This morning I PR'ed in my second ever Bayou City Classic 10k race. There was some uncertainty around this race as A. I had been sick for most of the preceding week and B. once I beat the cold I was eager to run but I pulled my hamstring on Thursday. I took Friday off to rest but I was still hacking up phlegm and I had no idea whether or not my hamstring would be runnable. The race would have to be a game-time decision.
My day began at 5AM with breakfast with Max. I had an egg and some avocado on sprouted grain toast (Max gets an egg and some avocado mixed in with his morning dog food too.), sprouted grain cereal, almond milk, and fresh fruit. Taking in 1,000 calories only 2-3 hours prior to running a race runs contrary to the conventional "eat light before a race" wisdom. However, I went this route for two reasons: 1. My dry heaves at the end of previous races have shown that there was nothing left in my system to process (after ~600-calorie breakfasts). I therefore hypothesized that I had room to process a little more before the race. 2. This is essentially what I have for breakfast every day so it didn't present much of a risk of indigestion.
As I digested, hydrated, and waited for the time to depart, I ran over my race strategy. Last year this course surprised me with elevation changes and a finish that came sooner than expected but this year I knew exactly what was coming. My race plan was as follows:
1. Start close to the starting line and begin with an anaerobic 3/4 speed launch, settling into pace after ~200m. Shoot for a 4:30 first km.
2. Consistent pace of 4:39 for kms 2-9. Ease up a bit on the uphill grades and stride it out on the downhills. Because the course is of the go-out-and-come-back variety, the uphills should be equaled out by downhills and a consistent pace should be possible.
3. At 300m from the finish line, pick up the pace, covering 240m (the last uphill stretch before the final push to the finish line) in 60s.
4. Turn the corner and sprint the final 60m in 10s.
This race plan would have me finishing in 46:07, close to my Rodeo Run time of two weeks ago but on a more consistent, intentional pace.
At 7:30 Katie and Max dropped me off near the starting area downtown (They went for a run of their own while waiting for me to finish.). I ran some blocks to warm up and test out the hamstring. I could definitely feel that it wasn't 100% but it seemed to be holding up OK. Would it stand up to strong start and [hopefully] strong finish? We would see very soon!
As runners took starting positions I lined up very near the starting line. At 8:30 the air horn blared and we were off. It only took me two seconds to cross the starting line and then wide open Louisiana St offered plenty of room to spread out. As seems to be the pattern, I started off faster than intended. I couldn't tell, though, how much faster. Once again the tall buildings downtown confused my GPS and it told me I was running a 5:00+ pace. I didn't believe that but I didn't know exactly how fast I was going.
After half a km I realized that I was breathing really heavily and my chest was feeling quite congested. As I settled down my pace my hamstring was noticeable, but manageable. If I couldn't breathe due to cold remnants, though, it would be a long, tough race! My heart rate was pretty high, nearing 180, so I concluded that indeed I had been running quite quickly. No problem there; even if it had been faster than intended, it was coherent with my strategy and now my aerobic activity would process the lactic acid to provide me with more anaerobic energy at the end. We emerged from downtown, my GPS stabilized, and I finished the first km in 4:03 with an average heart rate of 164 BPM.
The next few kms were unremarkable. The music along the course was good and I kept a relatively even pace. Now that I was running a much slower than 4:03 pace, I was passed frequently by runners who had had slower starts but were running faster paces.
km 2: 4:35, 174 BPM
km 3: 4:37, 174
km 4: 4:39, 176
km 5: 4:43, 175
I finished my first 5k in 22:37, my fastest first 5k in any of my 10k races or training runs. There was a marker for each km so I knew I was actually running the times/distances, not having to trust my GPS blindly. My heart rate had stabilized but my pace was clearly slowing. Still, I was 29s ahead of my target so, if I could just run the second 5k within 19 seconds of my target, I would beat my PR.
At this point we turned around on Shepherd and began the trek back toward downtown. By now the runners around me had thinned out. There was an old guy who was a real trooper. Every time I pressed him, he fought me off and pushed ahead faster. There was also another guy wearing Vibram FiveFingers, which was great to see. There was also another stocky guy running along with us. For the next several km we basically all ran together.
km 6: 4:43, 177 BPM
km 7: 4:40, 177
km 8: 4:43, 177
km 9: 4:43, 178
Entering the final km I was only 19s ahead of my target, 9s ahead of my PR. This km began with an uphill segment, which went really slowly for me--at a 5:00+ pace! It began occurring to me that I could "lose it all" in this last km if I kept that up! I made up time on the corresponding down slope. "Flow like water," I told myself. While people around me were wasting energy leaning back and resisting gravity, I tried to let it guide me forward. I passed the old guy here but the stocky guy and the other Vibrams wearer were still ahead of me.
At 9.5 km, my left calf cramped up. I reasoned that I was overloading it by compensating for my tender right hamstring. With only half a km left, though, there was nothing to do but soldier on. We turned the corner for the final uphill segment and I decided to pick it up a little bit early, with 350m left. The previous 650m had taken me 3:02 (181 BPM), which was right on pace. Now I wanted to take the hill in 60s. I pumped my arms and passed several people, including the Vibrams guy. At 61s (185 BPM) I passed the stocky guy and turned the final corner.
It turns out that the finish line was actually 90m from this corner. I began to sprint and saw on the clock that I would easily beat my PR. There was one runner between me and the finish line. He was much closer to it than I, but he was definitely "pacing" his way in instead of sprinting. I set a new goal to beat him and I gave it all I had. My body wouldn't go nearly as fast as I knew it could but I was closing the gap quickly. Finally, with a last burst of effort and a grunt, I lurched forward, crossing the finish line just ahead of him. I had crossed the last 90m in 14s (181 BPM) resulting in a final time of 45:43, beating my previous PR by 13s! Also, despite my intense effort at the end, there was no dry heave, which could be an indicator of success of my big breakfast experiment.
I finished #178 of 1,420 runners (87th percentile), #155 of 755 males (79th percentile), and #15 of 124 men aged 30-34 (88th percentile). The after party was great, with lots of good food and Saint Arnold beer. This was a very successful race for me (both in terms of the PR and pacing - each middle km was +/- 4s of my target pace) but I'm disappointed in my second half fade again. Hopefully this is something I can address in the Capitol 10k in Austin in two weeks!