Last year, the Annapolis 10 Miler was cancelled due to Hurricane Irene. This year, for at least a little while, it was probably raining nearly as hard anyway. The Annapolis 10 miler is a rather challenging late summer race known for its hills, and hot weather. It is certainly no Cherry Blossom or Army 10 Miler in terms of competition, giving wannabes like myself a chance to "live the dream."
I ran this race once before in what feels like a different life now. In 2009 I ran a a 1:11:08 and came in 227th place. It wasn't exactly a good day, but I specifically remember trying for a sub 1:10. I also remember, while dying in the heat, wondering and dreaming what it would be like to start up front and duke it out for a top spot. I had my work cut out for me....
Fast forward to this year, and I was hoping for a 57:00 or under time, though once the weather was not ready to cooperate, I was willing to just get close to 57. The forecast was for relatively cool, though somewhat humid low 70s at the 7:45 start. Though, while driving down from Baltimore, I hit some nasty, nasty storms as in the kind where you can't see where you're driving.
I got to the race early, by 6:15 and had a lot of time to kill before having to warm up. The rain was coming and going, occasionally picking up. There was some lightning as well, which made me fearful they would call the race (I really wanted to run!). I checked the radar on my phone, and saw that it looked like the rain would break sometime before the race, but that we were likely to get slammed again during the race.
Right around 7:25, the rain had slowed to a drizzle and I got my warmup in. It actually felt pretty comfortable out, all things considered. Of course, it was no use keeping my feet dry before the race, as my shoes were water logged pretty quickly. I made my way to the front, and we were off right at 7:45.
The rain held off early, though of course the roads were covered in water and puddles. #1 and #2 quickly took the lead, never to be seen again. On long straights early, I could see them (and the lead vehicle), but it was clear 3rd place was the one up for grabs.
Mile 1 and 2: 5:39, 5:51
Mile 2 was definitely long. On the whole, I did what I wanted to do, go out at 5:40 pace. I was alone for a little bit until two guys caught up to me (an army and a navy guy, apparently there was a competition between academies going on). I opted to tuck in with them so we could work together as long as possible.
We meandered through downhill Annapolis, which I caught glimpses of as we powered through the early miles. I remembered 2009, running 7 minute, surrounded by other runners, and how different this experience was with a wide open road, running just over 10mph. I let myself savor it for a moment, but quickly got back to business.
As we approached mile 3, the rain started picking up. Before long, the stuff was coming down in buckets. It reached the point where breathing forced water into your nose and mouth, making it a bit difficult to stay in rhythm.
Regardless, we pushed forward for what was clearly a short mile 3:
Mile 3(?): 5:15
If only 5:15 was that easy. With the rain and the two guys I was with, the pace didn't really matter, and we were doing a good job at staying honest. Though, I could tell the Navy guy was having the easiest time of the three of us. I was definitely working the hardest, but did my best to hide it. If you can fake it long enough, interesting things can happen.
As we approached the Severn River, and the notoriously steep US Naval Academy Bridge, the rain had peaked, coming down so hard and so fast that we were basically running through a water fall. As we started climbing the bridge, and got more and more exposed, the wind started whipping around like crazy. I saw the mile 4 marker right before the wind blew it over...
Mile 4: 5:48
Not bad for running uphill in whipping wind with torrential rain. None of us could even see where we were going. In fact, it was impossible to even look forward with all the rain falling. There was only one way to go though, so we just pushed on.
Over the top we went and back down the other side. The next few miles of the course would prove tough, with constant unforgiving rolling hills. The rain finally started subsiding, and by mile 6, nearly stopped all together. I think we were all sick of it anyway.
Mile 5(?): 6:05
Terrible placement of mile markers, but we were holding steady. The Army guy's shoe came untied and he opted to stop and tie it, leaving just me and the Navy guy for a little while. Though, the army guy actually managed to catch back up.
We ran uphill for what felt like forever, eventually hitting the next mile.
Mile 6: 5:45
Next up would be the hardest part of the race, a turnaround. After turning around, we'd go back the way we came, taking the short way back to the start at the Navy Memorial Stadium. I hate turnarounds, and this one was no different. We hit a big downhill, and at the bottom, made the slick and slow turnaround, only to have to run back uphill.
That move broke me. I lost the race for 3rd in that moment, as Army and Navy guy pulled away. I refused to just give up though, and knew if I could just stick around, maybe I could pull this out.
Mile 7: 5:40
Not bad for getting broken I guess. As we turned back onto the main road, still combating the rolling hills, I got passed by a guy in Maryland flag shorts. I was still struggling to hold myself together, and couldn't stay with him.
Though, as we approached that horrid bridge for another go, all the tempo miles I've been doing on the track finally kicked in, and I started feeling better.
Mile 8: 5:51
I could see that Army guy was dropped by the Navy guy and was fading fast. Flag shorts passed him, and then there was me, not too far back. With the help of encouragement from the rest of the racers, since we were heading back, I started picking it up.
I turned onto the bridge, to be greeted by a wall of people that was the rest of the race still coming out. Then, I noticed there was a gap on the right side. Some people were coming down on the sidewalk, and everyone else was staying left. No where else, do I have the power to split a sea of people like that!
I powered up the bridge, focused very intensely on Army guy and Flag shorts ahead of me. At one point, someone still going out came off the sidewalk right into my path, only to be pulled back up by her fellow runners who said "don't get in his way!!" Good for her, because I likely would have just bowled right over her. I had a serious case of tunnel vision at that point.
We crested the hill and I realized that Flag shorts was going to get away, as he was opening up his stride, but Army guy was continuing to fall back to me. I could catch him, but it was going to hurt. I took half a stride to collect myself, and proceeded to hammer the downhill of the bridge as hard as I could.
Ever so slowly, the gap was decreasing. I eventually noticed something was going on with my left foot. All the rain had caused my foot to slide all over inside my shoe, and the bottom of my heel and big toe felt real gritty, like skin was coming off. I couldn't be bothered by such things at this point though.
Mile 9: 5:34
The gap was closing as we made the turn onto the final straight. Spectators were shouting at me to catch the guy, and I knew I was close enough that he could hear it. With about 2 minutes to go, I finally established contact. I knew the course was going to end on a section with soggy grass, and a slight uphill. A sprint to the finish would be a blood bath.
So I took the lessons of my high school coaches to heart, paused for a moment, then in my head shouted "go" and I blew past the guy without hesitation. Turns out he was only 16 years old, so let that be a lesson to him for future races!! With no chance to respond, I gaped him and took 5th place right there. It was a good thing too, because the last little bit sucked!
Mile 10: 5:53
Final result: 57:17 gun time, 57:19 chip time, 57:20 on my watch. Somewhat annoyingly, they did overall place on chip time rather than gun time. Although I was the 5th person across the line, my actual place was 7th. The Army guy is shown ahead of me in the results, but we both know who won and someone else who started real far back had a faster time... Overall should be by gun time (by the way) because it absolutely matters if a runner is there to influence the race.
In any event, clearly a monumental improvement over my previous A-10 time, and a time that given the conditions and course, is right where I need it to be, near my PR. My goal in this training cycle is not to get faster, but to maintain so I can go in with the fitness I already have and run a respectable marathon. So far, so good.
For my efforts, I did win the 25-29 year old age group. And regardless of my 5th or 7th place, I'll take it out of 3800+ finishers.
A couple of pictures: