Sunday, November 13, 2016

Mono Comeback Race: Crushed It!

Apologies for the spoiler in the headline, but I destroyed my goal for today's 5K race.

After 12 weeks of no running, no cross training, and virtually no physical activity, I finally resumed running 7 weeks ago. The first four weeks of training were boring, with no speed work except for
some strides at the end of my easy runs. The next three weeks incorporated some speed work, but nothing super intense. I was frustrated that I didn't have any sense of how fit I was and what to expect from this 5K, but I was also excited to run it and then have a baseline for my workouts moving forward.

I chose this Veteran's Day 5K race because it's one of the "ranked" races by RunWashington. Last year, I was ranked 6th in my age group and to qualify for the rankings, you have to run 6 races from their list. I only had 3 for the year, so I decided I would run this race, a Turkey Trot and another 5K in December. When I started to run again, I figured I would be happy to break 23:00 on this course. It's one of the more challenging 5K courses in the area and my Garmin always logs 3.18 miles, versus other 5Ks which my Garmin thinks are shorter. As I started getting back into the swing of things, I determined that I wanted to break 22:30, with an average "Garmin pace" of sub-7:10.

In preparation for this race, I looked at my splits from the Run Your Heart out 5K, which I ran last February on the same course. They were: 6:39, 6:47, 7:05 and a 6:36 pace for the last 0.17. This yielded a 21:40. I thought this was a well executed race given that the first mile is almost entirely downhill and the last mile is almost entirely uphill. So, I concocted a pacing strategy of 6:50, 7:05, 7:20 for this morning's race, which I thought was appropriate for my fitness level.

Before the race
I slept pretty well last night and the night before so I went into this race feeling energized. 45 minutes before the race, I drank my UCAN and felt ready to go. The weather was perfect: low 30's and sunny. I warmed up for 2.5 miles and I could feel my lungs burning from the cold air. I wondered how they would feel when I was actually pushing, but I didn't think about it too much. After I warmed up, I
went to the bathroom for a final time and I passed my jacket off to Greg. My father and stepmother had also come out to cheer for me, which was really nice!

Even though it was only 32 degrees, it felt warm at the start line in the sun. I chatted with my friend Lisa, who had just run the Indianapolis Monumental marathon last weekend. I was super impressed that she was able to race a 5K so soon after a marathon! I noticed that my friend ReBecca was also there, who I had met after having run the Boston Marathon.

Mile 1: 6:45
Staring out
The race started, and the first mile felt relatively easy. The downhill is fairly significant and I ran 5 second faster than planned, which I didn't worry about because the race felt effortless. During this mile, my friend Rochelle (who is an elite runner) joined in beside me for encouragement. I had told her my race strategy in advance, and that I didn't need pacing help per se, but that I would be grateful to have her alongside me when the race got tough. Lisa and ReBecca both passed me during this mile, and I figured I would not see them again until after the race.

Mile 2: 6:49
I didn't look at my Garmin too much during this mile, which was probably a good thing. I had "planned" it to be a 7:05 and if I had seen my actual pace I might have made myself slow down. But instead I just focused on keeping the effort level hard. Rochelle knows this course really well, and even though I knew it too, it was good to have her remind me of when the hills were so I could focus on the process of running, and not on the pain. This mile is net flat, but it actually starts off with a large uphill, followed by a down. I typically run downhills very quickly and I'm slower on the ups. So when this downhill came, I surged and passed ReBecca. Lisa was coming closer into view as well. When my Garmin beeped 6:49 I could hardly believe it, but I contained my excitement and focused on pushing hard.

Mile 3: 6:51
My coach had told me that when this mile came, I was supposed to repeat something rhythmic in my head and tell myself that it would only last 7 minutes. I ran past my family cheering squad about
Rochelle and me in the third mile
halfway through this mile and that totally pumped me up. Rochelle yelled out "go zebra" and that made me smile. The final hill hurt, but having Rochelle talk to me made me focus less on the pain and more on the effort. ReBecca passed me initially, but then I passed her again. Rochelle peeled off the course shortly before the end of that mile and it was up to me alone to bring it home.

Last 0.18: 6:02 pace
I came upon Lisa right before mile marker 3 and she was surprised to see me. I had told her I was hoping to average a 7:05 pace, and clearly I was way ahead of that. I started to pass her and she surged, which motivated me to surge as well. Ultimately, she finished 4 seconds ahead of me, winning our age group, but it was great that we both finished in the same ballpark to be able to push each other to our best!

 My official time was 21:31, which was a course PR of 9 seconds.

After the race, Lisa, ReBecca, and Rochelle and I cooled down together. We accidentally took a wrong turn and the cool down ended up being close to two miles! I ended up having to walk with Rochelle back to the race while ReBecca ran to get her car, drove to us, and took us back-- just in time for awards.

I was the 6th overall female finisher and 2nd in my age group.

This result was totally unexpected on a number of levels:

  • I did not think it would be possible to break 22:00 on this course with my fitness level
  • I was even more shocked to run this course faster than I did in February
  • I would never have imagined that I could take that final hill at a 6:51 pace. 
  • My splits were really close to each other, and the course lends itself to a massive positive split, not even splits.

I'm excited to have a baseline for future workouts and races, and it's also great to see my fitness come back so quickly. There was a time when I was worried that I'd never be as fit/fast as I used to be, and now I think I will be, if not even faster at some point.

It was also great to spend the morning with Rochelle, Lisa and ReBecca. My friend Chad was also there, and my family came out to support me. After the race, my dad and step mom took Greg and me to a birthday breakfast. I could not have asked for a better morning.


  1. She's baaaack! Your body knew what to do. You just had to recover from your illness and be patient! Congrats!

    1. Thank you! Being patient was tough, but I made it to the other side.

  2. Congratulations on not only an awesome race but return of fitness, you rocked it. Well done and great splits!

  3. That's awesome! I'm curious if your weight fluctuated with the illness?

    1. Yes, I was about 4 pounds down at my lowest. I didn't have much of an appetite and almost all my calories came from fruits and vegetables. I cut out most all sweets and alcohol because I knew those weren't good for my recovery. Now that I am back to drinking alcohol and eating all the sweets, I'm back to my normal weight.

  4. Great job Elizabeth! Heck, in your comeback race, you are only about 40 seconds off your 5K PR... on a long course and not a ton of training. I know you're not a 5Ker, but it speaks volumes about your overall fitness and how well you took care of yourself to recover when you had mono. That is an excellent 5K time. Glad things are coming back so quickly for you and you had such great splits in the race and kept things positive. The pics look very strong.

    Also, thank you for sharing this today. I am dealing with injury frustration and it was so great to read a positive post about how you killed this race. You really inspire me, and I bet you give a lot of hope to so many out there who are struggling with mono, or an injury, or the mental exhaustion that sometimes comes with pursing a running goal. Congratulations again!

    1. Thanks Amy, and great perspective. Actually when I look at my Garmin data, which I see as "apples to apples" my PR pace is around 6:40 and this pace was 6:46, on a hillier course. I was shocked! Since I've been working with my coach for the past 2 years, I am a firm believer in the really short speed intervals before starting to add a ton of volume.

      I read about your knee issues and my heart goes out to you. It's so frustrating, especially since you were making amazing progress. But yes, even if you have to take 12 weeks off (which you won't) your fitness doesn't disappear. Wishing you healing vibes. :-)

  5. Great comeback...nice to see you running again!

  6. This.IS.AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Way to go!!!!!!!!!!!!

  7. Dang girl! You crushed it! I am SO happy for you! It's been a long road, but you survived and are now thriving. I can't wait to see where your training takes you now :)

    1. Thanks, Sam! I'm excited to see where training takes me too.

  8. Whoop whoop! You are definitely on the way back! You killed it, congrats :)

  9. Just catching up with this report, Elizabeth. Wow, way to rock it!! That is just terrific, way to motor through the hills. You ladies are quite competitive!! Glad you are making good progress1