Back of the Pack: How a 5K guy survived his first 10K
More than 18,700 people took part in the 35th annual Bellin Run on June 11 in Green Bay, Wis. Among them was a guy who agreed to the 10K after his wife talked him into it. Here's how he learned that tenths of a mile indeed matter.
By Jerry Rhoden
Green Bay, Wis. — Weeks of training had come to this, as I stood in the third of seven corrals awaiting the start of the 2011 Bellin Run on June 11.
It was the 35th running of the 10-kilometer road race. And as one of the event’s 18,701 registrants — most ever for one of the 10 largest 10Ks in the country — I would be embarking on my longest run ever. Even my training runs never topped 5 miles.
I was never a 10K guy; 5Ks were always my thing. Mild effort, equal access to the cookie table … they were perfect.
Then my wife, a far more serious runner who even held a track record at St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wis., for more than 10 years, talked me into “challenging myself” by running a 10K this year. I waved it off with a “Yeah, sure,” only to find that for my birthday, she’d signed me up for the Bellin Run in Green Bay. So much for “fear of commitment.”
So I began my training with my new ASICS GEL-Cumulus 13 runners. They’ve worked well for me, as I’m a significant supinator. They seem to correct my gait very comfortably, and I suffer no joint pain.
Throughout the race, I tried to concentrate on something I discovered about my stride on my training runs. When I minimized my heelstrike by landing midfoot and concentrated on my toe-off, I could shave 10-15 seconds off a half-mile segment.
I don’t yet have the lungs to go full stride with a heelstrike for extended distances, so I thought this technique would help my speed while saving on my knees. But I found that adjusting your stride after years of running necessitates constant focus. It was not easy.
The Bellin course was well-plotted, in my opinion. What seemed like long, gradual inclines were rewarded with shorter declines (read: free acceleration!). It essentially was a large rectangle through fully closed streets, about three-fourths of which was in middle-class neighborhoods.
People lined the streets clapping and cheering. Some rang cowbells, while one gentleman beat on a frying pan. Some homeowners sat in lawn chairs near the street holding a garden hose so runners could dash through a cooling mist even on this low-50s morning.
One home opened its rummage sale a little early, and one white-haired gentleman even picked at his banjo to the tune of She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain: “Run and run and run and run and run the Bellin run!” I’m going to assume there were more lyrics than that.
The course was correctly backloaded with water stops and porta-pits and well marked with vertical mile markers — although I learned the hard way people and trees can obscure one’s vision if one isn’t careful.
I neared the 6-mile mark, optimistically checking my watch. Then I saw it; the sign I was sure said “Finish”. So I downshifted into my full finishing kick. I’d beaten my goal of 9-minute miles by up to 30 seconds per mile and had plenty left in the tank. I blew by people struggling up this late incline. I looked strong. I felt strong. Spectators cheered. This would make a great finish-line photo.
Then I saw the 6-mile marker and remembered instantly that a 10K is not 6 miles but 6.2. After the obligatory curse words, I immediately shifted into recovery mode; I’d run this far and was determined not to start walking now. How could I have blown this!? I realized all of my training runs were nice even mileages; only now did I realize how much those final tenths can matter.
I was able to regain some lungs without having to walk, while the people I’d just blown past now slowly overtook me. It felt like a “walk of shame” as I realized the spectators I thought were cheering me probably instead were wondering what police I was running from.
Still, I finished in 54:17, just 17 seconds over my initial goal. So I was happy, my wife was as proud of my honored commitment as she probably was relieved at my survival, and my little misjudgment will serve as an eternal reminder that mileage matters.
Share a funny, inspiring or otherwise interesting story from one of your runs. E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.