I ran the Newman YMCA Turkey Run 5k on Thanksgiving day in Seekonk, MA. It was my first race after I spent the better part of this year injured and unable to commit to any running beyond a 30 minute run-walk. I have felt really crazy over the past few weeks, mainly due to normal (and not-so-normal) life stuff, like holiday travel, a multi-pronged celebration of my 37th birthday, and Dan being sick. So my goal is to write this blog post in less time than it took me to run the race! I even set a timer on my i phone. [Author’s note: I tried really hard but failed. I was 99% done with the a draft when my timer rang.]
I tried to get someone to run the race with me, but failed. My sister is pregnant and was hosting Thanksgiving, my entire family was staying at her house, and her preferred forms of exercise are Zumba or a Jillian Michaels DVD so I didn’t even ask her. Dan was recovering from said sickness plus I needed him to watch our kids, so I didn’t ask him either. I invited my dad to walk the 5k which he pretended to consider for about 1.5 seconds. My brother practically laughed at me when I asked if he’d be interested. It did not occur to me to ask my mom or my brother-in-law. I think perhaps I was adopted.
I didn’t want to wake up and do it, but I never want to wake up and do anything, so that was par for the course. Normally I adhere strictly to my pre-race breakfast of instant oatmeal, water, and coffee, but I decided to switch things up this time and eat a mixture of various cereals I found in my sister’s pantry. This break from tradition was largely due to the fact that I recently weaned Lady Bug, and therefore have license to eat anything I want, her (many) allergies notwithstanding. My sweet reunion with brie cheese, ice cream, eggs, pizza, and the luxury of eating freely at social functions deserves its own blog post. I wasn’t sure if the breakfast was best for me as an athlete, but for me as someone who loves to eat, it was definitely the right thing.
The day was freezing cold. I could tell who the serious runners were because they were wearing teeny shorts, tank tops, and arm warmers. I can’t imagine any reason to dress like this in the dead of winter, aside from sending the clear message, “I am fast.” But even then… We will all know they run fast when we see them disappear into tiny specks in the distance before we hit the first mile mark. I ran into a friend at the start line who I had not seen in years. Like, we ran together before I moved to Colorado, when I was single, and that felt like another lifetime ago. He looked the same, only older. I guess he must have felt the same way about me.
I warmed up for just over a mile before the gun went off. The course was flat, with few turns. I hadn’t run remotely hard in months, so I had no idea what kind of pace I should expect. Although I wore my fancy Tom Tom, I didn’t even look at my pace. I set it to display time elapsed and focused solely on my perceived effort level, rather than my pace. My goal was to keep an even effort, to go as hard as I could, and to not blow up before the finish line. I passed the first mile mark at 7:16. This had three possible meanings:
I was in better shape than I thought
I was going to have to walk or vomit before I got to the finish
The course was short.
I hoped for the first. Shortly after the first mile, the 10k runners stayed straight, while the 5k took a hard right. After I turned, the crowd thinned considerably, but I could tell I was near the front. Just how many women were ahead of me, I couldn’t tell. I focused on the horizon, taking in the pine trees and gray sky ahead of me, feeling thankful that I was outside, breathing fresh air, and racing again after so much time off. I hit the second mile mark at 14 something and started to feel more confident that in fact, I was in better shape than I thought. I did some math, which was hard because all the blood was in my legs and not my brain, but figured out that I should be able to get the race done in less than 23 minutes if I could maintain this pace. I decided that when my watch hit 20 minutes, I would run as fast as I possibly could through the finish line.
Around the 19 minute mark, I could hear someone breathing on my right shoulder. It sounded like girl breathing but I couldn’t be sure and I didn’t want to look over my shoulder. That would possibly cause me to trip and would also let her know I cared, which I did not want to do. Every few telephone poles or so, I would surge in an attempt to drop her, but she kept on matching my effort. After a few of these efforts, I tried again, and successfully dropped her. It was then that I gave a quick glance over my shoulder and saw, indeed, she was a girl, and I was probably out of the danger zone, unless she was planning a sneak attack. She was running out of real estate fast, though, as we neared the final turn.
We turned into the YMCA parking lot, and from there, the route continued onto a dirt path. I looked up and saw the first two numbers on the clock were 22. I was elated. I’m not sure the last time I ran a 5k in under 23 minutes. (It’s also been about five years since I ran a 5k at sea level).
My finish time was 22:35, which earned me fourth woman and first in my age group. That’s a 7:16/mile pace. I was very pleased with that, especially given my lack of focused training. (Also, it is such a treat to run at sea level, as fas as free speed. Although it’s not exactly free to travel in an airplane for four hours with an overtired 18 month old on your lap. And on the floor. And walking in the aisle 500 times). In the month or two preceding the race, I ran 3-4 miles about four to five times a week, often on the treadmill, generally at an easy pace, with no structured (or unstructured) intervals or hill work of any kind.