Things did not go as planned, but I made the most of the event anyway, and was happy and even amused by some of the things that happened.
One of the big problems was that I was not at all feeling prepared for the race.
For one thing, I felt very tired for days after my last race, the Run Around the Square of almost two weeks ago. I gave so much of myself during that race that afterwards, I just didn't feel like running again for a while.
Worse than that, my left foot has been bothering me ever since that race, discouraging me even more from continuing my regular running. I am pretty sure that I injured my arch area because I had the shoe strap of my Vibram FiveFingers KSO Trek shoe too tight. I had it on tighter than during my normal runs, out of “fear” of the shoe coming off or slipping during the race on the Schenley Park hilly trail. Shoe too tight was a mistake I will never make again.
Finally, and most significantly, I have spent the last week spending a lot of time on the talk I gave yesterday at the Pittsburgh Ruby group, as I had promised I would a month ago. That took a lot out of me. In fact, if I had not already committed, with Abby, to run the Pretty Good Race this year, I would not have done it at all, after all my energy was drained in the past week. But it would have been unfair to bail out on Abby given that this is one of the few races we have started doing together.
I suppose I could have decided to give the talk for the October meeting of the Ruby group instead, knowing up front the annual date of the Pretty Good Race. That had crossed my mind, but I also had instantly decided (with no regrets) that giving the talk as soon as possible after I promised to do it was of much higher priority than anything involving any of my races.
The race was made much more difficult by the unpredictable weather. For days it would be cold, then hot. Well, it turned out that race day was very hot. It had to be like 80F. I was even thinking that this might be the warmest race I've ever run in, but actually, that's probably not quite true: races in July tend to be pretty hot.
So I started the race with no hope whatsoever of surpassing last year's time of 24:36. I was just going to try to run an honest race at steady effort, and use my usual mental tricks of trying to speed up in the second half and try to catch people ahead of me. In particular, the fearsome very long uphill at the end is something that I wanted to have enough energy for to sprint up; in every year up till now, I have waited until the finish line is in sight before I start my sprint. I did not always manage to pass everyone in front of me, and I also at least once let someone sprint past me.
This year, during some training runs on the course, I experimented with running hard for just the second half and figuring out how much energy to conserve so that I would be able to start the sprint from far beyond that point, from around the curve. That way, I would have the possibility of powering through with nobody able to catch me. I'd never started my sprint from so far out before in any race, so this was going to be an experiment.
I went out at a steady pace. After less than a mile, runners had more or less spread out and found their pace. I slowly caught up to someone who was running at approximately my pace. This is when things got interesting.
This runner ahead of me sensed that I was catching up and decided to surge. I was confused by this move, but just kept on going at my pace. Maybe she just preferred running with nobody around her; but I was trying to give her some space by coming up from the side and behind her, rather than directly behind her. Having someone breathe down your neck is not very pleasant, after all.
As she kept increasing her distance from me, I concluded that she was probably just faster than me, found her natural pace, and I would never catch her. There was nobody else visible directly ahead of me, so I had no other target during the first half of the race, but I knew that since it was mostly uphill, and I'm stronger downhill than uphill, and a lot of runners go out too fast in the first half of races, it was a question of whom I would start catching during the second half.
But then, as I approached the turnaround point (this is an out and back course on Panther Hollow Trail), I noticed that far ahead of me, beyond the designated turnaround point (where there were volunteers directing people to turn around, and some runners were in fact there turning around), was this runner who had blasted past me. Maybe she was in the zone or something, but she missed the turnaround point! She started coming back as I reached the turnaround point.
I felt bad that she had made a mistake, but then again, this was a new opportunity for me. I already knew that she was faster than me. But she wasted time and energy falling behind me in the race. Could I actually prevent her from coming past me during the entire second half of the race, given my head start?
I didn't look back once as I focused on running the second half of the race, almost all downhill.
Probably no more than a quarter mile from the end, she passed me and started putting distance between us. But at my targeted location to put in my kick, I screamed, three or four times, while doing what I'd done in training: going into an all-out long sprint. I think I totally freaked her out, because she kind of just stepped aside and started jogging or something (that's what it seemed like as I charged past and then around the curve and then up the steep hill).
I continued throwing out a periodic scream until I finished. For the first hundred or so races in my life, I never screamed, but I started this habit only last year, at Run Shadyside. I believe it actually helps me a lot when I'm in pain and need to “wake up” into a new gear of existence temporarily. I just worry about whether it scares people.
It turned out that I finished ten seconds earlier than her. Mission accomplished, after all.
What is important
Here I am, shortly after finishing:
Here's Abby coming up the hill for the finish:
I was pretty proud of having executed the most demanding sprint finish of my entire life. I know that my final race time of 26:05 is far slower than my 24:36 of last year, but as far as my effort was concerned, I did give it my all. It's not about how fast I went, but how much I gave of what I had. (Apparently, at the London Olympics, some runner was banned for “not trying hard enough”.)
Abby, in her second Pretty Good Race, ran 2:07 faster than last year, in more difficult conditions. It's really great how she's improved her fitness so much since she started running. It's not about how fast she ran, but how she's improved.
The next race
The next race that I'm already committed to is the Great Race 10K, which I'm signed up already to run for the tenth time. I still need to recover my energy for it, and also let my foot pain go away.
For various reasons, I was not able to run the Pretty Good Race fast this year. But I had an exciting experience anyway and made the most of it.