This Saturday was race #3 in the 3W Races Westminster Six Pack Series, and if I stuck with my plan to always do the longest distance offered, it was my last time attempting the 5K distance. For races 4, 5, and 6, I’d be running 4 miles, 5 miles, and 10K, respectively. I was looking forward to the challenge, but also kind of mad at myself that I had let all the 5Ks go by without ever actually doing any training. I wanted to do each race faster than the last one, so that meant I needed to go under 23:42 (7:39/mile) for this race.
I normally wake up around 6am on weekends, but I still set my alarm for 8am as a backup, and to remind myself to get moving out the door by 8:15am. But when we had a really bad windstorm on Friday night that woke me up at 2:30am and I couldn’t get back to sleep until 6:00am, I didn’t know how possible it would be to run well. When my alarm actually woke me up at 8am and I realized I only had about 15 minutes to get up, get ready, and get out the door, I had to really hustle! (But still didn’t skip my 10/20/30 routine.) While getting ready, I realized that my Garmin was completely out of battery, so I charged it for that fifteen minutes on the wall charger, and then plugged it into my portable USB charger so I could keep charging it right up until the race started.
Between the fact that my sleep had been so strangely segmented, the fact that I grabbed caffeinated coffee instead of my regular decaf, and how I had rushed around to get ready, I jumped into the car feeling rather manic and wired. But… maybe that meant I’d be able to actually have a good race? I put on Spotify’s pop playlist (which lately seems to be all stuff from 5-10 years ago… not complaining!) and spent the drive to the race really getting my head in the game. I thought about the pace I wanted to run (7:20 average), my pacing strategy for each mile (7:00, 7:30, 7:30), and even trying to mentally prepare for how those paces. I reminded myself that running that fast would hurt, probably a lot, but that it would all be over quickly and I need to not give up. I even invented a mantra for myself: “When it hurts, I will run faster.” This was all super nerdy and I was laughing at myself… but I was also kind of hoping it would work.
The first race in the six pack had been about 14 degrees, and the second was about 28 degrees, but my thermostat told me on Saturday morning that it was already 53 degrees out! So I decided to embrace the beautiful weather and wear shorts and a t-shirt (plus a fleece for hanging out at the start). When I got to the start though, I really second guessed myself. Most people were in tights and long sleeves, and I literally did not see a single other person in shorts. I realized why while I was waiting in line to pick up my packet: that same windstorm that had woken me up in the middle of the night was still causing 30 mph winds in the area, and that made it pretty chilly! But my only other option for clothing was to wear my fleece, which I knew would be too much, so… shorts and tee shirt it would be. To stay warm before the race, I sat in my car (which was parked only about 50 feet from the start).
While sitting in the car, though, I had another dilemma to ponder. In previous races, there had been a shorter distance and a 5K, and the race organizers had the short distance start as one wave and the 5K start a few minutes later. But for race #3, everyone was doing the 5K, so they had the men start in the first wave and the women start in the second. At the start, though, race organizer Jaymie announced that if you wanted to run with a buddy who was in the opposite wave, any female could switch to the first wave and any male could switch to the second wave. I didn’t have a running buddy, but I wondered if I should switch to the first wave anyway to avoid having to dodge slower males? I decided to stay put – ideally, I wanted to be running in the same wave as other women shooting for a podium finish.
The men took off running, and I took off my fleece and tossed it on the grass to retrieve when I was done running. I queued up my music (had some weird issues getting that pop station on Spotify to play, so I went with OneRepublic’s “Native” album), got my Garmin ready to go (it was about 1/4 charged, which I thought would be enough), and also queued up my Cardiotrainer phone GPS app to use as a backup. So many devices to get ready! I know that many of you comment that I’d probably be faster if I didn’t carry my phone while I run, but I think the technology helps – especially the music. (Though perhaps one day I’ll try running with something smaller like my beloved iPod Nano – which I found on the floor of my garage this weekend, by the way!)
Our wave started, and I took off – with two young high school girls in front of me. Okay, so I was in third place… right? Well, I didn’t know. I had seen a few speedy-looking women go off with the men’s wave, including a woman named Heather who had beaten me in the last two races. If I assumed that both fast women who had started in the first wave were ahead of me, that meant I was in fifth place. For the rest of the race, I continued to assume this worst case scenario as a gauge for how I was doing.
I enjoyed the short downhill that opens this course, and then we got out onto the main path and I started having to work for my pace. I remembered my goal splits (7:00, 7:30, 7:30), but when I looked down at the Garmin I had finally remembered to wear, it showed an average pace of 10:00/mile. Nope, that wasn’t right! The winding nature of the path had rendered the “current pace” useless, and so I had no idea how I was doing until I reached the one mile mark at about 7:15. But when I passed the mile marker on the course, my Garmin said I had only gone 0.85 miles. Was the mile marker accurately placed and my Garmin was just off from the curves, or was my Garmin accurate and I was running about an 9:00 pace? From a comfort perspective, it felt more like the latter, but I really wasn’t sure. The winds on the course were really strong, and we were running directly into them, so I thought it was entirely possible that I was running a 9:00 pace or even slower.
Soon after the 1 mile mark, I saw the two women who had gone out with the first wave that started two minutes ahead of me. I wasn’t too far from the turnaround, but I couldn’t figure out if they were more or less than two minutes ahead of me on the course. I looked at my watch and noted the time, trying to figure out what that would mean if I could hit the same point on the return in two minutes time… but then I gave up on math. Too hard! And I just focused on continuing to push the pace as I went up the tiny hill that led to the turnaround.
Besides the two early starters, there were still the two high school girls in front of me as well. One was way off in the distance (practically catching up with the early starters), but the other was only about 20 seconds ahead of me. After turning, I started trying to close the gap between us. Just after we hit the 2 mile mark (around 15:00), I managed to pass her – woo hoo! I was now in at least 4th place, and possibly even 2nd place if the early starters were slower than me. It was really frustrating to have no idea where I stood – I wished that the race organizers had stipulated that anyone who wanted an award needed to start with their gender wave.
I was still feeling pretty good – kind of tired, but nowhere near as exhausted as I thought I would be with the pace I was running. I kept my mind on the (uptempo) beat of the music – reminding myself that I only had two songs to go and I’d be at the finish line. I could push this for two songs! As I came through a tunnel (ahh, a welcome break from the wind, which hadn’t eased up on the return trip), I glanced behind me and didn’t see the high school girl I had passed behind me – so at least I didn’t have to worry about a back-and-forth race to the finish.
I knew at this point that I was going to finish faster than the last race, but I wasn’t sure by how much that would be, especially since my Garmin was so off on distance. I was really hoping to be sub-23, which was my original goal for this race before I realized how windy it was, and now I thought that might actually be possible. I ticked the distance down on my Garmin, knowing I couldn’t have much more than a quarter mile or so left, and then I saw the three mile mark up ahead. Almost there! I didn’t give it quite everything I had, but I did try to push a little bit harder in order to finish strong.
When I crossed the finish line, I was definitely out of breath and needed a minute to collect myself. But then I quickly opened up my phone and headed to the race results website. (Hooray for 3W Races offering chip timing that instantly publishes to the web so you can find out your time/place immediately!) And then I felt incredibly proud: I had finished under 23:00, an improvement of almost a full minute despite the heavy winds slowing me down, and I had managed to snag third female overall!
As I looked more closely at the results, I saw something especially interesting. 4th female overall was Heather, who had beaten me in the last two races. I had finally outraced her… but done it by the very narrow margin of three hundredths of a second!!! Wow, I couldn’t believe that. In the last few races, I’ve seen her as the one to beat, but here I had finally (just barely) managed to do it – and it was when I had no idea that we were in contention with each other for 3rd place because of the split wave start. As proud as I was, I also kind of felt like it was cheating that I “beat” her by such a narrow margin when neither of us knew how close it was going to be.
While I was poring over the results, I looked to see who had come in second, and it was the other woman who had started with the men’s group. She clocked in at 22:06, which I also think could have been within my range if we had started at the same time and been running together. Or would her speed have deterred me from going as fast as I did? Who knows, and I just wish that weren’t a variable in the race.
BUT, with all comparison complaints aside, I’m objectively really happy with my time. This fall, I ran a 22:33 at about the same altitude on a day without wind, and followed that up a few weeks later by running 21:00 at flatland. I’m positive the wind slowed me down by more than 16 seconds, which would indicate that I’m in similar shape now as I was then. (Plus, Adam paced me for that race and pushed me hard, whereas this one I was flying solo and didn’t go as hard – my max HR was about 10 bpm less.) I had thought I was in drastically worse running shape than when I was training hard in the fall, and I’m incredibly excited to find out that I’m in similar – or maybe even better? – condition.
This week, I start a new work assignment that has me on the road again, and I’m working in a town that doesn’t really have Classpass. So that means lots of treadmill time, coming up! I have to think that my race times will improve even further when I actually, you know, run in between races… and I’m really excited to see what kind of 5K time I’ll be running in a month or two. Perhaps I can go sub-22 at altitude, or my dream sub-20 if I find a good flatland race??? I am starting to feel like this is achievable, and I’m excited to work to make it happen!
Distance: 3.1 miles
Time: 22:49 (0:53 faster than Six Pack #2)
Overall place: 6/184 (up two places with a field 55 bigger than Six Pack #2)
Gender place: 3/129 (down one place with a field 41 bigger than Six Pack #2)