Yesterday I ran my first real 10k, the HEB Bayou City Classic. Per my previous blog post, I’ve been loosely training for it the past few weeks. Thursday I loaded up on complex carbs, Friday I took it pretty easy, and Saturday morning I woke up early and ready to go. The weather forecast was beautiful, sunny with a high of 68F. However, at the 8AM start time, the temperature was still in the low 50s with significant wind chill.
Still, I knew how quickly my body would heat up so I raced shirtless. I also raced in my Vibram Five Fingers barefoot running “shoes.” The scene at the start was pretty chaotic but I secured a place pretty close to the front. We were packed in like sardines, which was helpful in protecting against the wind. Before we started, I reviewed my race goals:
1. Total race time under 47:00
2. Negative split: second 5k faster than first 5k; specifically 23:50 and 23:10 respectively
3. Final km under 4:06
4. Final 400m under 1:15
5. Each km time for the first 9k within +/- 4 seconds of 4:46
The starting gun went off and almost 1,900 of us simultaneously launched forward. It took me four seconds to reach the starting line, after which the wide Louisiana St offered plenty of room for the pack to spread out. My GPS indicated that I was starting way too quickly–a sub-4:00/km pace–but I didn’t trust it due to interference from all the tall buildings downtown. After a few minutes of consistent readings, though, and a heart rate higher than it should be–already 169–I realized that I must actually be running too quickly and I consciously reigned it in. I was frustrated to have started off poorly and I hoped it wouldn’t cost me later on in the race.
As I ran past my office building, I hit the 1km marker. Rather, I hit two 1km markers. First my GPS told me I hit 1km at 4:16–30 seconds too early! Then, 0.05km later according to my GPS, I hit the 1km road marker along the route. This confused me and threw me off a bit. I was running a carefully planned race according to data from my GPS. If my GPS were feeding me garbage info, my decision-making would be garbage too. I decided to trust my GPS and hope that the distances would even out ahead somewhere. Regardless of the location of the “true” 1km marker, I was way ahead of pace and heart rate so I needed to slow down.
Slowing down wouldn’t be a problem as I soon met my second big surprise of the race: a hill! Well, not much of a hill, but about 100m of 10% incline followed by about 100m of 10% decline as we took the ramp onto Memorial Parkway. Frankly, this scared me. I used to do hill training all the time for football but all I’ve done for the past few years are very flat runs. Plus, the hill training I did was always anaerobic sprinting; during this race I had a very specific heart rate zone I was targeting and hills could throw it off. I hadn’t done any research on how best to run hills in a race and it hadn’t occurred to me that there would be some topography in this race–shame on me for poor preparation! I decided to slow my pace down a bit on the inclines, trying to keep my heart rate constant, and stride it out a bit on the declines to make up for lost time. This seemed to work OK on this first hill. I finished the second km in 4:41 (Again, according to my GPS–there was a growing discrepancy between it and the physical markers) and my heart rate had dropped below 167.
All right, so now things were looking up! I decided to trust my GPS and my hill methodology and get down to work. The third km came and went in 4:39 with an average heart rate of 168; the fourth km was 4:46 with, again, 168. Gentle hills kept coming and going but I was in my rhythm now. I hit 5km at 23:16–or so I thought–and a 169 heart rate. I passed the 5km road marker at 23:27.
Let me just jump to the punch line here at the halfway point: my GPS was wrong. The course–including the mileage markers–had been painstakingly measured and certified. So here I was thinking I was 30 seconds under my goal pace whereas, in reality, I was only around 15 seconds under. This didn’t affect this portion of the race, but it would affect my decision-making later.
The course turned around at Shepherd and the next several km breezed by.
6km: 4:43, 172 heart rate
7km: 4:41, 173 heart rate (During this km I passed Katie and some Rice friends going the other way, which was fun!)
8km: 4:51, 172 heart rate (One of the roadside bands on this stretch was playing “Louie, Louie,” Rice’s unofficial fight song.)
9km: 4:50, 173 heart rate
I intentionally took these last couple of km pretty conservatively as I thought I was 30 seconds under goal pace and I wanted to ensure that I had plenty of gas in the tank for my final 400m. I passed over the last “big” hill, the exit off of Memorial back into downtown Houston. As I hit what my GPS told me was 9.6km, I was confused because the finish was nowhere in sight. The time was 45;19, much earlier than the 45:45 at which I was planning on reaching the 400m-to-go point. Because I seemed still to have plenty of time, I proceeded cautiously, waiting until I turned the corner ahead to kick it. I didn’t want to pull the trigger too early and die before the end.
As I turned the corner, I was less than excited to see 300m of incline ahead of me, then another turn. Where on earth was the finish line?? My goal had been to run the final 400m at a 3:08/km pace but I wasn’t sure where the final 400m began and I was irrationally unnerved by the hill. I picked up the pace a little, dropping down to 4:00/km territory up the incline but didn’t really kick it. By this point I wasn’t really looking at my watch anymore; I was just trying to figure out where I was and whether it was too early to let loose.
About halfway up the hill I could hear music that sounded like finish line music and I realized that I might be running out of time to make my move. I looked down to my watch and saw that I was now at 26:28–I was definitely running out of time to make my move! I kicked down to a 3:00/km pace and began passing runners one-by-one. I rounded the last corner and was pleased to see that the finish line band was a Blues Brothers impersonation band. I can’t remember what they were playing because I was too busy being mortified with the realization that the finish line was only 50m away–I had definitely waited too long to kick it!
I reached down and found another gear. I passed many runners en route to the finish, which I crossed at a full sprint. Many people were cheering on this bald, shirtless, barefoot, stocky sprinter, and that was exhilarating! I had a lot of gas left when I finished and I nearly ran over three runners who had stopped in the chutes to suck wind and recover.
The manner of my finish felt AWESOME, but . . . I finished in 47:01.7, barely missing my goal, but missing it all the same. I was crestfallen. Later analysis would show that I finally kicked it at 250m, rather than 400m, due to my confusion over the distance. I grabbed a beer and a banana and waited for Katie out where I now new the 400m mark to be to encourage her on for the last 1/4 mile. She finished three minutes under her goal time!
So let’s revisit my race goals:
1. Total race time under 47:00 – FAIL: 47:02
2. Negative split: second 5k faster than first 5k; specifically 23:50 and 23:10 respectively – FAIL 23:27 and 23:35
3. Final km under 4:06 – FAIL: 4:21
4. Final 400m under 1:15 – FAIL: 1:33
5. Each km time for the first 9k within +/- 4 seconds of 4:46 – FAIL: my very first km was way off
Wow, 0/5! That’s not very good! I embrace failure, though, if I can learn from it. What can we learn from these failures?
1. Trust the certified race course markers and use those as periodic beacons on which to “calibrate” the data I’m using to run my race.
2. Add hill training to my regimen as most races won’t be as flat as Memorial Park.
3. Research the course in advance to anticipate any surprises–it’s easier to decide how to deal with surprises when my heart rate’s not in the 170s.
4. Play to WIN. I thought I had a cushy lead so I was overly conservative with my end game running–trying so hard not to run out of gas that I inadvertently finished with way too much gas in the tank. I wasn’t playing to win; I was playing not to lose.
It strikes me that these lessons apply to the executive challenge just as much as they apply to the running challenge. The organizations I lead will always suffer from times of misinformation and surprise obstacles. I can address these best with some information assurance, some preparation, and a whole lotta playing-to-win culture development. I’ll keep these lessons in mind both on the race track and in the board room.
FYI my final results are: #239 of 1,853 runners (87th percentile), #192 of 906 male runners (79th percentile), #21 of 129 men 30-34 (84th percentile). I passed three runners in my age group during the second half of the race and wasn’t passed by any. My next race will be in April in Austin; bring it on!