March 10, 2018: The Charles Harris Run for Leukemia (10K)

Bonnie snapped this photo at bib pickup before the race,
making it look like I was about to be devoured
by the Tucker Tiger, while I was attaching my race bib.  
The training cycle for next weekend's Publix Georgia Marathon has gone very well for me, knocking out the long runs with the 10 min / mile pace group.  After completing a 22.5 mile run four weeks ago, I declared myself ready to run the marathon, with considerable confidence that I would break the 4:30 mark.  And then, three weeks ago:

I ran the Southside 12K.

Coach Amy Begley had advised us to run the race at marathon pace, which for me would have been a 10 min / mile pace, finishing just under 75 minutes.  But I had realized, if I could maintain my 10K personal record 8 min / mile pace for two more kilometers, I would finish in less than 60 minutes.  And I did just that, recording a time of 59:36 for my first 12K race.  I deployed a new mantra that pushed me up the last tough hill going into the finish line.  

But I paid dearly for that effort.  I didn't think that I was injured at first, but as the general soreness faded in the next day or two, I was left with a sore Achilles on the left ankle, weakness in the right ankle, and a painful left hip, which was either an IT band or a quadriceps strain, maybe both.  I've struggled with several runs since then.  Two weeks ago, I did finish a 20.5-mile run at a 12 min / mile pace to complete my third 20+ long run of the cycle.  But the injuries are still bothering me, despite spending considerable time on the foam roller and less time actually running.  Certainly I haven't been overdoing it during the taper period.  I just hope that I can run without too much pain next weekend.
Good turnout by the Tucker Running Club!
For the fifth consecutive year, I registered for the Charles Harris Run for Leukemia.  This is a fast net downhill course, typically held in the weeks before Peachtree Road Race registration closes.  If I hadn't injured myself a few weeks ago, I probably would have raced hard today to see if I could trim a few seconds off my previous personal record of 49:28.  But I was in no shape to do that today.  In fact I deliberately made sure that I registered a week ago for the Peachtree Road Race, to remove one major reason to try too hard today. 
Part of the Ben's Wizards team, before the race:
(l-to-r) Richard Wilson, me, Teresa Ducuara, Michele Richard 
The main motivation for continuing with the race was to join the Ben's Wizards team.  A few years ago, one of my running buddies Richard Wilson lost a friend and co-worker to leukemia.  Ben Newman was only in his 40's when he passed away.  Richard had told me a little about Ben in the past, and when Richard and his fiancĂ© invited me to join Ben's Wizards, I was happy to join.  They created purple shirts for the team, purple being the color adopted by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.  

I warmed up with about a quarter mile walk inside the Tucker High School gym and then began to run slowly, feeling considerable pain in my left hip.  After less than a half-mile, I stopped for the Tucker Running Club photo, then resumed with two laps on the track outside, barely at a 10 min / mile pace.  With some trepidation, I headed for the start, taking a position near the back of the pack.  
With Donna Roberts, who worked the water station at the Southside 12K
My main running goal for today was to try out a new mantra.  Turns out, the mantra that I used in the Southside 12K was "too strong," pushing me so hard that I injured myself!  So I needed a more appropriate mantra.  
At the 40 km water station in last month's Tokyo Marathon, Yuta Shitara picked up a badge
with his mantra, driving him to a second-place finish and a new marathon record for a Japanese runner.
While that might have worked for Yuta Shitara in the Tokyo Marathon, in which he won a 100 million yen award for setting a new marathon record for a Japanese runner, that would be too mild for me.  And then I realized that I've been carrying the perfect mantra on my wrist ID: "Quitting is not an option."  That comes from our Weight Watchers leader, encouraging healthy eating in moderation, while in the midst of a largely sedentary society with abundant and inexpensive fast food options.
Mantra slightly modified due to Road ID character limit
The race started shortly before 8 am.  Some of my friends in the Tucker Running Club were a little surprised to see me starting behind them, but I needed to start slowly and carefully.  I had set my watch to a 4:30 run, 0:30 walk, and took the first walk break midway through the first mile.  Getting back to a run was a little difficult for the first few steps, but as my legs warmed up, I was able to stride a bit better.  Intending to run the race at a 10 min / mile pace, I was a little surprised to complete the first mile in 9:40.  I decided that if I could stick with the 9:40 min / mile pace, I would finish in a respectable time of 60 minutes.  But in mile 2, I slowed to 9:57, and needed 10:04 for mile 3.  I passed the 5K marker at 31 minutes even, on pace for a 62 minute finish. 

It's amazing how an injury can plant so many negative thoughts in my mind.  I started to wonder, in next week's race, should I drop from the marathon to the half-marathon? or the 5K? That would really be a shame after all of the effort that I've made to prepare for 26.2 miles.  "Quitting is not an option!"  And that's when I decided that I would try to push myself a little harder.  For mile 4, I was back to a 9:43 pace.  I also realized that the transition from walking to running was part of my problem, so decided to skip some of the walk breaks for the rest of the race.  I certainly wasn't winded, as my voice was strong as I thanked the volunteers at the water station.  I was beginning to pass other runners, and hadn't been passed by anyone since I had stopped taking walk breaks.  My attitude began to improve as I just focused on running.  "Quitting is not an option!"  Finishing mile 5 in 9:21, and less than 49 minutes elapsed, I realized that I could run the last 1.22 miles in 11 minutes if I managed a 9 min / mile pace for the rest of the race.  The great thing about the Charles Harris Run is that the mile 5 marker is at the top of a hill, with a 100-foot drop over the next half-mile or so.  I started to accelerate, passing more runners heading downhill.  The pain was still there but wasn't any worse, so I just focused on setting a faster pace, enjoying the easiest part of the course.  At the bottom of the hill, we turned onto North Druid Hills Road, with a slight uphill. "QUITTING IS NOT AN OPTION!"  Since I wasn't winded, I ran strongly uphill, passing more and more and more people as I drew closer to the finish line.  As I reached the 6 mile marker (8:42 for mile 6, 57:30 elapsed, I could see the top of the finish line banner in the distance, and I realized that I would definitely complete the race in less than an hour.  I passed a few more runners, which encouraged them to run faster trying to stay ahead of me.  I wasn't really racing them, I just wanted a good finish for myself.  As I drew near the finish line, I could see Bonnie ahead, ready to capture my photo.  At the start of the race, I hadn't expected to celebrate at the end, but as I crossed the timing mat, I flashed a big smile and raised both hands, pleased that I had run better than I had expected. 
59:50 gun time thanks to a strong finish!
I forgot to stop my watch until I had pulled off to the side to chat with Richard and Bonnie, but I estimate that my official time was between 59:30 and 59:40.  Although my legs were sore, I didn't feel any worse for the effort.  In fact the race has improved my confidence that I may continue to recover in the week remaining before the marathon. 
With Richard after the race - mission accomplished,
paying our respects to Ben's memory.
Ben's Wizards will run the Winship Cancer Institute 5K in the fall. 

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