Sunday, May 14, 2017

I Hit The Racing Weather Jackpot

That's right. This morning I, along with about 800 other people, were given the gift of perfect racing weather in Mid-May for the Mother's Day 4-Miler. It was unseasonably cool (50 degrees), there was no wind or rain, and it was mostly sunny with a few clouds.

Greg and I had run this race last year for the first time. We decided to return because the course offered a unique pacing challenge. The first mile features a net incline of 70 feet, and most of the rest of the race is downhill, with a few hum-dinger up hills for extra thrills. The Washington DC metro area actually offers a few four-mile races throughout the year. If I'm counting correctly, I had run 7 four-milers prior to today's race. So while it's not a widely common distance, I've run enough of them for a PR to be meaningful.

Before I get into this race report, I'd like to give a shout out to blog reader Kate. Hello Kate! I went to the Reston Town Center yesterday to pick up my race packet, when I was approached by someone who asked me if I was Elizabeth Clor. I replied yes, and she told me that she read my blog. We didn't talk long, but it was a nice surprise to meet a blog reader and Instagram follower.

Goals and Strategy
Greg and me
Last year I ran this race in 27:51. The weather was also seasonably cool (in the 50's) but quite humid. Not the "racing weather jackpot" that we had this morning, but pretty good considering the time of year. This year, my goal was to break 27:00, but I wasn't sure by how much I could do it. On one hand, my 10K PR from February is a 6:42 pace, and that was on a hilly course. On the other hand, my most recent 5K PR is a 6:38 pace on a flat course! My stretch goal was to average a 6:38 pace or faster, but that would mean beating last year's time by over a minute, and it assumes that I wasn't running to my full potential two weeks ago at the 5K. My strategy was focused on not going out too fast on the first hill so that I could really hammer the last three miles.

Before the Race
Race morning went smoothly. Greg and I had retrieved our bibs the day before, which meant one less logistical thing to worry about. We arrived 45 minutes in advance of the start time, drank our UCAN and warmed up for two miles. We warmed up on the course, which was a good reminder of the tricky hill profile. The first mile is a net 70 ft climb, but there is also some downhill, which means that the total climb is actually greater than 70 feet. I felt good during the warmup and I was ready to run fast.

After the warm up, I realized that I needed to go to the bathroom, but I'd never make it through the porta-potty lines in time. So Greg and I found a path that led into a secluded woody area, and I was able go pee there among nature! We then met up with our friend Hannah and chatted with her for a bit at the start line. Just by looking around I thought that Hannah would probably win the race. She had just run Boston and she didn't want to over-do it, but regardless, I thought she was poised for first. My father and step-mother had come to the race to cheer us on, and Greg told them where to go to get the best viewing.

Mile 1: 6:58
Race start
The race started inside of a park, and we ran down a hill to get out of it. As I exited the park, I ran by my dad and step mom and began to settle in. As I ran up the long hill, I repeated over and over again, "Relax up the hill. Relax up the hill." I wanted to run strong, but without straining myself.  There were five women ahead of me, one of whom I passed at the top of the hill. I was optimistic about passing at least one more of them, but I knew I needed to be patient. Greg was also still within my sight, which was encouraging. I had planned to run this mile in 6:55, and ended up with a 6:58 which I was fine with. Last year I had run this mile in 7:04, so I was already on track for a PR.

Mile 2: 6:38
Now that the hill was over, it was time to start racing. After so much uphill, I felt like this mile was all downhill, even though it was only a -7 decline. I was neck-and-neck with two other women and there were a few men around us as well. I didn't want to surge too soon, so I reminded myself to run my own race. I also reminded myself that I had been running 50+ mile weeks and that even though this pace felt hard, I would be able to maintain it for the rest of the race. I'm pretty sure I passed one of the women at the end of this mile, but I was still very close to the other one. I thought that there were only two women ahead of me, but I couldn't be entirely sure. Last year I ran this mile in 6:54, so I was now way ahead of 2016 Elizabeth, which was what was most important.

Mile 3: 6:47
This mile is deceiving. Before the race, I had looked back on my Strava data and noticed that mile 3 was a net 21 ft elevation decrease. So it should be fast-- faster than mile 2. But last year I had slowed down substantially, and had run a 7:04. As I started the mile, I surged on a long downhill. This is when I passed the woman who was next to me and didn't expect to see her again. I looked at my Garmin halfway through the mile and it read 6:35. But with about a quarter of a mile to go, there was a huge hill. I had remembered this, but I thought that since most of the mile was so fast, it wouldn't cost me too much time. Wrong. This hill took so much out of me and it took all the mental and physical strength I had to keep pushing. When my Garmin beeped 6:47 it was a little disheartening, considering I had banked so much time early on in the mile.

Mile 4: 6:33
Approaching the finish line
Once I got to mile 4, I expected everything to be rainbows and unicorns to go along with my perfect racing weather. I remembered this mile as having been mainly downhill, and my Strava data from last year supported that. I had totally forgotten that there was still quite a bit of uphill in this mile. At this point, I was letting out quick screams like I do when I'm struggling for oxygen. There was a guy next to me who heard me and encouraged me on. It hurt soooo much and I was so exhausted from all these hills. It seemed like the actual downhill that I remembered would never come. But finally it did, and I milked it for all it was worth. I think I'm a good downhill runner and I was able to really nail it during this last quarter mile. But. . . the race was not over. I saw my dad and step mom again as I turned back into the park. I ran up a hill, with several speed bumps to watch out for, and approached the finish line. I looked at the clock: 26:54. . . 26:55. . . 26:56. Seeing how close I was to NOT getting my 26:xx, I gave a final surge and crossed before the clock struck 27 minutes. As I crossed, the announced called out "And our Third Place female is Elizabeth Clor!" I threw my hands up in the air when I heard that and I was so thrilled!

My official time was 26:57, and I was so relieved that I managed to get in just under the wire. Third overall female was a nice surprise, too, as this race tends to draw a competitive field. Last year I was the 12th female, and second place in my age group.

After the Race
I met up with Greg and Hannah and we started our cool down. Hannah had won the race and Greg had set a PR in 26:21. I had to stop twice during the cool down because of a side stitch, that was actually more like a front stitch. This usually never happens to me, and I was extremely thankful it didn't happen during the race. Ultimately the cramping subsided and I was able to do a proper cool down jog.

Top 3 Women: Me (3rd), Hannah (1st), Meredith (2nd)
When we returned to the finish line area, I ran into my co-worker's husband, and he told me that she had run the race. This was the same couple who lived in Old Town Alexandria and who had cheered me on during the 5K two weekends ago. It was a nice surprise to "run into" them again. We chatted for a bit and then I met back up with my dad and step mother. The sun was now high in the sky and perfect for just standing around as opposed to running.

Finally, they began the awards ceremony. I won a $50 gift certificate to Potomac River Running. Being third overall also gives me lots of points for the =PR= Race series. Greg won third place in his age group.

Final Thoughts and Stats
  • I'm very pleased with my performance in terms of my pacing strategy and my mental toughness at the end. 
  • I set a PR by 54 seconds; my previous PR was from last year on this course.
  • There were 634 women in this race, but only 220 men. I wonder if this has anything to do with the Mother's Day theme.
  • Both Greg and I find it odd that neither of us were able to run this race at a faster pace than our 10K from February. Even though I am not in marathon shape anymore, I've been consistently running track workouts since February with only a few weeks of post-marathon. I have a new respect for people who can run really fast in the short distances. 
  • I enjoy the experience of new races, but it's also nice to run the same ones each year to see year-over-year improvements.
  • I'm running a 5K next weekend and it's supposed to be a hot one! Running yet another PR will be a challenge, but I'm going to go for it.


  1. Congrsts Elizabeth! Great tun and great post. (FYI - I get a side stitch after stopping a very hard effort if I don't continue my same breathing pattern before doing my jog recovery)

    1. Oh, that's re-assuring that it's related to STOPPING the hard effort and it hopefully won't happen during a race. Thank you!

  2. Gift certificates, woo hoo! Nice race. And nice weather. I'm blatantly jealous.

    1. Ha! Thank you, couldn't have asked for a better morning.

  3. Well done, Elizabeth! Kudos to Greg too! Sweet when good weather lands on race day, eh??

  4. Congratulations on the PR and hooray for winning a gift certificate to the running store (always a great win, can put that toward shoes!). You paced really well and had a strong race. I love it when the weather works out, but it hasn't really worked out for me lately. Just gotta keep the faith that cooler days are coming in like, October :).

    1. Thank you. When I went to the running store on Saturday they had a zebra rain jacket (Nike) that I set my sights on.

  5. Congrats on another outstanding race! You have to feel good about this. I love those oddball distances, and 4 miles is one of my favorite distances to run on an "easy day". I hope my speed comes back so I can race those shorter distances again!

  6. Looks like both of you will be tough to beat at the Skagway 4 miler.

  7. Ahh amazing! Well done on the sub-27! Sounds like a really tough race to pace considering all the undulations, but at the same time more interesting than a purely flat course.

  8. Congratulations on another awesome performance! I been quit lately, but I continue to read your posts with interest. I commend you for your "tenacity" to run the intensity "that hurts sooo...much!" I may be good enough to run Boston, but I never found the "moxie" to run the shorter distance races at the "hurt-so-much" intensity. That is both physical and a lot more mental talent, which I certainly lack! One last note, I wish when you ran these races, quit looking at the pace Garmin shows on the watch. The accuracy of GPS those or any other watches have cannot yield an accurate "instantaneous" pace or speed in real time. You have to rely on longer distances to get an accurate reflection of just how fast you are running. You run those short stints by "feel" and check the average at mile splits. If your GPS has a "smoothing" function, that might give you a better reflection of your actual pace at any given point/time. are doing really nice racing!

  9. Congrats!!! Woohoo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!