Monday, February 20, 2017

Charlotte 10-Miler: Great Race, Great Distance

I love to run marathons.  There is a sense of high reward for putting so much time and focus into what is a very challenging feat.  I also love 5k's, even though it's cool for my friends and me to say "Man, I hate 5k's!"  There is a satisfaction about running at a near red-line pace for 3.1 miles.  It's a different kind of hurt.  Half marathons reside comfortably between those two extremes, but there are so many half marathons now that the 13.1 mile distance can get a little familiar.  There is a magic little window that is occupied by the 15k and 10-mile distances that really entices me.  For me, these two distances straddle the one-hour race duration.  In that one-hour +/- race, I am surfing on the intangible edge of the lactate threshold, which means I have to play it just right.  In a half-marathon and above, I want to stay slower than that fast tempo for fear of getting too lactic and bonking.  In a 10k or a 5k, I have to push past that pace and just keep burning.  For a 10-miler, I experience a thrill (and pain) near to that of a 10k, but I have to strategize from start to finish as much as I would a half marathon.  The Charlotte 10-miler is a fantastic race that I have run a couple of times, and its course favors both speed and strategy.
The morning of the race was perfect racing weather: 41 degrees, clear and calm.  Many of the fast runners from the greater Charlotte area showed up for this event, so I lined up near the front and shouldered next to Meg Hovis, with whom I ran most of this race two years ago.  The start of the race was flat to downhill, and an easy, conservative effort still had me going out way too fast.  My watch was showing low 6s to high 5s, and it took a lot of discipline to slow myself down, especially with droves of people out ahead of me.  "We'll see them again," assured Meg.  The steady hill at the end of the first mile brought several runners back to reality, but I continued to gain ground while running with Meg, Sarah Duffy, Jason Philbin, and a few other similarly paced runners.  I played this hill by effort--again, conservative--and hit the first mile mark at 6:24, which was only a couple seconds faster than my first mile split from the two years ago.  Off to a good start.
After turning off Johnston Road and hitting the unpaved section of the greenway, everything felt smooth and fast.  The terrain was flat or steadily descending, the surface was fast but forgiving, and the arboreal surroundings were serene but envigorating.  The next couple of miles clicked off in short order, and I started to break off ahead of the pace group in which I had settled.  The pace felt right, and I had a steady stream of runners ahead of me that I could reel in steadily, one or two at a time.
After a rolling, residencial loop that lollipopped back to the main part of the course, I returned to the greenway and ran over the chip-timed 5-mile split at 31:13.  I was on pace to beat my PR of 1:03:05, but I knew the second half of the course had a big hill leading up to the final mile, so I had to have just the right amount of time in the bank and fuel in the tank before I got there.  The next three miles were all about maintaining that goal pace and checking my effort.  I had to keep hammering, but I had to respect the distance too.  I passed 6.2 miles (according to my watch, with some tree-cover error) at right around 39 minutes, which would be a good stand-alone 10k time for me any day.  After the 7th mile marker, I was having to put out a noticeably bigger effort to maintain the same pace.
I exited the greeway near the mile 8 mark and made a hard, 180-degree turn to angle towards the course's next neighborhood, and the infamous mile 9 hill.  After laying down a respectible pace through the neighborhood, I climbed the "Big Hill' with the same strategy as I would with a couple of the more familiar burners on the local Davidson courses.  I low-geared it, refused to look at the pace on my watch, and reminded myself that the final mile would be a screaming fast downhill, and that I should save my energy for that.  Even pulling back on the reins, the hill sucked.  There was no way around that.
Once I hit the mile 9 mark at the top, I unloaded.  Doing the quick math in my head, I knew that a 6:40 mile would get me to the finish with a PR, but I had every intention of running faster than 6:40.  There was no one within reach ahead of me or behind me, so I just focused on the clock.  When I made the last two turns in the final quarter mile, I knew I had a PR in the bag, but my A goal was 1:02:30 (derived from a planned 6:15 pace).  I crossed the finish line in 1:02:18.  I'm extremely happy with that time, because it's just a representation of everything going right for that race.  Winning my age group was an added bonus.
Picture of my finish, courtesy of Bobby Aswell.

Here is my Strava data for the race.