Kara Goucher says running will break your heart. If you love a race hard enough and run it often enough, that’s going to happen. That’s what happened to me at the 2024 edition of the IRIS 5K in New Haven. But with some time to reflect, I’m feeling better about it.
Short version: I ran about 30 seconds slower than I wanted to, but I still had a lot of fun and I’m moving on.
For the long version, read on:
I’ve written before about why I love this race. It’s a fundraiser for IRIS [Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services https://irisct.org/] an organization that works on refugee re-settlement. Their model of working with local groups has been so successful that it’s been copied at the national level in a program called Welcome Corps. IRIS makes a real difference in the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in the world. They also put on a great race. It’s the most diverse starting line you’ll find and this year the international post-race feast was back! In the past, I’ve always met or exceeded my performance expectations. Not this year. Womp, womp.
Back on December 9th, 2023, I ran the Niantic Jingle Bell 5K in 24:32. That was a fun race too! Lots of holiday-themed costumes. A beautiful beach venue. A mostly flat course, awesome family support, and a delicious post-race brunch. Also, a post-surgery PR, beating my 5K time from March by ten seconds. I was dealing with some niggles leading into that race so training had been a lot less focused than I had hoped. I had a decent result anyway and we had a blast at the race.
In the 8 weeks or so since the Jingle Bell 5K, I’d been able to put together a string of 50 mile weeks, albeit with a quick interruption for a stomach bug and a couple days off for an adductor issue. I’d also been able to do some real 5K training. ChrisNewCoach thought I should be able to run pretty close to 24 minutes flat (7:40 pace) at IRIS and I agreed. That’s not a PR but it would be a big milestone because that’s a lot closer to a pre-surgery 5K time for me. Spoiler alert: Final finishing time, 24:35. What happened?
There’s a whole lot of life going on right now. Mervus couldn’t come to the race because he needed to be up in Holyoke with his parents. Despite the life-craziness, Rose and I had an excellent weekend, going out Friday night to see Frozen in honor of her birthday. Saturday was pretty relaxed. She mostly did homework and I did quiet stuff around the house. We got to bed early to be ready for race morning.
This was my first race in my new singlet from the Organization for Autism Research. OAR is the group I am fundraising for for the London Marathon. It’s an amazing organization that provides great resources for autistic people and their families. Also, I love the singlet – gorgeous! I had never planned on fundraising with my running, but this is an organization I really want to support.
Here’s the link if you want to make a donation!
Race morning prep went really smoothly. We arrived just before 8:30am. I got bib number 9, which was very cool! We had time to take some pictures. Rose won a purple pom pom for cheering. We found Chewie, got our stuff settled, Rose wished me good luck and Chewie and I set off for our warm up. Chewie listened to my various woes. Warming up for Refugees is starting to be a therapy session with her.
The shakeout run the day before had gone well and the warm up felt pretty good too. It was a little chillier than I had expected. We went and lined up and I counted that I was about 8 rows back. I have never managed to line up close enough to the front for this race and I was determined to do so this time. ChrisNewCoach had told me “Don’t worry about what anyone else thinks about where you line up” and that was great advice. Sometimes I am too shy to go near the front. Even in row 8, there was a woman next to me in a parka, and a teenager pinning his bib on with the make-your-own-I-heart-IRIS-pins they had at registration. For a lot of people, this is their first road race and I genuinely don’t care that they don’t understand that walkers should go near the back. I just want them to have fun and come back and do another race. Especially if I can figure out where to stand so that I don’t have to run around them.
The race always starts with some speeches from IRIS about what the organization does. Chris George, the outgoing Executive Director of IRIS, spoke. The incoming Executive Director of IRIS spoke. The Yale Gospel Choir sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” The mayor of New Haven (who runs the race) talked about how someone had put down hateful flyers on the course but they were already picked up. Because this race is about being welcoming and kind. That’s what I love about it.
Then Rosa DeLauro got up to speak. Rosa is our US House Rep and I love her. She’s been in office forever, an old-time progressive. Surely one of the longest serving women in the House ever. She’s apparently 80 years old but you’d never know it. She dyes her hair with a purple streak all the time, not just for the IRIS race. And she takes time for photo opps with young constituents.
But, apparently she’s not in favor of a ceasefire in Gaza because when she took to the microphone, protestors started chanting at her about her position on the conflict in the Middle East. That went on for a bit before the race organizers put a stop to it and got ready to fire the gun. Rose was with a friend, who sent me a text reassuring me that she was managing it all just fine. It was a really tense moment. Whatever your feelings on the situation in the Middle East, it was not the ideal way to start a 5K and I suppose that was the point. Between the politicians and the protestors, the gun went off at 10:15 after we’d been standing there waiting for 20 minutes.
Maybe it was standing in the cold. Maybe it was the distraction and sadness of the protest. Maybe it was family life stress. Maybe it’s that I haven’t raced a lot of 5Ks lately. Maybe maybe maybe. Maybe I just plain didn’t run fast enough. My legs just didn’t want to go. I felt like I was running through Jello. At about half a mile into the race, I looked at my watch and it said 9:30 pace. 9:30?? That’s a warm-up pace for me!
I don’t think I was actually running 9:30, but I was definitely running quite a lot slower than the 7:40 pace I was shooting for. Someone was calling splits at the first mile marker and I heard 8:24 as I passed. A few thoughts flew through my head:
8:24 is much too slow.
That will be gun time. I’m a little faster than that.
Yeah, but not a lot faster. You’re still slower than 8 minute pace.
This is when you think about giving up. Because you’re wildly off your goal.
But this is also when you don’t give up. Because you didn’t come here to jog. You can still have two good miles and that’s a solid workout. You’ve had a result you’re happy with at this race even with a slow first mile. And you don’t give up.
I ran by where Mervus and Rose usually stand. Of course they weren’t there, but it was good to think about them. Then I remembered what ChrisNewCoach had given me for words for the race. You. Deserve. This. I hadn’t thought much about “You” during the first mile, but now I thought about “Deserve.” I deserve a good race. Deserve contains the word “serve”. IRIS is serving the refugee population. I am working to serve the autistic community. Deserve and serve. It was a big messy chant, but it kept me focused. I rounded the corner and thought, hmmm, I should be feeling quite terrible and I don’t. ChrisNewCoach thinks I can run 7:40 pace and I bet I am still slower. Maybe I can pick it up.
I rounded the corner at the bottom of the park and saw Rose with our friend. SO GOOD to see them! Just a mile to go and *now* I did feel terrible. Good! I started counting and remembered word #3: This. Just be in the moment, run hard, finish the race: This, this, this. Around the top of the park, past the yellow gate, up and over the stupid hill in the home stretch, turn the corner, run like hell. Finally, done. 5Ks suck.
Splits: 8:09, 7:47, 7:37. Final time: 24:35.
I did an in-depth private post-race analysis that pretty much boils down to: Run more 5Ks, be warmer at the start of the race, have less life stress. Noted.
I had to get Rose to her confirmation class so we scooted out of there pretty quickly, but we celebrated by going out to eat that night. Because every time you’re brave enough and healthy enough to step up to the line and race, that’s worthy of a celebration, even when the experience is complicated. Maybe especially then.