Monday, September 3, 2018

The Great American Labor Day Tempo Run

Typically, Mondays are my tempo days. I've spent the past several Mondays running at "steady state" which is slightly slower than tempo pace as a way to ease myself back into it. So when there happened to be a local 5K on a Monday, I knew I wanted to use it as my tempo run.

I'm no stranger to this course. It's notorious for its punishing final hill, lack of shade, and always measuring slightly longer on the Garmin than a true 5K distance (3.17 every time!). But because I run this course so often, I don't compare it to other 5K courses, but only to itself. Just six weeks ago, I ran this course as an easy run, dubbed as "The Birthday Bash." And when I was coming back from mono in 2016, I ran it as "The Veteran's Day 5K." The Birthday Bash weather was what you might expect in early September-- mid 60's and low humidity. And, ironically, today's weather was what you might expect for mid-July: mid 70's, humid, and sunny.

When I asked my coach if I could run this race as a workout, he told me I could race it full out if I wanted. I told him it would depend on the forecast, because I have sworn off racing in the heat due to my immune system issues. And so when I learned it was going to be 75 degrees, sunny and humid, I definitely knew that doing it as a tempo run was the best decision.

I didn't taper for this run like I typically would for a 5K. I ran 11.4 miles on Saturday in the crazy heat, followed by 3.4 miles yesterday, also in the heat. Last week was a 53.5-mile week, which I was really happy with.

Before the Race
Greg's new camera in action during mile 1
Greg and I arrived at the race about an hour before it started. He recently purchased a new camera and he was going to use this race as practice for photographing me at the more important races-- like the Army Ten Miler and the Rehoboth Beach Marathon. His main intent with the camera, however, is to photograph our vacation in northern Europe next summer. He'll have a full year to experiment and I know he'll be an expert photographer by that point.

I retrieved my bib, pinned it on and began my warm up. It was HOT. There was no cloud cover and I was burning up just doing an easy warm up. I decided to run a little bit shorter than I typically would (1.7 miles) to preserve energy and try to stay cool. After warming up, I returned to my car where we had a cooler of ice. I put several cubes in my sports bra, held some against my wrists, and wiped my face with an ice cold towel. I also ran into my friend Hannah, who was volunteering.

My goal was to run based on effort, and ideally hit sub 22:00. During a steady state run two weeks ago, I had run 3.5 miles at a pace of 7:08, which equates to a 22:08. Surely I could run 3.1 miles at a pace of 7:00. However, that steady state run was in 60-degree, low-humidity conditions on a flattish route.

Mile 1: 6:56
The start of this race is a long and somewhat steep downhill. I never know how hard to take it. I obviously want to use it to my advantage but I don't want to blow up and not have anything for the hills at the end. I decided just to go by feel and run it at what felt like 10-mile race pace. I wasn't fast out of the gate and many runners passed me within the first quarter mile. But I gradually sped up and was able to pass many of these runners throughout mile one.

Mile 2: 7:03
Mile 2.5- going up the hill
The first half of this mile was directly into the sunlight. I had a good pair of sunglasses, but I longed for a visor to keep the sun off of my face. It was also uphill! So it was uphill, hot, and into direct sunlight. I was so relieved when we finally turned a corner and didn't have to face the sun anymore. After the turn, I was able to pass two women. My goal was to stay ahead of them and not let them pass me. I didn't see any other women within passing distance, which meant nobody else to chase down and pick off. I was happy to be on track for my sub 22:00, but I knew that the hardest mile was yet to come.

Mile 3: 7:18
The inevitable final hill showed up and my focus was simply getting up it at a consistent effort level. I didn't look at my watch because I knew I had slowed down. Did I mention how friggin' HOT it was? I knew that I was physically capable of giving more, but I wasn't motivated to make myself work harder, given I was already running at tempo effort. Trust me, it wasn't hard to convince myself to hold back! Finally I reached the top of the hill and I knew I was in good shape for a strong finish.

Last bit (0.17 according to Garmin): 6:26 pace
So yes, I had some gas in the tank. This was good! This meant I had worked hard but was still able to sprint it in. I really enjoyed this last bit because I wasn't dying like I typically am during a 5K, but I was still working really hard. This meant I could soak it all in and appreciate the experience of running to the finish.

Heading for the finish
My official time was 22:25, which was good for the age group win and 5th overall female. It wasn't the sub-22:00 that I hoped for, but it was definitely a strong effort and I know I reaped the benefits of the workout. Plus, I am racing-racing a 5K in three weeks so that will be a true test of the current state of my fitness. Let's just hope it finally cools down.

After the Race
I got my water, met up with Greg and took three vitamins. I've never done this after a race but now that I know that running in the heat is bad for my immune system, I'm going to take every possible precaution to stay healthy post race. I then cooled down for 1.3 miles. I would have liked to have logged more mileage today, but it was 78 degrees by the time I cooled down, and I decided to play it safe and be short a bit.

We stuck around for the awards ceremony, where I won a $20 gift certificate to the running store that put on the race (Potomac River Running). We then headed over to a small crepe cafe where we met up with Hannah. I had a smoked salmon cream cheese crepe, followed by a banana maple cinnamon one. They were such a treat!

Final Thoughts
We need more Monday holidays with races. It was so nice to have the day off work to run my tempo in a race setting. I have similar love for the Turkey Trot, although that's always an all-out race for me.

Today was great practice in pushing hard, but keeping things controlled. I had a blast and I didn't over-tax my body. It also made me hungry for an actual race-- when I've done the hard work of training and I'm able to really push to my limits. Unfortunately it's going to be unseasonably warm and humid all week long (72-73 degrees each morning). I just need to slog through it and hope for some small hint of fall to show up. At this point, 65 would feel like a dream!


  1. I like the way you used this race as a training run. I think doing it as a tempo run was a good idea. I always have trouble using races as training runs--I want to race them! Congrats on that AG win!

  2. Congrats! The pics your husband took are so sharp and beautiful. Your race report was excellent as usual. You’re right... I never know what to do with mile 1 on this course either. It’s the only time I look at my Garmin and worry.

    1. Thank you. This course is definitely one that requires a strategy! But what strategy. . . I don't know yet.

  3. Interesting to see how you manage running with your sensitive immune system / EB virus (I'm pretty sure you have an Epstein-Barr type virus hanging out in a reservoir somewhere that activates when you're immunocompromised). This was a smart swap - race for tempo. You still get to enjoy the race atmosphere and excitement, but you don't make yourself sick!

    1. I think that explanation makes the most sense out of anything I've heard.

  4. Great approach to your racing this race and taper it back to tempo/training run. Kudos for sticking to your guns not to go all out when temp and humidity issues push the limits and require adjustments to "intensity" of running. Kudos too on your race plan...fastest split 1st mile...but not because you going out like a rabbit...but taking advantage of downhill. Segue into controlled hard race pace...take what you get when the hill comes in 3rd mile...but you got "gas in the tank" to run all out to the finish. This is truly a smart approach to running hard in this race and fulfilling your goal and objectives. Doesn't matter over 22-min mark...meaningless in the long did what you planned to do...just not the exact FT. But remember this race the next time you do run a 5k for max perf and push those limits that put you into run 1st half 5k hard, but have enough gas in the tank to push the limits 2nd half...or run all out for ca last 6-min. But the main want to get to point in 5k that you have gas in the tank to let it all go...and that is what you really accomplished on this race. Celebrate in that! You love to run these 5k's (I hate them)...but you catching on to how I envision you succeed at max performance in them. Your run here was especially noteworthy paying attention to the terrain and how to approach it in effort. Now that's a sweet spot to be in...both mentally and physically. All in ran an awesome race...keep following your Coach's guidance and your gut-feeling how to do both the training and the races.