Despite horrible running conditions, I PR'ed in yesterday's Bayou City Classic 10k. I hadn't raced a 10k for nearly a year but theoretically my fitness has improved since last March and I've been mixing in some 10k training runs since January.
My goal with this race was to beat my 44:41 PR (set in last year's Capitol 10k) or, at the very least, beat my 45:43 course record, set in last year's Bayou City Classic. There was no cold or injury this year and I had had a good week of running taper, carb loading, and general recovery/preparation so I was hoping for a very solid performance.
I set my race plan based on a 44:42 time, hoping to beat it by at least two seconds:
1. Fast start, covering the first half km in 2:01 (4:03 / km pace).
2. Settle into race pace, running nine kms of 4:31 each (pretty flat course)
3. Pick it up for 400m uphill in 1:42 (4:17 / km pace)
4. Turn the corner and sprint the final 100m in 18s (3:09 / km pace)
A potential wrinkle developed as the race approached and it became increasingly evident that we would be running in the cold (10 C, ~50 F), wet (100% chance of rain), and wind. I wasn't sure exactly how this would affect my run. I didn't think my Vibram Five Fingers Bikilas would sponge up too much water and I don't wear enough clothing when running to become too water logged. I guessed that the biggest hamper for runners in these conditions would be mental. All in all I figured the inclement weather probably hampered me less than other runners so I wasn't too worried about it.
Saturday morning arrived and, sure enough, it was pretty miserable out. The race starting line was only a few blocks from my office in downtown Houston, so at least I was able to stretch and prepare a bit in my dry office. At T-15 minutes I left the building to warm up for 10 minutes and join the front of the runners at the starting line.
Despite the poor weather there were still many people present, with attitudes ranging from "let's get this over with" to "bring it on!" You can guess which group I fell into. :-) The officials seemed to be in the "let's get this over with" camp; at exactly 8:00 they very quickly said, "Runners get set," and blew the air horn. My shirt, shorts, and Vibrams were already soaked as I crossed the starting line half a second later - we were off!
The first half km breezed by in 1:57 (average heart rate of 162 BPM) with plenty of room for runners to spread out and find their paces. As I passed my office, I tried to slow down a bit. My next km finished in 4:12 (174 BPM) and the one after in 4:16 (172 BPM). 25% finished and I was 38 seconds ahead of my target and feeling good. My next kms were 4:22 (171 BPM) and 4:27 (170 BPM), finally arriving around the base pace I was planning on.
I crossed the halfway marker at 21:21, not a bad 5k time in and of its own right, and prepared to turn around to head back along Memorial toward downtown. My next kms were 4:28 (173 BPM), 4:29 (172 BPM), and 4:32 (172 BPM). 75% finished and I was 55 seconds ahead of my target. My pace was clearly slipping, though, and I really felt like the wind was against us now. I had to squint a lot to keep gusts of rain out of my eyes and sometimes had to waste energy avoiding huge puddles. My toes were feeling a little numb too - more motivation to finish quickly!
The next two kms really slipped from my target race pace: 4:37 (174 BPM) and 4:43 (175 BPM), with the latter going mostly uphill. I had lost ground and was now only 39 seconds ahead of my target - good enough for a significant PR but not good enough to attain my 2012 goal of running a 10k under 44 minutes. With only half a km left, though, it was time to push!
Even though the next 400m were mostly uphill, I really cranked them out, finishing in 1:27 (3:37 / km pace @ 178 BPM). As I neared the final turn, I could hear someone speeding up and trying to pass me. I turned on the juice, though, and crushed the final sprint in 13 seconds, (2:10 / km pace @ 183 BPM), and never saw the challenger (looks like I beat him by only one second according to the race results).
Final time: 43:43, a new 10k PR (by nearly a minute) and course record (by two minutes) for me in pretty poor conditions! I finished #101 of 1,176 runners (91st percentile), #89 of 617 men (86th percentile), and #8 of 76 men ages 30-34 (89th percentile) - all big improvements from last year.
While I am pleased with the result, there are clearly areas for improvement. For example, my second 5k was a full minute slower than my first 5k. Each km I ran was slower than the previous, so I seem to have fallen prey a bit to a "fly and die" race pattern. Wind may have contributed, but it can't account for the entire slowdown.
The post-race party was excellent - lots of great food and Saint Arnold there to provide good beer to replenish all those lost electrolytes. As I cooled down it became clear to me how cold my extremeties had become in the race as a reached out to pet a chocolate lab and realized that my fingers were frozen into a sort of claw! A long hot bath as soon as I got home helped thaw me out.
The Capitol 10k in Austin is only two weeks away. It's a pretty fast course so I'll have a chance not only to improve on my time but also to run a more consistent race. In the meantime the sun is finally peaking out in Houston, so I'm hoping for a couple of weeks of good training weather!