One of my least favorite things about winter – besides the freezing temperatures, brutal winds and ugh, snow – is the lack of races. During the rest of the seasons, every weekend you can find at least one race (usually many more!) within a reasonable distance. However, as the temperatures drop, so do the number of local races.
I ran the Jingle Bell 5K on Dec. 8, and registered for the Kris Kringle 5 miler at the end of the month, but figured that would be it for me for a while. That is, until someone mentioned the York Road Runners Winter Series to me. It’s a series of eight races in the York area from November through March. Distances and locations vary, but they all take place on Saturdays. I had already missed the first two, but I could still make the last six for the extremely low price of $25.
Sign me up.
My first race with the York Road Runners was the Dallastown Wildcat 10K this past Saturday at noon. For some reason, I had never run a 10K before, so I was excited for an automatic PR. I had just run a 20:24 in the Jingle Bell 5K the week prior, so I figured I’d probably finish in the 42-43 minute range.
I am so naïve.
My boyfriend Tim and I arrived at the Dallastown Area High School about an hour before the race and quickly and easily picked up our bibs. The weather was amazing, the sun was shining, and it was hard to believe I was still wearing shorts in mid-December. After a quick warm-up, I lined up with the 230 other runners near the start. With a “ready… set…” and a horn blast, we were off. I had no idea how to pace myself for this. I most certainly cannot sprint six miles, but I knew I could – and should – push myself.
The first mile was great; it was nice and flat and even had a short downhill, enabling me to clock a 6:28. The second mile was also flat and I finished that one in 6:38. Realizing I needed to conserve some energy, I slowed my pace a bit, and the third mile flew by, there were some slight hills, but nothing too awful, and that mile took me 7:06. I hit the 5K mark right under 21 minutes. Hey, this is fun! Maybe, I like 10Ks.
And then, just shy of the four mile mark, I was cruising along, when I turned a corner and was greeted by a very, very steep, and very, very long hill. In fact, I couldn’t even see the top. I gritted my teeth and started powering up. As I was climbing, so was my pace, I watched as it inched up on my Garmin. I could hear myself gasping for air, heat was radiating off my face, and beads of sweat were pouring down my forehead. I could hear the rapid boom, boom, boom of my heartbeat, and my calves were screaming in agony. Just as I passed the fourth mile marker, about halfway up the hill, I had to stop and walk. I have only ever walked once in a race – a hill near the end of my first marathon - and I still beat myself up for it. And here I was, walking in a 10K!?
I transitioned from a walk to a jog, and after what seemed like hours, I finally reached the top of the hill. Okay, I thought to myself, that was bad, but you’re almost done! The fourth and fifth miles were endless rolling hills, and any sign of flat land was scarce. The hills took a toll on my pace, and each of those miles clocked in around 7:30. I was so happy to finally hit the last 1.2 miles- so close to being done. And then we were blessed with a half-mile long steep, steep hill. I tried so hard to power through, but I couldn’t. I stopped to catch my breath and walk. Again. I like to think I’m in pretty decent shape, but I was no match for this difficult course. After 8:27, I finally finished the last full mile, and came to the top of the hill. The last .2 mile, I ran as fast as my legs could carry me. I sprinted across the finish line in 44:39, a far cry from my original time estimate.
As I struggled to bring my crazy-high heart rate down and soothe my aching legs, Tim and I chatted with some other runners. One in particular had participated in this series last year. “Are they all this hard?” we asked him.
“Oh yeah, they are all pretty tough. Wait until the 15K. It’s grueling.”
It’s going to be a long winter. It’s a good thing I love running and love a good challenge. See you in a few weeks, York. Guess I better start following my own advice, and doing some hill work.