The Green Valley Road Race 10 Miler is the race that almost wasn’t run at all and the race that came out of nowhere. On Monday, I was diagnosed with a bad kidney infection that made walking a challenge and running impossible. I spent the early part of the week confined to my bed and frustrated about the possibility of missing my first race of the season. I was finally able to go for a short run on Friday night, the night before the race and it was…well…really hard. I huffed and puffed my way through 3 miles at a 10:22 pace and didn’t know how I would feel the next day. My coach was very clear that if I felt too tired or my kidneys hurt when I woke up on Saturday, then I shouldn’t run the race, but I woke up feeling fine, thankfully! Still, 10 miles is a lot further than 3, and part of me doubted that I would be able to finish at all.
It’s funny, because on Sunday (my day back from New Zealand), I was thinking about setting goals for the race and trying to decide if I wanted to do a time goal. I was thinking I could set 9:30 pace as a goal for myself, since that is about 30 seconds faster than I’ve been doing my long runs, and it would represent a solid effort. That still felt intimidating, though, and my coach and I decided to set a goal of maintaining a steady effort and only walking at the water stops. Obviously, any goals at all went out the window when I woke up on Monday with that stupid kidney infection, so I definitely wasn’t thinking about anything other than finishing the race when I woke up on Saturday morning.
The Green Valley 10 Miler starts and ends on the campus of Furman University, which is about 25 minutes from my house. I left my house at 7:30, with plenty of time to park, grab my packet, and make it to the start, which I thought was at 8:30. As it turns out, the 8k starts at 8:30 and the 10 Miler starts at 8:45, so I had more than enough time to
panic work on my mental game.
The weather here is crazy this time of year, so some days this week it was very cold and some days (like this weekend), the weather got into the 70s. Race morning temps were in the upper 40s and low 50s, and it was sunny out, so there was a wide range of outfits. I personally opted for leggings and a long sleeved shirt since I’ve been oddly cold when I run lately. It’s weird, because I used to “run hot” back in the day, but that’s not really the case anymore. I have no idea why. Before the race, I got to meet self-described “creepy internet person” Hilary, who found me on Instagram and said hi! She’s super speedy and ended up coming in second woman in the 10 miler! She is now a “creepy real life person.”
I normally don’t race with music, but I decided it might be helpful this time, so I put in my earbuds and got ready for the start of the race. I also decided that I would not look at my watch at all during the race because I figured I would be discouraged by my pace and I just wanted to focus on staying steady and putting one foot in front of the other.
The first mile of the race winds through Furman University, which has a beautiful campus. I haven’t spent much time on it besides running through it at the Spinx Marathon, so it was nice to get to see a little bit more. Since the 8k runners had taken off 15 minutes ahead of us, we also got to see them coming back towards the finish line not too far into the race, which was exciting! I love cheering for people on out and back portions of the race, even if the really fast people never acknowledge it because they are too busy being in agony.
I expected this race to be quite hilly because Greenville is very hilly, but it actually was very tame for this area. There were a few long inclines and the occasional steep-ish hill, but nothing terribly daunting. I realized very quickly in this race that all of the hill running and hiking that I do is a huge advantage, because I was passing people on the uphills consistently. Many people walked the uphills (which is totally legit and I’ve done that in many races), but I never felt like I needed to walk. I could tell I’ve definitely gotten stronger, which was exciting!
Since my only goal was to try and only walk at the water stops, that obviously made the location of the water stops relevant. I assumed they would be about every 2 miles, but I assumed incorrectly. This race had a water stop at mile 3.5 and mile 7, and that was it! For a winter race, it was honestly fine, I was just surprised. It did make it easy to get into a good rhythm and stay there since we weren’t constantly stopping to grab water. The thought did briefly occur to me that my kidneys probably didn’t need the stress of dehydration, but there was really nothing I could do about it at that point.
Around mile 6, I started to realize that I was feeling pretty good and I was slowly beginning to pass the people around me that I had been running near for most of the race. Although I have never done this before, I decided to just start counting the people I was passing. It gave me something to look forward to, and after each person I passed, I focused on the next one ahead. I kept focusing on keeping my pace steady and I didn’t speed up to pass people – it was more that this gave me an incentive to keep going up the hills and not backing down if I felt tired for a second. I never got passed during the entire race and I just kept counting – 1…2…3…
At mile 8, I started to think about picking up the pace to challenge myself a bit and finish strong. With 8 miles down and still feeling good, I knew that I could get a little bit faster without exhausting myself or feeling like I was going to collapse, so I picked it up a bit. I passed a few more people – 7…8…9…- and a few people made comments as I passed about how strong I looked. It felt great to hear and even better because it was actually true! Once I got to mile 9, it was time to really turn it on. I started passing a couple people at a time and even would look back once in a while to make sure no one was gaining on me. Obviously, I knew it didn’t matter and I knew that I wasn’t going to win an age group award or anything, but I don’t often have any competitive spirit whatsoever, so it was kind of a fun change to care for once. I kept counting – 14…15…16.
As I entered the final stretch, I pushed hard for a strong finish. I was hoping the time on the clock would say under 1:45 (10:30 mile) and thought there was maybe just the slightest hope that I would come in around 1:40 (10:00 minute mile. After my 10:22 pace 3 mile run had felt so hard the day before, I had very low expectations. Imagine my shock when I finally saw the clock and it read 1:34:xx! Under 9:30 pace! It is borderline embarrassing how excited I was.
However, I didn’t even have time to be excited about crossing the finish line because I immediately heard someone yell out “WHO HAS A PHONE? DOES ANYONE HAVE A PHONE? CALL 911!!” I figured someone around me did, but they kept saying it, so I said “I have a phone!” and called 911. A 95-year-old man had finished the 8k and felt a little dizzy crossing the finish line, and he fell and hit his head pretty hard on the ground. The back of his head was bleeding a lot and although there was a nurse and a doctor who had run the race helping him, he needed an ambulance. Fortunately, he was still talking and conscious and he was able to remember his friend’s phone number, so after calling 911, I called his friend as well. The man is going to be fine, thankfully! What is crazy is obviously a) that he is 95 and still going out and racing – so cool! But b) when the 911 operator asked me how old I thought he was, I said I thought he was 70 based on how he looked! It just goes to show what a huge difference fitness makes. Such an inspiration!
When I finally checked out the details of the race on my Garmin, I could not believe it! My time was 1:34:30 for an overall pace of 9:25 (the race website for some reason says I ran a 1:32, but that is not correct). That’s my fastest long run pace this training cycle by 40 seconds per mile! Also, I passed 16 people from the time I started counting and got passed by no one. I ran my fastest 5k and 10k of this training cycle AND my fastest mile of this training cycle at 8:12! Even more exciting? That 8:12 mile was my last mile. I also negative split the race by 3 minutes and 25 seconds between the first 5 miles and the second 5 miles! That makes basically like the second race I have ever negative split in my life. Ok, not really, but I can probably count them on one hand. This is HUGE!
I truly believe that this race was a success because of the mental work I’ve been doing this training cycle. Obviously, the physical stuff is important, but let’s be realistic – I hadn’t done in a long run in 3 weeks thanks to New Zealand and I was just barely recovered from a major kidney infection. There was no reason to think this would be a great race for me. What I did do, however, was not allow myself to be negative. There was one point in the race where I was headed up a hill and I thought “Ugh, this is hard, I need to slow down.” But I reminded myself that I had passed people on every hill I had run that day, so I decided to reframe my thinking. “Hills are hard, but hills are your strength today. Stay steady.” Those small changes, plus not looking at my watch and freaking myself out, made the difference! I know not every race will be like this, but I think with a better frame of mind, more of them will be. All I know is the Green Valley 10 Miler was an unexpected but welcome success!
LEAVE A COMMENT: Have you ever run a “surprise” race that went a lot better than you expected? Do you count people as you pass them?