Academics complain about how busy the month of April is, but for Mother Professors, I think May is worse. May is when the end of the college semester collides with end-of-school-year events for kids and all free time vanishes into some kind of black hole. That’s why even though I went to Providence the weekend of May 5th to visit with a bunch of runner friends and run a 5K, I’m just now getting around to posting a race report. But here it is!
The gang from the Newport Run-Cation was using Providence as a reunion of sorts. Local friends Speedy Stork and Pokey had picked the Providence full and half marathons as their spring goal races. I was pretty much along for the ride. I wasn’t keen on a half marathon just three weeks post-Boston, but I wanted to race something. Coach Mick suggested the 5K as a tempo workout with a fast last mile and that sounded like a fairly low-stress approach that would let me cheer for my friends and enjoy the weekend. Perfect.
It was so so wonderful to see so many friends. The Run-Cation group had a great lunch on Saturday at Luxe Burger Bar and I got to catch up with that gang. Then Nana and I had an absolutely beautiful run together mostly along the Providence river. Time with her is truly nothing less than precious. I found Speedy Stork, Pokey, and Speedy Stork’s buddy at the expo, where we picked up our bibs and did a little shopping. After a quick stop at the hotel, we headed out to dinner.
Speedy Stork had picked G-Pub as our dinner destination at the recommendation of a friend. A 20-something friend. The pub was great, but it was packed with 20-somethings at the start of a pub crawl of some sort. Suffice it to say – their idea of “wear a cute top to the bar” was not the same as our idea of “wear a cute top to the bar”. The food was great and we laughed and laughed. We headed to Pastiche for dessert, then back to the hotel.
These girls know how to turn the night before a marathon into a Girls’ Night Out. We laughed a lot. We had a bit of a fashion show as we selected race outfits. We laughed some more about various approaches and non-approaches to pre-race nutrition. This is definitely not how I get ready for a marathon, but I have to admit that it was pretty fun.
We had known for days that the race was likely to be rainy, which was part of the reason for the decision-making on race day outfits. Race morning did not disappoint – we woke to grey drizzle and runners right outside our hotel window. Did we sleep too late? No – the race had an early start option some some folks were already running. Everyone got breakfasted and coffeed and the marathon girls headed over. Pokey and I followed just a bit later – her half marathon started at 8am, instead of the 7:30am marathon start time. We figured out gear drop for my stuff and did a warm-up mile together.
The warm-up felt great. After the first mile, I dropped Pokey off at the start and went back out to run a little more. This was the first time there was any real pop in my legs since Boston and I felt quite ready to run. It reminded me of how I felt the morning of the Bunny Race in Chicago, March 2018. Kind of lousy weather, but legs raring to go. Hmmmm. I ran back to the starting line. One last porta-potty start. Then I texted HPRM#1 “I am the kind of runner who warms up for a not race race.” Which was really because I had negative desire to do any kind of drills and with the weather getting a bit worse, the idea of just going into a café and drinking coffee for 30 minutes instead of running the 5K was sounding more attractive. Instead I did the drills and went and lined up.
The 5K was clearly not the marquee race at this event. We were a small group and there looked to be a lot of folks planning on walking. I spotted a woman in a Manchester Running Company singlet and said hi. She looked freezing cold and sort of miserable so I tried to cheer her up. I figured I’d probably be able to beat her, partly because she looked so unhappy. Then the gun went off and I took off, pretty much like a bat out of hell.
I had planned to run the first two miles of this race at 7:45 pace and then see if I could speed up at the end. That would be a serious tempo workout, but not 5K race pace. But I hadn’t given the race a ton of thought beyond that, because I was mostly in Providence for the fun. So, here’s how the race played out, a glimpse inside my brain.
The gun goes off and we are running. I am ahead of MRC-Woman. There seem to be a lot of guys around me. Very soon, I start to feel very bad. I think:
This is not tempo pace. I feel like I am going to puke. 5Ks are supposed to feel bad, but when I ran that bunny race 5K with HPRM#1, I felt bad starting at the ½ mile mark and I don’t think we are even close to that.
[Peek at watch: 6:20 pace. OOPS! OH SHIT! Just as a reminder, my mile PR is 6:55].
Ok, slow down slow down slow down. That is not even close to tempo pace. That is not even 5K pace. Get it under control. [MRC-Woman cruises by me.] That’s ok – you’ll catch her later. You are not even supposed to be racing here. Should I race after all? In that episode of the Running for Real podcast with Pete Magill, he said masters runners should go after PRs when the day is right and maybe the day is right? The weather is perfect and you are feeling good. Should you chase a PR today after all? That’s not what Coach Mick said to do. You have done no 5K training. You are three weeks post-marathon. Also, this still feels like total crap. You cannot hold this pace for 3 miles.
[Peek at watch: 6:55 pace. Ok, duh, that is slower, but still way way too fast.]
SLOW DOWN. What are you doing??? Settle, settle, settle. Is this running by feel? Like that 6:20 pace is one version of terrible, where it feels like I am going to puke any second now. And 6:55 is another, somewhat different, version of terrible, where feels like I am either going to puke or my head is going to explode, very soon, but not right this second. In any case, neither of those is tempo-pace-terrible, which feels grindy and bad, but not like puking is imminent. Great. I am becoming a connoisseur of the various ways in which running can make you feel terrible. But try to get to tempo-terrible here, please.
[Peek at watch: 8:00 pace.]
Ok, that’s better, no slower than this. Let’s re-assess. How much damage did that fast start cause? I have no idea. A too-fast start in the mile can really screw up the rest of your race, but at least the mile is a short race! If you goof the beginning, the rest of it only lasts 7 or 8 minutes anyway. A 5k is going to take me something like 24-25 minutes. Holy shit, this could be a very long 25 minutes. What did Coach Mick say is the limiting factor in the 5K? If it’s glycogen depletion for the marathon and lactic acid pile-up for the half marathon, what is it for the 5K? I’ve no idea. How bad is this going to get? HPRM#1 is right – I have no fucking clue how to run a 5K.
[Watch beeps, first mile in 7:44]
Why are 5Ks so long? This is a stupid race. I am already bored. This is just like the drive to Providence yesterday. I’m bored out of my mind. I don’t really get bored running a marathon and I rarely get bored in training but I am so damn bored that I might just need to stop running before I bore myself completely to death.
[It’s possible this was not actually about boredom…..Also, that first mile ended up exactly at my planned pace, but I felt so lousy that I didn’t even realize it. So much of running is about whether your expectations line up with your reality.]
Where is the turnaround? This is an out-and-back course so where are we turning? Ah, there, ok, hairpin turn and now: Yikes! We are running on cobblestones! Am I going to get plantar fasciitis again? Yikes! We are running on grass! Why? Can’t this be a normal course? Ok, back on the path. MRC-Woman is still ahead of you. Maybe try to pass her? Yeah, that does not seem to be happening. Just try to hold this pace.
[Watch beeps, second mile in 7:53]
Ok, that’s not a steady negative split progression-type run, but that mile includes the hairpin turn and the weird surfaces so that’s fine. Just stay on this. In fact, you can pick it up now. You’ve arrived at the last mile!
Now, my brain splits in two, in order to conduct a debate:
Brain Part 1: Are you INSANE? Pick it up? This sucks! Why am I running this race anyway? 5Ks are stupid. Hey – are you regretting that second glass of wine last night? How about that dessert? Is carrying that butterscotch crumb cake in your belly helping your cause here?
Brain Part 2: Shut up, already! This isn’t a goal race anyway so who cares about the wine and the cake. Just run hard now. Lift your heels up, watch your turnover. The point here is a good workout so don’t phone it in. Coach Mick is probably going to look at your pace to set times for later workouts. If you want to run fast later, you’d better run fast now!
Brain Part 1: You have done zero 5K training. Maybe you will be able to run fast later. You will never catch that MRC-Woman anyway. Young pretty people are passing you – Why are you even out here? Just slow down, this is too awful. There’s no glory in a half-assed 5K.
Brain Part 2: Shut up. I’m running hard right now because that’s what I’m supposed to do right now. Maybe this IS the 5K training, right here, so don’t fuck it up. Those pretty people don’t matter. You don’t even know them. Did they run Boston? Who cares? If you can’t catch MRC-Woman at least stay with her.
Then, sweet relief, I remember that I can count now. Yay! I have rules about when I can count, but the last mile is always fair game. The counting turns off the dialogue in my head. I know that it takes me a count of 500 to run a mile so when I glance down and my watch says 2.69 miles, I register that that’s about a half mile left, about a count of 250, but I decide to count to 69, up-and-down, because that seems easier than counting to 100. That should leave just a little counting at the end [69 + 69 = almost 140, less than 250, who says math is impossible when you’re running? Somehow I know this.] I get the 69 up-and-down nearly done and THERE IS THE FINISH LINE! The clock says 23:something-low – I can still get under 24 minutes? I run like hell and finish, watch says 23:33, my 5K PR is 23:20, YAY!
I flop over on the barrier, catching my breath. This is by now a familiar part of my race story. A woman from medical comes over to give me some water and ask if I am okay. Yes, I am fine, this is just how I race. I am just catching my breath. Two minutes later, a man from medical comes over to ask again: Are you ok? I’m coherent enough now to laugh. Yes, I’m fine. This happens every time. This is how I race. I look at him and say: “You should ask the rest of these people if THEY are ok. I work really hard out there. What are they DOING?” Now he laughs and tells me I am definitely the hardest working person he has seen today. I take this as a supreme compliment. Note, the marathoners won’t be done for quite awhile yet.
By the time I finished, it was raining more so I went under the food tent to try to use my phone. But, the race used the App-Of-No-Joy so I couldn’t get any useful information out of it. I wanted so badly to stay under that tent, to get my warm clothes on, to eat a lot of pizza. But I was supposed to run two cool down miles so I headed back out. Because more than warm clothes and pizza, I want to be the kind of runner who checks all the right boxes and cool down miles are boxes to check. Once I started running, instead of feeling lousy, I felt really good. Though I can’t say I bounced through the streets of Providence, it was hardly a slog. Sometimes running in the rain is really joyful and child-like and that’s how the cool down miles felt.
When I finished, gear check was a do-it-yourself situation. My fingers were frozen, but I got warm clothes on and found my official time at last: 23:30, ten seconds off my PR and good for second in my age group! I got a really cool plaque! I also noticed that my watch read 3.00 miles. My mind flashed back to the finish line, coming up much too quickly. I was only just finishing my count of 140 when I knew I needed at least 250. Later research confirmed that the course was likely short. Strava data from other runners shows that everyone’s watch measured less than 3.1 miles. I can’t quite figure out how I feel about that, but since I wasn’t running for a PR, I don’t think I care that much.
Lessons learned from the weekend?
1. Runner friends are awesome. I wish I had had twice as much time to hang out with everyone.
2. Control the controllables is always a good policy. I can’t change the weather or the course measurement. I can do things like wear appropriate clothing and do my planned warm-up and cool down.
3. I am not immune from starting a race too fast, even when I wasn’t planning on racing. But I recovered well, both in terms of getting back to my planned pace and not giving up when it started to suck.
4. Post-race donuts are pretty much always a good idea.