I ran the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler today, finishing in a time of 68:03 by my watch – a PR of 30 seconds from my time at the Army 10 Miler last fall, and about 80 seconds faster than I ran this race last year. The story of this race report actually starts a week earlier, though.
For what seems like forever, I’ve been whinging about tightness in my chest and difficulty breathing when I run. It’s been a source of frustration – I feel like it’s been holding me back, and people who hear me breathe while running regularly ask me why I’m not seeing a doctor about it. To which I respond: “but I HAVE seen a doctor.” I’ve done numerous tests, and passed them all with flying colors. There’s nothing apparently wrong with me. And yet the breathing issues persist and worsen.
Then, about 10 days ago, I read an interesting thread on the RunnersWorld forums, in which there was mention of acid reflux causing bronchoconstriction – basically, when the acid hits your esophagus, it triggers a nerve that causes bronchoconstriction. In some ways, this made a lot of sense. My breathing problems are triggered by running, but not by biking (stomach gets jostled during running), and I also have a lot of chest tightness when I first wake in the morning.
Even though I’ve never had noticeable heartburn, I thought trying some lifestyle changes for a few days wouldn’t hurt (much). So, I cut out the OJ and the chocolate (both major dietary staples of mine), started sleeping with my torso propped up on several pillows, and doing a shot of Pepto-Bismol pre-run. From the very first run, I felt better. Still some chest tightness, but each run was a bit easier. Even in astronomically high pollen conditions, I still felt so very much better than before.
So, I was pretty excited about this race, and even more excited when the day dawned with perfect weather – 50 degrees at race start, and a very light breeze. The only flaw was the tree pollen conditions, which were astronomically high – to the point when my lips swelled a bit as I walked to the race start.
I left my house at 6:00 am to walk down to the start line, wearing an old pair of shoes and carrying my flats. I got to the start area about 6:40 am, with plenty of time to hit the restroom, change into my flats, check my bag, and warm-up. I felt extremely good during the warm-up, with no stiffness, so I opted to keep it short, at about a mile’s worth of jogging+strides. Another bathroom break, and I jumped into my corral.
An aside about the corral, just because this made me happy: the last two years, I’ve been placed in the second of six corrals (the red one). This year, I managed to qualify for “subseeded” status – which meant that I started in the first corral, which was split into three sections: the elite men, then the “seeded runners” (I’d have to run 10 miles in under 64 minutes to get into this group, then the “sub-seeded runners” – basically they pulled the fastest runners from the field to fill out the balance of the corral. So I got a fancy race bib with the letter “B” appended to my number. It’s a pretty small deal, but sometimes little things like that can make one happy.
While lined up, I wore a tanktop and shorts, plus thin gloves, a long sleeved cotton t-shirt, and handwarmers+socks on my hands (over the gloves). I tossed the t-shirt about 2 minutes before the start of the race – the socks and handwarmers would stay on until mile 3.
The race started, and I was a bit surprised by the discrepancy in paces in my corral – I had been worried about being pulled out too fast, but I ended up having to hold back a bit more than I expected in the beginning. By the end of the first 3 minutes, I had a bit more space though. One of my goals was to go out controlled for the first mile, and the crowding helped me accomplish that.
I hit a groove, and tried to hold it for the first miles. I was running on the edge, but in control. About mile 3 I reached for a shot blok (the first of my planned two) only to realize that my pack had fallen out of my pocket. Oops! Luckily, I had an extra one stowed in my running top, next to my inhaler –I’d just have to run this race on one, rather than two.
The race course this year had two hair-pin turns – another of my goals was to take four very fast steps out of each turn, so as to get me right back into race pace – basically a mini-sprint. I’m happy with how this worked – I think it saved me a good bit of time.
About mile 5, I started to feel less in control, with my breathing becoming harsher. From there on, I was nursing myself to the finish – talking myself out of stepping off to the side. I was trying to rationalize that I needed to use the inhaler to get my breathing back in check – in reality, I just wanted to walk. I told my inner whiner to shut up, and pushed onward. (in retrospect, I think this is also about the time where the Pepto would have been wearing off – I’m thinking that I may start carrying some tablets with me to pop mid-race.
Mile 7 took us onto Hains Point, where we hit a slight breeze. Luckily, I’m slow enough that I was still running with a decent crowd, and so I was able to hide behind many others. From time to time, my chest would get very tight, and I’d have to drop the pace a bit and “work through it” before picking back up – I’m sure I came across as the equivalent of one of those drivers that passes you, then slows down, then passes you again. Ah well.
My breathing also became noticeably more raspy. I wasn’t sure how bad it sounded until another woman running near me said – “don’t worry, if you fall down, I’ll catch you”. I thanked her, and gasped “asthma”. She responded “yup – that’s what it sounds like. I’ve got it too.”
Mile 8-9 was where I hit a real tough patch – everything breathingwise tightened up, I began to hyperventilate, and my stomach started to cramp. I didn’t want to back off of the pace, but I also didn’t want to repeat last year’s pre-finish line collapse. So I reluctantly backed off.
In the final mile of this course, there’s a hill. Not a particularly big one, but it hits your hard so late in the course. Last year, I had attacked it, and then paid the price. This year, my goal was to run it hard, but steady. I knew from checking out the course that once I started the hill, I had three traffic lights to run through, with the third being at the finish. Just as I had planned, I mentally pulled myself to each traffic light in turn. After the second of the three, I started my kick, but had nothing left.
I got myself across the finish, waved off the medical person who approached me (apparently I sounded REALLY bad), and grinned. I PRd, I raced better than I did at my half, and I CROSSED THE FINISH LINE ON TWO FEET this year!
Mile 1: 7:04
Mile 2: 6:50
Mile 3: 6:34
Mile 4: 6:41
Mile 5: 6:43
Mile 6: 6:46
Mile 7: 6:51
Mile 8: 6:38
Mile 9: 7:10 (cramping and hyperventilating)
Mile 10: 6:46
Note: I think some of the mile markers may have been off – the variability in my pace here is a bit unusual for me.
Final time by my watch was 1:08:03. It’s a PR by 30 seconds off of my Army 10 Miler time from last fall, so I’m happy with that. Of course, I’ll be even happier if the posted results show that I hit my watch a bit late at the finish and early at the start. I’d have loved to have dipped below 1:08. But if not this time, maybe next race.