As I lined up at the start for the Hills Are Alive 10K, I was looser than I’ve ever been for a race. I had just returned from a two week vacation, I did not have a goal in mind, and I was running with my son Alex who recently joined his high school cross country team. I wanted to enjoy the day and have fun.
This was my third time running. In 2010 I ran my very first 10K here and ran again in 2011. Any race with “hills” in its name that takes place in a city with “hills” in its name was going to be a challenge and today’s race did not disappoint:
In addition to the elevation changes, the Hills 10K follows horseback riding trails that are uneven, gravelly, and liberally covered with manure. There are two tunnels along the way that get pitch black in the middle, and conditions were hot and dusty. A worthy test indeed.
At the same time, it is a very pretty race. It’s hard to imagine a 10K in the middle of Los Angeles that feels like it belongs out in the country.
After the first half mile, the trail establishes itself and winds its way through the city of Rolling Hills.
After 5.5 miles of up and down terrain, the route loops back for a final downhill sprint to the finish.
Back to the race. As the starter counted down from 10 seconds, Alex and I shared a quick fist bump and readied ourselves. When the starting horn sounded, I tried to find some open space to avoid the dust but the path was already narrow. After the first quarter mile I was clear and tried to find a comfortable stride. I felt slow and decided to maintain my opening pace while enjoying the experience. When my watch beeped at mile one I was running at 7:06- way too fast. I needed to slow down and the approaching hills were ready to help me.
We hit the first tunnel and as it got darker I tried to maintain my stride while avoiding rocks and potholes. I felt like I was running and tip-toeing at the same time. I made it through unscathed and returned to the trails.
Miles two and three were up and down, but mostly up. I settled into what felt like a steady effort since the hills prevented me from holding an even pace. During my previous two races, the ascents destroyed me and left me gasping as I headed downhill. But today, I felt more composed and as I crested each new hill I was able to accelerate on the descent. After three miles I felt like I was in a groove and decided to maintain my effort for the rest of the race.
The second half ended up being some of my best running ever. I focused on my effort, pace be damned. I did not realize until later that I held a solid 7:10 pace and finished with a negative split and course record. As I caught my breath, Alex crossed the finish line and it was even more rewarding watching him race. After water and orange slices we were ready to head home, tired but satisfied with our results.
This was a great race for me. I conquered a tough course and built confidence for my goal 10K in October. After so many positive-split 10Ks it was awesome to experience a negative-split. Over the next six weeks I’ll be focusing on the Manhattan Beach 10K and training optimistically. I learned that running for fun can be really fun. I want to remember this lesson when I take on a longer distance like the half or full marathon.