“Off” Season Racing: The Oley Valley 10 Miler

I ran the Oley Valley 10 miler in 2010 and I’ve wanted to go back ever since, but each year I’ve had scheduling conflicts that weekend. Since I wrapped up my marathon season after Chicago, I decided to take advantage of having nothing on the horizon for awhile and sign up up for some shorter distance events. I remember absolutely loving the Oley course the last time I ran it and just feeling great in general that day. I signed up with hopes that I could have a repeat performance and run a PR.

As the race got closer, I wasn’t really feeling into it. I’ve been taking it really easy since Chicago – low, easy mileage and not running much at all. I’ve been doing something everyday, but certainly not a whole lot of running – mostly swimming and some strength training to give my body a rest. I’ve been really enjoying some extra sleep and lots of extra time relaxing on my couch for the off season. So when I woke up on Sunday morning and looked outside at the cold, windy weather, I almost went back to sleep.

IMG_7369Almost. But of course I didn’t do that. I begrudgingly laced up my running sneakers and headed to Oley anyway. It’s about a 40 minute drive from my house on beautiful back roads, so that gave me some time to wake up. I met up with Mark H. and Mark W. shortly after I arrived. After getting our packets (a.k.a just bibs and cotton long sleeve t-shirts – it’s a no-frills race), we sat in my car to keep warm. It wasn’t that it was cold outside, but it was super windy – making it feel pretty freaking cold. The race is basically out on roads that go through cornfields, so there isn’t much of a wind barrier. We all agreed that it was the kind of day that if we turned around and just went home without racing, we would be completely fine with it.

But we didn’t do that, either. We lined up at the starting line anyway. As the race began, my feet felt numb and cold and we were running directly into the wind. By the time my watch beeped indicating that we’d run a mile, I couldn’t catch my breath and really wasn’t feeling into it. Why did I sign up for this? I should be in bed. My first mile was a 6:46, and I knew I would not be getting any faster than that – it was more likely that I would slow down. My primary goal was to run a PR, which meant I needed to run faster than a 7:05 pace. I could certainly slow down and still do that – my legs felt good, but the wind in my face was making it hard to breathe. My “B” goal was to average sub 7 minute miles, and my “C” goal was to run around a 6:45 pace. I was on pace for my reach goal in the first mile (and for a little while after that) but knew I didn’t have that in me for the whole race. My legs didn’t feel bad, though – they felt pretty decent. They didn’t feel heavy, like I expected from my low mileage – but they also didn’t feel very responsive, either.

It ended up being a “B” goal kind of day, which I was completely happy with. I knew there were a few girls ahead of me but I wasn’t letting myself get caught up in the competition this time. I hadn’t been training hard enough to win, and I didn’t want to completely ruin my race experience on a course that I always speak so highly of. I wasn’t even sure that I had a PR in me, but it didn’t matter. I signed up for this race to have fun, and that’s exactly what I did. I kept a casual eye on my Garmin and committed to running at a comfortable pace, which ended up being sub seven minute miles. That was more realistic for me that day, and I crossed the finish line in 1:09:27, which is a 6:57 pace. It was a PR by one minute and 24 seconds and a sub-7 minute mile average. Sweet.

It was such a strange race for me. At some points, I felt completely awful, but at other times it felt effortless. Once I looked at my splits, I realized that the moments where I felt awful happened to coincide with the miles that were completely into the wind. Imagine that. About four miles of this race were almost completely into the wind. I got slightly off pace in those miles but not enough to screw up my chance at a PR or my sub-7 minute average. Mile 6 was a 6:41 and mile 10 was a 6:43, and it felt great. At mile 10, I actually wished it were a full marathon because I felt like I could run all day. It was the first time that I crossed a finish line where I felt like I had a lot more left, which means I could have pushed harder. I decided I suck at running into the wind – so I will really need to get out and do more of it because it isn’t always going to be at my back. I didn’t realize how much of a weakness it for me until this race.

The lowest point in the race? Somewhere between mile 8-9. That was the mile that got me off pace enough to miss a 1:08 and my slowest mile of the race. We came out and turned on to a long stretch road surrounded by fields, directly into the wind – and almost entirely uphill. By that point, I was feeling good but didn’t feel like fighting the wind anymore. At least during the other windy segments I could see ahead where we would turn to end the wind tunnel torture. This time, all I could tell is that we were running straight, uphill, and into the wind for an indefinite amount of time. I put my head down and tried fighting it for a little while, but finally felt frustrated enough to give in and slow down when I started to feel like I couldn’t catch my breath.

It was a lot hillier than I remember, but the hills don’t scare me. The wind….well, apparently I need some more practice running in that! Either way, after I warmed up, I had a blast. I also didn’t put enough thought into my nutrition, but interestingly enough I’d grabbed a GU and had it in my pocket when I started running. I used it around mile 4.5. I never use stuff like that in “short” distance races, but I almost wished I’d taken one before I started. I’d eaten half of a gluten free bagel and half of a banana for breakfast, but I don’t think it was enough. I was hungry when I started running, and it was interesting that I started feeling so much better after eating something. I didn’t really make myself eat much before because it was only 10 miles – it would be over fairly quickly and like I said, I just wasn’t that into it.

IMG_7367All in all, it was a successful day. I ended up being the 5th overall female, and I got 1st in my age group. Maybe if I’d been more into it I could have been the 3rd overall female – I could see three and four ahead of me – but I hadn’t put the work in for that. Or, maybe I just don’t have that kind of speed in me. Either way, this race was ultimately supposed to be about having fun and seeing where my fitness level is in this “off” season. Mark H. placed 2nd in his age group and ran a 1:05, and Mark W. ran an amazing 1:16. It was a job well done all around!

Although I might have said differently in the first few miles of the race, I would absolutely go back and do it again.While the course features lots of long, rolling hills on roads surrounded by fields, it is very scenic and well organized. I remember this race being windy back in 2010, too – but not as windy as it was this year.  There is post race soup, hot chocolate and coffee. The awards are nice, and even though the t-shirts are cotton, they are really nice. I still love the one from 2010 because I love the logo. Since the race is in Pennsylvania Dutch country, the logo on the shirt is a “hex” sign (you can see it on my mug featured above) – something the Amish farmers use to keep away evil spirits and bring good luck. Besides, that was my second time winning one of those cool ceramic mugs – I wouldn’t mind adding a few more to my collection!

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2 thoughts on ““Off” Season Racing: The Oley Valley 10 Miler

  1. charissarunning November 7, 2014 / 2:23 pm

    Congratulations on your new PR!! The wind was terrible that day and I don’t know of ANYBODY who likes wind. I bet you could’ve had a ‘C’ day if it wasn’t for the wind, but alas the weather can’t always be in our favor.

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