Thursday, April 27, 2017

Every Mile a Memory: 10 and 20 Mile Drop 4.23.17..."Unstoppable Hope"

The 10 and 20 Mile Drop will always be a bittersweet race for me. Sweet because I always do better than expected running the 10 mile distance but bitter because it was after my first go at it in 2015 when I was so excited with how well I did that day, I would go to my parent's house later on to share my excitement with my dad, only to see his time here on Earth quickly coming to an end. I didn't leave his side that day and two days later, I would watch him take his last breath at 1:23 PM. I was devastated. I couldn’t even LOOK at my running shoes without reliving that day of going from ultimate high to lowest of the lows or reliving my father's final hours or the days that followed so I was done. My heart was broken and so was my running spirit. Luckily that spirt was renewed several weeks later but I swore I would never run the 10 Mile Drop. My heart just wouldn't let me. Fast forward to December. For whatever reason (coincidence my dad's birthday is that month?? Perhaps some angels at work??), I decided to sign up for April's 2016 race again. My goal was to finish 1:23:00 in honor of my dad's last breath. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to make that goal but I DID finish in 1:29:36 shaving over 8 minutes off my time from the previous year. A victory for sure and my love for this race would be renewed. This year, my goal was 1:22:00 which again was a lofty one but why not? In 2015, I was 14th in my AG and in 2016 I was 9th so my goal for this race was to make the top 10. Paul told me I should try for the top 5 which would be nice but after having a week of "blah-ish" types of runs, I wasn't feeling too strong about that. Not to mention, I woke up out of a dead sleep Sunday morning around 2 AM and never really went back to sleep so I was tired to begin with, making a top 5 in my AG finish a lofty one, at least in my mind.

The course

This is a point-to-point race with two distances: 10 and 20 miles. The 20 mile race started at 7:15 and the 10 mile at 8:15 and the 10 mile course is the second half of the 20 mile. They bill this as a "downhill" race (hence the "drop") because of the change in elevation from start to finish but there are definitely some hills you have to run up as well so it's still quite challenging. They caution the 10 milers to not go out too fast the first 5K because there's a hill to contend with between miles 3 and 4. A good portion of the course is on a scenic exercise path with both asphalt and crushed surfaces but you also run through neighborhoods and some pretty heavily traveled roads so they have police officers at every intersection stopping traffic. There are also several sets of active railroad tracks you have to cross and even though the RDs give the rail company a heads up about the race, there is no guarantee you won't encounter a train or two. Luckily for the past 3 years, my race has been train-free.

Runners are bussed to each starting line run to the finish at Fairport Harbor Beach Park (another beach finish…my favorite!). Since Paul always goes with me, he takes me to the starting line. This year, he was going out of town right after the race so we had to leave a Jeep at the finish line. This worked out well because my co-worker/racing friend was walking the 10 miler again and we were able to pick her up there so she didn't have to ride the bus.

The Get Up

As you all know, I am very particular about what I race in, especially when a race has some meaning behind it. Since this was more that "just a race" to me, I wanted to wear something to reflect that. The weather was supposed to be pretty decent; lower 40's at race time and mid 50's by the time I'd be done with sunshine. Such a contrast from last year when we had a blizzard two days before and a cloudy and balmy 27 degrees. They were calling for rain for weeks before the race but a day or two before, the weather decided to cooperate. Yay! Since it was going to be perfect race weather, I was excited I was going to be able to wear the special tank top I ordered with some arm warmers. I debated between my SmartWool ones or the lighter weight ones but remembering back to the 5K I did a couple weeks ago when it was much colder, the SmartWool was almost too warm. When I picked up the race shirt and bib on Saturday and saw the shirt was the color of my favorite forgetful fish, I took that as some good race juju and decided to go along with the blue theme. I also decided to wear a pair of Balega running socks that had the words "unstoppable" "hope" on them.

The race shirts never disappoints. Gotta love the Dory blue!

Race morning

I was not very happy with the fact I woke up at 2 am and never really went back to sleep so when I finally got up at 6 am, I was not a happy camper. Thank goodness for my two cups of coffee ritual. Our goal was to be at the finish line by 7:20 so we could drop off the Jeep, pick up my friend, and head to the starting line before the busses got there. Last year, they didn't have enough port-a-johns so the race was delayed by several minutes while everyone was making their final head calls so I wanted to make sure we were there in plenty of time. Well, just as we are just about to get to the beach park, we see the buses leaving. Luckily, we were able to get my friend and get to the start just as the busses were pulling in. Whew, talk about timing. We stood around and chatted for a bit before I went to do a quick warm up run, one last stop at the port-a-john, and headed to the starting line. Last year they had pacers so I had been debating whether I'd run with one but apparently they didn't have them this year so that made that decision easy. I was also planning on lining up closer to the back so I didn't start out too fast but when I saw there was no timing mat and this would be a gun start (which was odd because they've had one the last two years), I decided to squeeze in somewhere closer to the front.

Could that ray of sunshine photobombing our picture be my ray of "hope?? Kind of neat seeing this after the fact. Things that make you go "hmmm." 

And they're off

The gun went off and away we went. The half mile or so is pretty much all down hill and this, along with the excitement, of the race, had me running too fast. There were times I'd look down at my watch and see paces in the mid 7's and panic started to kick in. I decided I would only look at my watch on the mile splits and even though I missed the first mile split, the 2nd and 3rd ones blew my mind and I kept telling myself I needed to slow down or I'd never make it to the finish. The conversations going on in my head were a lot of back and forth between "you can do this" and "you'll never make it" and I really started to reconsider this being my favorite race. The whole thing was so much harder than I remember from past years. Around mile 4, I decided to quit obsessing about my pace and just run. Run fast, run slow, run however, just run…or walk if need be. I kept telling myself I had nothing to prove to anyone and however fast or slow I got to the finish line, finishing it is all that mattered. Every once in a while I would try to find someone to use as a target and other times I would just run and keep the positive self talk coming. I would also try to distract myself by noticing whom of the people were passing me were those running the 20 mile distance and wonder how they were feeling. On top of everything else, I was also dealing with a side stitch which started around mile 2 and didn't really ever go away and I was worried if it was going to force me to stop running. There were several water, Gatorade, and gel stops along the course and several times I thought about stopping just to get a couple of walking steps in and give my legs a break because I do remember doing that once during last year's race and I'm used to stopping during my training runs while waiting for traffic but every time I'd see one coming up, I say "I'll stop at the next one." Needless to say, I never stopped.

Flash backs to Ragnar

There were several parts of the course that reminded me of my legs at Ragnar as two of them followed a paved exercise path very similar to what I was running during this race. There was even one spot where I went under the freeway just like I did during one of my legs and it made for a good distraction as I drifted back in my mind to how much fun that race was. What also made it similar is there were several spots Paul was able to cheer me on and I went past. That was a nice surprised because he hadn't done that in year's past (since we lived so close, he'd just go home and then be at the finish line). It was also nice because I was able to hand him the arm warmers when I took them off.

The finish

Last year at mile 7, I distinctly remember how good I felt at that mile and was hoping for the same this year. Nope, didn't feel good at all and I really think that starting out as fast as I did "blew" it for me this race because the whole race was a lot harder than I remember from last year and when I got to mile 7, I was starting to doubt how this was all going to end. I did tell myself though that unless I totally tanked the last 3 miles, I'd probably beat last year's time so I kept reminding myself on that. One good thing about mile 7 is I was finally able to keep my lead over is the girl whom I kept playing the passing game with (I'd pass her, she'd pass me, etc.) for a good majority of the race. Every time someone would come up behind me, I'd wonder if it was her and it kind of kept pushing me to try not to drop my pace too much. I also remember last year hitting mile 9 and feeling super strong and mighty (to use one of my sole sistas, Jaime's words) for a fast finish. That didn't happen this year either. But rather than dwell on how tired or "bad" I was feeling or how hard this race had been, I just told myself I beat my time from last year and my mission was accomplished. I was also running against a head wind coming off the lake which is not something you want that last mile of a race. LOL

The last 0.10 of a mile to the finish was an uphill dash through a grass field. As I rounded the corner to the final stretch, I said to one of the race directors "looks like another cross country finish." He laughed. Ohhh, but I was in a for a big shocker…. My thoughts of holy crap, please God, don't let me twist an ankle to holy crap, the time clock is at 1:22:23 and if I kick it up, I'll come in right under 1:23:00, beating the time goal from last year!!! Not sure how I was able to muster up the energy but I did it! I have to be honest with you, last year it was A LOT easier running through 12 inches of snow like last year than it was the grass! It sounds crazy but it's true. This was not manicured like the NXN course but rather filled with lots of holes and uneven ground. Plus it's up hill. But anyway, I turned off my music and heard a couple women who had already finished telling me to be careful and watch my step. And just like last year, there was a bunch of mud and a little dip JUST before you hit the timing mat. Last year I jumped it. A lot of my races have this DJ (who also runs the race) commenting at the finish line and it's always entertaining to hear what says. Kind makes for a fun finish, too. I don't recall exactly what he said but it was something about needing to jump the mud and when I ran through it, he started laughing and said "or just run through it." I was so out of breath when I stopped I could hardly catch it but I was glad the feeling didn't last long. Paul, who cheered me on through the finish, came over and we went to the pavilion on the beach for the post race snacks (pancakes, sausage, bananas, chocolate milk, coffee, hot chocolate, and of course, my favorite…bagel bites). They also have live results so we went over to the computer to see how I did and woot woot woot I made the top 5, coming in 4th and only a minute and a half for so behind the 1st place finisher. Super stoked! I wanted to stay for the awards just in case the 1st place finisher took a female OA spot which would bump me up to 3rd in mine but she did not and Paul needed to get on the road so we left.

Final thoughts

Another sweet and unexpected surprise when I crossed the finish line at 1:22:47. What's more, in three years, I've gone from 14th in my age group to 9th to 4th. Never in a million years did I ever think I'd reach the top 10, much less the top 5! This race wasn't easy by any means and there were plenty of times I thought about giving up but I kept thinking about all the reasons I was out there in the first place so I pressed on. Those reasons got me to the finish line today and made the 10 Mile Drop a little more sweet and a little less bitter. Not because I did well, but because it just goes to show when you have unstoppable hope, you can finish whatever race life puts in your way, often times with results better than ever expected.

I have to say it's taking me a bit long to recover this time around. The only time I've been this sore after a race was my first HM in 2014… I didn't have much soreness after my HM this past fall nor after last year's 10 Mile Drop but this year I was sore enough I haven't run in two days. I COULD have run but I'm at 90 miles for the month and only have 10 more to go to reach my goal so being a "slacker" didn't bother me too much and figure my legs could use the break. What's interesting is my friend from work said the same thing and she also said the thought this year's race was a lot more hilly and tougher than last year. It was the same course as last year so it was the same hills so the only thing I can think of is it's from pushing myself as much as I did. Who knows. I just can't wait to get back to running!

Thank you for reading.  
Cool finishers medal with movable bus


Splits per garmin

Splits per chip
5K 08:00
10K 08:10
Last 3.8 miles 08:28
Finish 08:17

Race placement
Overall 69th of 320
Female 22nd of 202
Female 45-49 4th of 25