redondo beach 10k

rb-10k_logo-2017_copy

When I run a 10K, I’m able to flirt with speed until I’m threatened by a flame out. My training and recovery cover a few weeks instead of months a longer distance demands. And if I balance my endurance with some strategy  I’m rewarded with a strong finish. So it felt natural to begin 2017 at the Redondo Beach 10K. My son Alex, fresh off his first season of cross-country, would be racing with- or more accurately- in front of me.

Redondo Beach 10k - Start

When I ran my first 10K in 2010, I hacked, gagged, and second guessed my way through fifty-plus minutes of agony. Since then I’ve knocked almost eight minutes off my time and finally broke a 7:00 pace at the Manhattan Beach 10K last October. Yet all my races were similarly inconsistent.  I start way too fast only to realize my mistake as I begin to fade between miles two and three. Then after a sequence of desperate speeding up and slowing down I fade again until my ragged and uncontrolled finish. Even during my MB10K PR my mile splits varied by as much as 35 seconds. This time around I wanted to run the complete package. I just wasn’t sure how to go about doing it.

Coincidentally I started subscribing to McMillan Running’s, Tuesday Training Tips, newsletter and one of the first articles I read was “The Best 10K Workout.”  A Cliff’s Notes summary:  build up to running a 3 x 2 mile workout with each interval at 10K pace. The splits will predict your race pace, 100% guaranteed.  Redondo Beach 10K was scheduled for the first weekend in February so I began my training cycle just after Christmas, during Southern California’s brief winter. I ran most of my workouts during the chilly predawn and my final predictor run started on a bracing frosty morning. It almost did not start at all because I crawled back into bed when I saw the temperature. I forced myself back out because delaying the run would not give me enough recovery time for the race. As I  journeyed to Griffith Park I tried not to dwell on the workout since the whole point was to use the performance as a no-nonsense pace predictor.

Winter gear in L.A. amounts to a long-sleeved running shirt, gloves, and chapstick- usually enough to keep me toasty until I’m a few miles into my run and properly warmed up. But not today. My gear quickly failed me and my fingers went numb followed by my toes and feet. Two miles later, I began my intervals. After the first mile I forgot about the cold and concentrated on my breathing and cadence. I averaged 6:35 for the first set and cursed myself for going out too fast. 6:50 was what I expected and I was worried about repaying my enthusiasm during intervals two and three. I managed another 6:35 over the next two miles but struggled to keep up. With one more set to go I dialed back my expectations and convinced myself to just finish the workout. My final interval was indeed slower but not by much. I finished at  6:40. I was spent and somewhat dazed throughout the day, so I knew I completed the workout without holding back. According to the plan, I would  run my 10K between a 6:35 and 6:40.

predictor_splits

Now I had a week and a half to recover, taper and find reasons to doubt my results. The weekend before the race I did some recon that included the 10K course as part of my long run: hillier than I expected. The last mile was net downhill and I hoped to reach it with enough gas left for a strong kick. As race day approached I sorted out my strategy. Plan A was to match my workout pace and prove the experiment a success. If I miscalculated, I might be able to get a new PR- a worthy Plan B. And if I completely fell apart I could try to break 7:00, a salvageable Plan C.

Sunday morning arrived with perfect running conditions, cool and overcast. After a banana and some loosening up Alex and I ran 2.5 miles to the starting line, enough to get us warmed up and ready for the race. I said hi to a few locals and then it was time to line up for the anthem and starting horn.  I moved up to the front since there were over 2000 other racers and I wanted to avoid getting bunched up too early. We started on time and my plan worked. The pack stretched out after the first quarter mile. Mile 1 was a blur and when I heard dozens of watches beeping I looked at my own watch: 6:30. Too fast but most of the speed came when I broke free at the starting line. I settled into the race and held a steady effort for the next three miles. I was so focused on my breathing and pacing that I did not pay attention to any of the other runners. My 5K split was 20:36, two seconds away from my 5K PR. Somebody was playing “Highway to Hell” from their window, and I was trying to maintain good posture to keep my hips loose. That’s about all I remember before reaching mile five. I still felt strong and started to build up to my kick. I began checking my watch: 6:40 became 6:25 and then 6:15. With less than a mile to go I tried to hold my faster pace. I knew I was in the running for Plan A.
Just then, somebody yelled, “Cheeseburger Hill!” and my plan was under attack. What was a short climb when I practiced the course seemed to stretch out forever. I made it to the top- the hill was only a block or two- but my heart rate was out of control and it took longer than I wanted to regain my racing form. I soldiered on and built up to a sprint for the final quarter mile. I spied the finish line and passed some other runners, even a couple of Alex’s teammates. Just before crossing, somebody sped past me but I didn’t care since I had just run my best 10K ever.
race_splits
When the dust settled, I ran a 41:46, over a minute faster than my previous PR and a 6:38 pace- EXACTLY what the workout predicted. I was happiest about my splits which remained steady for the entire race. I finished 59th overall and 7th in my age group (the guy who passed me got 6th), while Alex ran a 41:22 and won the under 14 division. Needless to say, I am sold on the 10K workout and I hope to try again later this year. 6:38 is close enough to 6:30 that a flatter course might get me under. I’ve begun training for my next race, a trail half-marathon, but I’m itching to take on the 10K soon.
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