Bogged down unhappily in this training cycle I figured a change might be good. Though not much of a race person (crowds, check…early mornings, check…just plain nervous making, check) I decided to race locally in an 8K. An odd distance, one I haven’t raced at before, but decided to give it a try.
It was still dark when I uncurled myself. It must have been 50 degrees in the house and even colder outside. These brisk fall mornings are refreshing though hard on the body. I sat with my coffee and toast thinking of all the things that could possibly go wrong with this little adventure. Despite the anxiety I was excited. It would be fun I told myself as I parked and watched runners of all shapes and sizes arriving. I headed off by myself to warm up on the nature trail adjacent to the park. I jogged slowly in the misty cold air. It was so quiet and beautiful. A deer with twins crossed close by. Squirrels with walnuts paused to eat on the paved path. I would have rather stayed in the woods but the clock was winding down and it was less than 10 minutes till the gun. I made my way and stood amongst three hundred and fifty antsy runners and walkers. I gazed around and not 40 feet from me stood my brother. Go figure. We talked a bit and exchanged the usual pleasantries. It was awkward at best. Least it wasn’t long till we all took off. I spent the first half mile jockeying for position and passing runners. I told myself not to go out too fast. Yet knew my time goals involved running faster than my training. I had in my head I could run the 8k in under 40 minutes. Where I got that number I’m not 100% sure. I calculated my past few 6 mile tempo runs and started subtracting. So I knew I had to be out of my comfort zone to reach my goal. I continued past runners. Steadily finding a rhythm despite my nerves. At the end of mile one I was running faster than I ever had for the distance I was going to cover. It still felt comfortable. I was finding my groove. Mile two felt okay. I was pushing pretty good and still making progress. I locked in on an older guy in his crazy barefoot shoes. We would swap back and forth for the remainder of the race. He was relaxed. Clearly a long time runner. Amidst all the ragged breathing around me he ran on quiet and strong. Even. That was what I needed. I let him pull me. A younger guy in knee high navy and white striped Cowboys socks appeared as well. He too would be company for the next couple miles. As we came into mile three I kicked it up a bit and paid for it. This fucking side stitch I have fought with for the past 5 months of training. I went almost a year without ever getting one and then one day it appeared. Now it nags, some runs worse than others. Other runs, though the minority, it never arrives. Well it came, very uninvited. Just as I do in training I apply every trick I know to try to get rid of the damn thing. But this was racing. There is no stopping, stretching or anything else. I ran. I pushed. It fucking hurt. a lot. But I knew I wouldn’t come close to my goal if I even slowed up a little. Unfortunately I had to just a hair. It cost me my goal. I ran anyway. I found a way to breathe somehow. It wasn’t pretty. As I closed on mile four I had decided I didn’t care how much it hurt. I was going to kick it and finish hard. I used a classic race strategy of picking off the racers within view and never let anyone past you in the closing miles. It is a great tool to find focus when it is getting rough. I found a different gear, just as I did the last time I raced. My legs are so strong at this point, especially since adding the cycling. They could care less that I can’t manage to breath without doubling over. They fired and I just zoned out. Completely. The more it hurt the farther I wandered into that zone. It is a vision narrowing bizarre place. Perfect. Fight on. As I came around the final turn I saw the red numbers clicking away at the finish. I knew I hadn’t met my goal. I still ran my ass off. I could have said fuck it at mile three when I would have rather doubled over and given up. Instead I forced myself to work around the pain. I remember a coach somewhere along the way that said you have to know racing is going to hurt. There is no way around that. You have to accept it and embrace it. To fight on when your lungs say no, or your legs just turn to rubber. I looked down at my phone and saw the splits. It was still quite good considering I don’t race. I don’t even do any real speed work, especially with my nagging achilles issue. With no hill work and no track work I still came within 30 seconds of my goal. Not even 6 seconds a mile off. Wow. I had run faster than I ever had. I tackled a nasty side stitch and still got there. All I could think of was, what if?? Without that issue I think I could have closed and run a 7 minute mile. It was within reach. I was happy. All those endless miles had paid off. I saw the benefits, just as I had become tired of the process. I was starting to question if any of it was worth it. I’m glad I chose to race. It was an excellent change from my routine. Getting second in my age group was just icing. I walked away thinking about when I could do it again. I think my niche may be in the shorter racing. The marathon distance may not be where I will end up. I was always a sprinter, so it makes sense my comfort is in the faster pace. I find myself wondering just how fast I could race over the 5K distance, two miles shorter than I raced this past weekend. hmmmmm. as usual my competitive nature comes out to play. I think I’ll continue the marathon training and just see where I’m at come November. Least I am a little more motivated to train again.
Race Breakdown. 8K (5 miles).
Splits approx. since map my run can be a bit off- mile 1- 8:10. mile 2- 7:49. mile 3- 8:07. mile 4- 8:11. mile 5- 7:19
Finish time 40:30
About 8 min a mile average.
Placing overall: 87
Out of women runners: 16th, 2nd 30-39 age group. 8 seconds off winner of group.
Female winner: 33:30 average 6:45 mile