Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Fast Times & Busted Tendons: Credit Union Cherry Blossom 10 Miler Race Report

After a surprisingly good Pittsburgh EQT 10 miler back in the fall (post-3 months of nothing but epic-long-swim training), I was in the market for another go at the distance. It's just long enough for my liking, but short enough to still be able to hammer the whole time. Most importantly, I wanted to see what I could do with a little run training under my belt. That EQT time turned out to be just good enough to allow me to bypass the lottery for DC's iconic Cherry Blossom race, so I snapped up the seeded entry slot and hopped a bus to DC (note to self: sitting on a Megabus for 7 hours the day before your race is really not the best pre-race activity. Even if it only costs $20.)

The backdrop was beautiful, the weather was perfect, and the course was flat and fast as promised. This is a HUGE race, so I was glad for the seeded start - being in a corral right behind the pro men made it easier to get out at the beginning, although I still ended up going an extra ~0.2 miles weaving around people in the first 3 miles (making up for a slightly shortened race course in the process). Over the past 2 months, I've still only done a small handful of progression and specific-endurance interval runs, trying to simultaneously not screw with my triathlon early-season prep training, so I ran by feel rather than obsessing over specific pace goals. I was surprisingly happy to see myself cruising through the first half of the race in the 5:40s-50s; ideally, I had estimated myself in shape for a finish time of anywhere from 59 - 63 minutes. Sub-60 was that stretch goal where I would finally feel like a legit runner again, and I was more than on target. Sub-62 was used as the "elite" entry standard for Pittsburgh's 10 miler last year, so this was really the range I wanted to be in, and I happily had some buffer room now.

Yeah, proofs. 
Aaaand then things went downhill. The posterior tib and fibula pain that my ortho had looked at just 2 days prior was coming on with a scream and a shout. I contemplated pulling off. But I'm a stubborn idiot, and since two doctors (if you count me) had looked at my MRI and ruled out any bone injury, I continued to talk myself through one mile at a time, watching my pace fall off and feeling frustrated at this lower-leg revolt. Who needs tendons, right? More than anything looking back at this day, I'm not super proud of how I handled myself mentally at this point. I should've made a firm decision when that pain hit that I was either going to stay in the game, stay focused, run my butt off even if I puked from pain at the end, and be prepared to deal with the consequences of that decision, or to just stop.
Instead I ended up in a frustrating mental middle road, where I repeatedly talked myself into and out of running, recognized that I was not fully mentally in it and got mad at myself for that too, wondered why I was doing this to myself vs. wanting that sub-60 finishing time (which I still estimated I could hit even after pain forcing me down to 6:30s the last couple miles), tried to refocus on the very pretty scenery, and just waited for that finish line to come. Which it did, in 59:17 (48th/11,067) and a whole slew of mixed emotions.

I'm so happy with what I accomplished here. Nearly 6 minutes faster than at the EQT (high responder to a little run training right here). Finally self-validation of the "fast runner" that I still am in my head. I needed to know that I could do that still, despite everything. And I'm finally starting to truly believe that I'll be able to continue on this path.

Disappointment at how I handled myself mentally the latter half of the race.

Worry about my peroneal tendons, which were already swelling as I hobbled to the Metro, but also acceptance. I made a conscious decision to keep running on them. My ortho/colleague/surrogate older brother and I both made the best medical decision given the information we had on Friday - which was for me to run - so there's no reason to waste mental resources questioning that. I'm rocking some crutches right now, but that's no one's fault, and the body heals.

Gratitude. It's Ankylosing Spondylitis Awareness month (sign up for Walk Your AS Off!), and I thought about that a lot too while I was struggling - how I would've given anything to be running just a handful of years ago, even through a ton of pain, and it was kind of ridiculous that I was pissed at having to drop off a sub-6 minute mile pace now. Perspective is hard to keep, and it's easy to get greedy.

Similarly, battling ego - how much faster and harder could I have run in those last four miles without that ankle pain? It's hard for me not to wonder that. But there'll be time in the years to come to find that out. Thanks Tim, if you're reading this, for calling me out on this (and for kindly referring to it as "being a perfectionist" rather than ego).

I would love to go back to this race again. I didn't spend enough time being present and enjoying the beauty of the day - we were so lucky to have race day coincide with the actual cherry blossom peak. And I made some wonderful new friends - I stayed the night before with a friend of my little brother's; Michelle and her housemates were above and beyond nice to someone they'd never even met before (nothing like post-race dog therapy, offers of frozen kale for my swelling ankle, and good life conversations to remind you there are good people in the world).

Post-race Washington Monument love.

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  2. Gratitude, ego, mental battles - so much of this resonates for me. Love your "voice" and your recap. Hope you can come back and run this race again next year!

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