Sunday, June 2, 2013

Race Report: Possum Trot 10K

Before I begin this report, I need to fill in some background details in order to provide some perspective.

Instead of a possum, I was the roadkill!
On March 17th I was delighted when I set a surprising new PR on the Publix Georgia Half Marathon, which I ran in 1:38:58 (average pace of 7:33). That started me thinking hard about one of the six goals I set for 2013: Earn a mug at the Peachtree Road Race 10K. In order to meet this goal, I would need to run 6.2 miles on July 4 in heat and up hills at an average pace of 6:55. It seemed nearly impossible, but I decided to go for it anyway. I planned to devote three months to speed training.

Smiling after taking home 3rd place female at
Run the River, just a month earlier!

After a month of training, I tackled the Historic Roswell 10-Miler at a pace of 7:27, and a week later I set another new 10K PR of 44:21 (7:10 average pace) at Run the River (but I never got the race report done).  One might think these races demonstrated my potential for success on reaching my Peachtree goal. However, as most experienced runners know, many complex factors come into play in racing. Some are physical (type and amount of training, nutrition, experience, etc.). Others are psychological (size of race, pacing with friends or groups, general outlook for race success, etc.). Still others are outside of our direct control (weather, difficulty of the course, etc.). Success depends on these all coming together nicely on race day. Even sometimes when they don't, one of the factors will outweigh the others and still cause the experience to be especially good or bad.

Yesterday, June 1 (two months into training and a month away from the Peachtree), I ran another 10K, the Possum Trot. To say things did not go well is an understatement. I spent much of yesterday afternoon wallowing in self-pity and trying to understand where I went wrong. The good news is that even in my darkest tunnels, there is always light. I am one of those people who is blessed to experience tremendous emotional ups and downs. Although that may sound scary, I would not trade this aspect of my personality for the world. I went to bed last night still feeling down, but I decided to quickly glance at my Daily Mile account where all my runner friends hang out. Upon glancing at the page, a big fat tear trickled down my cheek, not because I was sad, but because I had been so incredibly uplifted by a slough of tremendously supportive comments from people who really understood how I felt! It was such a powerfully positive experience that I went to bed a few minutes later happier than ever.

This morning when I woke up, I could tell that I was out of the tunnel and felt emotionally stronger than ever. I firmly believe that the failures in life (and especially in running races) teach us more about ourselves and about the world than any successes do. I'm certainly thankful for all the success I have enjoyed, but failures keep me humble and guide me to dig deeper and analyze more. They also keep me hungry to try harder (and smarter) the next time, and they especially remind me to put things into perspective. This is a small thing in the scheme of life. However, those who run also know how painful of an experience races can be, and they know it's about more than just the number at the end. It represents an investment of time, energy, determination, and pure hard work too.

So, on to the nitty-gritty of the race...

Now wouldn't you feel confident running with this guy?
My coach, Mike Buteau of, told me he was going to run this one with me, and I was excited at the chance to have a personal pacer. Our plan was to go out "conservatively" at a 7:10 for the first two miles, hit 7:00 for the second two, speed it up to 6:50 for last two, and then sprint to the finish for a PR of just under 44 minutes. Although my overall average pace for the last 10K had been 7:10, I was skeptical as to whether I could hold this pace. All of my important training runs have included some pace miles, but they were not just hard, they always felt "nearly impossible." Also, it was 25 degrees warmer this morning than it was for Run the River.

We ran about a mile together before the race to get warmed up, and then we headed to the start line. I tried not to think about what was ahead, but I just tried to crack jokes and fake-act looking relaxed. I had not eaten that morning except for slurping down an Accel gel and 16 ounces of water with Nuun an hour before the race. I'm not sure why I had made that decision, but I run most mornings without breakfast and did not think about how this might affect the race.

Hanging out with my friend, Elise, looking like Easter bunnies!

A worried look already

As the gun went off, we sprang into action. Mike tried to getting a pace reading for us, but it was hard with everyone around. After a half mile or so, we settled into what he said was our goal pace. It felt scarily fast. Our 1 mile split per Garmin was 6:52 (18 seconds ahead of schedule). I was already mentally banishing the thoughts of tiredness from the back of my mind. I thought, "At least we have a tiny bit of cushion, which I'm definitely going to need."

Some time during mile 2, Mike told me to pull it back a little. I thanked him profusely (at least in my mind) and tried to back off. I guess I wasn't totally successful because a short time later I felt a tug on the back of my tank top as he was reining me in. We hit the 2 mile mark at 7:07, thankfully much closer to the goal for that mile, but still leaving us a net cushion of 21 seconds. I passed up Mike's suggestion to get water when we passed the station. After that, we started up a slight incline toward a turn-around point. I had to chug really hard to get to the top, and I remember gasping for breath as soon as I rounded the corner. At least I knew we would enjoy a slight decline. The 3 mile marker showed us at something like 22 minutes, which I knew was wrong. Our watches both showed 7:08 for the third mile. It was a bit slower than our planned 7:00 pace for that mile, but still left us 13 seconds ahead.

The fourth mile got particularly tough as we started a roughly 70-foot incline over half a mile. I could feel my pace slip a bit and was helpless to remedy that. Mile 4 was 7:13.  Now, there was no wiggle room in the plan. I was going to need to hold a 6:50 pace for what I felt would be an eternally long 2.2 miles.  In the back of my mind, I already knew that was not going to happen. I was giving it everything I had.  My breathing turned into verbal huffing and puffing as it has done in past races during the last half mile of a race. I was trying so hard to keep myself moving! My lungs just couldn't process the oxygen. Mike calmly directed me to slow my breathing and to focus on form. I was successful for a few seconds and then I faltered. This happened again and again. If someone can tell me how get get control without slowing down, I'd love to know the secret. I'm sure some of it is mental, and if I had only had half a mile to go, I could have made it. However, I was a long, long way from the finish and had two short, steep hills to tackle. All my mental tricks were dulled. It was not as if I could just tell the pain to go away. It was just beyond what I had the capability to do.

 In all three photos, I have the look of despair. My form is poor. Even my hair is not happy.  

In retrospect, I should have just slowed down to get my breathing under control and then maybe I could have rallied a little. I did not do that, however. I just kept pushing and pushing. Finally I started to babble. About half way into mile 5, I broke into a walk. I think it was at a water station. Mike quickly downed his sip of water, but I dawdled a little, partly because I can't drink water fast and partly to give myself a second or two of rest. I wanted to tell him to just leave me in a puddle and come back for me later. When I did start back up a couple seconds later, I slowed the pace a little, hoping to get control again.

Mile 5 was a dreadful 8:13. By that time, there was no need to calculate how far off I was. I knew I was toast and still had 1.2 hilly miles to go. To say I didn't recover at all would be an understatement. I got really dizzy, sobby, and just could not keep going. Mike steadied me and tried to get me to calm down, but I kept insisting that I had to keep running. I walked three times during that mile.

By mile 6, I was feeling like 0.2 miles was infinitely long. That last full mile was 10:06!  During that time, Mike was really worried about me.  He asked what I ate that morning. When I told him I had not eaten before the race, he said that was probably a big reason for my symptoms. He tried hard to get me to just stop and leave the course, but I stubbornly kept on running/walking more. I am not one to quit, even when it's probably not medically and sensibly the right thing. Right at mile 6, I must have stopped completely, though, because my watch is missing about 38 seconds of "moving time."  It was then that a sweet girl named Andrea stopped and offered her water to me. I remember screaming at her, "Go! GO, don't you know this is a race?!" I think she reluctantly went on, but a couple of minutes later when I hobbled across the finish line and immediately turned to the side of the road, she was right there with Mike, and both were trying to help me!

They found a place for me to sit and grabbed a cold Propel to help me hydrate. Then, they started packing M&Ms in my cheeks like I was a hamster! I tried to slowly let them melt, but my stomach said no, so I spit them out. There were no medics to be found, but I knew I needed to get up and walk around. We took a short walk and headed to a bench.  By then I was feeling better. My friends, Elise and Rachelle and Adam came to check on me too. However, the paramedics insisted that I go into their van to check me out. My blood pressure was 127/80, and my pulse was 86 (still a bit high). Strangely, my blood sugar was a very high 212. That seemed a bit odd. They tried to take me to the hospital for observation, but I quickly and strongly declined. Finally, they let me go, and I was able to join my friends at the awards area.

I had crossed the finish line in 49:11, my worst 10K time in a year and a half. I had run the same course last year in 45:23. In spite of all of the drama, I somehow came in 3rd in my age group (really 4th, but the 1st place must have won the masters award). Mike jokingly said the headline of my report should read, "From Ambulance to Podium!" It seemed like an extremely hollow victory, but then Elise reminded me that many would love to run a race in the time I ran it in.

The race was definitely a huge disappointment, and I feel that I let my coach down in a way. He has believed in me all along and has helped me to run faster than I ever thought possible. However, like I said, there are many factors that feed into a race. No outcome is guaranteed. The process will always be more important than one individual result. It is a process of self-discovery and of learning to push the limits. I am growing wiser daily, and yet have only just begun!


  1. Hey Gail- as a newbie runner, I can attest to Elise's comment! Your time is something we're only dreaming about over here in B'ham. You're such an inspiration! Love reading your posts.

    1. Thanks so much for taking time to comment, Leslie! I told my friends jokingly that my own self of two years ago would have been extremely proud to even break an hour on a 10K. :-) However, after running almost 2,500 miles last year and almost 1,000 already this year, I've picked up a little speed and earned some "war wounds." Running has truly changed my life for the better in so many ways!