For a few moments, I was running completely alone on the weaving road. My breathing was labored and my stomach turning with the accumulation of a gut-busting effort. Keep pushing, I thought to myself. The lead runner was out of sight for a moment, although a curve in the road soon revealed her to be several hundred meters ahead. I glanced over my shoulder quickly and saw no one. I was in second place and the resolve set deep into me to fight for that place with all I could give on the road that day.
I am accustomed to being a front of the middle of the pack runner, especially out here in Seattle, home of Oiselle, Brooks, and hundreds of sub-elite runners. In all of my races, I’ve never run alone – the lead runners have been far ahead of me. I’ve been able to chase down other runners during the hard final miles. I’m slightly competitive, so focusing on passing someone during a race is the motivation I often need to push hard when the pace already feels challenging. It’s quite different when it’s just you on the road, racing against the clock and against the almost uncontrollable factor of the runner behind you.
The Snohomish Women’s Run 10K was a completely new race experience for me: it was the first race where I didn’t just race for a PR, but for a place. I finished second overall out of 561 runners (including some men) and met my goal of breaking 45 minutes in the 10K.
I signed up for the Snohomish Women’s Run after the Lake Sammamish Half Marathon, when I realized that I wanted another race before summer came. I had a long-standing official 10K PR that was slower than my PR marathon pace and I wanted to work on speed – so I decided to try the 10K for the first time since I started racing three years ago.
One of the athletes I coach owns the Snohomish Running Company, so I wanted to run one of their races. I briefly considered Tenacious Ten, but the Snohomish Women’s Run was closer to home and offered a flat and fast course. I registered and began adding some 10K-specific workouts and speed work into my training – because I can’t just go into a race without knowing where my abilities are and seeing if I can push myself in training to be a little faster on race day.
I was a mildly nervous leading up to the race since I knew that the race was going to hurt. I reviewed my key workouts the night before the race, had a beer to take the edge off, and reminded myself of my race strategy. I wanted to start controlled and then push hard over the second half.
Ryan and I arrived early to the race on Sunday morning, since his brand Gear Well had a booth at the race. We ate an early breakfast at 5:15 AM (a plain bagel and honey with coffee and water with Enduropacks Electrolyte Spray for me). Then we arrived at the start/finish area shortly before 6 AM and set up our booth.
About 90 minutes before the race, I knocked back a Red Ace Organic Beet Juice shot and ate a banana. I drank some more coffee and water and took plenty of advantage of being at the start before runners started lining up for the bathroom.
About 35 minutes before the race, I did a quick warm-up of dynamic stretches, glute activation exercises, and a 10 minute easy run. I ran the final miles of the half marathon course on Lowell Riverfront Trail, which was calm and quiet. I then lined up near the front of the self-seeded start area.
The half marathon and 10K began at the same time. I went out with the first ten or so runners, trying to determine which ones were running the half and running the full. My lap pace showed 6:50 throughout the first ¼ mile and I reminded myself of my race plan: start controlled and run my own race. I pulled in the reins every so slightly and let a few runners surge ahead. Don’t get greedy about placing, I told myself. You’re always stronger over the second half. Conserve energy and control that pace. I reined myself back and finished the first mile in 7:05.
After the first mile, I passed a couple runners. The lead pack still loomed far ahead, but not too far. The turnaround point was somewhere around 2.8 miles (I was too focused on my effort to check my watch exactly), and the half marathons preceded straight on the road. Once I turned around, I realized that I was in second place – only one runner was ahead of me.
The mile or so after the turnaround was uplifting and inspiring – since I was running back on the left side of the road and the race was on the right side, I saw all the other participants. Many cheered me on and I got to see one of my athletes running, which was really exciting. I tried to wave and smile back as people cheered and encourage them on, although at this point my breathing was so labored that I couldn’t speak much.
During miles 4 and 5 of the Snohomish Women’s Run 10K, I didn’t have anyone to chase down. The lead woman was far ahead of me at this point – a good minute or more lead – and the gap between us widening with each mile. For the final miles of the race, it was just me fighting against any urge to give in the burning feeling in my lungs and possibly risk my second place lead.
I slowed down a bit during the sixth mile, my pace dropping to 7:12/mile. I made the final turn and saw the finish line ahead, just a few hundred meters down a muddy paved trail, and I pushed. I wasn’t sure how far third place was, so I just kept running hard, bring my pace back down to 6:55/mile. I still don’t have much of a finishing kick!
The race directors held up a banner as tape to break, which was a new experience for me. I crossed the finish line, hit the tape, and then almost immediately dropped my hands to my knees as I attempted to catch my breath. The moment was surreal. I received my medal, shook hands with the first place runner to congratulate her, and then stumbled in a fog of disbelief to hug Ryan.
My Garmin read 6.18 miles and an average pace of 7:07/mile, but the course is USATF certified and GPS watches aren’t always 100% accurate – so I’m trusting the course over my watch. My chip time was 43:53, with an average pace of 7:04/mile!
I stuck around well after the race to help Ryan with the booth. I tried to see one of my athletes finished, although I looked down for a second and then she went zooming by in a strong comeback from injury – I am so proud of her! I brought clothes to change into, since I always feel cold after a race, and ate a fair share of the post-race food and samples from the other booths. I received a Momentum Jewelry foot note at the awards ceremony.
Honestly, the 10K felt better than I anticipated! It felt weird to pound right into a hard effort from the start and feel that oxygen debt creeping up within just a couple miles, but then for the race to be over so quickly. Racing a 10K was really hard in a satisfying way. I had to work to hold that pace, unlike a marathon or half marathon where it’s comfortably for enough miles to get into a flow and then focus on working hard.
If you live in the Seattle/Everett areas or are looking for a flat, fast, and friendly race, I highly recommend the Snohomish Women’s Run. The course is flat and fast with very few turns (four total in the 10K). The Snohomish Running Company does a fantastic job in putting on an enjoyable, scenic, and well-organized race. Plus, instead of the usual race shirts, all participants received a flattering and cozy zip-up hoodie with the logo on the back – and free race photos!
I still can’t quite fathom that I placed second overall in a race, out of 561 runners, and that I maintained a pace in the low 7’s for 6.2 miles. When I ran my first 10K almost exactly three years ago, I considered such a pace impossible for me.
I want to say a heartfelt thank you to Ryan, who encourages me through training and is always there at the finish line, my family, Sarah and Grant for putting on such an awesome race, all of the volunteers, and all of you who left such kind and encouraging comments and messages. THANK YOU!
What’s the most surreal race experience you’ve ever had?