This past weekend, I raced another 5K.
You might be wondering why. What is the point of racing a 5K. It’s certainly not very long nor anything like a triathlon. But right now it’s manageable, it’s motivating and it’s fun. When you can combine those 3 things in a goal, you know that you’ll go after it 110 percent. When you do that, you’ll likely reach your goal. And once you reach it, you’ll want to set another. This is the process of bettering yourself. It’s contagious, it’s what fuels our performance.
Three weeks ago, I set a baseline at the last 5K. I was ahead of where I thought I would be, off to a good start. Considering I didn’t run for 5 months, I wasn’t sure what kind of pace I could hold. But I knew that my body would quickly remember how to get back into running if I kept after it. The beauty of being a runner is that once you go through the painfully slow adaptation process when you start running, it will never take that long to go through that process again. Your muscles have memory. It will come back to you much quicker than you think.
I’ve also been doing these little races to get back into the habit of racing. To put myself into a situation that requires me to hurt a little, to react and implement a strategy. Racing – real racing – is more than just showing up and doing it. It requires a plan, and then the confidence and wherewithal to implement that plan. Coming up with the plan is easy. Implementing it under stress and pain is much more difficult. It takes a lot of practice!
Driving to the race, the brisk 22 degree temperatures had left a layer of icy frost on all of the grasses. The morning looked cold, it was cold. But I knew by 9 am it would be at least 30 degrees and to me – that’s close to perfect running weather. Once at the race site, I warmed up though it didn’t feel like much of a warm up. I was in full fleece tights, a hat, gloves, two tops. I had barely broken a sweat! I peeled off the layers and did the second part of my warm up with a few strides. Then I was ready. Time to head to the start line.
Once there, I found a few of my athletes positioned all around me. Doug and Todd were trying to convince me to start with the 6:00 mile group. Ha! Not yet, boys. Noel was nearby, sneaky, I never did see him in the race. Jill was trying to get away from me as much as I was trying to get away from her.
The cannon went off – literally, they fired a cannon but that’s what you get for racing at a war museum, and the race began. Immediately, Jill was ahead of me and I hung back for a few minutes, just easing into it. By the half mile mark, I zipped to get right next to her where I stayed for a little bit. Running along together, I realized something: I can either run this safe pace with Jill hanging on my shoulder the whole way and hope I pip her at the line or I can take a risk to get away.
Decisions, decisions. THINK FAST! Sure, this pace feels a bit too fast and I suspect if I pick it up it will only hurt more but it’s now or never and what’s 3.1 miles of pain anyways. And then I remembered my race from 3 weeks ago. I got pipped at the line for 3rd place. What felt like a big gap was a girl beating me by only 6 seconds. I couldn’t give it my all for 6 seconds? I couldn’t hurt worse for 6 seconds? I read something from a professional runner that said the only way to outkick someone at the line is to get aggressive. It has nothing to do with training. You either want it or not. I told myself going into this race that I would be more aggressive. I wouldn’t get outkicked and I would go harder after it. And so it was decided.
I was going for it.
BAM! I hit the first mile. The good news is that I can run a 6:00 mile again. The bad news is that I can hold it for about…a mile before my body screams out WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU TRYING TO DO TO ME!? From there, the course undulated through a twisty golf course with sand thrown on the path to cover up icy patches. I was picking up the pace, passing men and using the next one ahead of me to chase after then hang right behind before making a move again. I knew I was the first woman and in my head I kept saying WIN WIN WIN. I’ve never gone to a race knowing I will win, rather knowing that I would give it whatever it takes to win.
By the half way point, my stomach was reeling. In over 20 years of running, I have felt nothing like this. Whether it’s because I am so out of top end running shape or because it was cold or because I haven’t run a 6:00 mile in over a year – I felt like the lactic acid was pooling in my stomach and making me sick. I thought about it – what do I do? Do I stop and throw up? Do I slow down?
Then the answer came to me – the faster you run, the faster you get it done!
In my mind I was waiting for the GATE. I had looked at the course map ahead of time and knew that the GATE would signal the beginning of the end – the last ¾ mile up to the finish line. I kept asking myself. Where is the GATE. Where is the damn GATE already!?! I wondered where Jill was so I glanced over my shoulder to see her a bit back from me. Good – hold it, ow – stomach hurts – hold it, WHERE IS THE GATE!?
THERE! Finally, the gate, I run through it and a man tells me I’m the first woman. LIKE I DON’T KNOW THAT! Trust me, when you’re in the top 3, you know it. All you’re thinking about is how you’re either ahead or behind. And like I’ve said before, in either case all you can do about it is run faster.
The last ½ mile was slightly uphill. I know this because Max and I go to music class at this location. I push the stroller up that slight hill every week. I knew this course and mentally knew where I could ease up because at that point no one would catch me unless they have a killer uphill sprint (rare). In retrospect, I should have kept pushing. You never give anything up until you cross the finish line. I should have known better than that, but that is why I am racing now – to remind myself, to learn all over again.
I crossed the line 53 seconds faster than I did 3 weeks ago. Wow! The drugs are working. KIDDING! Geez, if I was taking them I’d probably forget to take them. I can’t even remember to bring my swim workout to the pool half the time. In all seriousness, I’d say all that’s working is me and my ass. No special diet, no magical training plan and no killer 40 x 400m track workouts. Right now I’m on a schedule that includes 3 runs a week.
As well as a schedule that includes limited sleep and lots of ice cream. It doesn’t need to be much more complicated than that.
Later that night I went home and did something I hadn’t done in a long time. I sat down and wrote a race recap in my notebook. It’s simple; I list out what worked and what needs work. The next time I race, I’ll review what worked and make a note to work on what I said I would. That way you don’t repeat the same mistakes twice. In fact, it’s not a mistake as long as you learn from it.
Winning feels good! I won’t lie about that. But what feels better is making progress. Working hard and seeing a result. Each workout I feel more confident in the goals that I’ve set for next year. They are ambitious for sure. But if they weren’t – why would I set them?
I’ve got one more 5K on Thanksgiving. Twelve years ago, it was the first race I ever did. Last year, when I found out I was pregnant, I told myself I would do the Turkey Trot this year to come full circle – to start again after pregnancy where I got my start in the first place. I’ve got two goals: to get aggressive and to give it my all until I cross the finish line.
I know, I know, 3.1 miles is a really short distance to go. It seems almost silly to get excited about success at that distance when in the next year I’ve got to put together success for 67.2 more miles. But I’ve also got many months to get there. One workout at a time, one lesson at a time. This week I told my athletes when you set a goal for the future, work backwards to make it tangible. Week to week, month to month, what are the smaller things it takes to get there. For me, right now, it’s learning to master my body and mind for 3.1 miles. The rest of the miles – I’ll get there.