I have only one strategy when it comes to 10ks: Go out fast and hang on.
I'm pretty sure this isn't how you're supposed to race a 10k. I've definitely never successfully done it -- I always positive split. My tricks to help me hang on as long as possible are mostly psychological:
- Pick off as many people as I can, especially in the last 3 miles.
- DO NOT, and I repeat, DO NOT look at the watch.
- KNOW NOTHING. ASK NO QUESTIONS. DO NO MATH.
Well, I could tell I was doing well at the beginning and thought it might be my day to PR. I had given no thought to pacing or strategy, planning to (again) race entirely on effort. (See #2 & 3 above). Then I realized the volunteers at the mile markers were calling out splits. "7:10," someone yelled as I rounded the first mile marker. "That means nothing," I thought, and put it out of my head. "You always go out stupid fast at the beginning, so just forget you even heard that." And I did, more or less. It wasn't until another volunteer did it again at mile 3: "22:40!" I almost yelped with excitement. My 5k PR is 23:11, so I knew I was holding a great pace.
I spent miles 3 and 4 hunting down whichever woman was in front of me and trying to pass her. I stayed with one woman for almost an entire mile. She looked really strong and I thought I'd never pass her. When I finally did (toward the end of a long climb) she told me I looked great, and I thanked her and said I'd been pacing off of her for at least a mile. It was so nice of her to encourage me, because I was quite obviously trying to pass her, and she had been trying to hang on to her position for just as long. "Constructive competition" is a new concept in my life and I was so grateful to her for that moment.
But as soon as I passed her, I found myself alone with no one to pace off of. I saw a dude in a blue Fleet Feet shirt far ahead of me and I focused on reeling him in, even though it seemed impossible. I could hear the loudspeaker announce the first place woman, and for a moment I thought maybe the finish line was right around the corner. I thought maybe I had miscounted beeps on my watch and I was nearly done. I pushed as hard as I could through mile 5, alone until I finally picked off the guy in the blue shirt. I relaxed for a moment and started looking for the finish line, until I saw his shadow gaining on me. I knew he had come back from the dead and was trying to pass me back. I couldn't believe it. This is such a gendered thing, in my experience -- so many dudes I've passed simply refuse to let it happen and fight ridiculously hard to defend their position. I'm not sure I've ever raced with a woman who so completely refused to let me pass her in this way. I was annoyed when he passed me back, but I had nothing left to get in front of him again.
We ran down a little decline and on to the track, where I saw James (who ran next to me for a minute), and then this drill sergeant type barking at everyone who passed. "Faster! Stronger! You have more left than that!"
Then I was finishing, clock time 47:33, a 26-second PR, beating my time from the Chi-Town 10k back in March.
Afterward, we lingered and sampled the coffee (Carrboro Coffee Roasters) and post-race snacks. I had my left leg looked at by the people at Proaxis Therapy. It felt like "shin splints," but the woman who looked at it said it was muscular, and released a giant knot on the inside of my shin. It felt wonderful , so I'm thinking about maybe treating myself to a sports massage before my marathon.
Other details about the race: It's a nice rolling course through Carrboro neighborhoods. It's kind of an institution in Carrboro, and it's a really fast crowd because the Cardinal Track and Fleet Feet clubs come out and do it. And afterward, you can go get breakfast at the Weaver St. market.
PRs all around!
While I feel great that I have a new PR on a tougher course (in the middle of marathon training, too) I immediately McMillan Calculated my new "equivalent effort" for the marathon. At some point, I know I should forget these race calculators, do some intensive self-study, and commit to running whatever pace makes me feel most confident. Whatever strategy I end up with, I'm glad to know I'll be going into the marathon fresh off of this PR.