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.

Don’t judge a run til its over

There is an old saying-“don’t judge a book by its cover”.  Some things aren’t very appealing on the surface but dig in and they tend to come out great.  Maybe it’s that our perception of the journey changes somewhere along the way, or that looking back our journey was worth the struggle.

I have had many runs where I just didn’t want to go. I was tired, lazy or did not feel 100% at the time, as I’m sure we all have.  Somehow, I usually find a way to fight through the grogginess and head out the door. It seems like after a few miles, I settle into my rhythm, my muscles get warmed up and joints loosened, then those feelings are gone.  When all goes right, I get to my target mileage and I don’t want to stop, despite the fact that I didn’t want to be there to start with.  Maybe knowing this will probably happen is what keeps me motivated when I have one of those days.

Then there are the days where I take off and feel like I could take on a 100 miler.  Everything is ticking along, the world is right and the stars are lined up for me…and then it happens.  That “IT” could be any number of things, a slight muscle twinge, a car that gets to close and throws off my mental focus, There are hundreds of things that could happen and cause my focus to rabbit trail off the main thing, my run.

The biggest example of this in my life was at a local marathon, I felt good to start, but I had not slept enough due to some sudden changes in my wife’s plans. Originally she was going to spend the night with a friend and they would do the early start together.  On my way to drop her off, the friend called to inform us that she had a family emergency and would have to back out of the race.  So, I was left with no other choice but to leave over 2 hours earlier than planned.

After watching the early start, I wanted to find a place to sleep, but I was awake and that was all there was to it. There would be no more rest before I tackled the 26.2 miles before me, just waiting. Slowly other runners started arriving and the pre-race excitement started to take over, any desire for sleep evaporated.

I started off with a few of my friends, but their numbers dwindled quickly as a few dropped back. This wasn’t a concern, as I usually ended up in front of them on our training runs.  Around mile 8, I started to feel a little more tired than usual, so I took a walk break.  Afterall, this race wasn’t about PR’s, I had only signed up because my training plan for an upcoming 50k called for a 26 mile run. Why not get a medal and a t-shirt from a training run?

By mile 10 or 11 the weariness was getting to be almost too much. I resigned myself to run/walk the remainder, my legs got heavier and heavier.  My only thoughts were to finish. I wasn’t thinking about my nutrition, which added to the problems. Without realizing it, I was sabotaging my own efforts.

Around mile 14, I heard some runners coming up on me pretty fast.  As they got closer to me they yelled. As it turned out, it was my running buddies that had dropped back. I was moving so slow they caught up to me.  They were running for 3 minutes and walking for 1 minute, so I decided to try and stay with them as long as possible.  This was my first good decision of the race. Soon we were encouraging each other. The three of us all hit low points, but the other two would pull the one through it.

At the 20 mile mark we caught up to my wife and one of our other running buddies. Both of them had been fighting injuries for a few weeks and had decided to walk/light jog the whole way. I was still hurting at this point, but I was managing it much better.

The last 5 miles or so of this particular marathon are somewhat arduous.  It is a loop through a very flat and open area. On the surface a flat stretch might sound appealing but, it gets monotonous.  Hills allow you to use different muscle groups, giving others a rest.  Mentally, your mind starts to drift and then it zones in on the pain.  Luckily, I had my friends there and we were able to help each other along.

As we came up to the last half mile, we had to cross a pedestrian bridge over a small river.  I was spent and the thought of running up this one last bit of torture on the course, turned my legs to lead.  As I dragged myself over, one of my friends turned around and asked if I had been keeping an eye on my watch. I had been trying to avoid looking for many miles now, knowing that it would only toy with my thoughts.  Not looking had seemed like the only successful fight of the day, so just let me have that one victory I thought to myself.

Crossing the finish line

She yelled to me “You’re going to PR!” WAIT, WHAT?!?! PR, when I felt this bad for this long? I looked and realized that yes I could PR! Suddenly, I had more energy that ever. The thought of a personal record revived me and I began to jog at first; then it became a run. By this point we had reached the crest of the bridge and my speed only increased. As we came down the bridge to the finish, somehow, I actually passed the friends who were feeling better than me.

As I neared the line, all I could see was the official clock ticking off the seconds. This pushed me even more.  With all I had, I crossed the line and took 6 minutes off my best time. Some may scoff at my overall time but, I had done this with less than 2 months since my previous PR and no break in training.

I had almost gave up on myself and my run that day. If I had listened to that voice in my head that kept telling me why I should just stop trying to go so hard, I would have never made it to the finish. The run wasn’t over, but in my head I had given up on it. Luckily, I had some people there to show me otherwise.

A good run does not become a good run in the first mile, and a bad run is just mental conditioning.