Real-World Running

Yesterday, I ran my first 10K in “the real world”, my first real world run in a long time. Almost eleven years ago I ran a 5K, and 3.5 years ago I ran a non-competitive 5 miler on Thanksgiving.

I was a bit worried about how my treadmill training would map to real world running, but signed up for the Austin Capitol 10K as a forcing function to keep working out.

tl;dr: it went pretty well: it didn’t go as well as I’d hoped, nor as poorly as I feared. I beat my previous 10K time by about four minutes and finished just inside the top third of my age group.

What went well:

  • The weather was great: Sixties to low seventies. It was sunny, but early enough that it wasn’t too hot. I put my bib number on my shorts because I expected I’d have to take my shirt off to use as a towel, but I didn’t have sweat pouring into my eyes until the very end.
  • Because it wasn’t hot, my little SpeedDraw water bottle lasted me through the whole race.
  • While I expect my knees are likely to be my eventual downfall, I didn’t have any knee pain at all during the run.
  • No blisters or chafing, with new Balega socks and Brooks Ricochet 3 on my feet and Body Glide for my chest.
  • After running on the perfectly flat and almost perfectly predictable treadmill for three months, I expected I was going to trip or slide in gravel when running on a real road. While I definitely had to pay a lot more attention to my foot placement, I didn’t slip at all.
  • Sprinting at the finish felt great.
  • A friend ran with me and helped keep me motivated.
  • The drive to and parking for the race was easy.

Could’ve been better/worse:

  • Two miles in, my stomach started threatening to get rid of the prior night’s dinner; the feeling eventually faded, but I worried for the rest of the race.
  • As a little kid, I had horrible allergies, but since moving to Texas they’re mostly non-existent. On Saturday, my nose started running a bit and didn’t stop all weekend. Could’ve been a disaster, but it was a mild annoyance at most.
  • I woke up at 4:30am, 90 minutes before my alarm, and couldn’t get back to sleep. Still, I got 5.5 hours of good sleep.

What didn’t go so well:

  • Pacing. Running on a treadmill is trivial– you go as fast as the treadmill, and you always know exactly how fast that is. I wore my FitBit Sense watch, but because I had to keep my eyes on the road, I barely looked at it, and it never seemed to be showing what I wanted to know.

    I missed seeing the 1 mile marker, and by the time the 2 mile marker came along I was feeling nervous and demotivated. My watch had me believing that I was far behind my desired pace (I wasn’t, my first mile was my fastest and at my target pace, despite the obstacles). I didn’t get into my “groove” until the fourth mile of the race, but by then I wasn’t able to maintain it.

    I spend most of my running on the treadmill around 145bpm “Cardio” heart-rate zone (even when running intervals), but I spent most of this race in “Peak”, averaging 165bpm. More importantly, when I do peak on the treadmill, it’s usually been at the very end of the workout, and I get to cool down slowly with a long walk after. I need more practice ramping down my effort while still running at a more manageable pace.
  • Crowds. There were 15000 participants, and when I signed up, I expected I’d probably walk most of the course. As a consequence, I got assigned to one of the late-starting corrals with other slow folks, and I had to spend the first mile or so dodging around them. Zigzagging added an extra tenth of a mile to my race.
  • Hills. Running hills in the real world is a lot harder than doing it on the treadmill. In the real world, you have to find ways to run around the walls of walkers; while I’d hoped I’d find this motivational, seeing so many folks just walking briskly enticed me to join them. It didn’t help that some jerk at the top of the hill at 1.5mi assured everyone that it was the last hill of the race– while I didn’t really believe him, there was a part of me that very much wanted to, and I was quite annoyed when we hit the bigger hill later.
  • Forgettability. Likely related to the fact that I spent almost all of my time watching the road underfoot, an hour after the race was over, I struggled to remember almost anything about it. From capitol views to bands, I know there were things to see, but have no real memories of them. I’m spoiled by running on the treadmill “in” Costa Rica, although I don’t remember a ton of that either. Running definitely turns off my brain.
  • Poor Decisions. After the race, I wanted to keep moving, so I walked to a coffee shop I’d passed on my drive into the city. While my legs and cardio had no problem with this, at the end of the four-mile post-race walk, my feet (particularly my left foot arch) were quite unhappy.

Lest you come away with the wrong conclusion, I’m already trying to find another workable 10K sometime soon. That might be hard with the Texas summer barrelling toward us.


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Published by ericlaw

Impatient optimist. Dad. Author/speaker. Created Fiddler & SlickRun. PM @ Microsoft 2001-2012, and 2018-2022, working on Office, IE, and Edge. Now a SWE on Microsoft Defender Web Protection. My words are my own, I do not speak for any other entity.

4 thoughts on “Real-World Running

  1. I love that race – music is usually fantastic on the route. But, the course is usually hilly (like all of Austin). Running the Longhorn 10K next week and hoping for similar weather. Thank you for the update.

  2. If you don’t mind running with headphones (I find bone conduction headphones to be the perfect balance of ability to hear surroundings and music) there are apps you can use for pacing so you don’t have to look at your watch. iSmoothRun on iOS works well and I’m sure there are plenty of others.

    1. It’s an interesting idea. I actually only thought about headphones a few days before the run and decided that I probably shouldn’t wear any for my first race because I haven’t run with headphones in years. I didn’t run with my phone, although my watch can stream music, I think; I hadn’t considered the idea of pacing via audio.

  3. Great job!

    I second Jeff’s comment – I’ve found that, even without pacing cues, the right music helps keep me more or less on pace. I usually listen to either podcasts or music and I can see a good 1-2 minute difference in pace between listening to podcasts versus music.

    I agree with your comments on treadmill making it easy as well as race heart rates being higher – that’s been my experience.

    I enjoy running solo, but there is something exciting about races – I’ve been doing the St Jude race weekends for the last two years in Memphis and they’re a lot of fun.

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