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Last Saturday, I raced in the Tabitha 10k to EmbRACE Aging, a new race on the Lincoln Track Club racing calendar. Actually, it’s an old race with a new sponsor, Tabitha. The 10k distance is one that I haven’t really excelled at in the past so it’s always a challenge: longer than a 5k so more demanding, but shorter than the 15k and longer races so it’s a good test distance for races such as the Lincoln (Half) Marathon among other races. Also, there was a 2 mile option (mainly for kids) as part of the local kids Grand Prix series that is coordinated with the Lincoln Track Club, our local track club. The 2 mile was to start 4-5 minutes after the 10k.

This race was important to support as Tabitha is a new sponsor for this race. Tabitha has some elder care communities it runs in town and also coordinates Meals on Wheels. I formerly delivered Meals on Wheels from Tabitha as a volunteer when I was a Kiwanian many years ago. This was the 50th anniversary of this collaboration between Tabitha/MOW so it was a special race to experience to celebrate the positive impact that both charities have had upon our local community.

I love how the organizers of this race chose to encourage us to embRACE aging. Sometimes we all feel “old” or older than we should. But I’ve decided that age is just a number and that I shouldn’t be limited by my age. I have enough limitations I’ve placed on myself already as an asthmatic. And there were people of all ages running and walking these races from young kids running the 2 mile to people my age and people older than me as well. Aging is part of life and we need to accept it. We all experience difficulties as we age and if we find ways to embrace that in a positive way, it makes life so much easier.

My toughest challenge for this race was the air quality. We were in “unhealthy” range due to fires/smoke from Kansas and we had a health warning from the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department telling us people with asthma and other lung conditions should restrict our activities on the day of the race. I decided to assume the risk but not to set any unrealistic goals under those conditions. It just wasn’t worth risking an asthma attack. And I knew I was in good enough physical condition that I probably would be ok. I did sense some smoke during the race but it didn’t seem to affect me as much as I thought it might.

Arriving a little early, I found the overflow parking clearly marked with signs by Russ’ IGA on 70th Street. I was impressed that they had parking signs to help us. The tendency for people running these races is to park at Holmes Lake. But the race organizers wanted us to park across the street east of 70th for traffic control/safety reasons. It did not appear that many people were parking at Holmes Lake.

Having time to warm up, I turned on my Garmin and ran about 1.5 miles to get the muscles moving and prepare for the race. The run stretched to the Holmes Lake dam (about halfway), then I turned around and returned to the area of the start of the race. To newcomers, it may appear that the race starts adjacent to Holmes Lake but that is the finish area. The start area is on Normal Boulevard just north of Holmes Lake.

Before the race, it was important to check and recalibrate the altitude of my Garmin Fenix 3HR. You can see me checking that in the photo at the top. I’ve learned the hard way that if the altitude is off by too much, the watch doesn’t calculate GPS location and altitude correctly, especially around Holmes Lake for some reason. Just made a minor correction and recalibrated the watch manually using the Snapchat altitude filter. I will write a blogpost about how I do this as some runners are having this trouble and it’s an important thing to be able to know how to fix it ourselves.

A few minutes before the race, we lined up and they played the national anthem with an American flag. After that we crowded up to the starting mats and at 9am, the race began. It is a chip race so make sure you wear your bib with the chip to get an official time.

The race begins with a short loop running by Holmes Lake on Holmes North Shore Drive, a very scenic part. Runners jockeyed for position. I didn’t want to go out too fast as I was trying to save some energy for later. My goal for this race was to run around 7:21 splits for the race. (For some reason the appeal of running my birthday splits is fun, it’s a zippy race pace for me.) My stretch goal was to run 45:00ish. But I knew I didn’t have a lot of speed work in from the past few weeks so I was relying on muscle memory and a light taper the week before the race.

My goal for the first mile is always to run slightly under goal pace to “prime the pump” without going completely into uncontrolled jackrabbit mode, which can cause the wheels to fall off and leave me breathless. As an asthmatic runner, I’ve learned I have to avoid the breathlessness especially early. So I wanted the first mile to be sub-7:00. Checking the watch periodically, I made sure I wasn’t going too fast or too slow, settling into a comfortable pace. We reached the first mile and I saw the 6:51 split. Right on target.

Immediately after that, I noticed that a vehicle was trying to turn right towards us at 70th Street but was prevented from doing that by a very alert police officer. There was a brief conversation and the driver obeyed. Problem prevented. Kudos to the police for all they do to protect us and keep us safe during these races. I’m very grateful. At 70th Street, we turned north and there is a short hill climbing back to the Normal Boulevard turn westward.

Turning left on Normal, we proceeded to the left side of the street and I noticed there was broken up pavement here so we couldn’t accelerate down the hill quite as quickly as we would like without risking our safety. I’m going to have to remember that for the Lincoln Marathon as we were running the marathon course for a while.

I love to accelerate downhill as much as possible to pick up some time and re-establish a faster pace. But we had to adjust a little bit for safety here. Some of the runners in this stage of the race looked familiar to me and may have run the State Farm Run earlier this year in March. One looked like a runner that ran with me almost that entire race. I tried to keep focal points ahead of me on runners going slightly faster than me. I try to imagine or visualize I have an imaginary lasso to ride the momentum of the runners in front of me (as long as they are moving faster) in order to be pulled a little bit during races instead of pushing too hard and exerting too much effort.

Near 62nd and Normal, we reached the 2 mile split. 7:15 for mile 2. Still running a little faster than goal pace but closer to the target. I was grateful for the shade on Normal Boulevard. It was very sunny and humid. The shade helped us stay cool and a little more relaxed.

Water stops were about every 1-2 miles on this course. I didn’t need to stop for it as I was carrying my OrangeMud single hyrdraquiver vest. I drank a lot of water during this race, partly due to dehydration and partly due to thirst. I wondered if I would drink the whole bottle and have to refill at one of the water stops but I had plenty.

Reflecting on the last time I ran this course (I think the race was called the GSK Run last year), I remembered that my Garmin Forerunner 620 watch failed and that I never had a Garmin version of what happened. I was optimistic with the Fenix 3HR, though. We’ve had some minor glitches with altitude/GPS but those have become more rare since I learned how to manually recalibrate it. Then I tried to remember where my GPS failed last year, right near mile 4 on 56th Street. Shaking off these negative memories, I refocused on the race. We have trivial worries like this that surface sometimes from prior race experience and we just simply have to shake them off, let them go.

Here I had a younger runner running slightly faster than me so I tried to stay close to her to keep my pace up near my goal. Near 49th & Normal, we turned onto Myrtle Street and reached the 3 mile mark. 7:24 pace for mile 3. Slightly slower than target but acceptable for keeping some energy in reserve for later. I was very happy to see a 5k sign to mark the split for several reasons: last year, my GPS watch failed. If that happens, it’s tough to know where you are on the course. Also, if you’re trying to negative-split the 5k halves, you need to know your first half split. Mine was 23:00 or so. So on pace for :46 if I ran steady splits. Or :45 if I could negative-split the halves.

My run-walk strategy for this race was to use :15-:30 walk breaks when needed. This is how I trained so this is how I race, just shortening the walk breaks for races (sometimes in training my walk breaks might extend to a full 1:00). Using this strategy, I used two :15 walk breaks and that is all I needed. I didn’t need a full :30. My heart rate in my warmup run was +2 into “good” range and it jumped +6 higher into “good” range during the race. So I had a green light to cut loose when needed and run faster. I use this HR sensor as a little bit of a monitor on how relaxed I am and where/when to accelerate.

We turned onto Van Dorn Street, using a short stretch of trail and ran back east towards 56th Street. The hills on 56th Street I knew would be the toughest part of the race for me based on last year’s experience. And that was accurate. We had decent weather, 55 degrees and sunny with a light 7 mph southerly breeze that I felt running south on 56th Street. Runners should exercise a lot of caution on 56th Street as it is a major thoroughfare (and I had bad experience with this in last year’s GSK race that I wrote about on the blog: just a driver who disobeyed police commands to stop). Carefully winding to the eastern lane of 56th Street, we ran south. At this point, I lost the female pacer that was helping me, she was accelerating a little faster than I was prepared to then. But I re-established a new target pacer in front of me, a tall guy who was running at a good clip. I stayed with him all the way up the hill to the 4 mile mark. This split was slower: 7:32, but adjusting for elevation it was ok.

Backing up a little, you have to exercise caution running this stretch as the leading runners will run by on your left on 56th Street so stay right in your lane. The leaders ran by me at about 3.6 miles by my watch. Also, 56th Street always has a lot of car traffic, as well as bikers and other pedestrians (runners/walkers) on the sidewalks.

The turnaround to turn back north is clearly marked with a large sign and a yellow painted arrow on the street. I think I overran the official turnaround by a little bit but I was following the tall pacer to the volunteers who were waving us back northward. Oh well. A couple extra hundredths are ok. I made sure to run the tangents of the race the rest of the way to try to even that out a little bit.

There is a nice downhill returning northward after the turnaround. Before the turnaround, I used my first :15 walk break. But I leaned into the downhill to try to accelerate a little. I did feel some fatigue during this mile. Keeping the pace going that fast tends to result in a little more fatigue than usual and a sunny cloudless day (at least during the race) wears on us a little bit.

The 5 mile split is around 56th and Van Dorn. I was disappointed to see 7:42, :21 seconds off goal pace. But I was determined to run faster the rest of the way, as fast as I safely could under the unhealthy air quality that we had. Around the 5 mile mark, the scent of smoke was a little stronger and I became concerned that this was going to affect me. I shook it off. Smoke gives me all kinds of bad memories of my first asthma attack caused by smoke inhalation from a campfire in 1979. I was hospitalized after that overnight and it was one of the most frightening experiences of my life to not be able to breathe and not know why.

As I mentioned, the police were excellent at keeping cars away from us. There was a very slow cautious driver who drove by us here on 60th Street but I wasn’t concerned. He was being careful.

Refocusing on my race goals, I knew I couldn’t run any slower and be able to meet my goals. So I picked up the pace as much as possible, saving some energy for that last hill on Normal Boulevard before returning to the lake. And I knew I was feeling more dehydrated and thirsty so I drank a good amount of water on this stretch. I had a Mamma Chia Green Magic (organic kale chia squeezable with me), an organic running snack that I love. I debated whether I need it or not and decided that I did need it, at least part of it to get a little energy boost for the end. So I consumed about half of it as I ascended the hill on Normal Boulevard, saving the rest for after the race. Thank you Mamma Chia! That did help me when I needed it.

I was very happy to see my watch still tracking everything. After losing a couple of previous races on my previous GPS watch and having some difficulty with this one, it’s frustrating to see all your hard work go for naught on your Garmin record boards. I knew by this point it was not going to be a 10k PR. I think my 10k PR is around 44:00 or so.

My favorite part of this race is mile 6: so close to the finish. It’s like the “Amen corner” of the race (of the Masters Golf Tournament, also held last weekend). You can see the calming water and shore of Holmes Lake and you can see the finish around the bend. There was an important sign posted here that I returned laster to snap reminding us that it only costs $6-6.50 per meal to provide healthy meals to folks through the Meals on Wheels program, less than many of us spend for a meal and/or coffee. I was going to snap pictures here during the race but decided to return and do that so I could cheer on some other runners and keep my pace up. My 6-mile pace was better: 7:38 still slower than I wanted but good for these conditions (especially the air quality condition).

My finish strategy is always to save a strong blast of sufficient energy for the end. Making the turn here, I encountered lots of walkers in front of me so I had to weave around them a little bit. There was a tiny bit of maneuvering, a minor obstacle course. Here I realized that perhaps more people were walking this than I thought. But race volunteers waved me to the left and I could see the finish chute. I was slightly disappointed to see the time was already flipping over to 46:00 by the time I could see it. But I accelerated determined to slice as much time off my finish as possible.

The final burst caused me to accidentally miss the first chip mat but I made sure to touch the second one so I could have an official time. And I knew I had done my best, my muscles were spent. I stopped the Garmin. The Garmin said 46:19 (I may have stopped it on the first chip mat).

Officially, I ran a 46:20, 7:22 pace, 3rd place in my age group. Was slightly disappointed with my time but happy it was basically only a minute off my goal. The wonderful surprise was learning that I had somehow placed 3rd in my age group. I haven’t finished in the top 3 in many moons so this was a special achievement/accomplishment. I won a $10 gift certificate to Lincoln Running Company so that will be very useful and helpful in the future.

There was some confusion when the first results sheets were posted. The winner at first supposedly ran a 3:45 pace but we were all laughing about that because obviously no one ran by me on 56th Street going that fast. The race organizers/Lincoln Track Club volunteers quickly posted corrected sheets. Originally I was 63rd, then it said 61st on the corrected sheets. By the time I got the email with the official results, I was 57th. I don’t know what happened to all these people if they were disqualified or just simply crossed the pace mats when they were not supposed to by accident. I finished 3rd of 11 in my age group, 45th of 117 men. I’m not sure how many people completed the race but it looked like easily more than 200.

The kids Grand Prix 2 mile race results were also posted. Looked like some great times posted by young talented runners. Very excited to see what they can do in the future.

What’s next? I’m looking forward to the Lincoln (Half) Marathon next. (Still pondering whether to run the full slow or run the half fast.) Unless another fun race appears first.

All in all, this was a good race for me, a confidence booster. Although not negative split 5k halves, the steady-state 5k approach and strategy worked. With asthma and juggling lots of other responsibilities in my life, it’s not always possible for me to place in my age group in every race. But every once in a while, I enjoy running with that goal in mind to focus my energy and strength for an adventurously exciting fun-runnin’ race. I’ll treasure the memories of this race and overcoming the minor challenges that I encountered.

Happy healthy trails until we meet again!