Saturday, March 10, 2007

Hills, Spit and a Mis-measured Mile

Today I ran the Van Metre 5 Mile run in Ashburn, VA. The average temperature was about 39 degrees, partly sunny.

Before the Race
You might have thought that this race was some life-altering event based on my anxiety dreams the night before. I dreamt that I was late to the race, that I couldn't find the race, that I got into a car accident on the way to the race, that I forgot about the race. Any anxiety dream you can think of, I had it. I tossed and turned all night and ended up with very little sleep.

I went to the Starbucks near my house for my usual pre-race coffee (just half a cup) and bagel. I was upset to learn that the bagel shop near the Starbucks had gone out of business, so I had to settle for a reduced-fat piece of coffee cake from Starbucks.

I drove 25 miles out to Ashburn where I parked my car, got my bib number and warmed up. There were about 600 people running this race. My goal for the race was under 40:00, (under 8:00/mile).

Mile 1: 8:00 (8:00 pace)
I had no idea what the elevation for this course would be like. Mile one featured a large hill, and I felt like I was going maybe 8:20-8:25, so I was happy when I passed mile marker 1 at exactly 8:00, according to my watch. This was the coldest race I've ever run, probably just a few degrees colder than last year's Turkey Trot 5K. It hurt to breathe the cold air. I could see my breath. I kept spitting ever few minutes. I don't know why I spit in races when it's colder.

Mile 2: 15:20 (7:20 pace)
Mile 2 had a nice downhill, so I ran it very quickly. This was my quickest mile of the race, thanks to the downhill. I was still hurting and cold, but by the end of this mile, I told myself I was almost halfway there. We ran through neighborhoods with nice, relatively new houses. I tried to distract myself from the pain in my lungs and discomfort by looking at the houses.

Mile 3: 23:00 (7:40 pace)
I was feeling really confident about the race at this point and I figured I was a shoe-in to beat my goal, and beat it by a lot! This mile was mainly uphill. It wasn't very steep but the hill seemed endless. By this point, I had stopped spitting, and was bored by the scenery. There weren't many houses around, just kind of a boring street with some construction going on nearby.

Mile 4: 31:00 (8:00 pace)
I slowed down a little bit on this mile. I was getting tired and my legs were sore from so many hills. I had been training primarily on a treadmill due to the cold weather, so I wasn't prepared for the hills. My San Diego runs had some significant bridges, and I did a somewhat hilly 14-miler the weekend before, but that was the only hill training I had done. By this point, I was averaging a pace of 7:45.

Had I continued with this average pace, I would have finished in 38:45. This was my expected finish time. I told myself that all I had to do was knock out a 9-minute mile and I would make my goal. It seemed like I was guaranteed to make my goal, especially considering I like to sprint the last few minutes.

"Mile" 5: 40:17 (9:17 pace)
Um. . . . NO. No way was this last "mile" a true mile. I was running as fast as I could. My legs were killing me, but I was sprinting up hills, and when my watch said 38:00, I was wondering why the finish line was no where in sight. I wanted to make my goal so badly so I sped up even more. I was probably going at a pace of 7:00 at this point, possibly even faster. Where the hell is the finish line!!!!!

Finally, I crossed it at 40:17, yielding a 9:17 pace for that mile. I was so disappointed. I thought to myself that there is no way that last mile was a true mile. I just about killed myself to get to the finish line. I walked around and started listening to other runners complaining about the last mile.

"My last mile was 2 minutes slower than all my others," one man said. I went over to talk to him and told him that I had a similar experience. I then heard another group of runners talking about the same thing. They were all on track to meet their goals, but the last mile took them much longer than expected. Apparently, due to the construction, they had to change the end of the course from what it's been the past 14 years. And they must have measured incorrectly. All of the runners I spoke with said the same thing. One person estimated that the last mile was actually 1.25 miles.I might e-mail the race director to find out what happened.

In any event, my official time for this race was 40:17. However, I know I ran the 5 miles in less than 38:45, according to where I was at mile 4, and the fact that I definitely sped up at the end. This just irks me to no end!

I ranked 32 out of 222 women finishers.
I ranked 7 of 41 in my age group.

Notable iPod songs:
  • From Yesterday (30 Seconds to Mars)
  • Counting Blue Cars (Dishwalla)
  • Love Like Winter (AFI)
  • Anna Molly (Incubus)
  • This Ain't A Scene, It's An Arms Race (Fall out Boy)
  • Reclusion (Anberlin)
  • Common Pleasure (Jason Mraz)
I am extremely sore from all those hills. The original plan was to run another 5 miles on the treadmill, but I am far too sore for that. If I injured myself by overdoing it during those last few minutes when the finish line was nowhere in sight, I will be really mad! Time to go relax.

Added two days later:
I just read an article on RunWashington about yesterday's 5-mile race:

When the course was run last, the runners finished the race by coming out of the woods (on a bike path) and crossed Clariborne Parkway immediately. This left a straight, slightly downhill quarter mile to the finish. This year the runners stayed on the left side of the road before circling on a cloverleaf path to run below the road, adding about 150 meters to the distance. Although the race appeared to be run on a similar course, the fifth mile splits made it clear that the race was somewhat longer than advertised.

At least now I know I am not going crazy, and I have confirmation that I met my goal. 150 meters adds approximately 0.1 mile onto the course. For a 5.1 mile race, my time was 40:17, yielding an average pace of 7:54, which means I met my goal! Spreading the 7:54 across 5 miles would have yielded a finish time of 39:32. I am really jealous of the people who ran it in the past who had the "slightly downhill quarter mile finish". That must have been nice!!!!

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