This weekend I raced in Venice Beach, Florida for the first time and an early gamble to the game plan paid off. Here I will share my experience racing at the Ironhead Half Marathon (including 10k & 5k distances) with my daughter, Morgan, and teammate Dylan Nolan along with great support from Lauren Nolan and Lachlan Shiver.
I chose this race to compete in to gage where my current 10k pace was in preparation for the first run at the Duathlon National Championships held in late May. I would race the 10k while Morgan and Dylan competed in the 5k distance. Based on where I was on this day would give me an idea of the work ahead to get faster. I haven’t raced many 10k’s in the past and most of them had been in duathlon races vs. run only competitions. I need as many opportunities to learn and test 10k race strategies and fitness as possible.
My last 10k run race was almost a year ago at the Best Damn Race (BDR) in Safety Harbor, Florida where I ran a personal record (PR) 40:22 equating to a 6:30 per mile pace. When planning my race this weekend I went through my data via Garmin and it showed a 6:32 per mile pace at the BDR race. With my current training fitness and this data I determined my goal for the race would be the 6:32 pace coming out about an overall time of 40:30. I then identified a goal for each mile with the first being the overall goal pace for the race (6:32).
My nutrition over the days leading up to the race was fantastic but subpar for my standards over the last several weeks. I am at a point in my yearly plan where I eat some junk food. Nothing from an animal but indulgences have been around and I’ve been ok with that far from an important race. I actually dial up my nutrition compliance to the next level starting today and then again in about five weeks to the cleanest form of a whole plant foods diet I go in preparation for the national championships. It’s a a competitive advantage to be plant-based but even within a plant-based lifestyle there are ways to increase compliance to be able to push the body harder and faster when eating cleaner.
When the horn went off to start the race I took off fast as I normally do and began settling in a quarter to half mile into the first mile. As I was going through this my pace was very fast compared to plan. After settling in at the half mile mark and through the end of the first mile I was still running at a fast pace but felt fully under control of my breathing and legs. I ended the first mile at 6:07 equating to 25 seconds faster than the goal pace. I knew in the moment that was too much of a gap in a 10k distance race and I would probably regret it later in the race but I quickly reminded myself about the big picture. This race was to help me learn in preparation for nationals so anything that happened would be great learning. I quickly erased the seed of regret out of my mind and agreed to keep running with the feel of being under control and listen to my body while being realistic I could not hold that pace for another 5.2 miles I knew for sure.
As I was closing out mile two I was still feeling really good and running fast at a 6:21 pace which was 11 seconds under my overall goal pace. That meant I was already 36 seconds total under my overall goal time after mile two if I just held a 6:32 pace the rest of the way. But I didn’t think that way in the moment. At that point I recalibrated in my head that a 6:25 pace would be my new target per mile pace. Through mile three I knew the tough miles were coming with mile four being the most mentally grueling from memory. I ran mile three at a 6:19 pace and still felt I was under control. I was in a good amount of discomfort but it was good discomfort and that was countered with excitement that I had potential for something special going on.
I knew mile four would be the make or break mile and it was. I fell off of my pace a bit at the beginning of the mile and then implemented a technique I use to get some speed back when slipping in a race and it worked. After a quarter mile or so into mile four I was getting faster again. As the pace got faster it built confidence that a sub-40 minute 10k was within reach. It made managing the increasing discomfort manageable. I finished mile four at a 6:26 pace meaning it was still six seconds under my original goal pace and for that mile in my pre-race plan it was 16 seconds faster.
In mile five all I kept chanting to myself was my go to mantra deep into races, “keep chuggin’, keep chuggin’, keep chuggin’, give yourself a chance, give yourself a chance.” Just keep fighting to give myself a chance to get my goal late and anything could happen. During this mile I also thought to myself I may never have a chance to run a 10k under 40 minutes ever again and this WAS in reach and to not let the opportunity go. My mental game was ON. I was not going to let the opportunity go. I finished mile five with a 6:21 pace. It was within reach…
During mile six I kept chuggin’ through the discomfort turning to pain in the last half mile. At 5.70 miles I could feel my quads quiver a bit but more disturbing was my head was getting a bit fuzzy. I thought I was beginning to run out of fuel (bonk) but knew I just had to hang on for a half mile. When there was only .2 miles left I just instinctively started my final kick and the legs responded. My legs felt so smooth going into the final turn to the finish line. After the turn I just knew it was going to be a special time and kicked into one final sprint gear and the legs responded one last time.
I crossed the finish line and quickly turned left where I could go down to a knee and either vomit or get my breathing back. I looked at my watch and with extreme satisfaction as I saw – 38:55. This was a minute and a half faster than my goal and not only did I run under 40 minutes but under 39 minutes. I was stunned in a way and just full of joy. It doesn’t happen often after a race that I’m just full of joy about what transpired as usually there are so many opportunities for improvement but I’m not sure I could have done anything different during the race to be faster. I gave absolutely everything my body had and my mind was in the right mental state to fight. My gamble paid off early in the race listening to my body and leveraging past race experiences. Sometimes the gamble doesn’t work and it’s ok.
What made this special was Lauren coming quickly to greet me and share in the joy followed by Morgan and Dylan who just finished their race. They explained how they crushed their 5k race as Dylan set a PR by five seconds running a 16:10 and winning the overall race. Morgan ran faster than any road race she had competed in for years running a 20:29 and winning overall female. It was one big celebration!
Morgan, Dylan, Lauren and I went out for a cool down run on the course. As we went out a mile and then another back we shouted words of encouragement to countless racers still running the half marathon. That brought us as much pleasure as we know how it feels on the receiving end. Smiles were going back and forth from the racers and us. We shared our race experiences with each other and at one point Dylan climbed a palm tree and snagged two coconuts. I think I could have run another 10 miles with them as sharing the experiences we just had was invigorating.
This was a small race in the grand scheme of things in Venice Beach but for my heart it was a big deal. I got to spend the day with very special people, do something I love, and accomplish something I may never do again. I do not take this lightly. As I have shared in my story previously, I have prioritized living my life in the moment with amazing people and making it about experiences while being healthy. You never know what happens in life…live it now!
At 52 years of age, I am proud to run a 38:55 10k and know eating a plant-based diet allows me to push my body and mind in training and races to these efforts. I can’t tell you how different I feel pushing these boundaries compared to when I was consuming animal products. My body is working for me, not against me. That is icing on the cake. The cake is knowing I am fueling my body and mind optimally so I can live life to its fullest for many years to come with the people I love.
I hope you can resonate with any part of this in some way, competing in a race or competing in life in some other way…
– Add Health to Your Life