Qualifying for Boston was my Goal for four years – four years I chased that thing! And after I got it, I was kind of like “Now what?” At 50, I knew I didn’t want to keep putting that pounding on my body, and I was also no longer interested in the time suck of marathon training. My trainer/coach is a track guy, and his other runners are track athletes, so I thought that would be a good challenge. I’m not fast enough to be competitive in the really short stuff or even the middle distances (800m), but it seemed a natural fit to transition down to 10000m.
So track meets are pretty different from road races. First of all, they are not for the weekend warrior. For the most part the runners at track meets did not do a Couch-to-5K program nor are they just looking to chill on the course. No shade on that; I’m just giving you a warning so you. Ha. They are athletes who most likely ran track competitively in high school and college and then sprinkle in some former Olympians and pro athletes. So it’s intimidating. Also, there is no swag or expos at the meets! No free t-shirts or energy bars. No race photos! Boo.
As for the race itself…a 10K is a 10K, right? Absolutely not. It’s 25 laps around a track. With no music. You guys! You guys!! I know I can run 6.2 miles at a decent clip – I do that at least once a week. But I was completely freaked out about running 25 laps at a pushed pace. It was truly a mental hurdle that I just had to wrap my brain around. It is as brutal as it sounds. I asked some guy at the meet if he was running the 10000m, and he said “Yes…Because I have something wrong with me.” Forreal.
Pre-race I got the best advice from one of the guys there. He said to just zone out and don’t count the laps. That was strangely comforting. I lucked out hard because one of the runners was a woman my age and about my speed, so I knew I wouldn’t have to run the 25 laps alone which was my real fear. Turned out three of us ran together for about 15 laps, and then it went down to two.
I don’t like leading, and I’m not a good pacer, so my strategy was to stay in second place. No matter who led, I just kept a few paces behind her. The first 12 laps were just to get through, but then with about 10-12 laps left it became a race, and here is another difference. When I run a road race, I’m trying to PR, so it’s me vs. me. In a track meet, depending on the field, you can be in an actual race. I checked the pace, and once I knew that I would meet my time goal to reach the All-American standard and place in the world rankings, I decided to run a race.
Me and my – ahem, 32 year old competitor — broke off from the third runner and she maintained the lead. Her coach started yelling instructions at her “Put her away” and “Break her”. He wanted her to start surging on the straightaways to put some distance between us, but each time she tried to get away, I stayed with her, close enough to hear her breathing. I think this was probably discouraging for her — that is a lot of pressure on someone for 10 laps.
When she failed to break away from me, I kind of knew I had the race. I had told myself that if I had anything left, I would make my move with 300m to go, and that’s what happened. We heard the bell ring for the last lap, rounded the curve, and then I floored it. I had done 300m many times with my coach, and I knew what it felt like to run that hard at the end. I “sprinted: in the last 100m, and I have to say that even her teammates cheered me on as I finished pretty strong……and then I won a gold medal and got my national and world ranking.
As I said, this is a mental race. The Tuesday before my race, my coach and I were warming up for our trail run when I asked him how he beat me in our church 10K. He had no business beating me, and I wanted to know what strategy and mindset he had going in. He explained the surging to me – that at certain points on the course, he was trying to put me away (he did! Ha), so I was prepared for my competitor doing this.
And then he told me the stuff he’s told me for three years: Trust the training. And so despite me spending the past month anxious about this meet (and truthfully almost not showing up for it), I was calm the night before and the day of. Just like the 24 hours before I BQd. The training was in and there was nothing more I could do but show up and put in my best effort for that day. Luckily, it was good enough to win!
Racing 10000m was super hard — and I can’t wait to do it again!