Wednesday, January 1, 2020

New Year's Day 5K: It wasn't great and that's OK!

I try to be optimistic about my races if I believe I gave them my all, but this one was a flop! That's okay, we all have flops, even if we try as hard as we can.

I love the tradition of a New Year's race. It started back in 2008/2009 when I ran the Fairfax Four Miler on New Year's eve. I ran that race again the following New Year's eve, but then moved away from it when the Ringing In Hope 5K/10K was introduced because it was earlier in the day.  I ran the Ringing In Hope 5K or 10K from 2010 to 2016 and was perfectly happy with it.

After 2016/2017 they stopped running that race which meant transitioning to New Year's Day from New Year's Eve. I could have returned to the Fairfax Four Miler to stay on the "eve," but that's a nighttime race and I don't see well in the dark. So on New Year's Day 2018, I ran a 5K in Ashburn. I didn't care for that race so in 2019, I ran the 5K in Reston. I also didn't care for that race, but there seemed to be no better options, so I showed up again this morning. Even though the course isn't great, it's a =PR= race, and they are always well organized with the awards being gift cards to their stores. And the same familiar faces show up so it's nice to see my friends!

When I ran this race last year it was warm and I was sick. My time was 21:35, and I figured I could beat that by a lot given that I wasn't sick today, and we had cool weather. I set a goal of 20:50. Yes, that's nearly a full minute shy of my 5K PR but I am not in 5K shape right now and this course is challenging.

Before the Race
The race started and finished in the Reston Town Center, where my office is conveniently located. After getting my bib, Greg and I went to my office where I attached my bib, put sunscreen on, used the bathroom, and laced up my shoes. Greg had decided not to run this race because he had recently set a huge 5K PR on Thanksgiving and he was satisfied with that. Plus, he had a new camera lens and he wanted to take photos of me.

The race started at 10:00am, so at 9:30, we left my office and I began my warm up. I decided to warm up on the W&OD trail where most of the race would take place. I do training runs on this paved trail all the time so I am very familiar with it. I mentally prepared myself for the 5 hairpin turns and narrow path that would lead down to the trail and then back up again afterwards. That path, which is about 0.2 miles each way, is the reason I don't like this course and probably won't do this race again.

As I was warming up, I saw Greg and my friend Cheryl getting ready to take photos. I also had a Maurten Gel about 20 minutes prior to the race start, which I washed down with a cup of water from the aid station. It was 41 degrees and sunny, which felt amazing. Aside from the 10 mph headwind during the 3rd mile, this weather was just about perfect.

After the 2-mile warm up, I lined up to start the race. I started chatting away with some people and completely forgot to get my Garmin ready to go. Before I knew it, the announcer was counting down "3. . . 2. . . 1" and I realized my GPS wasn't located. Oh well, I guess this meant I would use my Garmin as a stop watch rather than a GPS device. I would manually lap the splits at the mile markers.

Mile 1
Maybe it was for the best that I wouldn't know my pace until the first mile marker. I would simply run by feel. I think that's what I did last year since I was sick and I didn't want to push it. After about a quarter of mile, it was time for hairpin turn #1 to go down the narrow path with the tree roots sticking up. It was a nice long decline, which I could have gained a good bit of speed on if it weren't so crowded. It was nearly impossible to pass anyone and you had to be really careful with your footing to avoid tripping. I saw a few people trip, but they did not fall.

At the bottom of the path came hairpin turn #2 onto the W&OD trail. I was so relieved to be off that path. The trail itself is also quite narrow, but at least the pavement was smooth so I didn't have to watch my footing. My Garmin beeped for its autolap, and then I manually lapped it at the first mile marker. I added the numbers together for a first mile of 6:34. Not too shabby!

Mile 2
I knew to expect the photographers Cheryl and Greg shortly after mile marker one. Once I saw them up ahead, I realized I was in the middle of a pack and it would be hard for them to get photos of me. So I surged up ahead of the pack and I surprised myself with my ability to do so. That gave me confidence so I held that surge pace (or close to it) all the way down the incline. I glanced down at my Garmin and saw 6:27, and I was happy with how everything was going.

But then we turned around (hairpin turn #3) and ran back up the hill into a 10 mph headwind. The wind wasn't horrible, but it was enough to be an annoyance. At this point, I was running right next to my friend Hannah. I figured if I could keep up with her I would be in good shape. Mile 2 was 6:45. I definitely slowed down on the way back up the hill after the turnaround.

Mile 3
I was mentally prepared for this mile to be a killer. I told myself to stay with Hannah and do whatever she did. But she surged up the hill and I could not keep up. And then I felt dead. I questioned if I would be able to finish. All of sudden I felt extremely sluggish and like I had nothing left in the tank.
I felt like I was running soooo slowy.

Just when I thought I couldn't feel any worse, hairpin turn #4 came and it was time to run the 0.2 mile back up the narrow path with the tree roots. I feel like being so careful with my footing while trying to push up the hill and watch out for other people was sucking the life out of me. That path seemed to go on forever. It seemed so much shorter on the way down! People were passing me, including women, which I didn't like, but I couldn't go any faster. I was crashing hard core. Hannah was no longer in site and my only goal at that point was to keep running and not stop.

Mile 3 split: 7:21. That's around my marathon pace! According to Strava, I did an 18-mile training run in October on this same segment and I was faster during the 18 miler. Yikes!

The finish
Once we were back on the road, I was able to really pick up the pace and run 5:44 average for the last 0.12. And it was uphill! It felt so good to be on evenly paved road that I hammered it.

My finish time was 21:12, which was 23 seconds slower than my goal. But it was also a course PR by 23 seconds, so that's kind of cool.

After the Race
I felt like death after crossing the finish line. I had sprinted it in so hard. I hugged Hannah and then saw her husband Alex finish. Eventually I reunited with Greg and I told him how hard the race was. Brutal! I ran a 1-mile cool down and then met Greg back in my office building where he was transferring the photos onto his phone.

I learned that I won first place in my age group out of 82, which was nice. There are benefits of being 41! I was the 12th woman overall, and I think I was in 6th or 7th place at the turnaround point. As I said, I got passed a lot, which usually does not happen. I collected my award and then had brunch with Greg, Cheryl and Allison (who had shown up just for the brunch!) We also got to meet Hannah and Alex's baby Luna for the first time.

Final Thought and Takeaways
I would like to blame that narrow path with its hairpin turns and tree roots for my crash-and-burn, but my bonk started before the final path. I might have been able to recover some speed at that point if I had been on paved road, but I think that watching my footing so carefully robbed me of my mental energy that I needed to focus on pushing up the hill. I would say that next time I should be less focused on the ground and more focused on my running, but I'm a cautious person by nature so that would not happen.

During the race, multiple people cheering me on when I was going "back" on the out-and-back. I don't know who they all were, but I assume they were Instagram followers. It was nice to have the encouragement and it did perk me up when I was feeling so crappy.

One person fell down and injured herself somewhat seriously. I think the W&OD is too narrow to accommodate a race of this size, and on the way back, I could see the runners on the way out jam-packed into one lane of the trail.

All in all, I did give this race everything I had, but I expended too much mental energy on that stupid path and the hairpin turns. I'm also coming off of a little break post-marathon so I am not as sharp or as fit as I would like to be. This is why I had a goal of 20:50, which is almost a minute slower than my PR.

This race fuels my fire for the 10K I am running in early February. I plan to run that a sub 6:40 average pace, which would be faster than this 5K pace. With a full month of training and a hairpin turn-free course, I am still confident I can do it!

I'll chalk this race up to a hard effort on the first of the year, resulting in an age group win. And brunch with friends. I'm not sick, so I'm already off to a better start than I was last year.


  1. You know coming off of a marathon and the body needing some time off it's only natural to be a little bit off but were you.. 23 seconds batter than last year.. Last year you ran a marathon in December also so maybe you set a goal that was too ambitious for the course. I think comparing to last year is a good guide to where you are..

    As for the sunscreen... I'm not sure I'd be worrying about sunburn on January 1st. Don't want to say it's impossible but probably highly unlikely therefore I'd want to get what little Vitamin D I can from the sun (if one can get any)rather than suppress it. Of course if you think you can burn with very low UV rays that's a different story as that's never good!! This isn't just for you but for others that read this, otherwise I wouldn't mention it!! Happy 2020 and I think you started off the year well!! You'll likely be in much better shape in a few weeks because you're in good shape already and the speed work you do will have you ready for it!!

  2. Ever since my skin cancer scare I always use it. Particularly in sunny weather!

    1. Ever try sun blocks like zinc oxide?? Because majority of sunscreens that I know of don't block UV-A rays which goes deep into the skin, and just block UV-B which is on the outer layer that burns and also gives us Vitamin D. I'm not sure what you use but it's the type of things that I'm thinking of when you share this info.

      Also going back to your weather apps, the weather channel app does give you the UV index as well which I think can definitely be helpful for those like you who have concerns about skin cancer! I don't know if the the other apps show that or not but it's another tool for when you go outdoors on your runs in the sun!!

  3. Huh, who knows what caused the bonk? It just happens sometimes! But the narrow path is a no-go for me. We have a few races that run up on the levee - pretty narrow - but luckily they're usually small. Despite that, I've been really boxed in before!

  4. I was all ready to give you awesome kudos based on the title "Wasn't Great But That's OK" and figured now I finally see you becoming a true taoist runner fully learned from her Boston-Bound experience and book! But you got some serious analysis in here and I know and accept that is who you are.

    Personally I think you ran a pretty good race...especially with your division placement! The races don't always go the way you plan or according to your performance goals...but you Finish what you start and simply accept the results and sometimes not necessary to look for factors or explanations.

    Let's focus on the pics. The last one has you heading up what appears to be an ascent duking it out with an older fellow with N-Virginia singlet. His form looks good except why are both his arms forward when R-leg in full rearwards extension? Your form looks great and 742 behind you looking fine. Yikes the R-leg/foot landing to come for that fellow with 63-something on bottle in hand....looks painful to me.

    Your description appears to describe a fairly hard course to I suggest focus on how well you run and handle it. Knowing who you are thru your blogs and what you accomplish as a runner....I think you ran very well...just not the FT you expected. More than an "OK" race!

    1. I'm laughing so hard at your analysis of the other runners! Thank you for making me smile and reminding me of the big picture.

  5. Great recap, and congrats on the 1st place AG. Even though it wasn't the finish time you were gunning for, still a solid performance. Birchwood Pie Project mentioned your blog on a recent post, so I popped over....always fun finding new (to me) blogs about runners. Happy 2020!

  6. Congrats on your AG win, Elizabeth! You had a great 2019 and it looks like you're off to a fantastic 2020 even if you didn't quite meet your time goal with this 5K. I've not run this race, but I'm familiar with the path getting down to the W&OD Trail and it doesn't sound easy maneuvering on it with a pack of other runners. Here's to a fantastic 2020!