Monday, October 5, 2009

Army Ten-Miler Redux - Part 1

Simply put, some days it all comes together. A sub-70 10-miler was the goal, no matter what I told people. In my head, that was always it whether I said so or not. You might call it my little secret. I came up 1:03 short at last year's Army Ten-Miler, hampered by a shin injury that stifled my training. Yet, I ran my first sub-70 in the National Half Marathon (a 66-low) and my second in the Burlington, VT Marathon (a mid-69). But never had it happened in an actual 10-mile race.

I would classify my summer of running as almost anything but. I spent more time in the gym, but not because I wanted to, because I was forced to from that pesky IT band injury from the 2004 Marine Corps Marathon. I still remember the ill-fated nine-miler: I was coming up the Fairfax County Parkway, a tough stretch of highway with no turns, only a stop light that never seems to get any closer. I tried to ignore the muscle starting to clench on the outside of my right leg, but nothing could convince me otherwise when, with just 2.5 miles to go, I pulled up and felt that long tendon tighten like a bow string. I ended that "run," hobbling and walking back to my house. That was July. It didn't get better until the beginning of August.

Training became a frustrating and unfulfilling chore that usually ended after only a mile or 1.5 (normally a warm up), and left me with thoughts of "Did that hurt?" "Is it ok?" "How's this hill going to be?" Sub-70 in jeopardy once again.

As I mentioned before, my hike out west proved life-altering. I felt whole again, and the training started to click, not so much the pace, but at least the distance. Then, two weeks ago a normal 7-mile run went from humid and awful at the halfway mark to a turning point. I cruised the last 3.5 miles as if I had been running all summer. Then I followed it up with a 5-miler at 6:50 pace. A glimmer.

Yesterday, I put no pressure on myself at the start. Nothing to prove. No expectations. The weather was perfect (Sunny and 57 at the start). Had a nice mile and change warmup with some striders, a warm sweat beading up....

I was through the first mile in 6:59. That proved the worst mile of the race as I zigged and zagged through the mobs of people who decided to ignore their corral assignment. We turned onto the Memorial Bridge and I tried to enjoy the shimmering Potomac with the Kennedy Center and Georgetown to my left and the 14th street bridge that would lead me to the finish (last year's undoing) to my right. I kept channeling that magic 7-mile run, knowing that I could do my best running in the middle miles.

Two went by without notice because of the chaos at the water station. At three, I checked the watch, 20:17. A quick calculation and I'm at 6:30 pace with plenty of gas in the tank.

Halfway comes up (literally) and Jefferson looks on from the right...33:02. Can that be right? Still no signs of fatigue and we're heading into the downhill portion of the course, i.e. down Independence to the Capitol. I'm thinking that if I double that, I'm at an impossible 66, but most likely a 67-68, and worst case, I blow up but hang on for a 69. The leaders pass by on the other side and look to be feeling that hill. I try to block them out and run my own race but damn I wish I was on that side of the cones.

I labeled this my recovery mile and also enjoyed the open space that cleared up as the crowd began to thin. I needed to regroup here for the long charge back up independence from 7-8, and then 8-10 across that damn bridge.

Preparing for the march up Independence, I looked at my watch and, trying to calculate my pace and options for 7-8 (I don't do math, I should mention. I'm a writer after all who went to a Liberal Arts College), I look up again to realize that I'm actually cresting the hill and making the turn onto 14th street. I can run two 9:30s and come in under 70. All that's left is that bridge.

The 14th Street Bridge rolls over the Potomac, connecting the District to Virginia. There are no buildings to hide the sun and crowd support is sparse. You're essentially alone with the last two miles of the race extended before you and, like the stop light on Fairfax County Parkway, the finish line not getting any closer. This bridge broke me last year and nearly slowed me to a walk at Marine Corps. She's a mean bitch.

But this year, she's my bitch. With each hill I rise over, I take the declivity to recover and prepare for the next climb. Nine comes and goes and I just bury my head and take off for the finish. The hills are no match for my quads and I barely feel my breathing waver. Taking the exit down to the Pentagon, the crowd noise gets louder as we funnel under a bridge and toward the finish line -- that big beautiful banner. "Keep the flow. Ride the current," has been my mantra for the last 9.5 miles and I repeat it over and over. "Keep the flow. Ride the current." Here comes the finishing kick. "Keep the flow. Ride the current." Stomach starts to strain, arms keep pumping, stride lengthens. "Keep the flow. Ride the current." The banner passes overhead, and I click my watch just after the line. A big deep breath and a few steps before looking down....65:02. YeeeeeeOwwwww! Hot damn!

I walked around (albeit a bit stiff) for the rest of the day, with an ear-to-ear grin wrapped around my face - that is when I wasn't going in and out sleep on the couch.

Here's the official:


Gun / Chip




6.5Mi Split

Chip Time


1:06:56 / 1:05:02

440 /21289






Tomorrow, I have a few odds and ends to wrap up, including a near tearful good bye to a good friend. But until then, I nod off to bed once again, sub-70 in the books, with the thought that started this post...some days it all comes together.

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