From the first pen, I go out fast. I'm tight, but I'm OK. First mile is 6:30. Second mile, passing the reservoir, is a little harder, but I'm cool. Also 6:30. Keeping this pace is too difficult. I slow down, but running down Harlem Hill pulls me forward. At the base we turn east and head towards the long, snaky incline that takes Harlem Hill's place as the mid-loop killer when you're running clockwise, as the participants in NYRR's 10K Scotland Run were on April 4, 2015. Third mile was 6:29. This could not go on. I turned, and started the climb.
I hate 10Ks. Absolutely hate them. They're fast. They're longer than you think. They hurt. They're the speed of a 5K but twice the pain for twice the distance. Marathons, half marathons, have some clout, some presence; these are impressive distances. But ANYONE can run 6 miles. RIght? There's no glory in a 10K. We all know how hard they are to do well. The necessary combination of a stout mental game and the physical base of all those miles underneath is both compelling, and unique. But really, all in all they're just annoying as fuck.
[WARNING: Frank discussion of bowel irregularities follows]
When I first started running, the 5K was the initial goal (the program I started was called "Couch to 5K" after all) but as I grew to love running, I knew I would eventually be pursuing races beyond that distance. As a result, the 10K was looming out there from pretty much the beginning. But I had no handle on what it would be.
Five months after I started running, I did my first 5K in around 24:30. I was pretty happy with that but I knew I could do better so I signed up for another one, this time in August. I started training specifically to get faster, and by the time the race rolled around, I was pretty confident I would beat my previous time. As would become a recurring theme, I went out blazing fast only to crumble physically halfway through the race. My legs were heavy. I couldn't breath. I felt I had to be running a nine minute mile pace. By the time I made my way around the final turn, I was completely spent. I look ahead to the finish line to see I'm at 22: and change, almost three minutes ahead of my May time. I went out fast, sure, and probably slowed a little, but probably not by all that much.
So for as much as I was beating myself up on the last mile, I ended up crushing the race and went home feeling pretty great. I felt I'd improved enough to take the next step. The 10K. My first one was in October of 2014. Two loops of Roosevelt Island. I went out fast, and kept up with the lead pack for maybe a half mile before reality set in and I fell back. For most of the second loop, I was all alone: no pack ahead of me, only a few solitary runners, and there was a loose pack maybe 35-40 seconds behind. The final turn around the lighthouse was special - very quiet, solitary, and still - almost ghostly, with the morning fog and the matte river. A the final mile was tough but fair. There was a moment at the end where these guys tried to pass me- it took me completely off guard as they'd come out of seemingly nowhere, and it slapped me awake that this was, after all, a race, and they were sprinting to try and pass me. "No way!" I said aloud, and broke into a sprint. I overtook all but one of the pack of five or so that ran up on me. In the end it went very well. 44 minutes, 7:10 pace, that sprint at the end, all very good signs.
My second 10K mirrored my second 5K - went out way too fast, tried to hang way too long, felt like death the last third of the race, made the final turn to find out I'd beaten my PR by a minute and a half. Went to a knee and dry heaved as soon as I crossed the finish line after a final sprint I somehow found, sure, but crushed my PR. Spent, empty, in pain, but yet.... I did it.
So I'm thinking this is just the life cycle of the 10K. Go out fast, hang on, crawl past death, PR.
Scotland Run was different. After I made it up the Harlem Hill's gradual, ugly twin, I was in pain. Not from my knee, which had been barking for two weeks and hindering my training, but from something else. There's no way to say this pleasantly, so I'm just going to be out with it. I'd had horrible dirreha all week from a bug I'd been fighting off for three weeks. It (the bug) started in my head with some of the worst congestion I'd had in ages. Moved down to my chest and gave me a wicked cough, and then migrated to my stomach, where it wreaked havoc with my digestion and bowels. I hardly ever "have to go" during a race... whether it's the adrenaline, or just the fact that my mind isn't "on it", it just rarely comes up. Other than the half marathon, but I attributed that to the caffeinated, gross, Powerade goo than anything going wrong inside (I'd eaten a caffeinated Cliff Bar before this 10K, so maybe this IS a problem and I will probably stop taking caffeine on race day).
As I crested the hill there were porta potties and water. I declined both, though I did consider briefly stopping to poop. I thought I could spray it and be done with it in less than a minute. It would suck, my time would suck. but I wouldn't be in pain. I wouldn't shit myself during the race. I declined to stop, but as soon as I passed them I regretted it. My body did that thing it did during my second 5K - I was going the same speed, but mentally it felt like I was crawling. Every step was agony. As I came up on the mile 4 marker, I thought, fuck it, I'm going so slow I'm not going to PR anyway, if there are toilets here I'm stopping. I have to stop. I'm going to shit myself.
There weren't any toilets. I couldn't see any toilets coming up. I thought I could run in the bushes, but I wasn't going to do that. So I kept running. What else was I going to do? I'd either make it to the next toilets or I wouldn't. And then it went away.
Not the mental crawl - but the need to spray. The last two miles were still the worst I'd ever run, the hardest I'd ever run, the most I'd ever hated life during a run, but I still ran them at sub 7:00 and finished at a 6:47 pace for yet another PR. 42:08 was the final time. Fucking 10Ks. Now I have to beat 42 at Queens. It's going to be hell. I can already tell. It's flat, but it's going to suck because that means it's going to be REALLY fast. I haven't figured out the pace I'm going to need, but it's going to be too fucking fast and I'm going to hate myself every minute. But it's the 10K, it's the fucking white whale, and the perfect 10K will always be out there, taunting me with its existence, yet remaining unknowable, unable to be possessed, leaving only a path only of heavy legs and pain, one that exposes your poor mental game and chases you at a 6:50 pace screaming threats of shitting yourself, or maybe bowing out altogether, shaken and beaten on the side of the path, calling out three letters to the unforgiving beast that floored you:"D....N....F...." But probably not. I'll run it, hate it, and sign up for another.