Navy 10 Nautical Miler

As runners we tend to measure our distance in one of two major systems, the metric system with 5k’s and 10k’s being the most popular of these. Then there is the imperial system with all its fractions and decimal points, 13.1 and 26.2 blah, blah, blah.

What if I told you there is another way of measuring your distance? What if there was a completely new distance in this system that you have probably never raced before? There is and it’s call a nautical mile. A nautical mile is roughly 1.15 miles

In 2010 the NSA Mid-South started this race, measuring at 10 nautical miles. Why this distance? According to their race information packet, 10 nautical miles is the distance from a ship to the horizon line. It is also the distance that our brave men battled from when they stormed the beaches of Normandy.

I have wanted to do this race for several years now and I finally made the time to do it. Overall, I’m glad I did and wonder why it took me so long to attend. I wasn’t sure what to expect there, I have seen many photos of the race and it looked like a major one.

We arrived on Saturday afternoon to the health and fitness expo/packet pick-up. It was not as large as the major marathon expos that I have been to, but there was plenty to see. They were set up in an old airplane hanger, so there was ample room, no tripping over other runners. In fact, the entire event was held on the largest inland U.S. Naval base. Looking around and watching the staff and volunteers, it was apparent that the officials had it all together. Everything was organized and everyone seemed to know exactly what they needed to be doing.

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Wearing our Arkansas Run for the Fallen shirts at the Expo

Sunday was race day! 6 a.m. start time! If you ask why the start time was so early, then you probably haven’t ran in the south much during the summer, it gets hot and humid fast here. As for Sunday instead of Saturday? I can only assume that it has something to do with the traffic and the fact that several major streets in and around the base are closed down completely.

At that time of the morning, the sun is just starting to peek over the horizon, but this day it was cloudy and there was a threat of rain. We were corralled up by anticipated finish times, faster ones in the front. As we took off, the course seemed flat to me, but I had been told there would be some rolling hills. We wound around what seemed like a back part of the installation, there were even some old airplanes there as if they were being prepped for display.

Before I knew it, I was at an aid station. The stations were at each nautical mile. I only used one since I was carrying my own water and nutrition. What I did see was that they were well stocked and the water and Gatorade had been kept iced, which is great for the Memphis summer runs. They also had porta-potties at each one, another good idea. With the cloudy conditions, the weather felt great and I just started running by feel and enjoying the day. Aid stations seemed to click by, each one with a sign showing what nautical mile you were at.

Along the course were sailors in their camouflage guiding and cheering for us. While I know that this was probably a typical military volunteer situation they seemed genuinely happy to be there, even at this early hour (for those not familiar, the military has a system where-as the superior rank tells someone that they have volunteered for a duty, otherwise know as being volu-told).

As for me, I went into the race just to enjoy and stay on top of my nutrition. I was hoping to do it in around 2 hours. I only casually glanced at my watch when the miles beeped, I didn’t really pay attention to it until mile 6 (actual mile since my watch doesn’t have a setting for nautical miles).  It was at that point I realized something, I was going to do a personal best on the 10k! I actually ended up doing a 58:39. It was then that I realized that I could actually do the 2 hour goal I had set. After all, I felt great and was already well over the halfway point, so why not?

A swig of Tailwind, a gel and off I went. The nautical miles and the accompanying aid stations seemed to click off. I had only made the stop at number 5 where I filled up my water bottle, so there was no need to stop at any others, but they made for great mental markers. I ran from aid station to aid station, just enjoying the run. The heat and humidity held off a little. It was warming up, but the overcast skies held off the major heat. I even felt a few rain drops along the way.

The hills were not bad by my standards, they were rolling hills that started18839314_1493715587333939_8228137875747962727_n around 2 miles in and were never a hard grade. By the halfway point, we had reached the maximum elevation. The worst was behind us or so I thought.

We entered a paved trail walking/jogging trail that went behind the base housing. Several of the residents came out to their backyards in order to cheer us on. At one point we went into the streets in the housing area with more residents out to cheer and one family outside with their water hose spraying into the street to cool the runners.

I always like to finish strong, push the last bit and this was my plan here also. What I had not counted on was the long steady hill up to the finish line. Again, it was not steep, just a long one, especially after 10 plus miles. I pushed as much as my legs would allow me to. I even managed to pass a couple of runners on the home stretch. As I approached the finish, my eyes went straight to the clock, 1:51 and counting. Official time-1:51:15.28, I had beat my goal!

I feel like I would 18835675_1530554330318974_4532056194763520342_nhave done a little better, had I realized that there was free waffles and beer at the finish. I’ll know next year, so maybe I can shave a few minutes off. The after party was well stocked, plenty of water and did I mention waffles and beer?

The most surprising thing to me was that 1,500 people were signed up, yet it had the feel of a small town race. It’s really hard to put your finger on why, but it just felt like a small race. Maybe it was the support of the local community, maybe it was that the organizers were on top of everything, or maybe it was the abundant volunteers who knew what needed to be done. Overall this is a great race that I am sure will continue to grow. I look forward to going back for many years and seeing what it becomes.

Brutal Truths

We all pick up little tidbits of advice along the way. Probably one of the best and most honest pieces I have ever heard was while I was in  marathon. I passed a lady who looked distraught. She was obviously struggling to make it through. What I assumed to be a friend of her’s was a few paces ahead. I say that I assume she was a friend due to the bluntness of her advice, because we tend to be more frank with someone we have ran and trained next to for hundreds of miles.

We tend to build up our shared experiences through the hardships of training, causing us to be more open and honest with each other. Like the Band of Brothers, we gain shared struggles, we’ve battled a common threat together. When one’s weakness is apparent, the others will step up and help overcome and as a group the challenge is conquered.  It’s through these shared tragedies, victories and just plain everyday drudgery that a bond begins to form.

Before you know it, you’re sitting around telling “war stories” about this race or that training run or how you helped each other. Much like the church scene in “Saving Private Ryan” where Captain Miller and Sergeant Horvath are discussing the battles of the past and soldiers they have lost. You shed tears and laugh together.

You’re building a story with these people so you tend to get very honest. So honest, that to the casual listener, you sound brutal. When you are on the receiving end, you know that it is not personal. They are just pushing you to be your absolute best. You know someday the tables might turn. Who else can you be so vividly honest with? There are not many people who you can do this with.

My two temporary running partners had obviously put in some miles together. The lady in front turned around and said “Well, some days are sugar and some are shit. Today ain’t really sugar for you.”

The advice, while blunt and somewhat comical, has a layer of truth to it. Many days since then I have thought back to that advice I heard on the course. Not all of your days can be sugar and when they aren’t, just roll with it and hope for some of that sugar in the future.

I wish I knew how they did that day. I didn’t get their bib numbers or remember their faces by the time I finished. Wherever they came in that day, I bet they are telling their war story and laughing about that day, having learned and moved on.