Saturday, April 25, 2015

Breaking Tape

Last Saturday, I won my first-ever 5K. Prior to this race, the only race I’d ever officially won was a 2-mile race at my college reunion in 2005.  And that was actually the first race I ever ran, period. (It was quite the foray into racing!)

One of my best friends, Allison, asked me to run this race with her shortly before my March 29 marathon. I was excited about it and I told her I would, provided that my recovery went smoothly.

Three weeks after the marathon, I felt mostly recovered and ready to go. I asked my coach how I should approach the race and he told me that since I was feeling good, I could run it hard and see where my speed was.

Before the race
This race was more of a social opportunity than anything else. I hadn’t seen Allison in a while and we planned to go out for brunch after the race. It’s become customary for us to meet for lunch or coffee or something shortly after one of us runs a marathon so we can hear all the details from the other one. Added bonus: our mutual friend Liz was also running the race.

I met Allison at her place in Arlington and she drove us to the race at Hains point. We met up with Liz, warmed up for just over three miles and we were ready to go. Allison’s plan was to run it as a tempo, as this race occurred in the middle of a very heavy training week. Liz was going to run it as an easy run, as part of a longer run she was doing that day. Since my coach told me I should run it hard, I figured I might as well use it as an opportunity to practice a 5K pacing strategy. I had nothing to lose, since this wasn’t a target race, so I figured I would risk going out too fast and then bonking.

It was sunny (although parts of the course were shaded) and about 63 degrees. I’m not acclimated to warmth yet, and I find that I typically race slower than my peers when the weather heats up. I wore a sports bra and poured cold water over my head before starting.

Race start

Mile 1: 7:12
Allison and I lined up at the front and noticed that there weren’t many runners up there with us. Most people were sticking to the back. I had never lined up right at the front of a race before, but since nobody else was, I figured why not.  The race started and I took off pretty quickly. 

I felt rusty because I hadn’t done any speed work since the marathon. I took a full week of complete rest post-marathon, and week number two was extremely light. The third week had one stride workout, but was otherwise all slow, easy running. 

I pulled ahead of the pack and I knew that there were no women ahead of me. I wasn’t sure how close behind me Allison was, but I assumed she was very close.

Mile 2: 7:22
As I got into the second mile, I thought that my Garmin was lying to me. I felt like I was running a sub-7:00 pace but my Garmin was reading in the 7:20’s. Throughout my marathon training cycle, in the cold, my tempo pace was 7:15. But now I was running in the 7:20s and it was my 5K pace! I felt strong and energized, but the pace on the watch just didn’t correlate with my perception of effort. Toward the end of this mile, I passed two guys. It felt great!

Mile 3: 7:09
Things started to suck here, and I was ready for the race to be over. The only thing motivating me was the possibility of being the first female finisher. It was pretty exhilarating. I basically repeated to myself over and over again to keep up the effort. I didn’t care about the pace, I just wanted to push hard and run my best.

Approaching the finish line. That black tape on my knee is "sunscreen."

Last 0.1 to The finish (6:30 pace)
I was so excited to see finish line tape! I only had a few seconds to figure out how to put my arms and how to make a good finisher’s photo, but that suddenly became my main focus when I saw the tape. I ran through it and turned around to watch Allison finish. I was 99% sure that she was right behind me and that there were no runners in between us.

She finished strong and executed according to plan, as did Liz.

The only photo they got of me was from behind!

After the race
The three of us cooled down for a mile and then returned back for the awards ceremony.

Post-race cool down. Beautiful day!

We received medals and a photo opp with Miss Teen District of Columbia. It was a beautiful day for easy running and an awards ceremony!

Awards ceremony. 1-2 finish!

Once we received our medals we walked back to the car and went out to brunch. It was awesome to catch up to talk about her upcoming marathon and my recently finished marathon.

Now that I know where my speed is, I'm hoping to improve on it over the summer. I have three 5K races planned between now and July, and my training will specifically target that distance.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Processing it.

It's now been one week since the B&A Trail marathon so I've had time to reflect more on the race.

In some ways, I feel like I got "the monkey off my back," but really I know that I had to have gotten rid of the monkey well before this race in order to be relaxed enough to run well.

Running a race like this is something that I thought myself physically capable of for the past five years. Based on the paces I was hitting in training, my times at shorter races, and the sheer volume of my training, everything indicated that a 3:35 was well aligned with my fitness.

Naturally, I was extremely frustrated because I worked so hard in training, but it never paid off at the marathon distance. I had to work hard to free myself of this frustration and re-focus on the bigger picture. When I was finally able to let go of "the monkey on my back," I was able to sleep better and stay calm during my taper. And even on race morning, I didn't feel as jittery as I have in years past.

I ran this race on auto-pilot. I knew exactly what I was going to do and when, so it was just a matter of executing. In fact, I don't even remember some of the songs on my iPod even playing. I had a purpose, which was to get to the finish line, and I knew how I would fuel, hydrate, pace, and mentally do throughout the race. I knew it was going to hurt during the last 5-6 miles, so when it did, it didn't phase me one bit. I just told myself to keep pushing and not let the pace slip.

Even when the race threw curve balls like icy patches, a windy detour off the trail, and dropping my Honey Stinger gel, I didn't have an emotional reaction. Being emotion-neutral while racing produces the best results. I didn't feel happy, sad, frustrated, angry, excited, or anything like that. Just auto-pilot. So nothing phased me.

Post-race peace
This past week, I have been having the best sleep of my life. I am consistently getting around 8 hours a night. I fall asleep shortly after I get into the bed, and I sleep through the night. I wake up gradually and feel completely refreshed in the morning. I can't remember a time in my adult life where I have had consistently restful, uninterrupted sleep.

Even though I was in a really good mental place before the race, I have this renewed sense of calmness. I feel relieved too. I was stressed before hand, but in a good way. I had to be careful about not getting or injured or any of those things and I didn't know what race day had in store. And now that it's done with, I feel like I don't have a care in the world!

One step at a time
Occasionally I've had that thought "maybe I could have run it faster if I started out a little faster." My legs were sore this week, but they've been far more sore after other marathons. But whenever I have that thought, I always remind myself that I needed to run this race with this pacing strategy. I've been going out at an 8:20 pace for the past few years in my marathons, and I haven't yet run a negative split on it. So before trying to go out any faster than that, I needed to first prove to myself that I could start at 8:20 and run a negative split.

Now that I know I can do that, the next step is to try going out a little faster. Part of my problem in past races is that I would try to PR by 10 minutes or more. And that's not realistic. I'm now focused on the big picture of marathoning, taking it one step at a time. This particular race showed me that I can start out at 8:20, and negative split to 3:35:29.  Next time, I will feel more comfortable with a faster starting pace.

Could I have maybe run this race 1-2 minutes faster if I started out faster? Potentially. But that wasn't my plan. I had a plan to start out at around 8:20 and speed up, and I did it-- after 4 years of not doing it! Having a plan and executing it well is the confidence boost I need. And a PR by over 4 minutes is not a bad byproduct.

Boston bound
I think my next marathon will be Boston. I want to take the summer/fall off from marathon training so that I feel free when I start to train for Boston.

Instead, I am going to run two half marathons. I've never focused on half marathon training, and I think that I could run a 1:38 or faster with the proper focus. My 10K PR pace from last fall was a 7:07, so I think that running a half marathon at a pace of 7:25-7:30 is realistic.

Greg and I have a long vacation planned in Europe over the summer, and it will be nice not to have to worry about marathon training during that time.

Speaking of Greg, he's still on crutches and wearing a boot, and will be for the next 4 weeks. Here is the video footage that he took of me at various points along the course.

I don't have any immediate race plans. I am just enjoying having extra time on my hands without having a long run every weekend!