Today I was the 1:30:00 (9:00) pace leader at the Army Ten-Miler. It's the first year the race has had pacers, so we're all under scrutiny.
I have a bag of frozen peas on my left ankle as I write this. It's been sore for weeks and although it doesn't restrict me from running, it prevents me from walking without a limp for days afterwards. My farewell-to-coaching run last Saturday was the only run I have done in two weeks. I figured I had one more ten-mile run in me so I wanted to make it count, on race day.
Pacing is hard. Rather, it's stressful, especially in a short race like a ten-miler where there isn't much time to make up for a bad mile or two.
A lot of people were looking to me to bring them to their goal of breaking 1:30. Although they gathered around me and my 1:30:00 sign at the start, on the course I often felt like I was running alone in the crowded race, with a sign thrust into the air.
There were runners out there watching me though. Runners I started with dropped away and caught back up. Other determined runners saw my sign and struggled up to me and passed me by in the last two miles. Some runners hung with me on the edges, keeping my sign in sight, acting like lurkers in an Internet chat room.
The first mile, about which I was the most worried because of the crush of people, went by in 9:15. Then we banked a little time in the early miles and got slightly ahead of our goal time by the fifth mile, passing it at about 44:10 instead of 45 flat. I knew that the long, visually daunting uphill expanse of the 14th Street Bridge was coming in the ninth mile, followed by the run onto slightly higher ground to the west in Virginia during the last mile.
Around the Capitol we had some personally satisfying 9:03 or 9:04 miles and then incredibly, as we approached the bridge, my system started going out of whack. Not enough food that morning, I think. With my head down (always a bad sign for me in a race) and worse, my heart racing, my body ignoring my yoga deep cleansing breaths, I desperately tried sucking down a GU to get back a feeling of control. Ah, within a few minutes I was back on a steady nine-minute rhythm. Sustenance, it really works.
I finished in 1:29:44 (8:58). Several people came up to me afterwards to say thanks. One went away ecstatic with my sweaty Army 25th Running wristband, and another thought me giving him the 1:30:00 sign was just the cat's meow. "My wife will just love this," he said.
I just smiled, having just finished a duty which turned out to be devilishly difficult.