Saturday, April 20, 2019

PVTC Easter Classic 5K: Hopping Along

I haven't blogged about my racing plans for the rest of the spring, but I do have them! With only 4-6 weeks of potentially cool mornings left, my coach and I decided I should sign up for some shorter races. Today, April 20, had the potential to be cool given that it's still early spring. So I had registered for a 5K. But alas, it was 67 degrees and humid as hell.

A few weeks ago, I registered for the BEST Kids 5K-- a race that two of my friends were running. This is a small race that I have won in the past on a very fast course. As the race approached, the
forecast started to look worse and worse. On Thursday I determined that it would be too warm and humid to race it at full effort, given my immune system issues. I have struggled with a mono-like virus for 3 out of the past 6 summers and I am almost positive the virus comes on as a reaction to racing in the heat. So I made the decision to run it as a tempo run, and I figured I still could potentially win the race at that.

Which race to run?
The evening before the race, my friends and I realized that the course was flooded. There had been no word from the race director about cancelling the race, but it seemed suspect. One of the two friends, Cheryl, decided to sign up for the PVTC Easter Classic 5K, just 10 minutes away from the original race. So, I followed suit and registered for it too. This race does not offer on-site registration, so we needed to sign up the night before. The other friend, Allison, decided to stick with the BEST Kids race no matter what. She said she would come cheer for us if it was cancelled.

When I woke up this morning and checked my weather app, there was a flood warning for the exact area of the course. It sounded like the course would not be run-able based on the description in the warning. But yet, we hadn't gotten a cancellation email from the BEST Kids race director. So, about 90 minutes before the race start, we finally decided to run the PVTC Easter Classic. We would meet up with Allison for brunch afterwards.

Before the race
Once Cheryl and I settled on PVTC via text message, Greg and I drove down to Arlington. Greg would not be running the race, but cheering and taking photos. Once we arrived, we found Cheryl and began the warm up. Cheryl, Allison, and I all had the exact same running outfits so we all matched. It was too bad Allison wasn't there, but Cheryl and I represented the red shorts with rabbits along the waistband. Perfect for easter!

These PVTC races are small and not chip-timed, but sometimes they can be competitive. I thought I could still potentially win, but I obviously wasn't sure. This was a crowd of "runners" who run races often, whereas the other race was a charity event that was most participants' only race of the year. I decided I would still try to win, unless some woman or women went speeding ahead of me at the beginning.

We warmed up on the course, which was the W&OD trail. I was familiar with it, as I had run this portion of the trail before work one morning back in January. On that day, the roads near my house were covered in snow and ice, but just 15 miles closer to the city, on this section of the trail, it was clear for running.

Two other fun goals: 
1. Run faster than my 5K split for the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler (21:35)
2. Run faster than the New Year's Day 5K, which was also warm and humid, and on a different portion of the same trail. (21:35)

My hope was that I could win, run under 21:35, and get negative splits all while running no harder than tempo effort, to protect my fragile immune system.

Mile 1: 7:02
Mile 1
The race started and I decided to ease into it. I ran right next to Cheryl so that Greg would be able to snap photos of us in the same shot. He was standing about 1/4 mile past the start line. Once we passed Greg, I turned on the gas a little bit. I knew that the first half of the race was net uphill and the second half was net downhill. I wanted to conserve my energy for the second half so I could run a negative split and feel good running faster. This is not my normal 5K approach as I typically go out hard.

Mile 2: 6:55
After the first mile, I was already feeling the impact of the humidity. I felt suffocated and like I wasn't breathing clean air. I guess allergies are really bad right now, too, with several types of pollen and ragweed out. And we were running on trail surrounded by trees. At the turnaround, I saw that Cheryl was in second place and nobody was tailing me closely, so I continued to run conservatively. It was mentally a relief to be heading back toward the finish, knowing the second half was mostly downhill.

Mile 3: 6:50
My original plan was to really gun it and try to be around 6:40 or faster, but as I was doing it, I saw no need! I was working hard, I was winning, and I was by no means "comfortable". I was running solid tempo effort so I knew this workout would help in future races. 

Last bit: 6:17 pace
As I approached Greg and the finish line, I sprinted in with a big smile on my face.  

I watched as Cheryl finished in second place, looking really strong! After we recovered, we cooled down for about a mile and a half.

My official time was 21:33, so I officially met all my goals. The good news is that this race felt much better than New Year's Day-- although I was on the verge of getting sick on New Year's and I started out much faster there. My award was a chocolate Easter bunny! 

After Cheryl and I gathered our awards, we (plus Greg) met up with Allison for brunch. We celebrated with mimosas, like we usually do. Allison ended up winning her race, and we were thrilled for her!

Next weekend I will be running the MUCH more competitive Pike's Peek 10K. At this point, I am going to try and run a PR because the weather is looking decent (mid 50s). My 10K PR is my oldest PR and I think I can beat it if the weather is favorable. I'll take on the 5K distance again in May!

Sunday, April 7, 2019

It's a bonk. It's a PR. It's Cherry Blossom!

I ran the Cherry Blossom 10-miler this morning in Washington DC. I was really excited about this race for a number of reasons. First and foremost, since I DNF'ed the Shamrock Marathon, this had become my "goal race" for the spring season. With a soft PR of 1:10:24, I figured I could beat that by at least a minute, and probably dip under 1:09. All of my workouts indicated that a goal pace of 6:50 was appropriate and I was prepared to crush it.

In the days leading up to the race, I felt awesome. My legs felt strong and peppy, with no lingering fatigue from high mileage marathon training. I slept well and I had a relaxed mindset. The life stress that I had mentioned prior to Shamrock had somewhat subsided, so I was in a good spot both physically and mentally.

The only question was the weather. The forecast called for 54-58 degrees with around 90% humidity. Thankfully the skies were overcast. I decided that I wasn't going to adjust my pacing or strategy for the weather. I was still going to shoot for a 6:50 average pace. However, any warmer or sunnier and I would have likely made an adjustment.

For many runners, these conditions would be ideal. For me, I run best when it's in the upper 30's. In fact all of my current PR's were set in temperatures below 40 degrees! I always say that if I'm not wearing gloves, I'm not PRing. BUT, once again, today's conditions were by no means "bad". They just weren't ideal for me. I knew this, but I still wanted to shoot for a 6:50 average pace because I didn't want to set limitations on what I could do. I didn't want the weather to become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Before the Race
Even though I love the Cherry Blossom 10-miler, I do not love the packet pickup situation. In years past, the expo opened at 1:00pm on Friday, and I was able to go during my lunch break. But this year, it didn't open until 3:00pm, which meant trying to leave the city during Friday rush hour. And that could take well over an hour.

So Greg and I drove into the city yesterday to get our bibs. It took us about an hour to get in, maybe 30 minutes to get the bibs, and about 45 minutes to get out. Not horrible, but if the expo had opened earlier on Friday, we would have saved a lot of time and hassle the day before the race.

I slept relatively well last night and woke up refreshed this morning and ready to race. Greg and I ate our typical bagels + peanut butter, and brought Generation UCAN with us to drink 30 minutes before the start of the race. We left the house at 6:00am, and arrived in the city by 6:35. Not bad at all!

We parked about a mile from the start line, warmed up, went to the bathroom and got into the corral about 10 minutes prior to race start. Large races in DC can be logistical nightmares, so it was a relief that everything had gone smoothly with regards to parking and getting to the start on time.

My pace goal was 6:50. Greg didn't really know what to shoot for. He just PR'ed his marathon 5 weeks ago, but then took some time off and hadn't done much speed work since. He also didn't do a ton of speed work during his marathon training cycle due to an ankle issue. We knew his endurance was solid, but we weren't sure where his speed would land him.

Miles 1-3
The race started and I felt amazing. Of course, the first half mile is mostly downhill, so it's easy to start off really fast and feel good doing it. I fell into this trap and noticed I had been running a pace of 6:41 for the first half mile, and needed to dial it back some. The mile then ends on an uphill, so that brought my average pace in line with where I wanted it to be. At the same time, I didn't want to be a slave to the watch. I've run enough 10-milers to know how it should feel, so I wanted my body to be my guide.

These miles were crowded. Only at Cherry Blossom and Boston do I find myself running in such a crowded pack! I tried not to weave through people and focused on running the tangents. Because there are so many people, it's difficult to know where the tangents are, but I think I did a great job of finding them.

These miles felt great, and I knew I was tracking toward a major PR. I had a smile on my face and I was enjoying the experience. I knew that Greg was tailing me pretty closely because I could hear him. Since we run together so much, I know exactly what he sounds like when he's working hard. He even caught up to me during an uphill portion, but then I sped ahead on the subsequent downhill. I tend to slow down a bit when going up hills and then charge back down.

Mile 1: 6:50
Mile 2: 6:51
Mile 3: 6:46

Miles 4-7
Mile 5, photo by Cheryl Young
The race started to feel like "work" starting at mile 4. But the "work" felt completely sustainable. I stayed focused and cruised through mile 4 and 5 pretty easily. I knew that mile 6 would be the toughest of the race. There's a hill that's not too steep but every time it just seems to take something
out of me. I think it's because of where it is during the race.

Greg caught up to me right around the mile 6 marker and then passed me just before we crossed the 10K timing mat. I was really impressed with how well he was doing, given that he had only done speed work twice since his marathon five weeks ago. And. . . it was a bit demoralizing too. As I said, mile 6 is tough, and at the same time, I started to feel less peppy and more fatigued. I told myself "just wait until you get to Hains point-- it will be all flat with no turns and you will feel much better." But that didn't happen. In any event, my official 10K split was 42:43, and I was really excited about that. It's my third fastest 10K ever.

Mile 7 felt WAY harder than mile 6, and this was not a good sign. And even though the forecast showed virtually no wind, I still noticed a bit of a headwind during miles 7 and 8 as we went around Hains Point. It was minor, but given how I felt, it really drained me.

Mile 4: 6:54
Mile 5: 6:52
Mile 6: 7:02
Mile 7: 7:04

Miles 8-10
All I wanted during mile 8 was to turn around and not be running into the wind. I know, I know, the wind was VERY LIGHT, but it felt so hard. In actuality, the problem was not the wind, but the rising temperature. It was probably around 57 degrees by this point and humid, and my body does not like even a hint of warmth. Regardless, I pushed and pushed and pushed.

I wondered how I would even finish. I kept feeling like "OMG I need to stop right now!" but then I would convince myself to keep going no matter what. I seriously entered a pain cave and I was in a world of hurt. I was barely looking at my watch because I didn't want to get discouraged. All I wanted to do was to finish and be done with the torture.

I had to constantly remind myself, "You're still in the game!" Because it honestly felt like my race was over and I was no longer in control of the pace. I was just hanging on for dear life. My "You're still in the game!" mantra helped me so much. It meant that I could still PR, even though it would be modest. I knew that I would be not be happy if my "spring goal race" was a flop so I just told myself I was still in the game and I gave it all I had when I felt like I had nothing.

During mile 9, I noticed that my chest was starting to hurt. OMG- was I having a heart attack? Was I pushing myself into the danger zone? I wasn't sure, but I kept doing it!

People were passing me, but I vowed not to let that get to me. I was doing great. I was going to finish.
Mile 10, Photo by C. Young
I was still in the game and I could still PR. I remembered the 10 mile race I ran last October. I literally stopped for 20 seconds during the 8th mile because my foot was numb. And yet my time was still pretty decent. So today there would be no stopping and my time would be even better.

Finally, we were out of Hains Point and there was about half a mile to go. And it was pretty much all uphill! But I knew that if I let myself fall apart now, I wouldn't PR. And I was NOT going to fall apart in the last half mile of the race. I was too close. Not only did I have to push hard to stay on track to PR, but I had to push hard UP HILL.

So, I did what I always do when I'm racing up hill. I focused on a point about 20 feet ahead of me up the hill, and I ran as had as I could until that point, and then found another point 20 feet ahead of me and ran as hard as I could until that point. And another, and another. This way, I didn't have to look up to see how steep/long the hill was and I just focused on the next 20 feet. It works for me every time and it worked today.

At last, I was at the top of the hill, and then I sprinted my heart out on the downhill finish. The finish line clock read 1:09:23 and since I had started about 15 seconds after that I knew that if I gunned it, I could get under 1:10:10. According to my Garmin, the last 0.02 of the race was a pace of 4:47.

Mile 8: 7:09
Mile 9: 7:11
Mile 10: 7:07

After I crossed, I felt soooooo bad. I met up with Greg (who finished about a minute ahead of me) and it took me about five full minutes to be able to communicate properly. I was a wreck. I was dry heaving. But, I had my sub-1:10.

Official time: 1:09:54.
I placed 17 out of 1,249 in my age group (40-44)

After the Race
I saw a few friends at the finish line but I could barely talk to them. I was in such bad shape. But ultimately, I started to feel more normal and Greg and I walked back to our car and drove home. I immediately got into an Epsom salt bath and Greg made us coffee. Usually racing suppresses my appetite, so I wasn't hungry for lunch until about two hours after finishing.

Final Thoughts and Takeaways
To simultaneously bonk and PR in the same race speaks volumes about my fitness. And also about my mental strength. So, I'm pretty happy with that. My coach said this:

You're amazing Elizabeth! Most athletes would have given up when your body was starting to turn against you, but you fought so hard and came away with a PR... in conditions that normally destroy you! You should be so proud of yourself; I actually think this is one of your best races because you fought against the thought of stopping but continued to get a PR.

He's right! This is one of best races. Racing is not about running the absolute fastest time in ideal conditions. It's about getting the best out of yourself no matter what and I got the best out of myself. This race was very close to becoming a disaster, but I refused to let it end that way.

Part of me feels like it's not a "real" PR because I ran the first 10 miles of the Houston Half Marathon faster. Of course, it was 35 degrees! All that means is that if I ever encounter a cold 10-miler, I can shave a good chunk of time off what I ran today. I know I had a 1:08:xx in me today, but the weather unfortunately didn't cooperate. Again, today's weather was ideal for many runners, but not for me.

With only six seconds under 1:10:00, I really owe it to rallying during that last half mile, reminding myself that I was still in the game, and believing in myself. If I hadn't done all that, I definitely would have not run under 1:10:00, and I wouldn't be nearly as satisfied.