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.
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.
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.