I went into the Niantic Bay 10k unsure of myself. My previous PR from last summer was a 43:53, but I felt that I probably had a 43:00 10k in me somewhere. But then again, I’ve been taking the last month super easy, just jogging along waiting for my next training cycle to start. My best friend, who also entered the race, was in the same boat, and we took on the event as a pop quiz or place marker to test out our fitness levels and give ourselves an idea on where to start in the next couple of weeks. Due to lack of speed training and heat, I wanted to aim for 7:00 miles and basically went in with a come-what-may attitude. That is, until I got there.
The race parking, registration, and start line were at McCook Point Park, overlooking the Sound. It was a nice little spot; very pretty, very sunny, a bit warm, but thankfully no wind. The course was an out and back that ran through residential areas along the beach & was for the mostly flat. I arrived with the kids to register about an hour or so before the start time & watched as runners milled about. I couldn’t tell who was fast and who was running for fun. I was trying to scope out the female competition, but I really couldn’t tell. Everyone looked fast to me. My husband showed up a little while later and took the kids to play on the beach while my friend and I did some warm ups and found positions on the start line. I felt rather conspicuous since I walked right up to the line while the rest of the field stood back several paces. It seemed that everyone was too humble to start up front and I was coming off as cocky. Finally a teenager and few others stepped up with us. The gun went off and we all started to run.
But I got excited and went out a bit fast. Okay, I went out a lot fast. I knew I was moving a bit too quickly, but there was a teenager on my left shoulder and I felt the need to shake her. When I tried to settle into the pace, she would nudge my elbow. It’s one thing to be drafted from, it’s another to be pushed. I didn’t like that someone was trying to push the pace. I was also annoyed at her close proximity. It was a large open road and a relatively small field; there was no need for her to be jostling for position as if we were bottle-necking in a cross country race! I blazed through the first mile in a cool six minutes and she backed off a bit. Without the kid’s nudging and heavy breathing, I was able to settle into a fairly comfortable 6:35 pace. It felt quick, but the effort wasn’t so overwhelming that I couldn’t hang on to it. I could hear breathing and foot falls behind me, and guessed that it was another female, but didn’t dare look back. That was rule number one my high school coach instilled in me: Never Look Back. I trucked along happily in 4th place behind three other men.
The half way point was a blessing. I felt as if I’d been climbing up hill for three miles and was welcoming a return down hill to coast for a bit. But of course, it only felt like an up hill. In actuality it was all flat. We turned and headed back to the park, but I was afraid of losing steam. “Just a 5k more,” I kept telling myself. I was afraid of slowing down, but every time I glanced at my watch I was relieved to see that I was indeed holding the pace. At four miles the breathing and footsteps revealed that it was indeed a second female. She passed me and a part of me was thankful to no longer be responsible for holding the lead. I was holding this quicker pace a lot longer than I thought I could, so I might be able to stick with her a bit longer. She trotted on ahead and I stayed comfortably a few strides behind.
I was tired, I was thirsty, I was very hungry, but I was doing well and despite a side cramp, felt very good with the race. I was going to break my PR and then some! I was too cocky though. In the midst of congratulating myself on such a great run at mile five I felt my hamstring slide. It was an odd sensation, like rolling an ankle but near my buttocks, followed by burning pain with each stride. I could no longer safely maintain my pace like this. I slowed to a 6:45, then 7:00. At 7:20 pace I felt doomed. Then I heard her coming. The teenager with her gangly stride and pointy elbows ran past. Damn. I knew I wasn’t going to pass her back — she had this one — but I was determined to keep her in sight. I hobbled up to the finish, keeping the best form I could. I really had no choice but to accept 3rd place.
I came through the finish chute to the glorious sounds of cheers and bag pipes. I had never been so glad to reach a finish line. I was the third female and seventh overall finisher. I may have not won the race, but I did walk away with an awesome personal best; 42:16!! I saw the physical therapist at the finish line who congratulated me on my accomplishment, then strongly urged for me to call a PT on Monday. She poked around, found some tight, sore spots in my psoas muscle and gently stretched some of the tightness away. I ran a stupid race and I paid dearly for it. I knew this right away. I could have achieved a PR, possibly even the same finish time, but with less pain if I had run smarter. This was supposed to be a test to assess my fitness level, not an all out sprint for six miles. I don’t know what I was trying to prove or to whom, but here I am. Now I’ve got some repairing to do before I can even think about my next training cycle.
At least I learned something, right?