Martian Invasion of Races - 10k Virtual Race

in EXHAUSTlast month

I just finished a 10.167km running that lasted about 0hh:45mm:50ss !

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Background

Even if I only started training somewhat seriously and consistently less than a couple years ago, I’ve been trying to run at least a few races every year for a long time. Mostly 10k, but also the Detroit half marathon when I’m not injured. So, early in 2020, as usual I registered for a race called Martian Invasion of Races. I usually try to register with the early bird option, to save a few bucks of course, but also because once I’m registered, there’s less chance for me to back out, except in case of an injury. Moreover, that race is scheduled every year mid-April and great to check if the indoor soccer winter season and extra long dog walks in the snow were sufficient to keep me in shape. It includes 5k, 10k, half marathon and full marathon options, but I always choose the 10k, it’s a distance I know I can still run without any training if needed. April in Michigan, the weather can be anything: I remember running a year with more than 80F (27 degrees Celsius) and sun, while for the last one in 2019, we got hit the entire run by a wintry snow mix (believe it or not, I prefer the latter one, heat is not my friend).

Of course, with the COVID shit starting to hit the fan in March, it was canceled with all the registrations deferred to 2021. Fast forward a year, I completely forgot about this. Until I received in the mail a package with a T-shirt, a finisher banner and medal (for a race I haven’t run yet!) and a weird looking inflatable alien. Apparently, buried in the thousands of unread emails, I had received emails explaining the 2021 race had been switched to a ‘virtual race’. That makes sense since the COVID situation in Michigan is still pretty bad, and the organizers just couldn’t afford canceling everything one more year.

Preparation

I’ve never run a virtual race before. For me, the whole point of entering a race is the extra push and motivation it creates, with all the other runners, and in some cases the supporting crowd... As I often say, a little friendly competition is always good. And I didn’t think a virtual race could do that for me.
But as I was registered anyways, I thought, why not? We have the entire first week of May to schedule our own run and upload our results. And I actually tried to take it seriously:

  • a week before, I went for a recon run to find a good 10k route
  • I took 2 full rest days after my run last Sunday
  • I tried (but kind of failed) to go to bed earlier than usual the night before, and even stretched a little which I almost never do
  • I tried planning my workday so I could run mid-afternoon, not too early, not too late. It also wasn’t really a success, but I did run slightly earlier than usual.
  • In the morning, I charged my watch and earbuds. All ready!

Conditions and Route

The weather was great for a run, mostly cloudy in the mid-50s (around 12 degrees Celsius), and a little bit of sun in the end. Late afternoon, after one last work meeting, a coffee break for the caffeine boost (and because almost nothing can deny me my afternoon espressos), I suited up and got ready for my run. For once, I warmed up a bit! This is a big thing for me, I almost never do. It was only a couple of minutes of dynamic warm up and a few stretches, but it’s better than nothing!

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The usual route for this race is not particularly scenic with a few portions following major roads and some U-turns where you see the faster runners on the other side… The route I chose today is also not spectacular and just based on some of my usual loops in the neighborhood, all on asphalt. Today would have been too wet for trail running anyways.
It starts on local small streets with very little traffic, and even some parts along the forest, prohibiting motorized vehicles.

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Then it follows bigger roads but there is a sidewalk the whole way, making it pretty safe, even with some of the bad Michigan drivers out there.

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The final part goes back to the small streets and pathways.

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It’s also very flat. Once again, it’s Michigan, we don’t have a lot of hills in the area.

Run

As too often, the first mile was difficult and too fast for my current form. For most of my runs, I try to check my watch only once every mile when it vibrates to indicate one mile was completed. Sometimes it’s not easy to ignore the time I see for the previous mile, and just listen to my body’s feedback. For instance today, when I saw the third mile was about 30 seconds slower than the first, I was tempted to speed up, but I managed to keep my pace as natural as possible. I did run a bit out of fuel for the last mile or so, and in a normal race, that’s exactly where a bunch of strangers cheering on the sidelines would have helped.
Final time is under 46 minutes for just over 10km, with an average pace of 7:15min/mile. I was hoping to drop under 45 minutes, but that’s close enough and easily one of my best runs recently. Of course, it’s several minutes slower than my PR on that distance, but it was when I was much younger. I was also much less trained though. My current training obviously helps but it does not compensate for aging yet… One more reason to keep at it.

Conclusion

As expected, the virtual setting didn’t have the same effect an in-person race can have on the motivation, and willingness to go further in the red zone. But, by approaching it almost like a normal race, I managed to reach my best time in a while on that 10k distance. Except maybe to support some of the local races’ organizers, I doubt I will sign up for any other virtual races though. However, for somebody struggling to get into a training routine, or stay in a routine, maybe that could be the small extra push they need.

I know it was quite longer than usual, but I thought I would detail my first virtual race’s impressions. I hope you find it a little bit interesting. Thanks for stopping by and keep Exhausting!

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