I signed up for a three-race series this fall. I figured this was a great way to stay motivated, save a little money, and avoid the aggravation of choosing all of the exact right races. I should have known this was a guarantee that the universe would thwart my oh-so carefully laid plans.
Sure enough, I found myself with an injury, unable to run, or even walk without pain just a few weeks before the first of the three races, back in December. I skipped that race, which was a 5k. The Yeti Chase, which was last weekend, featured both a 10k and a 5k. I was registered for the 10k, but thankfully, I was able to switch to the 5k. I just got back to running about two weeks ago, and the farthest I run since my return was six miles, so I thought it would be best to be cautious. I was grateful just to be able to run.
Race morning arrived and I had planned nothing except my outfit. Not that it was a particularly snazzy outfit, it was just weather appropriate, clean, and dry. I had no idea whether I should even treat the event as a race or just a hard run. I didn’t know how fast I could or should run, given my recent return to the sport and my relatively low level of fitness. Driving 40 minutes to a 5k, picking up my race packet, doing a warm-up and a cool-down, and potentially taking 15 minutes to pump, would take up an entire morning. Was it really that important to run 3.1 miles?
Apparently, it was.
I made a race plan during my warm up. Better late than never, right? I felt like it would be crazy to go to the effort of showing up and give the race less than 100%. Running as fast as I can is a special treat. I look forward to it and I dread it. I hate to do it but I love having done it. If everything goes right, I get in the zone, and my brain stays out of the way while my legs do their thing. Yes, I would definitely have to race this 5k, now that I was here.
I wore my Garmin because I always go out too fast. I always intend to check it periodically during the first mile to ensure I’m not running a pace that feels stupidly easy and but is actually unsustainably fast. I always check it, discover I am running at least 30 seconds per mile faster than I’ve decided I should be running, and decide that I should go with that pace and try to hang on because it’s only 3.1 miles, after all.
Race day was no different. I thought an 8 minute mile pace to start would be reasonable, and yet every time I peeked, my Garmin flashed sexy numbers at me… 7:11, 7:21, 7:40 even as I ran uphill. Instead of slowing down, I went with it. The asphalt was smooth, the sun was shining through a clear blue sky, and my legs felt good.
The first mile felt amazing, as the first miles almost always do. Of course I asked myself “Should I slow down?” but it was more a courtesy, like the way they ask you at the supermarket “Did you find everything you needed?” just before you check out. No, of course I shouldn’t slow down. Yes, I should run at this unsustainable pace for now and hope that by some miracle, I can sustain it when my body tires. I passed the first mile mark at 7:21.
Mile two brought a hill, a tailwind, and the beginning of the pain. My breathing was hard and ugly. I passed a big, stocky, bearded redhhead I named “The Lumberjack” in my mind. After I passed him, there was a significant gap between myself and the next person. My self-talk went something like this:
You gave birth to two babies, unmedicated. You’ve got this.
But I didn’t have any option. They had to come out. This is different.
Except having babies hurt worse than this.
I don’t know. I think this is worse.
That’s impossible. Childbirth is far worse than a little 5k.
It’s totally different. Having a baby is about turning your mind off and just letting your body do it.
How about we try that now?
Approaching the turnaround, I focused my gaze on the horizon, and tried the best I could shut my mind off while my legs worked. This approach worked for me until I passed the two mile work. I was running by myself. There was a lady in gray with a long brown ponytail about 25 yards ahead of me. I made her my singular focus. The purpose of every step was to get closer to her, with the eventual goal of passing her. Every so slowly, the gap between us narrowed. She remained strong though, and what I had wasn’t enough to reel her in.
I crossed the finish line, spent and happy.
Once I caught my breath, I checked my Garmin. My time was 24:42, good for 3rd in my age group and 17th woman. My splits were: Mile 1- 7:21, Mile 2- 8:00, Mile 3- 7:59. I went out way too fast, a mistake I make every time at this distance. At least I’m consistent.
My hastily formed goal, which I formulated at the kitchen sink on race morning, while scrubbing my pump parts, was to run an 8:00/mile pace, given my recent comeback from the injury that kept me off the roads for nearly two months. I ran my most recent 5k (which was on dirt, as opposed to pavement) just ten seconds per mile faster, so I can’t complain about where my fitness is at this point.
Below are pictures I took after the race, from my car (while it was parked). I know many runners take pictures while they are running. I don’t get that. That is not something I’ve ever done or probably ever will do. I don’t even take my phone on my runs.
It was the type of course and conditions that beg you to come out and run.