Jogging Writer: Testing for 10K

Last week, I realized I had a schedule conflict with my December 14th 10K Race Day and began a frantic search for another race. Thankfully, I found one even closer to home that’s just one week earlier, bumping up race day to December 6th at a nearby wooded, private park. Now, I’ll race along rolling single track trail as opposed to a low-elevation city sidewalk, likely slowing me down. The race is also a week earlier, cutting into my already shortened training schedule.

Time to reassess. I pulled out Michael Fitzgerald’s 80/20 Running, complete with training regimens for the 5K, 10K, Half Marathon, and Marathon. I’ve been working the Level 1 training session for my first-ever 10K, which Fitzgerald says should take about 12 weeks. To make things work, I’d cut the 12 weeks down to 10, reducing my “base” training phase by 2 weeks. This felt easy enough to do on the heals of running my first 5K. But now, that regimen is shortened to 9 weeks, cutting into both my “peak” and “taper” phases. As I looked  at the table, charts and journals spread out before me, I filled with a sense of dread.
Brooks Cascadia 9: What I run in for stability,
performance, comfort, and durability.

How would I know what my true running pace was, after so many weeks training slowly and using a heart rate activity tracker? What if I started out too fast? What if I went slower than I needed to? I glanced again at Fitzgerald’s training runs, and then out the window. It was a glorious, crisp, sunny November day with temperatures in the upper 30’s. I ate a quick snack, stretched, waited to digest, watched the thermometer reach 40, and headed out the door. Time for a test run.

To be clear: Up until a few months ago, I never aspired to be “a runner” or enter races. Having played sports all my life, I certainly have a competitive edge in me but I’ve never felt I had the speed or natural physique for successful running. Fitzgerald’s book changed all of that for me, along with some other timing and life factors that seemed to click into place. All of which is to say, the first time I realized I might be able to run a 10K was when I accidentally ran over six miles on an afternoon run in Celo. Thanks to my FitBit pedometer, I knew I’d run 6.2 miles…and I felt tired, but happy. If I could do that without even knowing it, maybe I could improve my time. Maybe, just maybe, I could even run a half marathon.
That first accident was in early August 2014. I ran 6.2 miles in 80 minutes that day–leisurely, unaware, the bliss of ignorance on my side. A week later, curious and testing myself, I ran the same route in 72 minutes. Then I went backpacking, got plantar fasciatis, trained for a 5K anyway, raced the 5K, registered for a 10K, had to find a different race, and here we are…just 3 weeks to showtime.
Armed with my FitBit (to determine distance) and my HeartQ (to monitor my heart as I “searched” for my “natural” pace), I started the timer, kicked up my heels, and took off. The FitBit pedometer isn’t exactly easy to check while in motion and I’m not too much of a gearhead anyway, so I made a promise to myself I’d only check it when I had to. At what I imagined was about the halfway point, I fiddled with the FitBit and figured out I had already run 3.1 miles–a 5K. Then I looked at my watch and realized I’d run the 5K in 34 minutes (it included a lot of uphill)–just 1min45secs slower than my 5K race time.
I think I must have half-yelped and half-jumped when I realized my mistake–I was running my 10K at near the same pace as my 5K. Determined I would be doomed, I pressed on without slowing my pace. If I had already fried most of my calorie and muscle reserves, I might as well keep going (BPM 184) and see how long I could keep it up. If that meant I drastically slowed at mile 4 or mile 5, so be it. I’d still finish my test run and have useful data.
But I never slowed. Coaxed ahead by the thought that I could actually keep running at that pace, if I just pushed a little more through any fatigue, I simply refused to let myself slow down. Thankfully, all my joints and muscles cooperated. And 5 weeks into Fitgerald’s 80/20 running plan, his advice seemed to be working–I was, in fact, running faster and easier even though my training was slower and longer. When I finally hit 6.2 miles and pressed STOP on my watch, I was overjoyed at the time: I’d run a 10K in 67:54, a whole 4 minutes and 6 seconds faster than before. 
I don’t know that I can replicate that on race day, but I do know I have a new PR (personal record) and a much clearer sense for how long I can run at what pace. I don’t intend to wear any gear on race day. I don’t want to be distracted. But the memory of that spontaneous test run will carry me far, I believe, and if I can keep my 10K time on race day to 70 minutes or below, I’ll be feeling pretty good. Fingers crossed!

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