Sunday, December 13, 2009

Dance to the Music - and a New 10K PR

Back in my hockey days tending goal for the College of the Holy Cross, we had a small tradition that I doubt many would even remember, but it was something that stuck with me: after each win at home, we'd return to the locker room and someone would put on Sly and the Family Stone's "Dance to the Music."  We bounced around the locker room celebrating our victory, which sadly were few and far between that year.

Nevertheless, I resurrected this tradition when I began my training for Boston in earnest about this time last year.  I used it for races and tough (but good) workouts alike as a celebration of my efforts and their returns.  Many a time, I tore down the backroads of Fairfax after an interval workout, Sly blaring out the windows, and me singing, "All we need is a drummer...for people who only need a beat," at the top of my lungs.  It's not a pretty sight, or sound for that matter. 

At first, this tradition was just something for me.  But one Saturday following a particularly good long run down the C&O canal and back, one in which my lovely wife accompanied me on the bike as my camel, we got back in the car and I went for Sly.  There was a confused look on her face matched by my knowing look as we "listened to the horns blow."

"What's with this?"  she asked.
"We're celebrating a good workout."
"Really?  With this?"

Then I proceeded to tell her the story.  Low and behold, it is now our tradition.  Imagine my surprise when she asked if I had brought it with in the car, followed by e-mails at work that included the lyrics to the song, and finally, she'd serenade me with it while she was in the shower.  I'd go as far as to say that if we got married again, "Dance to the Music" would be our song.

So, this morning, I had Sly cued up and ready to go as we settled into the car and drove into D.C. for the Jingle All the Way 10K.  I've been looking forward to this race since we completed it last year, when I surprised myself by going sub-40 (39:51) for the first time.  With all the speedwork I've been doing, I thought perhaps something special might be in store.

What I hadn't counted on was the weather.  The weekend forecast called for the infamous Northern Virginia wintry mix on Sunday morning.  I fell asleep with trepidation last night, the garbage bags already laid out for the start, and my quiet hopes of a new PR perhaps slipping away.

Instead, we were greeted with gray skies, a light mist, and a damp 35 degrees.  Not ideal, but not terrible.  We got a nice warmup jog in to stave off some of the cold, then crammed into the starting corral.  With little to no fanfare, the race suddenly started and we were off down Ohio Drive, the Potomac on our left and the D.C. monuments shrouded in fog on our right.

Marine Corps Marathon alumni will know this stretch as Haines Point, the point in the race at which all crowd support disappears and you're suddenly out there...alone...for three miles...nearing not only mile 20 but also the wall.

The one redeeming quality of this course, however, is its flatness, making all that quad-strengthening hill training finally pay off.  My goal was to go out, run a consistent pace for the first 5K and pick things up from there if I could.  After running the majority of mile-1 in the grass to get through the hordes, I hit the first mile marker in 6:15 in relative comfort and decided to lock in there.  I shaved a couple seconds off that pace for the remainder of the 5K and finished in 19:24. I curled around the halfway mark still confident, still feeling strong and decided to increase the stride.  At mile 5, I had to start digging but knew I could gut out one more mile and lap around the track. 

The deceiving end to this course is that you can see the finish line from about a half mile out so the instinct is to start kicking there.  Having made this mistake last year, I held back and didn't throw the hammer down until the 6-mile marker.  With just a 400 to go, the arms started pumping for the line and the legs churned.  I picked off three more runners within the last 100 yards and clicked the watch.  Before I could look, I had to get the vomit-urge to go away, i.e. hands to knees, sucking air.  I finally got the courage up to check out how I fared: 38:10!  A 1:41 improvement on last year.

I pondered how 2009 has truly been the year of PRs and joked with my dad tonight that 2009 may not have been a great year for the economy or our wallets, but I can always look back on my running as a bright spot.

Once my wife crossed, we made the soggy walk back to the car as the rain had started to come down.  As soon as we changed into our race tees, we shared a kiss and a grin, then let Sly take it away from there...all the way to PR post-race pancakes, eggs, and sausage.

Do you have a celebration or feel-good song you rock out to after runs?

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