The Jones 10 Miler in Amherst is a legendary winter race in New England and a great training race for the Boston Marathon. I have been playing this race by ear because of weather, schedule and a birthday party on the calendar. I already ran a race in February so this would be an extra in my plan to run one race a month. I needed a long double digit run this month so a 10 mile race would fit the bill. An impending storm heading up the east coast forced the race to be postponed from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. I hadn’t registered yet so it wouldn’t be a financial loss to not run. As it became clear that the storm was not going to hit us I worked out the schedule for Sunday with my husband and decided I would run the race while he went to the birthday party with Carlos.
However, the weather started looking grim mid-morning on Sunday. As I left the house to make the 20 minute drive it was drizzling with threats of sleet and snow on the forecast. The old Aimee would have turned around and said screw it. Instead I said to myself, “what the hell I’m already out I might as well give it a go.” The drive to Amherst, one of my favorite places and home of my alma mater UMass, is along slow winding back roads. As bad luck would have it I got stuck behind a long line of cars and a bus. The normal 20 minutes to my destination was now pushing 35. I found the location or so I thought. Turns out registration was a short drive away and it was already 10 minutes to the start. I registered as quickly as I could, put my bib on, stashed my key in my bra (I’m classy like that!) and off I went in search of the starting line.
I saw it in the distance and as I was running toward the start the race began. It was a bit awkward to have 500 runners hurtling towards you. I ran past the start line and turned around to start the race dead last. It was raining at this point and big fat flakes of snow were slowly forming. I laughed to myself at the hilarity of the moment. The old Aimee would have been embarrassed and self-conscious as the bystanders watched my faux pas. Instead I fell into a comfortable pace and quickly began making my way into the pack.
This course is notoriously challenging and hilly. Female winner Stephanie Reilly, a cross-country and track and field coach at Bryant University, was quoted as saying “This course is very, very difficult!…I ran a 16-mile race in Derry (N.H.) in January, and I think this race is much harder.” She still managed to finish in 58:40. That is pretty amazing in my book. I would have to agree with her assessment of the course. It was by far one of the toughest races I have yet to run. It was also one of the most gratifying races.
I have never run a 10 mile race so any time would be a PR, but I had a time in mind. I seem to running sub-10 minute miles these days despite my constant disbelief. I continue to hang onto a little of that self-depricating habit of downplaying my achievements. For instance I have a hard time calling myself a runner. That’s ridiculous considering I run all the time. Achieving a 10 minute mile after running for a year or so was huge for me. Slowly but surely I began running a little faster and so on. Despite knowing my abilities I still set my goal for this race at 1:40, a 10 minute mile pace, and really I even told myself that somewhere in the range of 1:45 to 1:50 was more likely because of the weather.
However, when I get out on a race course my mind usually takes over and gets a little competitive. This race was no different. The hills were manageable to start but at mile 3 is where things started to get steep. I took one look at the hill ahead and said
forget it hell yes I can do this and I did it…again and again and again because those dang hills just kept coming right up to about a quarter mile from the finish. I ran the hills, each and every one. With each one I ran a little taller and felt a little prouder.
Somewhere at around mile 3.5 I came shoulder to shoulder with another woman. We ran together for a bit both very focused on our own run. I got ahead of her and then after a water stop she pulled ahead. We continued like this a couple of times until she finally pushed past me for good, but I knew she was running at a pace faster than I was used to so I kept as close as possible even adding a few sprints from time to time to catch up a little closer. I never caught up to her but no one else came between us.
The hills in the 9th mile were cruel and unforgiving. I pushed my way up them and as I rounded a corner I realized I had made it to the finish line. It was up a ways and I could see that we had to loop through a parking lot. As I got closer I caught sight of the time clock. Up to this point I had absolutely no clue what my time was. There were mile markers along the entire course but no clocks.
I wax on and on about what running has done for me physically and mentally so I hate to get all emotional again. I honestly can’t help it though so consider yourself warned. I saw the clock and I gasped as tears welled up in my eyes. I must have been a sight to see as I tried to catch my breath and sprint towards the finish. I think I had a mini asthma attack. That woman ahead of me finished in 1:35:38. I tapped her on the shoulder as I left the finish chute and congratulated her on a great race. I also thanked her for pacing me. You know what? She thanked me too. She told me she was grateful to have me close by through all the ups and downs of the course. We shook hands and parted ways. Wow I was floored. I was beaming from ear to ear. My official finish time was 1:35:54!
Oh and that crazy winter weather, would you believe it really wasn’t that horrible to run in. It made the quaint scenic route through farmland and wooded areas look even more like a quintessential New England winter scene by Norman Rockwell. Sure I was wet at the end, but my shoes stayed relatively dry and my hands were warm enough to take off the gloves in the first few miles.
After a small bowl of vegetarian chili and a banana, I loaded up on free Odwalla bars and headed home. I drove home in silence reflecting on the race. From here on in I will no longer sell myself short with negative self-talk. I will not underestimate my abilities. I will continue to train hard some days, run for fun other days and always trust in my progress. My son asked me if I won like he always does and I replied like I always do, “I win every time I cross the finish line.”