20 Hours of Awesome! (part 1)

Yesterday was such a fabulous day. I woke just before 5am to get myself fed and dressed and out the door for the hour-long drive to Grand Rapids for the 33rd annual Riverbank Run 25k (there are also 5k and 10k distances, wheelchair, and walk). This is the largest 25k race in the US.

I have had a rather mixed experience with this race in the past. This year was the 3rd time I'd registered and I wasn't entirely looking forward to the event.

The first year I ran it it was the longest race I'd ever completed. And it was a tough, but positive experience.

The second year left me with little interest in ever running it again. I spent the bulk of the race with awful asthma issues + nausea (perhaps related to my breathing difficulties). I PRd, but it was a VERY hard-won record time for me. My best friend, Eryn, had not trained as well as I had (typical...it has become a running joke. If she trained as much as I did she would hand my ass to me at every race, not just half of them) and pulled away from me by about 11 miles in. The last 4.5 miles of that race were very lonely and frustrating for me. Last year I was tapering for the Bayshore Marathon and was unable to run this race.

This year I primarily registered to support a local friend of mine who was planning to run the 25k for the first time. She and I did several of our long runs this Winter and Spring together. My best friend and I registered the day before the entry fee increased (a couple of weeks ago) and made sure to remind "newbie" that she needed to register if she hadn't already done so, or pay more. I planned to run at least the first half with my friends, and make the decision to press ahead for the second half or not based-upon how I felt.

2 days prior to the race newbie informs us that she didn't feel prepared (even though she really was, and was better trained than Eryn and I know she would have had a good race and realized her doubts were unfounded after she finished) and had decided not to register. This had me pretty bummed, though not as bummed as the fact that I HAD registered and the weather forecast was truly shiteous (air temps in low 40s, windchills around freezing, rain). Dammit...had I known she wasn't going to run I never would have registered...and the forecast only added insult to injury.

Surprisingly, I woke on race morning in a good mood. I chalk it up to residual chipperness from my successful duathlon 13 days prior.

I left the house just after 6 and traveled in relatively busy traffic for most of the drive (seriously, where are all these people going at that time of day? I thought maybe a lot were headed to the race, but most of them turned-off at other exits or kept going beyond the downtown GR area). I had little problem finding a mostly vacant parking ramp just a few blocks from the start and paid my $5 to park.

I walked to the start and went inside the DeVos Place convention center to keep warm (it was in the 30s pretty much until race start) with about 18k other runners. I got there extra early, as I found 2 years ago that the addition of the 10k event made things even more hectic in the race area, plus I decided to pick up my race packet on race day this year, instead of wasting time and gas by driving an hour each way the day before.

Prior to the 8:20 start for the 25k I was able to watch the 5k, 10k, and wheelchair starts from a window in a walkway parallel to the line-up area. That was pretty nice.

Eryn arrived without a ton of time to spare before our gun fired. We made our way to the 10 minute/mile area and stood around for maybe 10 minutes before the 25k race began. It took about 4.5 minutes from the official start until we crossed the start line. Maybe a quarter of a mile in we came to a complete stop and that first mile was pretty congested...and slow. By 2.5 miles in I removed my windbreaker and gloves, as the wind was at our backs and I was warmed-up. The temps remained a consistent 40ish degrees and the wind really didn't bother me until that last half-mile of uphill to the finish. Most of the course is sheltered and the temps and overcast sky were really perfect for running.

For the first 6-7 miles we were in a fairly tight pack of runners and a fair amount of dodging and weaving. In hind sight I wish we'd have started in the 9:30 group. It wasn't long before I realized that going sub-2:30 was impossible after so many miles at 9:45ish pace and that 10+ minute first mile. But my goal of PRing was easily in reach, even if I didn't pick up the pace any. Once this realization set-in the pressure was off and the rest of the race was mine to enjoy--which I did.

After the halfway point we hit several miles with rolling hills and a bit of a headwind (at least none of the predicted rain, aside from a bit of intermittent drizzle -- I actually wished at several times that I'd worn a short-sleeve shirt under my windbreaker, as I was a little warmer than I like). My pace slowed accordingly, but I was still on pace for an easy PR (almost 2.5 minutes over my previous PR).

At around 11 miles in I lost Eryn...almost exactly the same area where she lost me 2 years ago. I turned the volume up on my iPod (Earth, Wind & Fire, Lady Gaga, La Roux, and assorted uptempo pop/dance) a bit at this point and focused on maintaining my pace through the remainder of the race. The miles ticked-by comfortably as I recalled struggling at the same mile markers during my prior 2 Riverbank Runs (nowadays I'm on a 2x daily inhaled steroid for my asthma, instead of just Albuterol inhaler, which makes a HUGE difference, even on fewer training miles). I smiled and thanked spectators and chatted with other runners who were just as visibly enjoying the race as much as I. I'm sure I had some damned goofy perma-grin action going on.

It wasn't until the last mile where I pushed the pace a bit more. Even so, I still encouraged runners around me who were visibly struggling. I knew exactly what they were feeling. I cheered 2 myTEAM TRIUMPH participants and their teams as they passed me 3/4 of a mile from the finish. After crossing I waited at the end of the chute for Eryn and smiled as I heard several first-timers running through with shouts of "I/we did it!" I saw tear-streaked faces. I understood the self-pride they were experiencing. They accomplished so much and didn't switch to a shorter distance at the last minute, as many had after hearing the weather forecast (which never really came to pass--typical in erratic weather West MI).

Next year...I know I won't be dreading this race or approaching it with a lackadaisical attitude, as I did this year. Next year I will make my primary goal going under 2:30. I only need to cut 3:41, which shouldn't be tough with continued training (again we see that my biking isn't hurting my running), losing a few pounds, and pushing harder, including starting in a faster pace group.

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