Despite feeling completely raced out the last couple of weeks, I couldn't turn down the offer from Simon, of RunColo fame, for a last-minute comp into the Loveland Classic 10k. I ran it last year in a dismally slow time, so figured some redemption might be in order. Not having run a road 10k this year, I was mildly interested to see what my weary legs could produce, assuming my mind could muster the conviction to push through the discomfort of race pace.
A smallish crowd of maybe 200 runners showed up for the 7:00am start, with most looking like they were heading out for a morning jog. A couple of guys looked like they were there to race, so I lined up next to them as we waited for the off. I figured I would drop in behind them through the early going to see where the lead pace would be and how my body would react to the always uncomfortable first few hundred meters of a short road race.
After the gun, a pack of six or seven guys assumed the lead and set the early pace. From my vantage point a few meters back, it looked like two, maybe three of them would hold the pace. By the half-mile point my assumption was correct and I found myself in fifth with a couple of the rabbits quickly dropping back.
Went through the first mile, which was a net downhill, in 5:32 feeling very comfortable. I was pretty surprised to see the split as this pace a couple of weekends back at the Firekracker 5k had felt intolerable. Soon after the first mile, the 5k/10k split came, with just one guy peeling off for the shorter distance. Due to a lack of signage, I almost made a right onto the 5k course before hearing the girl at the intersection shout 10k runners to the left at the very last minute. I hit the breaks, made a quick 180 turn and got back on course. This, as it turned out, would be the first of many examples of what was either a hastily put together race or a race that simply lacked a dedicated race director with an attention to detail ... any detail.
After the split, there were just four guys in the race, with the lead runner about 20 meters up on me, and second and third equally gapped between myself and the lead. The mile two split came in at 5:45, which felt about right and still very comfortable. Considering the relative comfort I was running at, I decided to push the third mile as it gently gained a few feet of altitude. I had soon reeled in third and was sitting on second's shoulder as we went through the third mile in 5:42. Hmm, a possible shot at a 10k PR here, I thought to myself as I did some quick math in my head.
Mile four and five are always weak miles for me in 10k races, so I made a conscious decision as I passed mile three to up the tempo to see what kind of time I could push out. I briefly took up second, with first still a good 20 meters ahead, before running shoulder to shoulder with my competition for the day through the four-mile marker. Despite the extra effort, I assumed I was merely holding pace, so was pretty shocked to see a 5:21 split. There is no doubt in my mind that this mile was short.
Through the fifth mile, I was able to hold a good effort, but it wasn't strong enough to maintain contact with second who was now building a slow but steady lead on me. First place was gone. Mile 5 came in at 5:37 (another surprise) and I was beginning to feel like the course might be short.
Despite second guessing the course markers and whoever measured the course, I continued to push hard up the hill to the finish. Through the final mile, the 10k course rejoined the 5k course and I was supplied with a long line of 5k stragglers to target and pass to keep an honest effort going. To my surprise (yet again), mile six came in at 6:15 on what felt like my biggest effort of the morning. I was now deeply suspicious of the mile markers and the course in general.
By the time the finish-line clock came into focus, it was just ticking from 34-minute territory into the 35th minute, which meant my pre-race goal of a sub-36 was well and truly in the bag. I ended up crossing the line in 35:30, good for a 50 second PR.
Neither of the guys ahead of me had GPS watches on, so I waited around at the finish to see what runners with GPS technology were getting for course length. A survey of four watches confirmed that the course was short: anywhere from 6.10 to 6.14 in total distance. It might not sound like much, but when you've got a good run going and find that the course is short, it kind of deflates the contentment bubble a bit. Then when you find out that the 5k course was a QUARTER MILE long, you just throw up your hands in exasperation.
I hate to complain about a race that cost me nothing, but I feel terrible for the people who stumped up the cash for a compromised racing experience. I knew going in that the course was nothing but frontage and commercial roads - far from inspiring - but I don't typically run road races for the scenery, I run them to get a read on my fitness, and therefore expect an accurately measured course and a competent timing set up.
Taking the average from the Garmins (6.12 miles), I'm gonna call this a 36:00 10k, which according to McMillan is good for not much more than a 2:48 marathon. Although my legs were far from fresh this morning, I've still got a lot of work to do towards my goal for October. If I want a 2:39 marathon in Dublin, I need to be hitting a 16:30 5k, and at least a 34:30 10k. Much work to be done. You'll find me at the track.