Monday, May 28, 2018

The Competitor In Me

Lately I've been thinking about how I don't run to compete against others. I want to see progress in my own journey, I want to get faster and stronger, and if I happen to place well, that's just icing on the cake. I like passing people in races, but I'm typically more focused on my own race and pacing strategy. I won a 5K last February and I was disappointed because I didn't perform as well as I had hoped. The win was a nice consolation prize, but it hadn't been my main goal.

But today I realized that I am more competitive than I thought. I ran the Ringing In Hope 5K in Ashburn, VA. This was my second 5K of the season, with the first having been two weekends ago. Since I ran the Semper Fi 5K in 20:40, I've run 4 hard track workouts and a long run of 14.4 miles. I knew going into today's race that I was more "used to" running fast than I had been two weeks ago.

Before the Race
Greg and I arrived at the race about 50 minutes before it started, got our bibs and I drank my Generation UCAN. It was about 64 degrees and drizzling and I hoped that the light rain would stick around during the race. When it's that humid, I'd rather have the rain cooling me down. As we started our warm up, the rain tapered off and we realized it would be really humid for the race. I can't complain about the weather though. On Saturday and Sunday it was into the 70's by 8:00am, so overcast and 64 was relatively good considering the trend we've been on.

After our 2-mile warm up, we approached the start line and waited for the race to kick off. After the 5-minute early start at the Semper Fi 5K, I wanted to be sure I was at the start line in plenty of time. There were about 10 kids lined up at the very front. I would guess they were around 7-8 years old. By contrast, there weren't many adults lined up at the start and that's when I started sizing up the competition. I didn't see any women at the very front, but there were several a few rows back from me. I lined up behind the children, as there wasn't much choice.

Mile 1
The race started on time, and as soon as it did, one of the kids fell flat on his face as the other kids were trampling on him. I barely missed tripping over him and it wasn't pretty. I know that when you are a kid it's exciting to be at the front and all, but it's dangerous and it would probably be good for kids to learn pacing and patience. I was beaten by one boy in the 11 and under age group, but the rest of them fell behind pretty quickly.

I had never run this course before, even though I had run the race before. They've had this race at a number of different locations and since they moved it to this course I hadn't run it. I knew to expect gently rolling hills throughout and I was relieved that none of the hills were too steep. In cooler temps, this could be a fast course.

There were two women ahead of me, one of whom was wearing a long-sleeved sweat shirt. I don't like to judge a book by its cover but something told me she wouldn't be ahead of me for too long. When I got to the first mile marker, both women were still ahead of me, and I clocked in at 6:33.

Mile 2
Because I wasn't too familiar with the course profile, I didn't have an exact pacing strategy. That meant I wasn't looking at my Garmin often, and I was running more based on feel. The first mile felt comfortable and I knew I had set myself up for a strong finish by not going out too hard.

I passed the woman in the sweatshirt shortly after the first mile marker, and then I crept up on the other woman and passed her right around the halfway point. When I did, I felt like she sped up too and was going to put up a fight, but eventually I didn't hear her anymore. Meanwhile, I was still ahead of Greg. I had gone out faster than him and he hadn't passed me. I saw him at the turnaround and he looked to be about 20 seconds behind me. That's when I had just passed the other woman and had taken the lead, so he could see I was winning at that point.

My split for mile 2 was 6:36.

Mile 3
As I said earlier, I wasn't paying much attention to my Garmin. I was in the lead and all I could think about was how awesome it would be to win. I've run this race multiple times in the past and I never dreamed I could actually win it.

I was still feeling strong and confident as the mile progressed. But somewhere around 2.6 I could hear someone close behind me and it sounded like a woman. I did a quick glance back and sure enough there was a woman right on my tail. It wasn't either of the two women I had passed earlier; this woman had started out slower than me and had been gradually gaining on me throughout the race. And that was scary. I increased my effort slightly and I continued to hear her.

My desire to win became so strong that I found a new gear I didn't realize I had. At around 2.8 I started to surge until I could no longer hear her behind me. Right around the mile 3 marker I heard someone yell that she was really close behind me and that motivated me to run even harder. My mile 3 split was 6:33, and I didn't even look at my watch or notice the time.

The Finish
I heard someone say on a walkie talkie "First female coming through" and I knew they meant me. I was NOT going to lose it now. I turned a corner and saw a guy finish, and then they put up tape for me. I ran toward it like my life depending on it, and broke the take in complete ecstasy and agonizing pain. I did it. I won!

Turns out I ran the last 0.15 miles at an average pace of 5:35. That was fast enough to bring my overall Garmin pace down to 6:32, which is faster than any of my three mile splits!

I felt like I was about to pass out for the first minute so I didn't see Greg finish. It actually took me a good five minutes to be able to speak. It's never taken me so long to recover from a 5K. I felt like death for the next 15 minutes. And even though I was chatting away with the second place female, I felt like I could pass out at any moment. Finally I sat down on a bench and fully recovered.

The results were announced and I ran an official time of 20:30. But the results that were posted online after the race had me at 20:32. Not a big deal, I just don't understand why there would be a discrepancy. My Garmin had 20:32, but I stopped it a little late given that I was busy breaking tape when I crossed! :-) I found out that the second place female was only four seconds behind me. What a close race! I am so happy I didn't ease up the effort. When I won the 5K in February I was a good bit ahead of #2, so it didn't feel like as much of a competition.

I walked away with gift cards to three different restaurants, as well as a gift card to Wegman's. And they are opening a Wegman's a mile away from me next weekend, so that was appropriate.

I definitely would not have run this race as fast if I didn't have competition. I think I would have been more focused on my Garmin and I wouldn't have had the motivation to push as hard during the last
half mile.

In terms of progress, I ran this race 10 seconds faster than I ran Semper Fi two weeks ago, and this course was hillier. I also executed it better in that I had even splits instead of slowing down at the end. I think I am starting to adjust to the humidity and my workouts have helped me transition from marathon fitness to 5K fitness.

And of course, I realized that I can be competitive when it comes to winning. I didn't think I would be so motivated when I felt another runner on my heels, but it did motivate me.

This was a fun race and I enjoyed the course and the atmosphere. I will likely do it again next year! Hopefully I will get the breaking tape photo soon so I can add it to the blog.


  1. Congratulations on your win and a great time, and an improvement from your last 5K even though it was warmer and a hillier course. That speaks volumes about your training.

    Honestly, races where I have competition are the best for me when it comes to bringing out a strong time. It's not that I'm necessarily trying to beat the other competitors, because I'm never winning outright, but it's very tough to stay motivated to run a fast race if you're in no-mans-land. The last good race I had was back in November, and once it was done, I talked to the people I ran near and thanked them for pushing me, including the ones who were just ahead of me and just behind me.

    I feel like if you win a race, you should be proud of it. As someone who is dealing with an injury, it hurts to see you say that the prize you get for winning overall as consolation, no matter if you met your time goal or not. Races don't give prizes for PRs or meeting goals- they give prizes for winning outright. You won fair and square. Smile and be proud because winning a race, no matter how small, no matter what your time is, is something that most runners will not experience.

    1. I see what you are saying. I guess it just depends on what your goals are. When I ran that race in February, my goal was not to win but to be able to improve my 5K speed. When I bonked and ran much slower than expected, it was a disappointment. The fact that I was still the fastest runner there was nice, but it didn't change the fact that my purpose was not attained. Today, I decided the goal was to win.

    2. And also, regarding injury, I know how fortunate I am not be injured, so I don't take that for granted. In the grand scheme of things, just being able to get out there and try my best is a win.

  2. Congrats! How exciting to break the tape! I always say that I mostly compete against myself and that's the truth. But it's healthy to want to win or beat a competitior.

  3. Well done on coming first! Stellar performance :)

  4. Congrats on the win Zebra! You have discovered the mantra of Kenyan/Ethiopian elites...not boit the FT...all bout the win or top 3 place. Too bad no check for you, but gift cards and 1st place...ahould be precious moment! We always knew you were a competitor...happy you finally discovered it! Cheers to ya!

  5. Congratulations!!!!!!!!!! I get so annoyed at kids who line up at the front!!!

  6. Congratulations on the win! So funny how we aren't competitive...until there's competition. I rarely win races, but when I do, all other goals go out the window!