World’s Toughest 10K – A Race Report from Emma.
Cool, calm and collected is how I came to the starting line. Fueled by the tacos from the previous night and with a five minute warm up jog under my belt, I was ready to make my race plan. That’s right, I made my plan three minutes before the gun went off. Maybe cool, calm and scatterbrained is a better way to put it.
My plan was to relax, pick some people off, and just generally kick the shit out of this mountain. I wasn’t terribly concerned with my time or my place (I didn’t even start my watch) but my goal was more personal; to feel something physically excruciating and have to dig for the mental toughness to conquer it.
The gun went off and I relaxed for the first half mile to ¾ mile. The go getters soon started to fade as they realized what they were in for, which meant it was my time to get moving. I picked up my pace and was propelled up the mountain as I surged from person to person. I hoped that someone would hold on and work with me, but hadn’t met my match yet. Around a mile and a half(ish), green shirt man caught my eye up ahead. He had been using a similar tactic, also picking off runners off one by one. Finally at mile two, green shirt man and now blue shirt man were within my reach. I surged to meet them and it was absolutely worth it.
Let me break right here and give a shout out to all the box jumps and squat jumps that I made my fitness classes do and subsequently had to do myself. Those bad boys launched me through the surges and up the hill this weekend. And another shout out to the hills in Charlottesville that I trudged up numerous times, creating my near immunity to inclines. Along with the pre-race tacos and the last minute race plan, I’d say these are the secrets to my so called success.
Once I reached blue shirt man and green shirt man, the three of us worked together up one of the steepest sections of the race. After about half a mile as a pack, blue shirt man fell off and green shirt man and I carried on. With the camaraderie of my new found friend, I found myself becoming mentally tough as the encumbrance of the hill became almost too much to bear alone. Stride for stride we raced through miles two and three.
At mile four, green shirt man with all his exorbitant energy surged ahead. It was down to the mountain and me. I tightened up my stride, pumped my arms and mustered confidence from the tips of my fingers to the heels of my feet. With a less taxing slope in front of me, I pressed on through the lonely mile four.
Right around mile five, came a refreshing, much needed, 40 meter long, 1 percent grade downward slope. Then things became serious. With a 400 ft elevation gain, the last mile is where race really earns the title as the world’s toughest 10k. With such a steep slope, honestly, I probably could have walked up that thing more efficiently and faster than I ran it.
Somewhere in the midst of mile five as my form fell to pieces, blue shirt man passed me. I couldn’t find the energy to go with him, but as he got away, I remembered my goal to dig deep and seize mental toughness. On the steepest section and final hill, a shirtless, energized man ran right up next to me. I knew I had to latch onto his energy and push myself. I matched his stride and we absolutely kicked the shit out of that hill for half a mile. We both gained energy as we fed off of each other.
I started to drop away from shirtless man, but he wouldn’t have any of that. He beckoned me to come with him and after muttering a few explicits, we surged together for about a quarter mile and passed blue shirt man. Shirtless man took off around the 6 mile mark, while I continued to chug along the final few hundred meters. It felt like a marathon before I finally heard the finish line ruckus. I rounded the corner into the parking lot of the Tram and there was the most beautiful sight a girl could dream of, a slight downhill and the finish line. I heard the cheers and booked it to the finish.
I was surprised by my aunt, cheering me on as I crossed the line. Stepping up to the start line with only the intention of a mentally tough run, I was nonplussed to hear that I was first female finisher. I mingled with the other runners as we grumbled about the last hill, congratulated each other on a great race and stretched out our sore muscles. Then I promptly ate lots of cookies.
For me, the past few months were full of many emotionally and mentally tough days. The World’s Toughest 10K was, maybe a masochistic, but more importantly, cathartic race for me. With a surprise win during a physical and mental challenge, my confidence was restored. I’m looking forward to brighter days ahead and many more races with the Duke Track Club!
(I’d like to apologize to my coach, Alec Lorenzoni, because as a bratty high schooler, I told him that “cool, calm and collected” was the worst advice I’d ever heard… and now it’s kind of my new running mantra… sorry.)