Thursday, April 11, 2013

Race Report: Cherry Blossom 10-miler

Last weekend I kicked off my 2013 season running the Cherry Blossom 10-miler. Though the cherry blossom's weren't exactly in peak bloom, I was excited to finally - after five years of living in Washington, DC - have the chance of running the city's most well-know spring race (I'd say the Marine Corps Marathon takes the cake for the fall, and easily wins out for total number of participants). Next to the Broad Street Run held in Philadelphia, though, which attracts over 30,000 runners, this race is one of the most well-know 10-milers out there. This year's race even hosted this year's U.S. Women's Ten Mile Championship.

Entering the race, I was certainly treating it more like a training run - a barameter test for my fitness at this point rather than the culmination or end point. In other words, it was a 'check-up' race and my expectations were to treat my performance as an opportunity to gather feedback on how I was progressing with my training.

As I've mentioned in previous posts, this year is really about speed, particularly holding speed off the bike. And getting faster is a lot of work and it takes time. I've also made a number of changes to my training and spent a fair bit of time over the winter focusing on things other than running, like swimming and cycling. During the course of trying to improve my cycling endurance and power, I've put on a couple extra pounds of muscle, particularly in my legs (maybe 3-4 pounds heavier overall compared with my weight heading into the Philly Marathon). This, combined with really only dedicating two days (for a few weeks it was three) per week for run training, I wasn't entirely sure how this all would play out. Having even small changes in weight in your legs or feet has a definite impact on running economy and biomechanics, and I knew I somewhat neglected my run this winter.

With my true focus on Olympic distance triathlon training this year and preparing for the Age Group National Championships later this year, my approach for Cherry Blossom was to gauge what my 10k time looked like (10 km is the distance of the run leg of an Olympic distance triathlon) and how it compared with my goal pace. Essentially, my goal was the hold a steady pace of six minute miles for as long as I could (ideally the entire race to give me a 1:00:00 finish time).

The first few miles my legs just felt heavy. I didn't know if it was the whole added weight thing in my legs or if I didn't warm up enough, but my quads were definitely burning. Regardless, I caught a glance of the race clock at the first mile marker - 5:58. I thought to myself, "Okay, good pace, let's try and settle in."But, for as much as I thought about it, my body sure didn't feel like it was following suit.

At the same time I was passing the next few mile markers at almost exactly six minute intervals, I couldn't shake the negative thought that I hadn't prepared enough and wouldn't be able to sustain the pace for the entire race. There was even a time around mile 4 or 5 when I though, "man, I can't keep this up."

A little after that thought, I came up on the next aid station and my only thought was, "I need a boost."

Now, my nutrition leading into the race was pretty much the same. Continued with my normal higher fat diet with plenty of vegetables, and slowly increased carbohydrate intake a few days prior to the race (nothing major but small substitutions here and there). I mainly did this because I knew I'd be running at fairly close to lactate threshold and would be burning primarily glycogen. Because I knew I was mostly burning sugar, I thought, "why not just use a little Gatorade."

I've had Gatorade or gels during races before, but last year I really shifted away from sugar-based race nutrition in favor of something called UCAN Superstarch, which is a much slower release starch that doesn't spike blood glucose levels nearly as much to enable the body to better tap into fat stores. I think there's definitely a placebo effect when it comes to sports drink or gels, particularly with races under 60 or 90 minutes, but at this point, I needed something. So, at the aid station I grabbed for a cup of Gatorade.

Not more than a mile later...a runner's worst nightmare...G.I. issues. Oh, great!

I'll be honest, I thought about stopping. But after a half mile or so, things finally worked themselves out and I was feeling pretty good. Even better, I felt like I was finally developing a bit of a rhythm - albeit a slightly slower one than I'd hoped. I passed the 10k mark and was only slightly slower than my goal pace for triathlon this year - not bad. Sure, I'm going to need to be able to swim 1.5 km and bike 40 km before I hold this same pace, but that's something for another day. I just wanted to finish this thing pretty close to what I ran Broad Street last year (1:01:25).

I was passed a few times on the back half of the race, which was a bit discouraging (something to work on, right?). Though, despite how much slower I thought I was going, I was still keeping a decent pace - about 6:10 or so. Coming out of Haines Point I knew the finish line wasn't too far away. Those last 800 meters seemed to take forever. I could finally see the finish chute, and I was totally focused on getting to the finish line (a little too focused maybe because I didn't see or hear my wife cheering for me at the end - sorry Steph).

I crossed the line at 1:01:45.

All things considered, I was pretty happy with it. Only twenty seconds off my time from last year and this was my first race of the season. I knew going into the race I didn't feel anywhere near my peak, but I still had a decent showing - 177th overall out of 17,530 finishers and 47th in my age group.

Most importantly, though, I came away from the race learning a couple valuable things that will really help me tweek things going forward to ultimately get better. And that's what this race was all about.

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