Tuesday, October 09, 2007

RR: 2007 Army Ten Miler

BLOGGERS NOTE: My heartfelt condolence go out to the friends and family of the Virginia and Chicago runners who died during their races this past Sunday. May you find comfort in knowing they were doing what they enjoyed in life when they passed.

2007 Army Ten Miler Race Report: HOOAH!! HOT AND SUNNY DAY TO RUN

This would be my third running of the Army Ten Miler and my slowest and hottest, by far. My sister Heather came up to run the event and our plan was to run the Army Ten Miler and then run the 10 miles home to make it our last long run (20 miles) before the Marine Corps Marathon. Mother Nature failed to tell us that she had other plans for us this past Sunday.

Heather and I started our ATM weekend with a training session with the CANCER to 5K Team and then headed to the expo with my good friend Keri to pick up our numbers, swag and a few extra goodies at the expo. The expo was followed by a great lunch of crepes and croissants at a French Bistro and then an afternoon of lounging around. Later we went to dinner with the BIG CATS, a myspace running group that my sister is part of. Dinner was at Paulo's Italian Restaurant in Georgetown and it was a great time and good company. After dinner, we packed up our post-race gear for Jim to sherpa to the Finish Line (cell phones, water bottles and extra gu/clif blocks) for us and got to bed early. Ready for the long fun day ahead.

RACE DAY: Early to Rise: 5AM - UGH!

Heather and I woke up early and headed to the Metro at 6AM. After 20 minutes we were at the Pentagon, where we ran into an old friend Karen S. Karen and I had not seen each other regularly since October 2002 - the first time we both ran the Army Ten Miler! It was a fun and unexpected reunion to see each other 5 years later at the same race that was both our first-ever 10 mile race!

We all had purple bibs so we wandered to the start line and walked the HALF MILE to our start corral! WHAT?? We were the last wave and they had us on the freaking exit ramp of I-395. There were lots of jokes among the runners about being so far back that now we were running the Army *Eleven* Miler. We ran into one of my Cancer to 5K Pace Leaders, Arnetta, who was also racing and we stood and chatted and waited out the countdown to race start. After about a 2 hour wait, at 8:20AM, our wave finally found ourselves in sight of the start line! With the boom of a canon - after quick hugs! We were off and running.

Heather and I are different paces but all in all we had very similar race experiences. Heather started from the back with the rest of the purple bibs and proceeded to work her way through the masses. With an average 8:50 minute per mile running pace, she should have been several waves ahead for the start. We still don't know how she ended up with a purple bib but she was a good sport. She said she found it hard at first, and she found herself elbow to elbow with people right up until mile 4. I can't even imagine how many people that means she managed to pass in the first 35 minutes of her race but it must have been thousands.

In contrast, I was well seeded in that last wave, and I just settled into a steady pace of run/walking intervals and took note of the runners around me, picked a group of 3 woman (the Shake & Bake Girls) and determined that I would not let them out of my sight, the entire race. Things went well up through the first 3 miles. Just prior to Mile 4, I took my first GU and ducked into a Port-O -Potty for a quick pit stop. Just past Mile 4 and the second water stop, the course moves down Independence Avenue along the National Mall. This is the point in the course that is out and back so you get a chance to see the entire race field no matter your place in the pack.

Because of my little stop, I had lost my "Shake & Bake Girls" and was simply focused on catching up, one person at a time. I was also looking for my sister Heather and friends Karen and Keri, since I knew they would be coming the other way. I never saw Heather but I did see Keri and Karen. It was about this time that the front runners started telling the back of the pack runners that there was "NO WATER AT THE MILE 6 WATER STOP". At first I thought - BAH - these folks are cranky but then person after person began relaying the same message to the BOP. NO WATER AT 6 MILES.

Now I am no stranger to being a the back of the pack, I know that I tend to need more water than most in a race and as luck would have it, I had bought my water belt to this race. I originally brought it as a chance for Heather and I to get water PRE-RACE since I knew we would wait an hour to an hour an a half before the race began. I didn't expect to need it on this race. It was a total blessing in disguise!

When I heard more and more runners saying "NO WATER AT MILE 6" I made a quick decision. We were running along the National Mall, surrounded by National Monuments and the Smithsonian Museums. There were food vendors nearly every 300 feet. I quickly found the next vendor on the side of the road, took a detour and pulled out my *in case of emergency* $20 bill that I always carry with me with I bike or run and bought myself a bottle of water. I quickly dumped the water in my water bottle - briefly saw Karen and was able to offer her some water - and then yelled, "Anybody need water?" for about a 1/2 a mile until a faster runner on the opposite side of the road gladly took the half a bottle of water I had left. *that was my good race karma moment for the day*

When we finally got to Mile 6 and the water stop, the soldiers there were doing what they could. They had Gatorade Concentrate and they were giving it to the runners in 1 ounce shots. I took a shot, and squirted water from my water bottle into the cup, mixed it up and swallowed it down! YOWZA! That was some tangy stuff but it was better than nothing by far!

Apparently, even my sister Heather, nearly 45 minutes ahead of me in the race, also got the "Gatorade Concentrate Shot" and by Mile 7 she was having some stomach distress between the Gatorade and the GU and oncoming dehydration from the heat. Luckily enough, Mile 8 had plenty of water and while she continued to have stomach issues, she was able to tough it out to the finish line in 1:37:52. After crossing the finish line, dazed and little disoriented, Heather smartly found a patch of shade and proceeded to drink 3 bottles of water while waiting 45 minutes for my race finish.

As Heather was finishing her race, I had just passed the 7 mile mark, seen some of my Cancer to 5K Team who came out to spectate and cheer runners on and was working my way steadily towards the 14th Street Bridge and Mile 8. The Army Ten Miler enforces a race pace of 15:00 minute miles and a deadline of 10:30AM to "beat the bridge" - very similar to the Marine Corps Marathon. My goal for this race was simple - keep my pace under or at 14:00 per mile (the cutoff for Marine Corps Marathon) and make the bridge cutoff with some cushion. I hit the Mile 8 Water STOP (which was well stocked when I got there with Water and Gatorade) at roughly 10:15 with 1:52:03 elapsed race time on my chrono timer. At this point, I knew that if I could stay steady, I would finish close to my goal of 2:15, well within the pace goals I set for myself.

What I was not expecting (although I should have remembered it from past Marine Corps Marathon experience) was the oppressive heat and the "death march mentality" of my fellow runners on the 14th Street Bridge. This part of the course, the last two miles, is run on the HOV lanes of I-395. It is 2 miles of hot highway over the Potomac River, on a day with temperatures of 88 degrees and clear blue sunny skies. In those conditions, the asphalt tends to radiate heat at nearly 10 degrees higher than the air temps, making for a sauna effect. Imagine running 2 miles in a 95 degree sauna....

The moral on the bridge, amongst the Back of the Pack Runners was non-existent. It was so quiet - too quiet really. I tried to tune out the negative vibes and simply stick to my plan. My eyes scanning the distance for those "Shake & Bake Girls" and slowly passing my fellow runners, taking small sips from my water bottle. It helped that around this time, I ran into Greg, my friend Keri's husband, who was paralleling the course on mountain bike! He gave me a big cheer and a high five and told me I was looking good, to keep it up! That was a big boost!

Just prior to mile 9, I saw the hint of blue that I had been looking for! It was the "Shake & Bake Girls" and they were walking. That was just the motivation that I needed to keep my slow jog up. As I pulled up behind the girls and we passed the Mile 9 marker, I heard one of them say "Last Mile Ladies, We run it in!"

"Well all right! That is fine with me!!", I thought to myself and I tucked in quietly behind them and ran into the finish with them. As we headed down the exit ramp and around the corner to the finish, the crowds were huge and loud and my friend Keri popped out from the crowd and joined me for my finish. We gently pulled out from behind the "Shake & Bake Girls" and went on ahead to the finish line for a final time of 2:23:02.

It took some time to find Jim (I missed him at the finish, although he was yelling my name - sorry honey!) and then we had a heck of a time finding Heather because the ATM would not let runners carry cell phones with then on the race course (DUMB DUMB DUMB when you have 26,000 runners!!) but eventually we all found each other. On Jim's very good advice (and not without objection based on our own race experiences), The 10 mile run home was canceled. It was nearly 11:15 and we had no business running another 10 miles in the prime heat of the day. We had done enough for this Sunday.

Looking back later over my race times, I was astonished at how long those last 2 miles took me - nearly 16:00 per mile but I am sure that the weather was the primary factor. There was not one runner that I talked to that had good splits on the 14th Street Bridge. As for my opinions on the race management. I still believe they did the best they could under the given circumstances and I know that they will be more prepared in years to come. Jim said he saw the Army guys moving palettes of water onto trucks as fast as they could and having worked with the military, I am sure they were moving as fast as they could to solve the problems that came about. The was the biggest ATM race field ever, with estimated 26,000 runners signed up. I think perhaps the race management should consider capping this event at 15,000 - 18,000 runners. That might not have solved the water stop issues but it might make them more manageable in the future.

As for me, I am satisfied that I have what it takes to step up the start line at Marine Corps Marathon in 3 weeks. It won't be a fast marathon for me but can keep a pace that meets the races cutoff requirements and I will come prepared with what I need to have a good race day. I just hope Mother Nature will see to it to turn the heat down to the low 60s on race day - with partly cloudy skies - a perfect October Marathon day.


Carver said...

Hi Holly,

I want you to know that I found this post inspirational as I do all of your race posts. You are a strong survivor and it blows me away how you do it. The heat has been awful this year and I use it as an excuse not to walk as much as I should. Although it's supposed to be cooler soon, it's still a struggle and I'll remind myself of your race reports. As ever, Carver

solarjo said...

Good planning to have that emergency money to buy the water! Congratulations on your finish on an oppressively hot day. Your description of running on the bridge made me feel like I was there.
Happy tapering for the Marine Corps Marathon and may it be a typical October day!