Winter training – particularly winter racing – is tough. I realize that I’m saying this in March, but if you’ve been in London recently, then you are probably aware that winter has made a sudden (but hopefully brief) comeback.

Apparently, the ideal marathon racing temperature is a chilly 41 degrees F (5 degrees C). Based on my last marathon experience, I can believe it, but for shorter, faster races such as the 10k, I find temperatures of 41 degrees or in today’s case, lower, to be challenging. With a half marathon, you can get away with going a bit slower in the first mile or so and ease into your race pace, but in a 10k, you don’t really have that luxury because it’s so much shorter. All you can do is devote more time to your warmup and ideally begin your race immediately after, but even after jogging and drills, my legs sometimes still feel stiff and heavy and race logistics inevitably force you to stand around and get cold again.

Needless to say, today’s frigid, windy conditions didn’t exactly invite me to race a PB-shattering 10k, but I was hoping that I had enough fight in me to go for it anyway. At 6:30am, however, the fight was fast asleep and very much not interested in getting a new PB. The thought of a steaming bowl of banana oatmeal (my usual pre-race breakfast) finally lured me out of my cozy bed and into my chilly race gear, but what ultimately motivated me was the fact that I would not only have a race companion (I convinced E to join me, obviously), but also members of “Team Claire” (ie my parents) would be cheering me on!

My parents have been visiting me this weekend from California and, to my surprise, were actually eager to watch me race a local running club 10k at 9am on a Sunday in freezing temperatures during their holiday. They really are troopers! It was such a treat, because I have done the Mornington Chasers 10k race series many times, but mostly on my own, and never with support! I suppose they considered this to be a piece of cake compared to their recent marathon spectating (the course was three laps around Regents Park, so no traipsing across a major city required), but I still really admire their energy levels. They’re over twice my age and I can hardly keep up with them! So after two days of chasing them around London, I guess all I could do to make myself feel my own age was race 6.2 miles as they stood and watched.

My original goal was to beat my best time of 45:04, but by the time the gun went off at 9am, the fight inside me was still only stirring and my legs felt heavier than usual. I tried to muster up that strong sense of trust that has carried me through recent workouts, but the reality was that I didn’t believe that I had a sub-45 in my legs on this particular occasion…maybe 45:30 and definitely sub-46, but sub-45 was not going to happen. I accepted this at some point during the first lap and quickly attached myself to a more realistic goal of sub-46. As long as I get under 46, I started to tell myself…

I think this race series is great because the course, being three laps, provides a wonderful exercise in pacing (particularly, practicing a negative split), mental toughness, and also not relying on external factors such as exciting scenery or crowd support to motivate your performance. Not to say the park isn’t pretty and no one is cheering you on, but it’s a small race predominantly geared towards training, so you need to look within and to some degree to your fellow competitors instead. The turnout today was pretty good – around 253 runners participated, 78 of which were women. I placed 12th in my gender group and 98th overall, with an official gun time of 46:00 (but a real time of 45:46).

I felt quite pleased when I finished – (secondary) goal achieved! I was also very proud of E, who made his 10k debut with a time of 52:00. This was particularly impressive given that he had a terrible cold, but raced nonetheless (which perhaps isn’t advisable…but who am I to talk). My parents enjoyed watching the race, and although it took awhile, we all finally defrosted over hot coffees in the cafe at the Hub.

My parents and I then went on to explore Primrose Hill, Camden Lock and Camden Market, where I devoured a delicious crepe, the most massive pork bun ever and other goodies. The buzz from the 10k stuck with me for hours – it had been months since I had raced and I realized how much I missed that feeling. Here are some race and post-race photos:

After Camden Market, my parents wanted to continue their marathon day of sightseeing and I had hit my sightseeing wall, so I made my way home to finally shower and rest. A few hours later, the race started to sink in and I couldn’t help but feel slightly disappointed. I still got a great time, but the last 10k I raced was in July, after having not trained much following a lengthy post-marathon running break. And you know what time I did then? 46:49, on a very hot morning.

So here I am, having trained for months, and I could only muster about a minute faster than that last race? We all have off days, but I guess it’s making me come to terms with the fact that I’m not in 1:37 half marathon shape right now. According to race predictors, I’m closer to 1:40, which may be relatively accurate, given that the last half that I raced was 1:39:56 this past September. But obviously I know I CAN do 1:37 – I did it a year and a half ago! *Sigh* The simultaneous joy and frustration of making a half marathon debut at a time you can’t touch…

So who knows. And I guess who cares. What concerned me more was that I had to actively remind myself to push hard today. Rather than only competing with myself, I looked to others – just stick with her, don’t let that guy beat you etc. – which isn’t entirely new and certainly not a bad thing, but I’ve never had to rely upon that kind of competition to fuel a race. I’m usually more focused, solely concerned about my own performance. That said, it was quite fun to sprint at the end against a competitor, and afterwards shake hands and share some banter. That’s good sportsmanship, and what would a race be without some friendly competition, both with yourself and with your fellow runners?

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