What started in the heat of the Northern Virginia summer has nearly reached its conclusion as the leaves turn from red to yellow to brown. Six days from today will enter the one of the green starting corrals at Fort Wadsworth on Staten Island, and at around 9:40 am, start heading for the Verrazano Bridge and Brooklyn. Three hours and twenty minutes later (hopefully, perhaps a few less than that), I will cross a timing mat in Central Park. It will be my seventh overall marathon finish and my first New York City Marathon finish.
Last week was a taper week, the penultimate one of the cycle, and it was a fairly busy one. I kicked it off with one final long run, a 14 miler on the trail near home, then gradually eased off on the intensity throughout the week, all in preparation for yesterday: a final tuneup race.
I did the Marine Corps Marathon 10k, looking to air it out one last time. Going in I figured this would be a perfect benchmark to find out where I really stood for next weekend. So I wanted put out a good, hard effort — but not too hard. As I thought about a goal, I decided that a sub-40 minute time would be a nice stretch goal, as long as I didn’t have to stretch too hard to get it.
I got up in the dark, dressed and quickly had breakfast with the idea in mind of making it to Vienna metro by around 6:15 am, which I did. Not surprisingly when I boarded the train at Vienna, the first stop on the Orange line, it was already packed, mostly with marathoners who would be departing the train at Rosslyn. Then the 10k runners proceeded on to the Smithsonian stop and the start of our race.
I had budgeted quite a bit of time, based probably on my hair-raising metro experience before the National Marathon in 2009, when the metro crawled along so slowly I barely had time to get in the corral before the gun went off. In any case, when I got to Smithsonian grounds there was still over an hour to go before start time. Not sure what to do with myself, and not ready to strip down to my singlet and check my gear bag just yet, I decided to go for a little walk to warm up the legs. So I strolled towards the Capitol for a while, then turned back and found a place to stretch. Finally I felt ready to line up, even though there was still a good 25 minutes until start.
After I nudged my way through the crowds milling around the baggage drop and got in the corral, I still had enough time to do some dynamic warming up and even a few short, quick strides. I chatted with a guy from upstate New York to pass the time and then finally, Miss DC sang the national anthem, the cannon blasted and we were off on a beeline for the 14th Street bridge.
I quickly tried to settle in and find a comfortable pace. It had been a while since I had run a 10k and I wasn’t sure what the first mile might bring. The mile marker came up while crossing the bridge and as I looked down I saw 6:13 on my watch. Um, that’s a little fast, even for someone who wants to run 39 minutes and change. I quickly sought to dial it back, but not too much. I felt a little better as we crossed into Virginia and passed the 2 mile mark while descending the bridge, as I hit 12:41 for 2 miles and felt a little more in control.
We now headed south into Crystal City where the pack started to string out. As we made a quick loop along Crystal Drive I could first see the leaders heading back from it, then after I completed the loop, seeing the masses beginning to swell behind us. Meanwhile I was trying to run efficiently and evenly, and pass people when the opportunity was there. It was in this mile I started seeing a lot of runners who had surged out in front of me in the first mile; now I was catching and dropping them.
Still I could tell I was tiring bit, too, after that hard start. As we hit the 3-mile mark near the Pentagon my split time was 19:19 and I had slowed again to a 6:36 mile. I also knew that Mile 4 would be toughest of the race mentally and that I had to start digging a little deeper. As we proceeded along Jefferson Davis highway and past the Pentagon I could feel the chilly breeze coming off the Potomac and that wind seemed to slow us all down a little bit. I ended up clocking a 6:43 for that mile, which again was too slow, but I told myself it’s OK, I had survived the toughest mile, and now get after it.
Mile 5 continued up the highway and I did start feeling better here. I worked on keeping my cadence quick and holding my form together and that seemed to help me along as I came through in 6:35 for a 32:38 5-mile split. Quick calculations in my head told me a sub-40 was just about out of the question but that a 40-ish time was vey much in reach if I just kept it all together. I didn’t worry about making a final kick in this mile, just about staying strong and running smoothly. Finally I hit the 6-mile mark, stole a quick look at the watch for a final split time (39:19) and it was time to turn up the same hill that the marathoners would soon be scaling for the completion of their race, the famous finish at the Iwo Jima memorial. Despite the uphill grade I felt pretty strong and determined that no one was going to pass me in the final 0.2 miles. I got across the line in 40:45, while not a sub-40, still a very satisfactory result. It was good for 60th overall and 5th place overall in the age group. And actually, it was a master’s PR of sorts, the best time I had run for 10k in a road race (my PR time came in a track time trial).
Once I caught my breath and started making my way back into Rosslyn (for what turned out to be a very long walk to to the baggage truck), I could tell that despite going fairly hard I was still feeling fresh, and with a good taper week ahead I would be ready for next Sunday.
So there it all is. The hay is in the barn. My resume is written. Use whatever metaphoric expression you like. I’m as ready for New York as I can be, and that’s not something I felt I could say even a month ago. It really took a long time to hit my form this fall, but better late than never, I say. Now I just can’t wait to get it on!