Race recap: James Joyce Ramble 2016

Alternate title: Not a new 10k PR

Ok, so I know I’m supposed to not have any goals beyond being just present this year, but damn, just being present is really hard. I think that New Year’s 5k PR put ideas in my head. Bad ideas like I might not have all my endurance back, but maybe I can go for some speed PRs this year. Get a 5k and 10k PR on the books. Heck, the year is a day old and I already had the 5k PR done and dusted. With those thoughts dancing in my head, I’ve sort of convinced myself to try for that 10k PR. Bad Mike!

All that chastising aside, I’ve loosely followed a 10k training plan for the last eight weeks or so, mixing it in with my first real dedicated bout of strength training in a long time. I was feeling pretty good. I wouldn’t say confident, but pretty good when I toed the line this past weekend for my tenth James Joyce Ramble. What better place to set a new 10k PR than on the course where you originally set it?

The Ramble has become the unofficial kickoff to my season. Held in late April, it always attracts a good field (it’s  been the 10k Masters US championship the last few years) on a challenging course. It’s always well spectated, features costumed characters reading from Joyce (a nice distraction) and the finish area is well-stocked with sponsors, samples and family friendly attractions to distract the kids. An ideal venue to clear out the winter cobwebs and get racing. 

Of course, it’s still late April in New England, so the weather can be anywhere from low 40s to mid 70s. Luckily, this year was close to ideal, near fifty, sunny and little wind by the time the rang gonged off (it starts every rear, not with a starter’s gun, but a ceremonial gong – this year rang by running legend Uta Pippig!).

The alternate post title gave away the ending. I did not get that PR (needed to go sub 41:03) but I was actually proud of my race management and mental toughness. Here’s now it went down.

The start is pretty narrow on a side residential street with lots of spectators on both sides, so the first quarter mile or so is spent trying to get up to speed and not trip, luckily it starts to spread out by the time you hit the downhill that brings you out of the residential area into the town center. The first mile is the biggest net downhill. Not a bad way to get the legs moving, but after mile 1 the easy miles are over. To get under 41 minutes, I was targeting a 6:35 pace. I hit mile 1 at 6:32, a bit quick, but it was the “easy” mile and I was feeling ok.

I made it through the first one (the shorter of the two), but absolutely cracked on the second one, my legs just felt like cement. I stopped and walked for about a minute (so long PR!) then jogged up the second one and tried to find my legs on the downhill.

Mile 2 takes you back out of the town center and into the surrounding neighborhood streets again. It starts with a good downhill, but you know what that means, it follows up with a short, steep incline maxing out at about 6% incline. If you didn’t know you were racing before, you do know. Hello lactic acid, my old friend. Mile 2: 6:42. So at this point, roughly on pace.

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Having run this race many times, I know the next mile will make or break the PR attempt. The back half of mile 3 runs through the campus of a local school and has 2 short but very steep (close to 10% at times). They aren’t long hills, but coming just past the halfway point, it’s the placement that makes them tough. You are feeling the fatigue but don’t yet have the finish in sight to pull you through.

I made it through the first one (the shorter of the two), but absolutely cracked on the second one, my legs just felt like cement. I stopped and walked for about a minute (so long PR!) then jogged up the second one and tried to find my legs on the downhill. Mile 3: 6:39. Still not way, way off the needed pace, but I knew my legs didn’t have it today. There was no way I was going to be able to hold 6:30 miles for the second half. 

Here is where I can take some pride in how I responded. I didn’t completely cave and jog in to the finish comfortably. I knew in my heart that the PR time had disappeared and that was disappointing, but as I came down that hill and out of the school’s campus, I throttled back to about 7 minute miles and pinned it. I didn’t give up on the race, I managed my race. The course helped me a bit here as the back half of the race is flat until a climb to the finish (remember that downhill start, bites you in butt at the finish!). Miles 4 – finish were: 7:12, 7:08, 7:01 with even enough in reserve to give a little kick at the end for a 43:01 finish or 6:52/mile pace. Two minutes off my PR time, but still my second fastest time on this course. 

So what happened? Looking back on the training block, I hit most of the markers in the workouts, but it was a struggle. I was just making it and most were on a treadmill. I wonder if the “real” world conditions taxed me just enough to throw me off the pace. I also wonder if I focused a bit too much on the speed workouts and didn’t put in enough longer miles. Of course, it could also be the Addison’s. That’s the trickiest part to dealing with this disease. It is the disease? It it the training? Is it mental. 

I’m still learning to distinguish.

Now back to focusing on the present.