Chris warmed up with Suzanne & me before Sandy, Brian, Chris & I jogged the first mile of the course. He said to me: 'you going to do 39 today?' Of course, my answer was, 'Not today. This is part of the long run for the weekend. Just going out to have some fun.' Once the race started, it definitely was fun, all right.
I normally blow past 90-percent of the field at the first mile, after which it's no-man's-land for the remainder of the race; the studs leave me way behind & I'm strung out in between the really good runners & the fairly good ones. But this time, I went easy the first mile with Knaves, then slowly started to ratchet up the pace. Amazingly, I picked off runners here & there on the course between mile three & four. One guy said to me as I went by at mile four, 'nice kick.' I wasn't too certain about the tactics of the day, even at that point; I smiled (Maybe that was a grimace; they both look alike from a distance.) & told him so.
Passing a couple of greyhounds (Real greyhounds - they had a dog walk at the same time.) at the fifth mile, & all I could think was 'how much longer can I do this?' It was probably good I couldn't read my heart rate monitor, only my pace; I probably would have backed off. Fortunately for me there was still about three runners hanging out in front of me; I couldn't tell how cute the female was, but she was definitely working the pace up there. By the time I got to her, & then the sixth mile, I was running a pace about five seconds per mile slower than my half-marathon performance time, & about 20 seconds per mile slower than my "healthy" 10K pace.
Even if I hadn't won my age group I was very pleased with the effort, especially three weeks after my half-marathon meltdown. To top it all off, Suzanne took second place in her age group. It's not often when two Bowens score hardware, so when we do it's cause for celebration.
Now for the rest the story:
I'm going to make a confession. I have a nasty tendency to look at things & see 'opportunities for improvement.' Rarely, if ever, have I said to myself while hanging out with friends, athletes, loved ones & assorted sweaty lunatic friends: 'dude, today you ran a perfect race.' Maybe all of twice in the past decade of racing the 'perfect race' has happened; a PR at the Azalea Trail Run 10K in Mobile, & a consistent pace at a hot, early summer 5K here at home.
While I've always sought out & valued consistency above almost any other quality in life, the only thing which I've considered more difficult (the negativity most every racer seeks!) to accomplish is negative split racing. Why is this so difficult to accomplish?
First, most runners don't exercise discipline & restraint while training. They're more likely to run EVERY workout at the same effort; so rather than following the hard day/easy day, or even the hard day/easy day/easier day dictum, it's (I kid you not, I have a friend who does this:) 5K, every day, all-out. At least until they become injured, but that's another story.
Second, many runners who have the physical fitness don't quite have the emotional or mental fitness to race negative. These are the friends who, when you ask to them about their goal time before the race, will tell you they want to go out at a particular pace. When the horn goes off, however, it's a completely different story. The first mile herd instinct & adrenaline pitches the best laid plans in the rubbish, leaving them to suffer for the last two (or more) miles of the race.
Third, the runners who are smart enough to go out easy early misjudge how much faster they should increase the pace over time; there's either too much 'gas in the tank' when they reach the finish, or they begin to fade in the last mile. Racing negative splits is a trial-and-error process; once you do it right it will be your Holy Grail of sorts.
What do you need to race negative splits?
I cannot over-stress the benefit of training runs at different intensity levels, with & without the aid of GPS, heart rate monitors & running watches. Why do I say 'without' as well as 'with?' You never know when you're going to show up on race day WITHOUT your running watch or your GPS (which almost happened this weekend!), or your battery dies, or the course is marked poorly...so know how a particular pace on the road or track 'feels' to the legs, heart & lungs.
Here's an interesting idea: Toe the line with a solid racing plan - this particular intensity or pace for a particular section of the course, pick up the pace to a higher intensity after this point, & then begin to really push at this point, etc. - follow it as much as possible. Trust your plan; don't go out with the herd. If your plan is solid the odds are very high you're going to catch & probably pass them before it's all over.
And, most importantly: Don't place any stressful or unrealistic expectations on yourself. Face it, the vast majority of us are paying money to terrorize squirrels & cats (followed by socializing!) on a weekend morning when most of our co-workers are still sleeping. For a very small, less-than-one-percent of the population, what SHOULD BE fun & games for you is BIG PRESENTATION DAY at the office for them.
If it's not fun, you probably should be looking for something else to do, right?