Sometimes when nothing goes to plan is still good enough…

The weather forecast called for one of the coldest mornings in early October in a quarter of a century. And, with an upper low spinning overhead, there was a good chance it would be rainy. I hate to wear a windbreaker and overheat during my run. I also didn’t want to under dress in the low 40 degree temperatures in the rain and risk pneumonia. Before going to bed, I looked at the forecast again. It looks like there might be a break (a 50% change of rain before 8am then 90% thereafter). I was hoping it will hold off.

The day before, I went over my strategy for the race. I have been running very well over the past two weeks and decided I should attempt to break my personal record. My PR for a 10k is 7:41 at Tyrone back in March. Last year I ran the Hollidaysburg 10k in 49m 22s at 8:05 per mile. Even though breaking my PR is doable, it was not a sure thing. Hollidaysburg is a much more hilly course than Tyrone. Tyrone has one steep hump around mile 2 then a long and gentle climb. Hollidaysburg has a honest climb out and back on Scotch Valley Road as well as a gentle climb at the beginning and end of the race. But again, I had a good few weeks, I did my training as I should, and had a new pair of shoes, a lightweight pair of New Balance 850’s that seem to be weightless on hills. Every single race I have been in, I start out conservatively and then finish very strong. Thus my plan: For the first section, from the start through town, down Allegheny and up Scotch Valley Road, I would run a nice and relaxed 7:50 pace. Then as I approach the main hill, I would use my training and get into high gear, aiming for a low 7 minute mile. My goal was to run it in 45 minutes and at a 7:30 pace.

I woke up at 6:30 to find no rain and the radar clear. I, perhaps, felt a little cocky and broke one of my rules, “Never wear anything new on race day!” I put on my high-tech Mizuno Thermo Breath Crew and CEP compression calf sleeves rationalizing, “It is only going to help.” I ate a small breakfast and walk/jog to the Sheetz for coffee and then to the YMCA as part of my warm up. I make it to the YMCA about 10 minutes before race time (it is so nice not having to drive to a race) and warm up a little more.

First Mile Through Hollidaysburg
I did start a little slow but after a few blocks, I got stuck in a very crowded pack and heels were clipping at my shins. About the time I hit Garber and Hickory, I decide to move up in front of the main pack as we start up the hill on Penn Street. By the time I got to the left turn at Allegheny, I relaxed a little with room to run. It was just after the corner I was passed by a little kid about 10 to 12 years of age. My instinct was to chase him but his legs were going so fast, I knew it could not be sustainable and I let him go. Looking down the hill as we past Jennie Street, my guess was that there were maybe only a dozen or so runners in front of me. Approaching Bella Street, Adam from Foxtrot Runners was taking pictures but he did not even realize it was me until I was five feet away. As soon as I passed him, my iSmoothrun blared at me “you are running at 7:24 per minute, please slow down.” I was huffing and puffing and I knew I leaped out of the gate too fast. I slowed down just a tad but I was running much faster than I had planned. I turned the corner at Scotch Valley Road. Even before I make it to the ambulance station, the kid that overtook me with his spinning legs was spent. I passed him. The woman’s voice on my iSmoothrun keeps insisting that I need to run slower.

The Hills
Just past Godfrey Lane is the start of the first hill on Scotch Valley – a short hop as the road bears to the right. Right here is mile two and I did the previous mile in 7:27. I was going about 20 seconds faster than what I wanted. Here I decided if my legs want to run this pace, then let’s do it! After a short and flat section came the big hill. My hips felt like they settled and locked in place over my legs and I began to speed up. On the uphill I increased my pace to a 7 minute mile! As I crested I used my momentum and achieved a 6:40 before the turnaround. As soon as I made the turnaround, a stiff and raw headwind bore down on me. I started to climb back up the hill and it was here that my body began to protest. My pace slowed between a 7:40 to 8:05 back up the hill. As I crested, it began to spit rain.

Back into town on Allegheny Street near the turn onto Bella Street

The Downhill and Back In Town… For Beer
Since my body protested the climb, when I started down the hill I reasoned with myself. “Listen. You were not too happy with that. I’ll make you a deal. We can take it easy. Keep a reasonable pace until we hit town. Then as soon as we hit town, you need to give me all you can. Okay.” I pressed on ahead. At the downhill at Godfrey, I was passed by a redheaded girl. Except for the kid spinning his legs, she was the only person to pass me. I settled into a comfortable groove about a few seconds behind the redhead. By the time I ran past Shelco, I began to worry if I could speed up or even sustain this pace (at around 7:33). I took out a gel and started sucking down every tiny drop in the packet. I took the sharp turn onto Allegheny and run past Dave’s Dream Restaurant and asked myself to step on the gas. My body said, “Nope. Not a chance.” Not only couldn’t I get my body into it, I could not get my head into the game. Every race I’ve been in, I would get into this ‘zone’ but on this day as soon as I tried, my brain said ‘fahgettaboutit”. I made the turn onto Bella Street and just as planned James Gerraughty was there with a red solo cup filled halfway with beer. BEER! Now, don’t get me wrong, I love beer. Beer is even in the title of my blog! At the Pittsburgh Marathon, I had a beer leaving Bloomfield about 2 miles from the finish. But on this day, for the last 35 minutes or so, I have been running at capacity and sipping on sweet performance drinks and even sweeter gels… and Gerraughty, unbeknownst to me, was handing me a strong Belgium strong dark ale… A Green Flash Grand Cru. It was so STRONG! It tasted like the strongest whiskey I ever had! I had a big sip and throw out the rest. As I made onto Walnut, I could feel it going down my esophagus. Then as soon as it hit my stomach, it was like a handful of black magic snakes sparking and growing in my stomach. Agh! But by the time I reached Jones Street, my stomach felt fine and I continued on.

To the Finish
Crossing Allegheny Street, I began to gain on the redhead and as we made the corner and then up the hill on Union Street, I over took her. I use the downhill to my advantage, speeding up to a low 6 minute mile. It is the home stretch and as I turn onto Hart Street in front of the Junior High, I hear footsteps behind me and then the next second the redhead was in front of me. I remember my brain saying “go chase her” but my legs taking a good five count before they did anything. We took the last turn and she was a good three seconds ahead and there was no way I could close the gap. I crossed the line at 45 minutes and 44 seconds at 7:31 pace.

Men 35-39 Results

When I crossed the time, I knew it was close to my PR and for awhile I thought I might have missed it. It was a good 5 to 10 minutes before they pasted my tag on the board and saw my official time. After doing the math, I realized I did beat my previous 10k time and 10k race pace of 46m36s and a pace of 7:41. One year ago at Hollidaysburg, I managed a 49m 22s at 8:05 pace.

Even though last year a 45:44 would have given me a first place for my age group, the first place runner in my age did it in an impressive 42:59 and I had to settle for a second place. Overall, I came in 14th or at the top 15% of participants. Reviewing last years results with this year, there are more runners and more competitive runners with faster times in every category. Last year a 45:44 would have been a 7th place finish. Nevertheless, I was very pleased that I ran my PR and did it on the Hollidaysburg course.