Those who were following my tweets and FB posts this morning know I was just a bit psyched about the USATF Masters 12K Championship in Alexandria. It was my first time competing as a Masters (over 40) athlete in a national road racing event and I had no idea what to expect. I certainly didn’t expect to get special treatment, including being invited to hang out with the elite runners in their special pre-race area, where we were also able to leave our bags, which were then transported to the VIP tent at the finish. Getting older has its benefits.
When I signed up for this event some time over the summer, I’m not sure if there even was a Masters Championship, as that was added to the event later. I simply signed up because it was a National event in my local area. Then the Masters Champs were added, and prize money included, and then somehow the Masters organizers wrangled the runners a sweet spot on the start line with the elite men. Although we had to stand behind them. No big deal, since I had no plans to try to hang with them.
There was a Masters technical meeting the day before the event, which I attended, having never done this type of thing before. The organizers went over the rules – no headphones, no cutting the course, must wear number on front, age division bib on back – and then describe the race course in excruciating detail: turn here, this is an incline, where the distance markers and timing mats are, etc. People asked questions, such as “how wide is the start line?” that I would never think to ask. It was 28 feet wide.
And I started to get a little psyched about this race.
When I got to the start area (ridiculously early as usual) I was the first athlete in the elite/masters tent. I was soon joined by a large group of elite women, including Shalane Flanagan and Molly Huddle. The masters arrived a bit later, including Bryan Glass, whom I’d met the day before and who went on to win the Master’s Championship (super nice guy, asked me after the race if I had jumped in the Potomac for a post-race swim, since I’d told him I’m a triathlete), and Al Rider, whom I’ve known for about 15 years through running with Reston Runners. The group was serious but friendly. Everyone lined up nicely for the porta potties (which didn’t smell nearly as bad as the regular ones!) and shared the same space for going through our drills and strides.
The elite women started at 7:15, while we were starting at 7:25 with the elite men and “community” runners. When we went to line up we were directed to our special Masters spot right behind the elite men. One of the things we’d been told the day before was that all awards would be based on gun – not chip – time, and so everyone wanted a spot closest to the front. I tucked in right behind Perry Shoemaker, who runs on Potomac River Running’s elite team, and another woman in my age group. The gun went off and everyone took off at an incredibly fast pace. When I looked down at my Garmin and saw I was running a 6 minute/mile pace I knew I had to back off, as my 10K pace was about 6:55. I backed down to about a 6:30, reluctantly letting a couple of women in my age group go past me.
The course was fast. There were a couple of hills but they were short and not steep. The course had a number of turns, and I focused hard on running the tangents and not taking the turns too tight, which causes me to slow down. I settled in to a 6:45 pace for the next few miles, which felt comfortable, although I wasn’t sure I would be able to maintain that for 7.4 miles. I went through 5K in 21:05, which until this year was my PR for that distance.
I passed back one of the 40-44 women in the first few miles, and the other by about mile 5, which made me work hard to maintain my pace as I didn’t want them to catch me back, and now I felt like a target. I went through 10K in about 42:25, a new PR. By this point I was feeling very confident. I still felt strong, wasn’t hurting at all, and was able to keep pushing the pace. The nice thing was that the course was downhill after about 10K. I hammered the last 1.2 miles as hard as I could, and crossed the line in 50:45.
As soon as I finished, a race volunteer came over and asked if she could bring me my race bag. I said “sure,” and she went off to retrieve it. She came back empty-handed, however, and told me it had been moved to the VIP tent at the finish. Sweet. I wandered over to the VIP tent where my bag was handed to me. Not sure if I was supposed to stay but no-one kicked me out so I hung out with the elite runners, got some coffee and snacks, and had my pic taken with Molly and Shalane.
After a while I decided to leave the comfort of the VIP tent and ventured over to the results tent. They had computers set up where you could enter your number and get instant results. I was pleased with my time, and I guess a little disappointed to be 4th in my age group (awards are given to the top 3 – there’s a reason they call 4th place first loser!), but psyched that I was 6th overall for female Masters! Stands to reason that the fastest runners would be in my age group!
While waiting for the Masters awards we were treated to a race between the Washington Nationals mascots – presidents George, Tom, Abe, and Teddy. Teddy – always the underdog – won, while Tom took a fall halfway.
He wasn’t the only one taking a tumble. Abdi was sporting a nice cut on his face and had ice on his hand after some unwanted contact with the road during the race. With all the turns on the course, and the damp air, there were a couple of very slick spots on the course, especially on the bridge over Route 1 near the end. But for the most part the course was great, giving us a nice tour of Alexandria, and the spectators were fabulous. At one point just after 10K I heard my name – not sure who it was but thank you! – and several times I heard “Go PR!” which is always nice.
I hope USATF brings this event to Alexandria again next year, but wherever it is, I definitely plan to run again!