5k I ran shortly after Z was born, I really haven't done any racing. Why? Well I'm a firm believer that there is no point in paying money to race if you aren't going to RACE. And seeing as how my training and sleep time was limited in those early months and a couple more lbs than I'd like were tacked on as a result, racing wasn't going to happen. Was I still running? Absolutely! But I was nowhere near in race shape. However, that changed somewhere along the way, when I found the strength to get up super early, despite the lack of sleep, and get my runs in. I got into a regular habit of 5 am or earlier runs and before I knew it, my speed started creeping back. It was only then, that I started entertaining the thought of racing again, because my body was telling me I was absorbing the training pretty well and I felt like I was pretty much close to being back in racing shape. So I signed up for the Run for the Parks 10k, knowing it would be a perfect course (not to mention an awesome Saucony jacket as swag!). I wanted to run it last year, but I had plans that weekend. This year though, it was on!
When I set out my goals for the year, I listed 3 realistic goals:
1) Run a conservative race in a marathon to get a PR and put in a respectable time. While I didn't run nearly as fast as I would have liked, I had to adjust for the conditions on that day and run my best race, which I pretty much did.
2) Break 19:00 in the 5k. Being on the cusp of a sub-19 5k with a PR at 19:04, I knew going under 19 wouldn't be that difficult. So when I took my 1st crack at it, I pretty much blew away that goal with a breakthrough performance in 18:34 and my first ever overall win in a race.
3) Break 40 in the 10k. This goal goes hand in hand with the sub-19, because if you can go sub 19, it should easily correlate to a sub-40. When I went 18:34 in the 5k, I should have signed up for a 10k immediately. However, I didn't get a shot at it before that peak fitness faded when Z was born. So my sub-40 goal would have to wait.
As Sunday morning rolled in, the big question of the day was, what will the weather be. With steady rain throughout the day in the forecast, everyone was worried it would slow down the course. Temperatures, on the other hand were ideal - mid 50s. Well, about 20 minutes before the race started, it began to slightly rain. Nothing heavy, but enough to make the roads slick. This remained throughout the race, which ended up feeling kinda nice, minus a little loss of traction. I ended up getting in a total of 3 miles of warm ups. 2 miles about 30 minutes before the start and then another mile with some friends about 10 minutes later, followed by 4 race paced strides. With about 5 minutes to go, I lined up 3 rows back. There were some super fast people at this race (winning time was just over 31 min), so I wanted to be toward the front, but not in anyone's way. And to everyone's surprise, the starting gun went off and within 3 seconds, so was I.
As with all of my races, I developed a pacing plan of starting off slightly slower or at goal pace (6:25/mile) for the start before picking up the effort as the race went on. I went out a bit fast, but with the flow of runners, and found myself running pretty comfortably. At about the 1/2 mile point, I glanced down just to make sure I was on target, only to see my Garmin showing me averaging 5:58 pace. So with that, I pulled back quite a bit and let a bunch of people fly past me. I knew I'd see them later in the race, because I didn't that there were THAT many people able to run the whole race at those paces. As my watch beeped for Mile 1, I looked down to see 6:15. However, the Mile 1 marker was still a fair bit ahead in the distance. By the time I passed the Mile marker, my watch showed 6:35 and I got a bit deflated, because I KNEW I was running faster than that. My body and my mind knew it. I thought it was very strange to be on a pretty straight course and to have the marker and watch be so far off this early. No way I could have run extra distance from weaving (since I didn't have to based on where I seeded myself) and I ran the tangent of the one curve we had. So I did what any experienced runner should do - trusted myself and listened to the feedback of my body. If I was putting in that effort to get a 6:35, then a sub-40 wasn't meant to be. On the other hand, if the marker was off, everything will work itself out in the end.
As I passed through that first marker, I have to admit that I was tempted to pick up the pace to get back on track. I knew I'd need to average 6:25/mile to get sub-40, factoring in some extra distance due to weaving/not hitting the tangents exactly. But shortly after I pushed the gas a bit in response to the 6:35, I let it off, telling myself that in order to run a smart race, I'd need to hold the steady effort until at least the 5k mark. I found a pretty speedy girl who had just passed me (and someone who I've raced closely with before in a 5k), and decided to stick to her shoulder. I'm all for chivalry, but we were approaching the end of Haines Point, so I was using her to draft off of, to limit the damage from fighting the wind. We came through Mile 2 in 6:20 and I noticed that I was about the same distance from this Mile marker as the previous one, so maybe it was just a misplaced first mile marker that would correct itself over time. I looked at my overall time at it came out to 12:55 (6:28/mile avg), so I knew I was back in contention for the PR if that was the case.
Sticking to the girl's shoulder, Mile 3 seemed to take forever to get to. While I normally have issues with Mile 4 in the 10k, I really struggled mentally to stay in it during Mile 3. I almost let go of contact with the girl, but I told myself to hang on and see what the 5k split would be to determine if I should keep pushing or run my own race. As we came to the Mile 3 marker, my split was a 6:22, which was a nice relief, since that was into the wind and with some mental struggles.
Shortly after the mile marker, hit the 180 degree turnaround and I checked down at my watch to see my 5k split, which was right around 19:45. I was right on target if I could could it together. One little trick I like to use when I encounter a tight turn or a 180 degree turnaround, is to really hammer with a quick pickup to get back on pace. I did exactly that, which resulted in me taking the lead over the girl I had been drafting off of. I figured if she wanted to stay with me and use my draft, now would be her chance. Whether it was the improved race outlook on my mental state or that I was executing to my pacing pretty closely, I started to feel really good. I didn't want to blow my effort too early, since I still had 2+ miles to go, but I kind of went with it, since I wasn't sure how long it would stay around. I hit Mile 4 in 6:14, thanks in large part to that surge I put in after the turnaround. Unfortunately, I no longer heard that girl's footsteps on my shoulder, so I guess she dropped back and I found myself running solo for pretty much the rest of the race, since the people ahead of me were keeping the same distance and nobody came up from behind me to work with.
I knew with my last split that my sub-40 was in the bag if I could just hold pace or even if it slipped some. My Mile 4 split was 25:xx, so I knew if I could get 2 more miles at 6:30/mile or better, that math would add up, even adding in an extra 1:30 or so for the .2 plus any extra distance. Just. Keep. Going. It was at this point, where I also started playing the distraction game. In this instance, I counted to 30, only each count equated to 3 steps - so, 1, 2, 3 (1), 1, 2, 3 (2), etc. At the end of 30, I could look at my watch and further down to the course to see far away landmarks coming closer into my view. This game lasted all the way through till I got the Mike 5 marker, with a 6:19 split.
Just. Keep. Going. was all I could tell myself. You've worked this hard to get to this point in the race, so don't back down. Its time to prove something to yourself. So I started to gradually step up my effort, knowing I'd have a .8 mi long straightaway to the finish, which can seem like an eternity. So I pushed a bit harder and kept playing my counting game. And before I knew it, I could see the police lights in the distance, which signaled the finish line. Once I saw that, I didn't have to play any more mental games. I just focused on reeling in that finish line and coming through strong. No finishing kick needed here. I just wanted to keep picking it up, but focus on staying loose. I hit Mile 6 in 6:13 and had that last .2 to go. At this point, I knew I'd have a little extra distance, but I could see the clock was still at 38:xx, so I knew my sub-40 was in the bag. I kept picking up the pace and without another runner close by, just continued to build. I ran the last .28 (looks like I ran an extra .08, which is pretty good deviation, since I ran .09 extra at my last 10k) at 5:56 pace, so I closed strong without needing a final sprint.
Final time: 39:22 (PR of 57s!)
5k splits: 19:45, 19:37 (nearly perfect negative split!)
Overall place: 34/1050
Age Group: 5/92 (top 4 in my age group came in under 35:17!)
So as I mentioned in my last post, when you've done the training and you are a confident athlete, anything is achievable. I just knew in my head that I was going to have a great race. While I wasn't quite at my ideal racing weight (still about 3-5 lbs to go), and I could have included some more quality 10k specific tempo runs, I knew I had a great race in me. For one, racing less frequently allows you to really rise to the occasion, since the atmosphere is unique to the senses. But on another level, my body was ready for a breakthrough performance. After all the early mornings and handling pretty solid weekly miles (with quality work I might add), I just KNEW it deep down. And every time I'd visualize the last mile, I'd see myself coming in with the numbers on the race clock in 39:xx. EVERY. TIME. And that my friends, is how you prepare for and execute a race - confidence and mental preparation.