This weekend, I was up in Albany visiting family. My brothers are twins, and they each have two children – one of whom is born the same day as them, and one who’s born the day before. So Labor Day weekend is always a great time to go up and celebrate four birthdays at once!
Knowing that I would be visiting Albany, I had decided that I’d run a 5K there, and it would be my goal race for the month. However, even going into the weekend, I hadn’t yet decided what race I would do. There were a few different options, but the one that fit the best timing-wise wasn’t the flattest, and the one that was the flattest wasn’t the best timing-wise. I had tentatively decided to do the Kick it For Kashius 5K on Sunday at 10:30am, just before I’d head home to Colorado, but after eating a ton of cake and candy on Friday night, I made the last minute decision to instead sign up for Saturday’s Run for the Horses 5K in Saratoga. (As a bonus, it was $10 less expensive too. It is crazy to me how expensive races are these days, especially if you make the mistake of calculating it on a per minute basis!)
My dad came with me up to Saratoga for the race, and even after we stopped to get tea for him (at Stewart’s!!! Anyone remember my “no regretzel” marathon?), we were at the start about 30 minutes early. Heading up to the race, my stomach wasn’t feeling in tip top shape, so even though I hit the bathroom before leaving the house, I used the extra time to wait in the bathroom line again when I got to the race start. I spent most of that time sizing up the competition (pretty much everyone looked to be a 30ish female, which did not bode well for age group awards), which was a good distraction from the anticipation. Overall, I felt okay: I didn’t feel like this was going to be my day to knock it out of the park, but I was excited to see how I would do.
We lined up at the start, and I was about ten feet from the line. (When I later realized that the timing mats were only at the finish, I kicked myself for not starting closer and shaving off an extra half second.) However, when the race started and we took off, I quickly found myself in the front of the pack. The course headed off into the woods and down a paved road with a bit of a downhill to it – Garmin said it was an elevation loss of 63 feet in the first mile. I felt great on this part, probably because of the downhill, and was running a comfortable 6:50 pace (10 seconds ahead of my plan). But I knew that this mile was supposed to be easy, so I wasn’t patting myself on the back yet!
Right before the end of the mile, we turned left onto E West Road (weird name), and headed uphill. We picked up about 60 feet over 0.20 miles, so it was a definite uphill but was short. That part was important to me – I can power through anything if I see the top! My pace definitely slowed down here, but once I crested the hill, I was able to pick up the pace again. One mile down, two to go, and I mentally reminded myself to relax but to not let up on pushing the pace. I love treadmill training because it doesn’t let you cheat the pace, but that also means that in a race, I have to remind myself to work hard and not take it easy!
We passed a little guardhouse on the road, and then I started to see a few runners coming back the other way. Aha – a turnaround! I kept my eyes peeled for other women, so I could do a mental count of what place I was in. It was kind of a bummer to see several teenage girls ahead of me, but I guess I’d better get used to that as I get older :) The out-and-back was almost exactly one mile total, and it was fun to get to see all the other runners in the race. Plus, as I got to the end of it, I knew that I just had one mile left to go!
Now, you can go ahead and judge me, but the playlist I was listening to for this race was all Christian music. I don’t necessary listen to the lyrics all that much, but stylistically, a lot of it has a great beat and the perfect crescendos to get me pumped up and give me an amazing runners high. And Saturday, I had a magical moment right before I hit the second mile mark, where the lyrics on my music were singing “lift your hands, lift your eyes – in the storm is where you’ll find me” just as the trees above parted and the sun came out. How cool!
When I passed the two mile mark, though, my excitement faded a bit. I had run the second mile in 7:16, which was a lot slower than I wanted to run – my original plan was 7:00, 6:45, and then whatever I had left. So, that second mile was thirty whole seconds too slow! I vowed to pick it up for the third mile. I tried to remind myself of the marathon mantra that you run the first 10 miles with your head, the second 10 miles with your legs, and the final 10K with your heart. With a 5K being so much shorter, I was thinking I could apply the same mantra, but divided into even thirds? Unfortunately, the last third of this race was a definite challenge.
I headed down the hill I had come up, and then found we weren’t turning right to go back the way we came, but going straight – which meant going up a hill. I saw the girl in front of me getting closer, but then as I started chugging up the same hill, she outpaced me again. This mile had 82 feet of elevation gain in the first half mile, which was not really what I needed to finish strong. Fortunately, the second half of the last mile flattened out a lot, and I also got a music boost from a really upbeat song (“Soul on Fire” – the lyrics start out “I’m running for your heart, I’m running for your heart till I am a soul on fire”. It definitely resonated, as my lungs were certainly on fire!). I knew that at a 7:00 pace (or hopefully faster?) I’d only have one more song before I crossed the finish line, and that cheered me up a lot. I tried to see if I could pick up the pace to close in on the girl in front of me, but she was trying to do the same thing, so I had no luck.
Overall, my pace for mile 3 was 7:36 – so definitely a significant slowdown. However, I kicked it hard in the final tenth of a mile to try to squeeze every extra second out – Garmin says I ran the last 0.13 (oops, didn’t run the tangents) at a 5:56 pace, with a “best pace” of 4:52 in the last ten or so seconds. That crazy kick was because I saw the clock as I approached the finish line, and realized that what I thought was a fairly mediocre race was actually most likely going to be a PR!!
After crossing the line, though, I started having my doubts. My PR was 22:39, and I had crossed the line when the clock said 22:37 or 22:38. But finish clocks aren’t necessarily perfectly synced with the actual timing equipment, and when I was only going to PR by a second or two, that could make all the difference. Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait too long – the results were posted, and I learned that I had not only finished in 22:37 (PR!), but also won my age group!
As happy as I was to have squeezed out that (minor) victory, I am generally not too sure how I feel about this race. On the one hand, I PRed, which is pretty awesome, especially since this was a tougher course than the pancake-flat White Rock Lake where I set my PR this spring. Breaking my old PR was my goal for the month of August, and even with all the injuries/illnesses/setbacks, I had done it!
But on the other hand, PRing by two seconds doesn’t feel like much of a victory – it kind of feels like a rounding error. Furthermore, I knew that I hadn’t given it my absolute best effort. I have been really struggling with the mental aspects of running lately, and in particular, pushing myself to go hard. I hadn’t really pushed hard in this race outside of the finishing sprint, and I knew that I could have run faster than I did. Should I really celebrate a (two second) PR if I knew it wasn’t my best effort?
I think the answer is that while my official “PR in the 5K” challenge for the month of August is now done, I am going to continue training to see if I can get faster at the 5K. But I’m starting to realize that improving my 5K time isn’t going to be a function of my sprint workouts, which are already plenty fast. I need to somehow find the motivation to sustain 7:00 paces, rather than easing up on the gas just because it’s more comfortable. This morning, I did an utter failure of a four mile tempo run where I simply gave up after 3 miles, and took walk breaks every quarter mile for the final mile. To use a cliched phrase, the next step for me is “getting comfortable being uncomfortable.” It’s not going to be fun, but I’m hoping it will be worth it.
Distance: 3.1 miles
Overall place: 29/323
Gender place: 7/187
Age group place: 1/36