Ok, to begin with, I certainly expected to be blogging more than this at the beginning of the year. You know what they say about the best laid plans…..
Anyway, on Saturday, May 29th I ran my first in-person race since Thanksgiving Day of 2019. It was an awesome experience to run the 42nd Elizabeth River Run 10K for the third time, but the first time on this particular course. The previous two times that I participated (2017 and 2018) the race was held in Portsmouth, VA. This year, however, the race made its return to Norfolk, VA. Can I just say that running with strangers has never felt so good. It almost felt normal.
Let’s talk about the course itself. This was a point to point 10k. I have to be honest and say that point to point races aren’t my favorite as I’m not a fan of needing a shuttle either before or after the race (if I had my choice I would rather be shuttled to the start). This course would utilize shuttles to get you back to your car after the race (unless of course you chose to take a 3 mile walk back to the parking garage – I did not).
We started on the campus of Old Dominion University and ran about a two mile loop through the neighborhoods around the campus. As we left the campus we began to get a mix of paved trail and regular streets for the next 2-2.5 miles. This was the stretch of the race where we got some time to run right along the water including a trip across the Hampton Boulevard Bridge heading towards the Port of Virginia. The race finally would end up in a private park adjacent to the port.
Now onto how I ran the race. Ten days prior to this event I experience my first ‘old man injury.’ As I was reaching for the shampoo in the shower, I apparently twisted the wrong way and wrenched my back a little bit. This led to me taking the next 4 days completely off from running. Then on race week I ran Monday – Wednesday (slowly) while walking on Thursday and Friday. I really had no idea how my back was going to respond on race day so I went in with a conservative plan and would get even more conservative if I needed to. I made the decision in advance to not get greedy if I was feeling good and just enjoy the race. The last thing I needed to do was set out aggressively and further aggravate the injury and throw off my summer training as I prepare to run the Bird In Hand Half Marathon in September. It also didn’t help that I went into the race carrying a good bit too much weight.
I run using the Jeff Galloway Run/Walk/Run Method so I picked a 1:00 run/0:30 walk interval to begin the race with. I would pull it back if I needed to. As the race started, I was pleasantly surprised at how loose I felt. My back wasn’t bothering me in the least and all in all I felt really good. I was shocked (in a good way) when the first mile ticked off right at 10 minutes. For that interval, a ten minute mile is pretty quick for me, but I didn’t feel like I was pushing. The adrenaline of race day is a double-edged sword. I would pay for that 10 minute mile during the final mile. Runners have a saying: when you bank time at the beginning of a race, you will pay it back with interest. Mile two would be a little bit slower (10:14), although I hit a bit of a log jam during this mile where the paved trail just wasn’t wide to go more than two-wide and I couldn’t get around some folks. No big deal. I told myself that would help keep me from doing anything stupid with my pace. Miles 3 and 4 are actually where I felt I settled into a pretty normal pace for that interval. I ran those two miles at 10:42 and 10:38. Fatigue started to hit towards the latter part of mile 5 (11:10). That would actually be my slowest mile. This wasn’t surprising as a large portion of that mile was the bridge crossing so it involved our only climb of the entire course. The total elevation gain for the run was only 102 feet, but when you train on pancake flat ground, even that can hit you if you’re tired. The final mile clocked in at 11:07 and my pace for the closing section to the finish was actually 9:32. That’s almost certainly because when I started to move into one of my walk breaks, another runner that had been in my vicinity for most of the race encouraged me to keep going and finish strong. Normally, I would have explained that this was my game plan and that I was fine, but to be honest, I was feeling the fatigue and that little push was much needed in the moment. My watch had my finish time at 1:05:29 and my chip time was 1:05:27. This would be my second slowest 10K on record, but I didn’t care at all. Given my back issues I would have been happy with anything under 1:10:00 and I came in well ahead of that.
All in all this was a really good day. This race has always happened on days where it was already in the 80s at start time with the sun beating down on you. Saturday was overcast and mid 70s at start time. Now, it was incredibly humid, but I will still take those conditions over getting baked by the sun as in previous years. This year’s medal and shirt were much better than in years past. I feel like the Tidewater Striders did a great job of putting on this event with constantly fluctuating limitations and restrictions. For those not in Virginia, all of our capacity and distancing restrictions went away the day before the race. While this didn’t mean a larger than planned field it still made for a fun atmosphere both pre and post race. They still started the race in waves which honestly was a good idea even without any Covid precautions because it could have really log jammed in spots during those opening two miles if they hadn’t done that. I think I prefer the Portsmouth course for this race as we got more time along the water over there, but this was still a pretty course and I had a blast participating.