The Tar Heel 10 Miler: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Hills

Wearing blue and yellow for Boston. <3

I’m sitting on the couch on Sunday morning, finishing up this post, as my hamstrings are on vacation for a few days. I don’t know how people do this type of distance running on a regular basis! Kudos to my marathon running readers.

Saturday was the Tar Heel 10 Miler, the first race I’d ever signed up for, and the longest distance I’ve ever run. I’m not a runner by any means, and mainly signed up for this race to 1) challenge myself and 2) have an excuse to keep exercising when school got really crazy over the last few months. Not everyone celebrates the end of their intensely difficult and stressful grad school program by running their longest race ever, but hey, I obviously know how to torture treat myself.

The race started at the UNC Football stadium, which was actually pretty cool. We stood in a huge line around the perimeter of the field waiting to get to the starting gate. Once out of the gate, I tried to keep pace with my two friends who were somewhat seasoned marathon runners, but I gave up after about 2 miles of running 9 minute miles… I couldn’t keep that up for 10 miles!

The course itself was a nice tour around Chapel Hill, and included a great deal of my normal training runs, so I was lucky to have been able to do most of my training on the same types of hills that we had to tackle during the course. They don’t call it Chapel Hill for nothing, and there were some doozies. But for every uphill, there’s a downhill (for the most part), and I made the best use of those downhills by allowing gravity to work its magic. I think I made up a lot of time by practically tumbling down the long downhill stretches without a significant increase in effort. Maybe that’s not a good strategy for knee longevity, but who knows – I’m a complete amateur for distance running.

Race Course

Oh, but the last hill… who puts a mile-long 200 ft vertical climb in the last mile of a 10-mile race, anyway?? That was brutal. I made it my goal to not stop running the whole race, which was a challenge since I often take walking breaks in my training runs. And ooooh was I tempted to walk up that last hill, but I made myself keep going. I climbed that hill in 9:34, a time I’m proud of considering I was exhausted!

Towards the end, I was lucky to have a friend from college (a fellow Gettysburg and UNC alum who was cheering on the race) come up and jog with me at the end. It really helped motivate me to push it out for the last few hundred yards of the race. In fact, I credit her with helping me reach the ~10 minute mile mark for my race, which I was not expecting at all! (Thanks Becca!)

Overall I finished the race in 1:41:54 and had an average mile time of 10:11. I’m pretty happy with those results for a few reasons. One is that I didn’t think I’d come anywhere near a 10 minute mile, since my average mile time in training runs was closer to 11 minutes. Also, I’m really proud of myself for running the whole thing and finishing almost under 100 minutes, which was my lofty goal that I didn’t expect to accomplish. Perhaps I’ll try again next year and see if I can get under that 100 minute mark. Not a bad goal to work towards, and I bet if I did it next year I’d be way more well-rested and ready to run, considering this semester in school has really beaten me down and left me exhausted.

All in all I had a great time and really was glad to have pushed myself to accomplish something I really didn’t think I’d be able to do. I may train for another race in the future but for now I’m pretty happy with how this one went. Maybe I’ll go for a half marathon someday, who knows! I don’t typically enjoy running much more than 3-5 miles in any given day but it is fun to try to push yourself physically. And running as part of an event is way more fun than running alone.

I’m considering signing up for the Bull City Race Fest half marathon if I end up staying in North Carolina in the fall. Besides being another good goal to work towards, this race has a food truck rodeo and an Octoberfest beer garden at the end, which sounds awesome and delicious. (The food trucks in Durham are freakin’ amazing!) I’ll keep y’all updated on my plans for my next athletic event.

Have any of you ever competed in a race before? What distance(s) have you run?

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  1. Laura-

    First, AWESOME! CONGRATULATIONS! I welcome you to the double distance race club. My first was the Shamrock Half Marathon in Virgina Beach, March 2008. I never dreamed that I would run that far, at one time, in my life. I remember saying, “I don’t ever want to do a full marathon.” Fast forward, May 2011, Oklahoma City, my first, and to date, only full marathon. It was very special, not because I finished but because of the reason, it was/is the Memorial Marathon for the Murrah Federal Building that was bombed in 1995. It was an emotional weekend. It showed what runners do, they come together, they bind communities in all kinds of ways. I don’t know if I’ll ever run another full but the one I did was special in so many ways.

    I have now finished over 40 races in 5 years, from 2.5 milers, to 5ks, to 10ks, to a full marathon. I really want to try an ultra, maybe a baby one, 31 miler or so. There is no limit to our abilities, there is only the limits we place on them.

    As Salazar said, “the miracle isn’t that I finished, it’s that I had the courage to start.” Pat yourself on your back that you had the courage to step beyond your comfort zone. See you in October I hope.

    Again, congrats!

  2. Congratulations! That’s really amazing.

    In response to John, it was John Bingham who said “The miracle isn’t that I finished, it’s that I had the courage to start”. It’s the name of his first book, “Courage to Start”. 🙂

  3. This is an old post but timely because I really want to train for my first half. I don’t run, I’m not a runner and the only times I have, I’ve not really enjoyed any part of it except the end. I want to do it more for the mental self discipline to train when I don’t want to…

    Do you think it’s possible to train for one while eating paleo? Just up the starches for carbs?

    1. Some people don’t consume more carbs when training but I think it would make sense to increase carb intake, especially post-run. Also, making sure you’re eating lots of protein and anti-inflammatory foods (omega-3 fats, spices, lots of vegetables, etc.) to help reduce any inflammatory damage occurring while training. I’ve also heard that when training, you only have to get to 70% of the total race distance in your training runs to be able to do the whole thing, so if you’re worried about overtraining, you can stick to 9-10 miles as your longest training distance. And keep doing strength training and yoga if you’re not already doing it, I think cross training is a better strategy than just running the whole time.

      But there may be better advice elsewhere in the interwebs… I’m not an exercise expert! 🙂