Back on March 22, I raced the Merge Records 25k, a one-time race to mark Merge Records's 25th anniversary. I was excited to run a point-to-point course from Chapel Hill to Durham, and took advantage of the unusual race distance to get in a supported long run without feeling pressure to "RACE race" it.
We got on shuttles in Durham, which drove us to the start. Once there, we had more than enough time for coffee, talking with strangers, and sitting around. Instead of the typical, horrible Jock Jams fare, a DJ was playing music from Merge artists. Maybe because of that, or because the race was small and chill, I felt really relaxed and happy. I hadn't worked out a goal pace or time for this race, so I decided to treat it as a GMP long run. The problem, of course, is that I don't really have a "goal marathon pace, so I further abstracted my race plan to "just running sort of hard-ish, but consistent splits."
I also hadn't paid much attention to the course. I looked at it just once when it first came out, curious about which roads we'd be running on, and checked the elevation the week before. I was very happy to see that it looked like a net downhill, but it didn't really register just how few flat parts there were. At the start, someone told me that they heard the course was "really tough," which made me a bit nervous but excited. After all, I wanted to get in a tough long run before Kentucky.
The start was wonderful: No fanfare, no songs, just a quick "Go!" and we were off. I started with James and Jamie. James and I parted in the first mile, and I lost Jamie around mile 4 or so during one of the steep downhills. She's a machine up the uphills but I'm reckless down the downhills, and there were lots of downhills. At a few points, especially that long downhill in mile 6, I thought I would lose control of my legs and tumble over myself.
I never really made the decision to not use my Garmin, but after running a half dozen or so miles and realizing I hadn't checked it at all, I decided that not looking at was working for me and continued running by feel for the rest of the race. I'm glad I did, because I slowed a lot on the uphills and, had I known, I might have gotten discouraged. My Garmin shows I struggled up some of the hills, but my experience of the race was that I was running really comfortably, just chilling, even up the steepest parts.
Around the 15k, the crowd started to thin out. And in the last 6 miles or so, I started passing what felt like a lot of people. I wish I could say I'm motivated by something cool and zen-like, like the pursuit of runner's high, but the truth is that nothing in the world motivates me more than passing people in the back half of a race.
It was a small race with only about 800 runners, so I thought I might have a chance of breaking the top 10 in my AG (spoiler alert: nope!), so I zeroed in on whomever was in front of me and did my best to go after them.
I absolutely loved running down Duke and looping around to Motorco. I finished as strong as I could, then ran back along the side of the course to cheer James up the last hill (I had missed Jamie's finish when I was getting finisher's food/pint glass). The sun came out and it was great to see so many neighbors cheering everyone on. We (and everyone else, seemingly) stuck around afterward for food truck brunch and music.
I loved this race and I'm bummed that it probably won't happen again (though there was joking about putting on a marathon next year, for their 26 (.2) anniversary.
I'm so happy with my race and so glad the course forced me to run up and down all of those hills. (I have gotten pretty good at finding hill-free routes.) I stuck to a medium-ish effort and was pleasantly surprised by my time and my splits, on what was, despite the net downhill, still a pretty challenging course.
I had been playing with the idea of ~8:40 as my "marathon goal pace," so it was a dream to see that I had, without any Garmin-checking, run a strong 8:40-ish pace 25k four or five weeks out from race day in a race setting. Here's to hoping I see ten or so more of those on April 19!