofoam cup of suspiciously warm water, and then went out for a warm-down before the awards ceremony, where Falls Road swept everything (Men's Individual - "C-Rad," 52-high, Women's Individual - "Christy," 1:01-high, Men's Team, Women's Team), which is kind of neat, although as slow as I ran, I can't claim too much credit for this victory (except maybe providing some motivation for our faster girls).
Which brings me to a point that I thought about making earlier, but now seems like the time to bring it up, which is that officially, the 10-mile is my WORST distance. Taking my time from the race, 1:03:57, my new 10-mile PR, and putting it into one of those fancy "race time prediction calculators," my PRs at shorter distances are all slightly faster than this time projects (10-15 seconds faster at each distance, depending on what calculator you use), and my PRs at longer distances are all more significantly faster than this time projects (about a minute for a half-marathon, which is a bad indicator, anyway, since I've only run one half competitively, and a whopping ten minutes for the marathon).
So with that in mind, this performance fits right in with everything else in my life lately. While it's unsatisfying on its own, in the grand scheme of things, it could be a lot worse, and there's so much other stuff that's so much better than it (most notably, the all-day bar-hopping embarassing-Facebook-moment-producing after-party, and not having to run this race again for another year), that it's not really worth dwelling on.
In that sense, it becomes, to temporarily abuse a word, a "challenge." But not the kind of obsessive, life-consuming challenge that makes you horribly disappointed when things fail to go your way; instead, the kind that sits in the back of your mind, resurfacing just often enough to both motivate and inspire you to do just a little better. And with as much of the former sort as I've seen lately, this is exactly the kind of "challenge" that I needed.
So, for that, thanks to everybody who in some way made this experience possible, because, as I reflect on this now, as much as I still really hate Club Challenge, I can't wait to take another crack at it next year.