Today was the first race of my spring season. Today I raced the Cardinal Strut 10K. Next week I race the first triathlon of the year and the weekend after that, I'm doing a 5K. I've been gearing up for this distance for a couple of months and this was the third time I've done this race, and still, I was as nervous as I was for the B2B half iron! I had dreams that I was late, that I lost my change of clothes and that they moved the finish line halfway through the run!

Don't Start Too Fast
Fortunately, none of those things happened. I awoke on time, ate my giant smoothie, sipped on my Amino Vital Pro, double-checked my checklist and arrived at the race site. I had talked to Coach Stacey on Friday and she helped me with a race strategy. We talked about not starting out too fast. We talked tuning into that threshold pace. We talked about drafting off other runners and running the tangents. I reviewed my notes in the warm car. I wrote: I RACE SMARTER, HARDER & FASTER THAN I TRAIN on my arm. I took a last swig of water and decided I was ready.

YDubTriClub: Joe, Beth, Meredith, Holly and Me
I socialized for a few minutes with my YDubTriClub team and then went to warm up. I've never actually done a real warm-up before and I took 20 minutes to incorporate skips, hops, butt kicks, high knees, hip openers, hip closers, jogging, strides and jumps. I arrived at the start line hot - not warm. My heart rate was in zone two and I opted for no gloves and no jacket. (great choices even though the temp was 40 degrees) Plus, I was able to pull up my sleeves and read my arm: I RACE SMARTER, FASTER, HARDER THAN I TRAIN.

I didn't overbake the first few miles. At the first turn, I watched my watch,  ARGO, for clues on pacing. And I slowed down.  Every year...every race I start too fast. It's hard to hold back at the start. There is an adrenaline rush and swish swish swish of people moving fast. There is a vortex of contagious energy that pushes and pulls you forward. For at least a mile, you are with other runners who are just as excited, nervous and encouraging as you are. In 2012, I started too fast (in the 7:20s/mile pace) and finished in 52:02.  I did a time trial on the course two weeks ago and started in the 7:50s/mile pace - I finished in 51:07. Today, my goal for mile one and two was around 8:10. My goal for the rest of the race: 8:02/mile.

ARGO read 7:55, then 7:58 then 8:05 in the first half mile - which was great because it meant I was slowing down. It's counter-intuitive because I felt great at that 7:55 pace!  I'm thinking, if I feel great now, shouldn't I run fast now? Plus, it was hard watching people pass me.  

My Unofficial Race Finish
The pacing paid off. My average pace for the race was right on target at 8:03/mile. In the past, I have overbaked the start and slowed to an 8:20 or 8:30 pace in the last few miles. Today I was consistent - my mile averages were between 7:58 and 8:09.
The Cardinal Strut 10K is a fairly technical course. There are at least 12 turns on the first loop - and there are two loops. The race winds through curvy suburban neighborhoods and includes what I call the ditch: a 100 yard downhill with a right-hand turn and then a 100-yard climb. I feels steep and short - like the side of a ditch. You get to jump the ditch twice in the 10K.

How to Run a Tangent
I have done this course at least 50 times. It is close to the YDUBTRICLUB headquarters and it's a safe easy course to get mileage and practice tempos. I know the curves and the turns, the dips and the ditch. So, I raced smarter by playing the tangent game. Everybody knows that a line is the shortest distance between two points. A tangent is a straight line that just touches a curve. It doesn't intersect the curve, and it doesn't miss the curve. To run the tangents, you really have to know what's coming around the bend. [And hope that there's not a car or a 5K runner in your tangent.] You'll notice in the picture of my watch that the distance reads: 6.18 miles and not 6.2 miles. I think it's because I ran on the inside of the curves and took a straight line when possible. I promise I didn't run through anyone's yard. :)

My last smart move was drafting. I've never done it before - never even thought of doing it before. We do it on the bike every outing, but I never thought there would be an advantage on a run. Sure enough, it pays off. There was a head-windy stretch in mile two and five. In mile two, I was able to tuck in behind a bigger guy at my pace and follow him as he blocked the wind for me. In mile five, I used another runner to edge up a short slope and catch my breath at the top of the hill.  And I used yet another runner to race harder......

I RACED HARDER THAN I TRAIN A lot of times, if you work smarter, you don't have to work harder. In this race I was determined to work harder. It would be so much easier to stop and walk up that ditch. It would have been so much better to slow for a sip of water or think, I'm tired, I'll slow down and still have a respectable time.

Today I raced harder. I didn't quit.  In the last two miles I passed three women (one of whom may have been a 5K runner), but I used them as carrots. I'm usually competitive with myself and I actually perform well if I know I'm being chased, but never look for anyone to chase. The other day in the pool, on a dare, I caught up with one of our faster swimmers. I imagined doing that same thing in this race. In the last mile, I watched as a woman ahead of me slow for the water station and thought, I bet I can catch her. There was that pesky headwind so, I used the runner ahead of me to draft until I was 10 yards from her. I moved from his draft into her draft. Ten yards later, I moved around her. We made a turn and headed down a little slope and she passed me. I thought, ANYbody can pass me on a hill. Now watch this. At the bottom of that hill, I edged to her left and was able to take the left turn on the inside and pass her. From there I picked it up every 20 seconds until I reached the finish line! She didn't catch me after that!

I RACE FASTER THAN I TRAIN The results?  That unofficial 49:46 finish and a clock time of 49:54. That beat my time from 2011 by nearly a minute, it beat my time trial from two weeks ago by over 1m15s and it beat last year's 10K by over 2 minutes. I placed first in my age-group and won an awesome beach towel! I'm excited about my progress and my start to the season. I'm thankful for my friends and for my coach!

Podium Finisher! First in Age-Group

Podium Finishers from the YDubTriClub Including Holly Konrady and Beth Sheppard

Drinking Amino Vital in the Pancake Line

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