It’s not like you’re going to PR or something.
That was a little bit of a mantra as I got ready for my first race back, after a long term bout of plantar fasciitis. The Old Wethersfield 5K was my first race ever in 2009 and it seemed appropriate to make it sort of a comeback race this year. But I am really barely running, less than 20 miles a week and no speed work unless you count strides. Still, I haven’t raced since the Hartford Half in October 2016, so I kind of wanted to just knock the rust off. Coach Mick said as soon as I could string together three consecutive miles, I could sign up for a 5K and I decided to go for it. I really don’t like 5Ks so I don’t run many of them. They are painful in all the wrong ways and they don’t take long enough to justify eating very much afterwards. But it’s really been a long time. Part of me wants to collect a zillion medals this fall. I also wanted to get the first race out of the way. To see if I still remember how to do this and also see about racing with a new coach.
Coach Mick’s main piece of advice was to have fun. Also, he reminded me that getting to the starting line is a huge win. SO very true and not something I have managed to do in 10 months so I promised myself to appreciate it. I also consulted with Coach Cupcake the night before the race. We talked through a couple of potential race plans and some goals beyond “have fun”. Probably most importantly it gave me something to think about and kept my brain busy.
The Incredible Mervus and Rose came to the race with me. I was so grateful not to be alone. It’s just been a long time since I raced and I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel. It turned out to be a big mix. The race atmosphere is so exciting and fun and it didn’t feel nearly as strange as I expected. On the other hand, I was so nervous that I could hardly manage the stupid safety pins to get my bib pinned on.
I always think it’s good to set some race goals you can be pretty damn sure you’re going to hit so one of mine was to actually do a real warm-up. I know warming up is important, especially for a 5K that is going to be over really fast. But it sometimes still makes me feel like kind of a poser to go run a mile and do some drills before a race. I do way better and feel much less poser-ish with a list of instructions so I asked Coach Mick to just tell me what to do and I did it. First goal accomplished!
I decided not to use the pace function on my watch for this race. This is a big deal for me because I am a serious watch hound. I’m a member of Tina Muir’s FaceBook group, Running 4 Real, and Tina is very in favor of running by effort. No watch, no information about pace. I have resisted this movement, claiming that I don’t get worked up when my watch says something weird, that the watch can be a great tool for not going out too fast, that I know how to adjust for heat or other conditions, etc. But I was curious about “#nowatchme” as Tina’s group calls it. I also know I tend to be on the conservative side when racing, preferring not to risk blowing up. I’ve done lots of cross training, but I had no idea how that would translate to running. I had only a vague notion of an appropriate pace or a target finishing time, though I was pretty sure I could run a sub-28 minute race and maybe in the low 27s on a good day. I mentioned to Coach Mick that I was thinking of taping my watch and he suggested just turning off the pace function would be simpler. Ha, simpler yes, but more of a commitment because part of me clearly intended to rip the tape off mid-race. Instead, after the warm-up, I turned the pace function off.
Rose remembers how to photobomb and steal hats!
After warming up, I found the Incredible Mervus and Rose. The Retiree from Sub30 had also arrived and I said hi to him. More hugs and then it was time to line up! I thought I might cry at the starting line, but I didn’t. I got some chills and a serious sense of déjà vu when they sang the national anthem. But I also felt like, this is something I more or less know how to do. Then the gun went and off we went.
The start was really congested and I was happy I couldn’t see my pace because it actually would have annoyed me to be that bogged down in the beginning, but I figured I was avoiding the issue of going out too fast. I tried to just stay in the moment, remembering to have fun and enjoy being able to run again and even race, listening to everyone’s footfalls and then turning on my music. I ran what I would call comfortably fast for the first mile.
Then I saw the red numbers of the first mile marker ahead. I knew my watch would give me splits even with the pace function off but I had forgotten about mile markers. As I got closer, my eyes must have bugged out of my head. That first number looked like a 7? That could not be right? Then I had one of those weird space-time continuum moments where time slows down and your brain speeds up and you have a whole series of thoughts in a flash of a second. Mine went something like:
That sign seems to say 7:XX, but that cannot be right. Maybe the mile marker thing is broken. Ok, it’s probably not broken, but maybe it’s that thing where you aren’t right on the starting line and the clock is going so your time is wrong. But no – that gives you a mile marker time that is slower not one that is faster and there is no way I just ran the first mile of this race at a sub-8 minute pace. Unless…..buzz from the watch and 7:57 split time……Oops. I totally did. Fuck. That is way too fast. That’s exactly what I told Coach Cupcake I would not do. Wow, the rest of this race is going to suck. I am totally going to blow up here. Ok, that’s ok, I have a great support system and I will be disappointed to blow this, but everyone makes mistakes. I have a great coach who will help me figure out how to do this better. Everyone screws up a 5K now and then so it’s just my turn, not the end of the world…..But then I thought, wait, how do you actually feel? Cause this whole #nowatchme thing is supposed to be about listening to your body, not the clock, so what is your body saying to you? I think it’s saying, you are running comfortably hard but the emphasis here is still very much on comfortable and you are totally fine. You could run faster, though that might not be wise. Can you stay at this pace for awhile? For sure. For two more miles? I have no idea. Well, let’s find out. Don’t slow down, just hold this.
That whole thought process probably took about two seconds. I just kept running and I was now thinking about two things. First, somewhere in the second mile is that crazy hairpin turn, but I have no idea where. Maybe I should have looked at the course map after all? And second, Coach Mick sent me that thing about actual effort versus perceived effort and at some point, this is genuinely going to start to hurt, but I wonder when that is going to happen? Then I went through the hairpin turn and I think it’s a little bit uphill after that so I figured I was slowing down. Well, so much for my glorious goal of negative splitting the race, but I was still feeling pretty good. More than anything else – this is where I almost walked off the course in disgust last year. I was super glad to be running only the 5K this year, and overjoyed not to be so damn miserable. Then suddenly there was the next mile marker and my watch buzzed and said 7:59 for the second mile. What?? Two seconds does not really count as slowing down. What the heck is going on?
I was pretty sure it was going to start hurting pretty soon and that was correct. But I was also together enough mentally to be able to add something like 8+8=16 and if I ran a 10 minute third mile, that still is 8+8+10=26, way faster than I had been hoping for. A little voice in the back of my head said something like, it’s not like you’re going to PR or something, but you are putting together a pretty decent race here. All you have to do at this point is not blow it. Just hang on to whatever you can manage.
I don’t look pretty when I race, haha!
I count in my head when things get hard but the rules are, no counting until the final mile. So now one part of my brain started counting, and the other part was saying, ok, you are counting breaths, not steps, so things are not as bad as they might be. Count to 50. Count to 50 again. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Then it got quite hard, but finally at 2.86, there is the finish line, try to run a little faster! The surface switches to gravel and goes a little uphill at the end, so faster was not happening. But the clock at mile three said 24:XX so that meant a PR was not just possible, but likely at this point. WHAT?? How is this happening? No idea, but just go with it! I saw Mervus and Rose yelling for me as I came around the corner and finally crossed the finish line. I got water and a medal and found my gang and had some sweaty hugs. The Retiree checked my old PR in the sub30 goes sub25/sub2 PR sheet, and there it was: 25:24. I went to the results tent to be sure: new PR, 25:08!
I have so many thoughts about this race that I am still processing them. Clearly all the cross training and strength training paid off. All those early morning swims, hours spent on the video bike, regular sessions at the gym – totally and completely worth it. I know that old 5K PR was pretty soft – ripe for the taking – but still! A PR in the first race back is incredible and was totally unexpected. To me, this is huge evidence that #nowatchme is a great idea even though I still can’t get my head around it completely. The very best pie-in-the-sky goal I would have set for myself would have been around 26:50. If I had been able to see my pace on the first mile, I would have panicked and slowed down for sure. I still can’t imagine running longer distances without a watch, but I think I am willing to try it. Furthermore, I think I am discarding my previous stance of “5Ks are evil and suck”. This race was pretty fun! It was definitely the best I have ever felt while racing a 5K.
The rest of the day was also pretty damn fantastic. I got to celebrate with the Incredible Mervus and Rose. I did a mile cool down, some stretching, and my post-run foot care [another goal accomplished, CHECK!]. I was walking over to meet the Retiree at the awards ceremony so we could go for brunch and THEY CALLED MY NAME! Because I freaking placed! Third in my age group! I got a nice pint glass to take home and had an awesome brunch with the Retiree and his family. I spent the afternoon at Teacher Runner’s end of the summer pool party with my running girls. Rose says her “Best Day Ever” was the day the queen brought her on stage at the renaissance festival and she got to lead the parade. But this might have been my best day ever. Happy happy runner girl.
With Retiree. Running friends are the best!