No race should start with a steep uphill. It's just cruel. But that's the way today's race started. The initial incline wasn't too bad, but then within a tenth of a mile it was like running up a black diamond ski slope. It wasn't long, but it was hell. A young boy running with his father was repeatedly saying "I can't make it." I think he did make it up the hill, but I didn't seem them again. I've never seen a field of runners get so spread out so quickly as I did today.
About the first half mile of today's race was uphill before it flatten out a bit and started going downhill toward the end of the first mile. I happened to glance down at my watch when I hit one mile (there were no mile markers on the course) and was at exactly 8 minutes. Having battled that hill, I was pleasantly surprised, but I questioned whether or not I could maintain the pace. Thankfully there was a decent downhill to allow a recovery and to pick up the pace without trying too hard.
The rest of the race went well. There were several rolling hills that reminded me of my running days in Lynchburg. Richmond is a strange area -- my neighborhood and the surrounding few miles are relatively flat. But in the neighborhood five miles south, it's nothing but hills. Anyway, during the race I kept getting a feeling that my legs were going to cramp. It was cool - about 40 degrees - and quite windy in certain areas. At the half way point, I was screaming at myself in my head for wearing a long sleeve shirt. I took my thin gloves off, pushed up my sleeves, turned my hat around and kept rolling along near that 8-minute mile pace.
Near mile 3, I had one of those annoying people pass me who likes to just shout stuff out randomly. "MILE 3! WE'RE AT A SUB-8 PACE!" While it may come across as supportive, at this point I don't want to hear anyone talk, unless they're cheering us along. "THAT'S 3.5 MILES. ONLY A LITTLE MORE THAN A MILE TO GO!" At that point, the competitive side in me came out and I said to myself -- perhaps I should've shouted it -- I'm not going to let this guy finish in front of me. While running is often individual with racing against myself, I can't help but want to finish in front of know-it-all types. I think another woman near me felt the same.
As we rounded the corner to circle around a lake to the finish line, the woman passed by him, and with less than a tenth of a mile to go, I had enough in me to pass by him. Don't get me wrong -- I'm not complaining about him. I like having people out there like that. It helps me maintain my pace, and it helps get my mind off the fact I would have rather stopped and thrown up at some point this morning.
So, I crossed the finish line in 38:26, a 7:44 pace. It's also a PR for that distance - my previous (and only) best in this distance was in 2006 (on a course nowhere near as hilly) at 39:17. With a month to go until my big race, what does all this mean?
Despite the fact I want to shed a few pounds, I think this is a great sign to get close to my time from last year. My goal, though, is to beat that time, even if by a second. There are a lot of things to keep in mind -- this course was hilly; the Virginia Beach course is basically flat. Today had wind often in my face; Virginia Beach is also windy, but last year it was more of a cross wind. Who knows what the weather will be. Today was close to 40; last year it was in the low 20s at the start -- in mid-March, anything can happen. Today was my first true speed workout in three months; I have four more weeks to get a few more speed workouts in. I want to beat 1:44:23, and today put it in perspective that it's possible. I just have to say focused.
For the first time in a while, I feel pleased with where I am with running. What I need to do is right there in front of me, and I can only blame myself if it doesn't happen.