Thursday, November 24, 2016

Every Second Counts: Turkey Trot 5K Report

This morning I ran my 11th consecutive Virginia Run Turkey Trot 5K. That's right, I have an eleven-year streak, which is impressive, considering I have never been ill or injured on Thanksgiving. Knock on wood! I discovered the race in 2006, and have been back every year since. I met Greg in 2009, so this was Turkey Trot #7 for him.

Virginia Run Turkey Trot 5K

If you've been reading this blog, you know that I spent 12 weeks over the summer with mono. Zero running, zero exercise. I started running again on September 20, but I didn't resume speed work until about four weeks ago. And even at that, it wasn't very intense.

On November 13, I ran the Veteran's Day 5K, where I smashed by goal by nearly a full minute, finishing in 21:31 on a hilly course. There wasn't too much time for speed work between that race and this one, but on Thursday, I ran road intervals of 2 x (1:00, 2:00, 3:00, 2:00, 1:00), all with 90-second recovery jogs. I was pleased with how the run felt, and it seemed as if I was getting close to hitting the paces I was last spring. The follow Saturday (last Saturday) I ran for 80 minutes, with the first 70 minutes being easy, and the last 10 minutes "hard." The hard minutes averaged a pace of 6:51, which helped boost my confidence. And then on Monday of this week, I did a little tune-up workout with 4:00, 3:00, 2:00, 1:00, 1:00. So now that I think about it, my coach was able to squeeze in a decent amount of speed between the Veteran's Day race and today.

Going into this race, I made the following assumptions:
  • I would be fitter than I was for Veteran's Day, because when you are coming back, you make gains quickly
  • The course would be slightly easier, with the last mile being a net downhill instead of up a huge hill
  • The course would measure shorter on my Garmin
Garmin distance is important because when I am trying to project a finish time, I know that my Garmin will read something longer than the official race distance. I like comparing apples to apples, and I use my Garmin to pace myself when running. For Veteran's Day, my Garmin showed an average pace of 6:46. I knew that if I ran the exact same pace today, I'd end up with a 21:14 (or thereabouts) instead of a 21:31. I also got a FitBit for my birthday that tracks my resting heart rate, and in the past 10 days, my resting heart rate had gone down from 51 to 47. Not surprising, given that you make gains quickly when coming back from downtime.

So given these three elements of being fitter, having an easier course and having a shorter course, I thought I would land somewhere around 20:55. And that got me thinking. My all-time 5K PR was 20:51, set on this course last year. So, why not try to push it a little and go for a modest PR this morning? Which is exactly what I did.

My pacing strategy was to take the first mile at 6:38, which was 4 seconds faster than last year, and then try to run around the same paces I did last year for the rest of the race. Another important aspect of my plan was the tangents. Usually when I run this course, my Garmin measures 3.13. But last year it was 3.14. I know I am thinking about seemingly insignificant things here, but hey-- when you are trying to PR by a matter of seconds, it all matters! So this year, I told myself to pay very close attention to the tangents and to not waste energy weaving around kids during the first mile.

Before the Race
Greg and I arrived at the race, parked in our usual spot at a nearby church, and went to the bathroom in the church. There was a man standing outside the church who seemed very happy to let us in and use the bathroom. He kept emphasizing to us where the bathrooms were and he gave us a huge smile. I think he was literally there that day for the sole purpose of letting use the bathroom. He even said "that's what I'm here for." It was really awesome.

We warmed up, with a plan to be in the start corral about 5 minutes before the race started. A little bit of panic set in when the course marshal told us we couldn't cross the street to get into the corral-- we had to walk all the way around, which meant weaving through a huge crowd. And when we finally crossed the street, we were at the very back of the corral, so we had to weave through another crowd to get up to the front. This happened to other people who wanted to be close to the front and they were annoyed as well. This race has over 2,000 people, and many of them are small children, so getting stuck in the back was not an attractive option!

The weather was perfect. Low 40's and overcast with just a very slight breeze. I had actually debated between wearing CW-X compression capris and shorts. I feel like the compression helps my legs move quickly when it's cold out. But ultimately I settled on shorts because they weighed less! I needed every possible advantage if I wanted a shot at a PR.

Mile 1: 6:38
Unlike most years, there were not a ton of 8-years olds lined up right at the front. This meant I didn't have to do a lot of weaving like I usually have to do in the first mile. I got pulled out pretty quickly on a slight downhill and when I looked at my pace halfway through the mile, it said 6:20. Oops! Time to slow down a bit, which was easy because the rest of the mile was a slight incline. I also noticed a tangent in the first mile that I had never noticed before, so I made sure to run to the inside of the curve. When I hit the first mile marker, I was pleased that I had executed according to plan, but I did not feel good. I was already tired. 

Mile 2: 6:49
I didn't have the same "pep in my step" that I did at the Veteran's Day race. I felt tired and a little sluggish. There's a sizable hill in this mile. It's not terribly long, but it's on the steep side, so getting up it is always a challenge. It wasn't this hill, however, that slowed me down. It was the first part of the mile, which was flat-ish. I was just tired and not able to maintain that 6:38 pace. During this mile, someone yelled "Go Elizabeth!" at me and I wondered who it was.

Mile 3: 6:38
As I continued on, people kept yelling "Go Elizabeth" at me, at which point I realized that the girl next to me must have been named Elizabeth. Whatever- I'll take it! I knew this mile was a net downhill, but that it ended on an incline-- the same incline that was a decline and pulled me out too fast. I was hoping to really kill it during the mile like I typically do on this course. Usually my last mile is significantly faster than the first two. But today, I was pushing as hard as possible, but my Garmin pace was stubbornly refusing to budge. During the last half mile, I started to think that I wouldn't get my PR. It would be close, but likely wouldn't happen at this rate. Regardless, I still pushed with everything I had.

Last 0.13: 5:49 pace
Amazingly, I did have another gear in me, which I hit as I passed mile marker 3. I revved and revved and revved. Someone passed me at lightening speed and it motivated me to kick even harder. I saw the clock as I crossed and I stopped my Garmin: 20:50.

I knew this feeling. It was like being at the Columbus Marathon with a Garmin time of 3:40:00 and hoping the official time matched, which would mean a BQ. Greg and I made our way to the results area and typed our bib numbers in the computer. I held my breath. And the official time was. . . 20:50!  I did it! I PR'ed by one second!

Back in 2014, I ran this race in 21:30. I had missed my then-PR of 21:29 by one second. I wasn't terribly disappointed, but it's much better when it goes the other way!

As for Greg, I knew he was in great shape and I had predicted a huge PR for him. Well, he got a 44-
First place AG award: a hat!
second PR, which is massive for the 5K. He clocked in at 20:09, which means sub-20:00 is clearly within his grasp.

I won first place in my age group, which earned me a hat identical to the one I won in 2014.  I was the 13th female out of 1164, which I was thrilled with. Not to look a Gift Turkey in the mouth, but they were giving away Ninja blenders and restaurant gift cards as raffle prizes, but the winners only walked away with hats! That's okay. I'll be back again next year and hopefully keep adding to the hat collection.

Key takeaways
Even though you don't want to over-think things, the small things matter. If I hadn't been as diligent about the tangents, it could have cost me a second or two, and I would not have PR'ed. According to Strava, both this race and last year's race had a 5K effort of 20:41. I was able to run a faster "official" time this year because of the tangents.

I am running yet another 5K next weekend. I think all of these 5K's now will set me up with a nice base speed to begin marathon training. Next weekend we are back to a longer, hillier course, so I don't anticipate a PR. But you never know!

And for fun, here is my Turkey Trot history for the past 7 years:

 Year   Mile 1   Mile 2   Mile 3  Final Kick  Time
 2009  7:25  7:44  7:37 7:1323:40
 2010  7:19 7:197:07  6:1322:33
2011  7:00 7:05 6:42 5:5721:29
 2012 7:127:157:056:1022:18
 2013  7:26 7:30  7:03 6:3822:46
2014  7:01 6:54 6:45 6:1521:30
 2015  6:43 6:43 6:35  6:0320:51
  2016     6:38    6:49   6:38  5:49 20:50 

Happy Thanksgiving to all my blog readers!


  1. Congrats on that PR! That has to feel great, especially coming back from illness. Happy Thanksgiving!

  2. Congratulations on your PR, Elizabeth! You never know, maybe that person cheering really was cheering for you and recognized you from a book signing or your blog? I've had that happen to me before. Either way, you ran a great race! Hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving as well.

  3. Congrats on your PR and winning in your age group!! I am very impressed that you have have mile by mile split information going back to your first race.

    Oh, and that is a bummer about the raffle prizes being "better" but yet race winners got hats. Boo.

  4. Congrats!!!! So exciting!!!!!!!!!!!!! Great improvement over the years as well!

  5. I don't know what's more impressive - your eleven year streak, or your shiny new PR?! Regardless, totally awesome, it was such perfect racing weather! Can not wait to see your comeback continue in the Spring :)

  6. Congrats on the PR! what an amazing comeback you've made!

  7. Yay well done! Awesome work :-)