Sunday morning I ran the Ralston Creek 5k. I was originally signed up for the half marathon, but I had to take a break from running, starting just after Thanksgiving because of an injury. I finally got back to running just about six weeks before race day. I entertained the idea of gutting out an entire 13.1 miles on what would be, at most, a pitiful amount of training and decided even I don’t like pain enough to attempt such a foolish thing. Thankfully, the race director not only answered the phone when I called, but was also totally cool with changing my entry to the 5k.
The morning brought blue skies, temps in the low 60’s and insanely strong wind gusts. I’m talking about the kind of wind that will slam your car door into your head if you’re not careful, flip your neighbor’s trampoline upside down, and wake you up at night with the howling, even though your windows are brand spanking new.
I hate running in the wind. I would take hills over wind any day. With a hill, you know what you’re dealing with. There’s a beginning, a middle, and an end. Oftentimes, you can see the crest. Sometimes, you even get to reap the rewards of your labor by getting to descend the hill right away. But wind offers none of that. It’s just a mean, invisible hand, holding you back. And while you usually get to enjoy a tailwind at some point, you never notice it. On a downhill, your quads tell you what’s going on with the terrain pretty quickly, leaving no room for guessing why you suddenly just dropped a minute per mile off your pace. With a tailwind, you just think you feel really light and fast, like all your training has finally come together, and as soon as you get home you’re going to write to Runner’s World to let them know you’re ready to let them interview you for the cover story.
Originally my goal was just to go faster than I did at my last 5k… I was thinking a 7:40 mile pace, but the wind forced me to re-adjust my expectations. I didn’t know what kind of pace to expect, but I hoped to keep my effort strong through the whole race, instead of faltering in the second half, as I am wont to do.
Meanwhile, I woke up not only to wind but also to a broken Garmin, so I wouldn’t have it as a tool (crutch?) to keep my effort in check. Every other watch in the house needs a new battery. I was ok with not knowing my pace during the run, but not knowing what time it was stressed me out… How would I know when to begin my warm-up? How would I know if my warm-up was actually 20 minutes? What if I missed my chance to use the port-o-potty? The obvious fix to this problem would be to bring my phone but I have a thing about not running with my phone. In light of my unhealthy relationship with it, it is important that I hold onto my last vestige of sacred, phone-free space, and that is when I run.
It all worked out in the end. I even remembered why I love racing “naked.” It’s liberating to not be checking your pace and your splits and just run. I stuck close to the start line for my warm-up, where I could hear the race organizers on the loudspeakers announcing intermittent time checks. It was also nice that my car at least has a clock in the dashboard. I began my warm-up and my legs felt surprisingly fresh… Surprisingly because I am doing a cleanse (which is a blog post for another time). I had an emergency gel in my car, but I didn’t need it. (Most sugar- including energy gels, which if you are not familiar, taste like what would happen if the inside of a lemon creme donut married strawberry jam- are verboten on my cleanse).
The race started and I settled into a pace that felt moderately hard. I always find it so hard to gauge how fast to run in a 5k. My brain tells me that I need to be going full throttle the entire time, because it’s too short a distance not to. Experience tells me that this never works for me, that I need to temper my effort in order to not blow up. Perhaps I could go super hard the entire time if I geared my training specifically to the 5k distance, but that’s not the case right now, and it never has been.
Quickly, I realized, I would have to speed up to a pace I wouldn’t have chosen for myself in order to stay with a pack. I sucked it up and surged to catch up to a group of about six runners, so I could save some energy by letting them break up some of the wind for me. This is an advantage of being five feet tall and running in the wind. One by one, the runners in my little pack fell back, leaving me alone once again, only to surge ahead and find my next group to tuck in behind.
As we approached the turnaround, the leaders of the race passed us going the opposite direction. I wasn’t specifically counting, but I was paying attention enough to notice there were very few women ahead of me. After the turnaround, I caught up to the next woman I saw, passed her easily, and set my sights on Blue Guy. Blue Guy was just a stocky guy in probably his early 40’s, who happened to be wearing blue. Instead of reeling him in though, the gap between us widened. I kept him in my sights, if only to have something in the distance to focus on. I took a quick look behind me when there was about a half mile to go, and saw no one.
Staying focused when racing alone is something I struggle with. I imagined Dan was on my heels and that I had to hold him off. I remembered back to a grueling tempo run I did with a friend many years ago, imagining her right on my shoulder. And of coursed I asked myself deep questions…
Where is the finish line?
Why isn’t it in view yet?
How many tenths of a mile do I have left?
How much longer?
Are we THERE yet??
Dan and the girls were waiting with Dan’s parents just before the turn for the finish chute. From a distance, I caught a glimpse of Dan’s green puffy coat from a and Lady Bug’s brown stroller and focused on just getting to that point. As I approached, Dan was standing at the sideline with a dazed looking Sweet Pea. I put out my hand to slap her five, but she barely registered the gesture, or me in any way at all, for that matter. I crossed the finish line, exhausted, with no clue how I’d done, as there was no time clock above the finish line.
Apparently, Sweet Pea had thought we were all going to do a race, and was feeling disappointed about that, so she was happy to accompany me on part of my cool-down. If you want to see something funny and heartwarming, watch an almost-three year old run while shouting “Let’s Wun! Wun with me, Mama!” and then giggle with total abandon. Actually, you probably wouldn’t care one way or the other unless it was your almost three-year old. I ended up winning my age group and coming in eighth woman (despite a lackluster time of 24:39, a 7:56 pace), but the mom/daughter jog was definitely the highlight of the day.