My First 10K

Sketchnote of my first 10K race

At the ripe age of 34, I decided to run in a local race and after months of “training”, I ran my first 10K this weekend. About 23 years ago, I was a competitive runner in cross-country. But that was junior high and I was 11. Because of that, however, I admire the Barney Stinson method of training for a race: “You don’t train for a marathon, you just run it. Step 1: you start running. Step 2: There is no step 2.”

Nerves

The wake-up time was 6:00 AM, but my body didn’t get that memo. Wide awake at 4:00 AM I thought about the race, the finish line, and what it all be like. I hadn’t been nervous about this race at all leading up to the day but that all went away 2 hours before my alarm time. I managed to get back to sleep at 5:10 or so and got another hour of sleep. That would end up being the last of the nerves.

On Your Mark

The morning was cloudy, easing off a gentle rain the night before. In contrast to the near record high temperatures of March, this April morning emerged at a typical 50 degrees. I arrived at the race site at 6:30 with my brother-in-law and his fiancĂ© who were running the half-marathon starting at 7:00 AM, 35 minutes before my race. The calm wind made this morning seem custom-made for a good run, though I wouldn’t have minded 10 more degrees.

The excitement of so many people was perceptible. A helicopter started circling above the starting line no doubt taking in the view with a camera. Thousands of runners anticipated the hours ahead and lined up according to their expected finishing time while “Eye of the Tiger” blasted over the PA. A soothing radio announcer read instructions from a binder and kept the crowd tuned in to the energy.

After a rousing rendition of The Star Spangled Banner by a local singer (who decided that one flag was not enough and sang that “our flags were still there”) the official starter got on the microphone and kicked off the 2012 marathon with a roar from the crowd. Wave by wave, thousands got on their way to the last stop on their months long training journey. The people at the front were impressive, while the people in the back made me think, “If they can do a half-marathon, so can I.”

Get Set

At 7:25, the 10K participants started gathering in the street despite the pleas of the announcer. Volunteers marched away from the starting line with signs held up meant to sort runners into expected pace times. The early hour and lack of sleep must have impaired my math skills. Unaware of this, I lined up with the 9 minute/mile pace folks. This would prove a humbling mistake about 45 minutes later.

There was no more preparation left. The time was upon me and I wished I had trained just a little more. I inched closer to the starting line to the sound of “Smooth Criminal” by Michael Jackson and by 7:37 I was off. Hundreds of footsteps running down the street sounded like a peaceful, constant rain. Happy I was a part of it, I gleefully ran at a pace which I knew was faster than my training allowed.

For the past month of training, I used a Polar FT7 heart monitor watch. In doing so, I realized that my ticker was not strong enough for me to run as fast as I wanted to. The watch would beep and tell me to slow down as I crossed my max heart rate zone constantly. For the race, however, the transmitter part wasn’t working and I had no information. I decided to just run and not worry about the data.

Going Strong

The first 2.5 to 3 miles were easy and fun. My only complaint was that my hands felt very cold and exposed. I passed many people who seemed  completely in the wrong starting group which reinforced my starting spot decision. A beanpole statured guy with a hulk-hogan-ish bandana tied around his head and an effusive sweat was my pace. I figured as long as I could stay near him, I’d be fine.

A corridor of frat houses blasting music fed the fun and excitement while giving them a good reason to drink beer at 7:30 AM; a win-win. During my training, there had never been signs that said, “You’ve been training longer than Kim Kardashian’s marriage” or “Go Hard! That’s what she said!” but such signs were wonderfully welcome this day.

Not Strong

After about 3.5 miles and 35 minutes, I started to feel “the shake”. For me, the shake is what happens when I’ve either forgotten to eat or I’ve eaten, but not enough. In all my training, I had never done a run in the morning. My 10K test runs had been in the late afternoon usually preceded by a solid Qdoba burrito. This morning I had only consumed carbohydrates with almost no protein. I devoured a baggie of some runners jelly beans 30 minutes before the start.

The shake started to surround me meaning I had burned through all readily available energy and was now counting on backup sources. This is the time when my dad says “you need to put one foot in front of the other and keep going.” And that’s what I did, but at a pace more fitting of a 10 minute mile – that misplaced math started to dent my ego.

That’s My Water

Around mile 4, spectators started mentioning that water was near. I hoped there was Gatorade so I could get some more calories, but water was all there was. In my training runs I hadn’t stopped to drink any water, but I was desperate this time because of the shakes. It cannot be understated how much I needed the water.

I picked out a lady on my right with a cup and held out my hand to grab it. This was my first water grab and it seemed so simple. The glorious water was only inches away. Refreshment was near! That is, until the women pulled the cup away from me right before I reached it. She gave it to the guy behind me. I didn’t want to stop running and there was no more water in sight. I had missed the first water stand.

Finisher

That early morning math error started to bite back with force. The last mile was a constant stream of people passing me. My bandanna covered target was long gone. It became obvious that my pace had slipped past the 10 minute mile. As sad as that felt, right before I entered the stadium I looked to my right and an 8-year-old girl (or so) zoomed past me. Ego be gone.

The finish line neared. All I had to do was run into the stadium and claim my sweet medal. The excitement took on the raucous flavor of a college football game as spectators filled the stands and cheered everyone on. The finish line sat on the 50 yard line and streams of runners crossed it while sports photographers captured it all on film. I collected my medal, posed for a picture, and scanned the spectators in search of my wife. My time? 1:00:04 or a 9:40 pace.

Next Year

I had a good time at the race and am ready to sign up for the half-marathon next year. On the one hand I think, don’t worry about going as fast as you used to. Who cares if you were able to run a mile in 6:36 back in high school? You’re almost 35! Then I realize that the winner of the 10K event was in my division. For me, though, it’s important to not focus on the result, but to have fun, get healthier, and do something new. Hopefully I can keep that in mind as I train for next year’s run.

I hope you enjoyed reading about my race experience. Be sure to follow me on Twitter @kenstone.