It occurred to me as I was preparing for the Chi Town 10K that this would be only the second race of my life where I neither knew anyone else who was running nor anyone who was spectating. The first time? My first race ever, a tiny neighborhood 5K in Upstate New York in 2001. I finished third in my age group and won a trophy at that race.
Well, 13 years later, I again finished third in my age group and won a medal at a race.
But 21-year-old Maggie would have been no match for almost-34-year-old Maggie. In fact, she would’ve gotten her ass handed to her.
Setting a 10K PR has been my goal for the last two years. I hadn’t really raced a 10K since 2009 — before I’d ever even completed a half marathon — so it was about time I tested myself.
Over the last few months, I’ve been putting in the work and (mostly) sticking to my training plan, but the winter that never quit had all but destroyed my spirit. I didn’t really know if I was making improvements, if I was getting faster, if I was going to be able to maintain the 8-minute pace needed for my lofty sub-50-minute 10K goal. But I had a good run the Wednesday before the race and the weather forecast didn’t look too terrible, so my confidence was on the upswing.
I treated the weekend as if I was running a half or full marathon: mindful of my sleeping and eating habits, drinking lots of water, mentally preparing and resting. There were moments when I thought, “I’m taking this WAY too seriously for a 10K.” But then again, I had a goal and I wanted to reach it, so it had to be done.
On race day, lo and behold, the Racing Gods smiled upon my head and delivered the most glorious of mornings for a lakefront run. Cool and sunny, no wind. Thanks, dudes!
Between the 10K and half marathon, there were only about 1,200 runners, so it was a laid-back pre-race atmosphere. Easy gear check, short lines at the port-o-potties, even parking wasn’t too much of a hassle. I marched in place in the corral near the 8-minute pace sign close to the front of the pack and for the first time, I fired up my Garmin watch for a race.
We took off, and I was left in the dust by the speed demons around me. Uh-oh. Then I settled into a quick-but-comfortable pace and checked my watch. 7:25 current pace. No, Maggie! Slow down! When my watch chimed in with a 7:37 mile 1, I had to give myself a talking to. Going out too fast is rarely a problem for me in half or full marathons, but a 10K was a whole different beast that I was not nearly as familiar with taming.
I eased off the gas just a bit and decided to concentrate on taking in my surroundings. After all, we were running under clear, sunny skies on my most favorite patch of Chicago’s Lakefront Trail, and my legs felt fresh and fast. Good gravy, did it feel GOOD.
I was starting to become rather parched, though, and two miles in, we still hadn’t hit a water stop. Strange. At 2.5, I grabbed water and when my watch chimed at 3 miles, it said 8:01. Refreshed and relieved, I kicked it back up a notch and found my groove, that euphoric place where I was busting my ass but still feeling incredibly confident and strong.
I started picking people off, glancing down at my watch every few minutes to check my current pace. Faster and faster and still strong. I jammed out to my all killer no filler playlist. Finally, I hit the turnaround for the 10K, and my first thought was, “I’m soooooo glad I’m not doing the half!” (Side note: I ran the half in 2012 and set a PR.)
I made the turn and noticed that, gee, there aren’t a lot of people around. “Everyone must be doing the half,” I thought to myself. I hit the home stretch and gave it everything I had left. “Oh gawwwd,” I heaved as a volunteer handed me my finisher medal, laughing. I hit stop on my Garmin. 47 minutes and change.
As I walked over to grab water and snacks, I looked around. The post-race area was practically empty. Huh, so this is what it looks like when you’re a front-of-the-pack runner. This was all new to me. I got my gear check bag, stretched and munched on some pretzels, and then I noticed a group of skinny runner dudes standing around a big bulletin board in the middle of the grassy area. “Race results!” a young volunteer said, running over to tape up a sheet of paper. I wandered over and looked for my name.
28. Maggie Jenkins / 3 30-34 / 33 F / 47:15 / 7:37/M
My jaw dropped. I walked away, and then 90 seconds later, I turned back to go look again, just to make sure my foggy runner’s brain didn’t make it up.
PR crushed by 5 minutes. Goal time crushed by almost 3 minutes. And third in my age group, which meant I was going to have to stick around for the awards ceremony.
Again, I said, WHOA.
I immediately texted my Bad Angels, and that was the first moment I really wished I’d had someone there with me. Regardless, I was bursting with joy and pride and hope and confidence for the rest of my racing season.
I retrieved my age group award, and then started the walk back to my car, two medals clanging around my neck with every step I took. I could get used to that sound. — Mags