Those hills were going to be the death of me. I knew it from the start.
Early Saturday morning, I arrived at Mendon Ponds Park bright and early, ready to tackle the challenging Spring Forward Distance Run, a hilly and challenging 15K race, hosted by Fleet Feet Rochester and Yellow Jacket Racing.
Along with two friends, Ray and Traci, I parked by Stewart Lodge, near the start and finish lines, more than an hour before our 8:30 a.m. race start. We didn’t want to worry about any parking hassles, so we opted to leave plenty of time. We waited in the still-warm car for much of our pre-race time, and chatted about racing strategies.
Soon enough, we lined up on Douglas Road. Traci opted to run with another mutual friend Jessica and I wished them well. My speedy friend Ray was all set to pace me to a 9-minute-mile race. I was nervous since the last time I ran the course I finished at a 9:30 pace.
But he had faith. As a result, I did too. Besides, I knew what went up would also come down. And I was counting on those downhills to gain some time.
And we’re off! I’m somewhere in there. Photo courtesy Fleet Feet Rochester.
The first mile was fast. I think we took it out in around an 8:40 pace. I had hoped to keep it around 9, but we were excited and swept up in the crowd. And part of it was downhill.
Ray repeatedly reminded me to breathe deeply on the downhills, something which helped me incredibly. At no point was I gasping for air, thanks to his coaching, I was able to control my breath and run steadily.
We passed running partner Gary’s wife around mile 2.5. She smiled and waved and cheered us along.
Then we rounded a corner near this rather hilly stretch of Rush Mendon Road. It gets me every time. STEEP. Stunning, but STEEP. Ray encouraged me to pump my arms. I did and eventually, we made it to the top.
We passed the 5K mark. I remember looking at my watch to see a 26 minutes and umpteen seconds. I just beat my best 5K race time as part of a 15K race. This was either going to be amazing, or a train wreck.
Soon enough, we turned onto West Bloomfield Road. We passed a woman playing a guitar, which made me smile. Ray chattered on much of the way, sharing stories as I grunted several one-syllable responses. I recall lying about not having Easter plans because “no” was the shortest answer.
Ray continued to remind me to breathe (again, something I wanted to hear) and pointed out some large houses and animals in nearby fields and yards. He repeatedly told me we were on pace for a sub-9-minute-mile race and looking good.
The 10K mark was upon us. I looked at my watch again. I was on 10K PR pace. Nice. And I wasn’t dying. even better!
After hoofing it up a hill between miles 6 and 7, I ate my trusty vanilla bean GU for a bit of sustenance and energy. Ray handed me a water bottle as we rounded a corner onto Canfield Road.
“Look at that nice downhill,” he said. “Focus on your breathing.”
And not the massive hill ahead of it, I thought.
“Run toward small milestones, like that white sign ahead, and that tree over there,” he suggested. I nodded. Good advice.
Ultimately, I lost a bit of time on that last hill but pushed as hard as my legs would allow. I sped up running downhill and soon enough we were back on Douglas Road and rounded the bend toward the finish line.
1:24.10 was my official time, 9:03 pace. I had beaten my own course record by more than 4 minutes. I felt fantastic. And more importantly, those hills didn’t beat me.
— Victoria Freile (@vfreile) March 30, 2013