After running over 100 marathons, a lot of my friends/coworkers think of me as a serious runner. “But wait,” I tell them, “I’m not a serious runner! My marathon times are fairly mediocre, and these days, I barely run at all!” Sometimes the person will then try to prove me wrong by asking me how much I ran this week, to which I’ll reply something like, “Ummm, probably 2-3 miles total on the treadmill over the course of a few interval classes. And none outside.” Not quite the answer they were expecting! When people think of me as “a runner,” I feel like I’ve pulled an enormous trick over on them. Ten years ago, I couldn’t run a single mile, and I’ve learned to be able to run long distance – but never fast at all. So to call me a runner still feels like some kind of joke.
Side note: I know speed isn’t what defines a runner, but I still feel like people expect me to be a lot faster than I am based on the number of marathons I’ve run.
Last Saturday, though, I PRed in the 5K, with an average pace of 7:17/mile. What?! How did I run that fast?! I have no idea – but I’m finally starting to feel like I’m deserving of the “runner” title. All my marathons aside, I feel like Saturday I finally proved myself as a “real runner”, and it’s kind of been a turning point for me in how I look at running.
For about six months, I’ve been entertaining the idea of signing up for a 5K to see how fast I can go. That stemmed from starting up classes at Orangetheory Fitness, and realizing that when it came to “competing” against other people on the treadmill (is it bitchy that I look at it that way?), I am actually fairly strong. Treadmill classes have become fairly popular in the past year or so, and I’ve started running a lot more in the context of those classes. But after running the Melbourne Marathon last year, I haven’t run a race in a very long time. And even before that, I haven’t run any shorter race for time in years; I’ve generally been shooting for quantity over quality.
Last Saturday morning, though, I decided to test my speed in that most basic of races: the 5k. The Dallas Running Club hosts an annual 5K/15K to honor their founder, Tal Morrison (who passed away last year, ironically on National Running Day). This race was fairly close to my hotel, involved a course I knew (out-and-back on the paved trail around White Rock Lake), and the best part was that it was only $10 to enter. Sold! Call me cheap, but part of the reason I haven’t done a 5K in so long is that I can’t justify spending $40 to enter one, which ends up being more than $1 per minute spent actually racing. For that price, I’d rather get a massage.
Anyway, I arrived at the start about 45 minutes early. The organizers said that in-person registration closed 30 minutes before the race, and I wasn’t entirely sure whether that deadline also applied to those who registered in advance but hadn’t picked up their packets. (For future: nope, you could get your bib even two minutes before the start.) I followed the line of cars parking along the side of the road leading to White Rock Lake, and then followed the line of runners heading to Winfrey Point, an old building that housed packet pickup, bathrooms (temporarily blocked off to force runners to use the porta potties instead), and post-race food/awards.
After grabbing my bib, I learned from a volunteer that there was no bag drop, so I headed back to my car to stash all my stuff but my phone and car keys. I also kept my fleece jacket on, which I planned to just leave on the ground by the start and hope that it was there when I came back. Temps were in the high 40s/lower 50s, so I was planning to race in capris and a tank top, but I chuckled to myself to see most of the local runners wearing things like tights, turtlenecks, hats, gloves, etc. To me, those are more appropriate for weather in the 30s or colder, but to each their own :)
All that time walking the 1/2 mile back and forth to my car made my pre-race wait almost non-existent. After stashing my stuff, I headed down the hill to the start, pausing for one quick picture on the way. It was going to be a pretty day and a pretty course!
As I lined up at the start, I was getting pretty nervous. I wanted to PR, but truthfully, I knew I hadn’t put the work in. Yes, I’ve worked hard at the gym over the last few months, but I hadn’t been specifically training for a 5K. Most of the treadmill classes I take are done as pure intervals, where you do no more than 1/2 mile on the treadmill before jumping off to do weights or pilates or rowing machines or something. Really, the only time I had run “long” (which in my current repertoire means 3-4 miles) was on a treadmill at a fairly easy pace while watching TV. So I really didn’t know how this was going to go.
Furthermore, I had forgotten to pack my Garmin in my suitcase, so I was going to be running a little bit blind. Although I originally thought I might be able to look at the CardioTrainer app on my phone, my work requires a pretty complicated unlock password and it’s difficult for me to unlock my phone while running – and would be significantly more difficult at the fast pace at which I planned to go. So while I had looked up ideal splits to beat 24:17 (my old 5K PR) and found them to be 7:53, 7:43, as fast as you can, I was only going to be able to check my splits at each mile marker by seeing the total elapsed time on my FitBit. That’s not really a recipe for exact pacing!
After a recording of the national anthem, the race started – and I crossed the starting chip mats not too far from the front. I tried to push the pace, but also run by feel. Yes, I was used to sprinting hard in various gym classes, but I needed to sustain this for three whole miles! It cracked me up that I now think of it as “three whole miles” when I used to run 26.2 without blinking, but what I had done in the past didn’t matter now – I knew I wasn’t conditioned to go much further.
For my race playlist, I had chosen to listen to all the Rascal Flatts songs I had in my library – which is what I used to run with when I first started doing marathons. I hoped that they would inspire me to push harder than I otherwise might, especially when I thought about the many miles and trials I had gone through listening to those songs. Before I knew it, I could see the first mile marker up ahead, and I got ready to check my watch time as I passed…
7:00 even! Holy smokes, I was going way faster than I had intended. And yet, that pace had felt fairly comfortable – almost slow enough to pass the talk test? I decided not to forcibly try to slow down, but instead, just to keep running what felt comfortable, knowing I was only a third of the way done. But, since the race was an out-and-back, that meant I was 2/3 of the way to the turnaround – which made the end seem a lot closer.
Since I had by now realized I couldn’t easily check CardioTrainer for my current pace, I started doing a lot of math in my head to pass the time and figure out how much was left. If it had been about a minute and I was now passing the 2 mile mark on the “back” portion of the out-and-back, how much further did I still have until the turn around? I realized this was like one of those “two trains are traveling in opposite directions at different speeds” math questions that I could never figure out in middle school, and quickly gave up on that approach.
It was around this point that I started seeing a couple runners coming back. (It should be noted that most of the runners that day were doing the 15K; the 5K runners were a small subset of the bigger race.) I saw a bunch of guys go by and then finally a woman… and I realized I wasn’t that far from the turnaround, and therefore, not that far behind her. Sure enough, I reached the turnaround with no other women sighted – so that meant I was in second place?!?!
Buoyed by my unexpected place in the race, I was determined to push it hard – and with only 1.5 miles left in the race, I felt like it was achievable for me to stay strong. However, I hadn’t counted on a slight headwind coming into play. I could feel that the second half of the second mile was a little tougher than the first, and when I reached the mile marker, my pace for that mile reflected that: 7:24.
But still! I had been running only 14.5 minutes, and now had only a little over a mile to go. That meant I had nearly 10 minutes to cover the last 1.1 miles and still PR! And, perhaps more important to me at the time, it also meant I probably only had eight minutes left in my race. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from all the interval classes I’ve been attending, it’s that even the hardest exercises are doable for only eight minutes.
“Just eight minutes left,” I promised myself. “That’s only about two songs.” I flipped through songs in my playlist looking for something good, since I could feel that I was definitely running out of steam. I settled on “Feels Like Today”, and let the music wash over me while I tried my hardest to keep my pace up.
“I woke up this morning/With a feeling inside me that I can’t explain/Like a weight that I’ve carried been carried away… so while this storm is breaking/While there’s light at the end of the tunnel/I keep running towards it…And it feels like today.”
It certainly felt like today that I was going to PR, and perhaps I was going to do even better than that? I could still see the blonde ponytail of the first place woman in front of me (at least, I hoped she was first place and I hadn’t missed someone), but I couldn’t quite get the energy/motivation to catch up and overtake her. And in the meantime, I was overtaken by another female runner going way faster than both of us. Whoa, was she crazy negative splitting or what?? I saw my dreamy podium finish running ahead in front of me, and I was really worried there could be even more women I had missed ahead.
But finally, we came around a bend in the course and I could see the 3 mile mark ahead of me. One tenth of a mile left – go go go! I didn’t quite manage to sprint it from that point, but when the finish line came into sight, I gave it everything that I had and tried to leave it all on the table. I knew for sure I had PRed, and I wanted to get every last second of a victory over my previous PR. No smile on my face for this finish; I was grimacing as I tried to use every breath to get myself across the line fast!
And so I was so spent when I crossed the line that I didn’t stop my watch quickly, and so I didn’t quite know my time. It was definitely sub-23 minutes (which meant I had PRed over a minute!), but I didn’t know exactly what it was. Meanwhile, my throat was burning like crazy, so I walked around the finish a bit and caught my breath before heading back up the hill.
I nervously paced around Winfrey Point waiting for the results, and then a guy came in and posted them on the wall. I joined the crowd checking them out, and found my name – and a finish time of 22:39!!! I had PRed by more than 90 seconds, after not being sure I could PR at all! I was so proud of myself and also excited that I would be receiving an award – that’s definitely something I’m not used to. (I actually had to call and delay the cryotherapy appointment I had scheduled, since I had been expecting to just leave right after the race rather than wait for the awards.) Fortunately, the race organizers had lined up free massages and also had a big pile of bananas – I had one of each :) The awards ceremony was small and happened about 90 minutes after the start of the race (when most of the winning 15Kers were done), but I was really proud to stay and collect my medal :)
I still can’t believe how fast I ran – a pace that just a few years ago was unheard of for me to hit in even one mile. I thought that when I learned to run marathons I had learned that I’m capable of more than I think, but I guess I hadn’t learned that I can be a fast runner too. I thought my body was incapable of running much under 8 minutes per mile, and in fact, used to joke that you could set your watch by my 9:30 splits. But it seems I’ve gotten faster, and now I’m starting to again wonder… what’s next?
I’m signed up for the Bolder Boulder in Colorado in May, which last year I walked with Adam. This year, though, I’m starting to wonder if I should go for a PR. Yes, it’s at altitude, which is a lot tougher than running in Texas, but my 15K PR is an 8:51 pace from the Boilermaker 2008 – surely I can beat that? (Edited to add: turns out I really have no concept of distance; turns out the Bolder Boulder is only a 10K, for which my PR is an 8:23 pace.) Or, perhaps I should keep “training” (no, interval treadmill classes aren’t serious race training, but it seems to be working so far) and try another 5K, when I have my watch and also a better idea of my capabilities? I’m pretty excited to see what else I can achieve!
Distance: 3.1 miles
Overall place: 32/238
Gender place: 2/115