Admittedly, I’m one of “those” runners who always sign up for the longer event option. If there’s a race and it’s offering participants the opportunity to run 26.2, 13.1, 10k, or a 5k, I can all but guarantee that I’ll be running 26.2. Given this, maybe it’s unsurprising that most of my races over the years have been full marathons and half marathons — almost 30 of the former, and a little over 30 of the latter, I think — which is great and all, but it leaves me fairly clueless about how to a) train for short stuff and b) how to actually race short stuff. Like I’ve said before, my usual 5k strategy is go out hard and die a little with each mile and death-march it in, and it’s fairly safe to say that that same strategy extends to other shorter distances as well.
Tangential backstory aside, when I was registering for spring/March short races, I decided to register for an outright 10k — read: a 10k that didn’t involve me pushing the baby in a stroller — for probably the first time in… four years? Five years? The last 10k I can remember running was in Chicago, over Super Bowl weekend, with my friend David and my former student Mustafa, and it was staged out of Soldier Field, where the Bears play. February in Chicago is frigid, and aside from the cold factor, I just remember the aforedescribed “death marching” that I posted in the back part of the race. I distinctly remember going out in the high 6s/low 7s (bwahaha, had no business being there, unless I was literally on fire) and then finishing probably closer to 8s. It was effing bruuuutal. It’s probably not surprising then that I haven’t raced an outright 10k since.
Lam Research sponsored the Heart and Soles 6k and 10k this year, and I’ve been aware of this race for as long as I have lived in SJ, though I’ve never run it. This year’s race changed distances (5k to 6k and 10k) and location (GRT (I think) to Santa Clara, San Jose, and Avaya Stadium) and maybe even race weekend, too. For all intents and purposes, it was like a brand new race to me, so I had nothing to go off in terms of setting some pre-race goals or expectations. The map made me think that it’d be pretty flat, if not also a bit confusing, but I figured the jaunt through Santa Clara University, Avaya, and San Jose should be pretty fun in only the totally sadistic way that short races can be.
After a couple mile warmup and some milling around, I toed the line and eventually found my teammate, Greg, who’d also be running the 10k. We were surrounded by very small children at the starting line, as well as surely a bunch of 6k runners (hard to tell because our bibs all looked the same), and after some remarks from the race staff and my representative, Ro Khanna, who had returned for a Town Hall later that day, we were off. There is something so magical about the start line of a road race, and it’s hard not to be just genuinely happy when you’re nervously awaiting the gun to go off. It gives me goosebumps just thinking about it.
Right out of the gate, my hunch that the race could get tricky later on was verified, particularly when I noticed volunteers on the streets holding signs that said something like “10k first loop” or “10k second loop.” Two loops?! We’re running two loops of something?! Effffffffffffffffffffffff. I put the uneasiness aside and tried to just focus on running comfortably very hard — a fairly unscientific view of what a 10k pace should feel like — and stay amongst the lead group. Right away I noticed a woman who was within reach of me, maybe within a few steps, but for some reason, my gut told me she was doing the 6k, so I purposely didn’t pursue her. Aside from going over a couple highway overpasses, the course was pancake flat as it cut through SC and SJ, just as I had suspected it would be.
Weirdly, running in Avaya Stadium was literally that: running in the stadium. I guess I had envisioned running on the field (I know, I should have known better), but instead, as we entered the stadium around mile 1.5 or so, we literally ran around the inside of the stadium, the part that you’d be walking through if you were attending a game and needed to go pee or go buy a pretzel or something. Hell, there were still bags of trash on the floor from Friday night’s game for the custodial staff! It was still pretty cool to see the field from closely afar, if that makes any sense, but I was also fairly cautious to take things easy because the pavement felt pretty slick in spots. After getting spit out of the stadium around the 2-mile marker, we were back on the city roads in SJ and headed back toward SC.
Things got a little dicey at this part, and I could have fared significantly worse. I really don’t know how to adequately describe it, and based on the course map (and my GPS), I know I went the right way, but basically seemingly out of nowhere, a car appeared on the course, right after or around mile 3. Essentially, we runners were running in one lane (let’s say going east), but then right away we had to make a hairpin turn, run up a ramp (away from our original direction of travel), and hop over a few lanes of traffic to get into a west-bound lane. As I was doing that, I instinctively looked behind me to check my blind spot — even though I couldn’t hear any cars behind me (and I never run with headphones) — and lo and behold, there was a sedan there, just hanging out, NBD, casually stopped mere paces away from me on its own volition, not because a volunteer/cone was there that directed it accordingly. Fortunately, the driver graciously didn’t run my sorry ass over, so I crossed through his/her lane, and then I was safely in the westbound side of (seemingly closed off) traffic. I have no idea what happened here. I didn’t memorize the course map or anything, and I totally get that the onus is on runners to know where they’re supposed to go. How that car got there was beyond me, but since I was literally in the middle of a race, there wasn’t anything I could do about it, save for hoping that no other runners or walkers behind me would encounter a similar issue.
I say this lovingly, as someone who is a huge supporter of local races and as someone who has run hundreds of races by now — what the hell!? I mean, really — what the hell!? How was I almost clipped by a sedan in the middle of a 10k road race!?!?!? That was enough to rattle me for a while, and I couldn’t help but play out all the holy shit, what if I hadn’t looked behind me before crossing over??? hypothetical scenarios in my head. I have no idea what happened here; shoot, maybe traffic was blocked off, but there was some renegade car playing by its own rules that morning. Maybe a cone got moved or something. No idea. It could have been really horrible, like catastrophically horrible, though.
Not long after that, we were back into the thick of the Santa Clara University campus, making our way to the finish line area, and that’s when I saw for sure that the singular woman in front of me was, in fact, running the 6k. I had begun to think around the 6k mark, as we 10k runners began to do a sweep of the other side of the SCU campus, that I might have taken things out too hard earlier; I wasn’t in pain or even real discomfort, necessarily. Retrospectively, I think it was more of a healthy amount of good ol’ fashioned doubt than anything else. I knew with certainty that by the 6k mark I was the first female, and regardless of what my time was, I wanted to try to hold on to that lead, and really fight for it for as long as I possibly could. I didn’t think there were a ton of guys in front of me either, but more than anything, I just wanted to finish the thing as strongly as possible. I had grandiose aspirations of trying to get to as close to 40 as possible — I’d love to go sub-40 in a 10k, but my (marathon) training’s not there for it now — so I tried to proverbially “lean into” the last bit of the 10k, the part that gets really gritty, really fast.
Sometimes I think that trying to transcend or dissociate from racing pain and discomfort is the way to go, but more and more, I’m beginning to think that there’s beauty, strength, and power — of the rawest and unadulterated forms — in acknowledging and working through the mid-race discomfort, doubt, or pain. If given the opportunity to negate any presence of pain/discomfort/doubt or telling it all to go to hell, that I got this, thank you very much, I find it much more empowering to pursue the latter than the former.
Shortly after the 4 mile marker (by my watch — I only saw two mile markers, one at mile 2, and another at mile 5), we were routed through a cul-de-sac type of area that left me literally yelling and motioning mid-race to an officer for direction because it wasn’t obvious where to go. After mile 4, I caught up to a young guy who was doing some weird pogo-like motions while he was running (hey bro, you do you), and he stayed stride-for-stride with me for about a minute, asking me how much more was left of the race. By mile 5, by myself, I began counting down (up) to 6.2, which typically means shamelessly singing children’s songs in my head: the usual favs are ABCs, Old McDonald, or really anything that I can add verse upon verse to (riveting, I know). We looped around what was more or less the backside of the race starting area, and remember those signs that I saw in the beginning, the ones that indicated 10k lap 1/10k lap 2? By the end of the race, as the 10k runners were merging into the 6k runners (or into the 10k runners still on their first loop), those signs signaled that 10k runners — but only those who had already done that loop around the farthest side of campus — had to stay over to the far left side to make the final left turn into the finisher’s chute. If this sounds confusing as hell, it absolutely was, and this race, too, much like SIB, had the same challenge that any multi-distance race has with the merging runners at the tail end of the event. Minor chaos.
I’m proud of myself for fighting until the very finish and posting a 41:09. It amounts to about a 2 ½ minute 10k PR, and I won the females’ side and finished 11th or so overall. My pacing got a bit sloppy, but if nothing else, it’s excellent feedback for my next attempt at this distance. Unfortunately, my teammate, Greg, who was poised to run sub-36, succumbed to the confusing course marking, so he ended up finishing after me and ran an extra mile-plus in the process. :/ Greg and I ran another 5k or so as a cool-down, rehashing the race along the way, and I stuck around for the awards ceremony and for pictures. I was hoping my representative would still be there, but alas, he had bigger fish to fry that morning (and anyway, I got to see him again that day when I attended the Town Hall). Racing in the morning, politics in the evening: good times.
With some logistical changes, this race could be fantastic; minimally, I think better course markings would go a long way. I understand that politically, this was a huge event to coordinate, given it spanned two cities and a professional soccer league stadium, but it’s hard for me to enthusiastically support a race that’s run on city streets that aren’t (or seemingly aren’t) closed off. Again, there’s the possibility that the car I encountered was an anomaly, but it still makes me really nervous. I don’t need a race to charge me an exorbitant fee to participate just so I can get a shirt and a medal; frankly, if it’s up to me, I’d gladly take a race without those offerings, provided that I have the assurance of running on a closed-to-traffic course. (FWIW, this 10k was pretty inexpensive, maybe about $35). Regardless, I had a lot of fun on race morning, and I got the opportunity to race a distance that I haven’t done in many years now, so I’ve little to complain about. If I’m all about getting gritty in the spring, man alive is a 10k an excellent place to do it.
I likely won’t race another 10k until the Marin 10k, a PA race, over Memorial Day weekend. It’s probably good, too, because holy moly, this distance is tricky — or rather, let’s call it “calculated.” It’s got to be harder than HM effort, but not as redlining as 5k effort. You have to have the endurance to cover the distance, but the distance also necessitates a speed and effort that is just taxing as hell. It’s like you can’t allow yourself to get tired because, unlike 5ks, 10ks aren’t over “just in a few minutes” (seemingly). The speed and endurance combination is a fascinating duo to balance, but to me, as someone who is comfortable with the longer stuff, a 10k seems more “manageably difficult” than a 5k. Who knows, though; being nearly a week removed from the race, I might be needlessly romanticizing it and applying a hefty dose of revisionist history to it. Bottom line: 10ks are hard, and very fun, in a sick and twisted sort of way. By the time Marin rolls around, I’ll have already started SF training, but I’ll be looking forward to seeing what I can do in late May, on an also flat course, but with a faster field.
I’ve dedicated my winter training and my spring racing to getting
acclimated, comfortable, or at least not fearful of the shorter stuff. While I maintain that this short stuff has me waving to my Comfort Zone or to my Happy Place from the other side of town, I can absolutely get a glimpse of what makes people of all paces gravitate towards these distances. I’m not ready to hang up my marathon shoes yet, but I think I will be a bit more inviting of these shorter/harder efforts sprinkled through my marathon training from now on.