Oh, man, I was nervous for this race!
I mean, nervous like I haven’t been in years. Though, to be fair, I haven’t raced a 5K in … almost 6 years? Yeah, since late summer of 2011, when I set an untouchable PR. I have run (definitely not raced – thanks, anemia!) a few 5Ks since then, and they have all been spectacularly disappointing, so why in the world did I sign up for this one?
Well, let me start this race report with a little backstory.
Last year I did not race enough. At all. Four races does not a happy Pahla make (except for the fact that all of them were so freakin’ awesome and I set a PR at all four!). So, when I was casting about for racing ideas for 2017, I hatched up something very, very different from anything I’ve ever tried before: I decided to race like my kids do during Cross Country or Track season. Race after race after race for two to three months, building to peak racing shape with lots of focused speedwork and … did I mention all the racing? Yeah, I have something like eight races on my calendar between now and May.
The training has been harder than I anticipated. (That’s not entirely true: the training has been exhilarating. Making myself do the training is what has been difficult.)
So, there I stood at the starting line, wondering what I had gotten myself into, and – more importantly – what I could get out of myself for the day.
Aside from the gut-clenching nerves, I actually felt great. Confident and strong. My goal for the day was simply to see where I was starting my “season.” I felt like running something under 25 minutes should be a slam dunk, and I was really hoping to squeak under 24 minutes if I could. My A+ goal for the day was a little PR. I thought if I was really feeling it, I might be able to run 23:29 (a five second PR). Ultimately, by the end of the season, my BIG GOAL was to get fast enough to duck under 23 minutes, but that was still weeks away from even being on my radar.
I ran a really thorough warm up, which has become increasing important in my advanced age. Two miles of the course at a pace that should have been easy, but left me feeling creaky and winded. I reminded myself several times that a crappy feeling warm up often leads to a good race, but it really didn’t do anything for my nerves!
I had seen several friends out running the 10K (which started 30 minutes before the 5K) and spent some time chatting with my cyclist friend (you’ll remember him from my CIM race report), who was also running the 5K. I finished the last of my dynamic warm ups and stride outs just moments before the start, at which point Little Boy was freaking the freak right out.
“Mom, you need to get to the start. Mom, go get on the starting line. Mom. MOM!”
Personally, I prefer to squeeze my way onto the line as they’re singing the national anthem, which is exactly what I did. No more time to be nervous, because we were off!
As soon as my feet started moving (after I passed over the starting mats – geez! I had seeded myself about six or seven deep because this is a very, very competitive local race, with all of the big racing clubs bringing their best athletes, but somehow I managed to be behind the three slow people who didn’t belong that far up. I danced around them as soon as I was officially on the clock.) I knew I was going to be fine. My game face was on and my legs were so damn excited to fly.
You know that feeling, when your feet are turning over so fast, you’re a little afraid that you’re going to trip yourself? That’s what I felt like.
The crowd thinned out pretty quickly and I found my rhythm. I reminded myself that this was a 5K – no time to settle in! I think that’s the hardest part about racing something so short. With a marathon, you have hours of running before you really even have to think about your pace or your energy. At the 5K, you need to be in the Pain Cave within the first three minutes, or you’ve lost.
So into the Pain Cave I went.
I passed people, and I set my sights on more. My friend came up on my left shoulder, then pulled just a little ahead. I didn’t want to let him go, especially not so early in the race. We’re pretty evenly matched (on foot; I can’t touch him on the bike), so I felt like I was running a good speed. I already wanted to look at my watch, which meant I was going plenty fast. I only ever want to look at my watch when I’m hurting.
I debated, but only briefly. Pass him now, or tuck in behind because we were probably going to run the same speed? I knew I had gone out hard, and that I would have trouble holding onto it. But I chose “pass now,” which became my mantra for the race: Pass now, worry later.
My iPod served up one of my best songs, the one that gets my arms pumping too, and I put on a little speed, passing my friend, passing a friend’s daughters, aiming to pass another kid I knew, and looking ahead to the fast people up at the front.
Right around the One Mile mark, we came back around to the start, and I saw Little Boy. I tried to put on a smile – I was happy to have a mile done already! – but it took too much energy.
There was a pretty big gap at this point between me and the next group of people, so I concentrated on closing the distance. I was at top speed and already feeling the struggle, so I didn’t really think I had much more catching or passing left, but fuck-all if I wasn’t going to try.
This part of the course was where I had run my warm up – a really nice long out-and-back one mile-ish stretch. I could see the whole field ahead of me and was pretty freakin’ happy with my placement. I cheered for the first place kid (kid… he was 26, but you know what? I’m old now. I could literally be his mother. Quick side story about him, though: he was so, SO nice! He smiled and returned my “good job” on the course, and when I congratulated him after the race – because he was right there at the finish line still when I crossed it, apparently cheering for the other 599 runners – he gave me a high five and told me I did great, too. It was really sweet how enthusiastic he was.), and cheered for another kid (actual kid this time, he races against my son for a rival high school), but that was all the energy I had for cheering.
Shit was getting real.
My iPod was playing crap. My legs were wondering why we were still running so fast. My lungs were begging for mercy.
As I approached the turn-around, I knew I only (“only!”) had a mile left, so I needed to hang on. I skipped a bunch of songs and found something with a good, strong beat. Let’s go, P!
I had very little “go” left in the tank, but I kept my eyes facing forward. I thought about checking to see where my friend was so I could cheer for him, or where anybody behind me was, but couldn’t focus on it. I had to think about what was ahead of me instead.
With just a half-mile left, I got passed by a woman who was almost certainly near my age and a young girl I assume was her daughter. Then another woman passed me. Fuck! That was second and third for my age group (I knew there was a woman way up front my age because I’ve been racing against her for years and know her by sight), and now I was in fourth. Fuuuuuuuuuuuck.
I was pissed. I mean, I know I joke all the time about being the Queen of Fourth Place, but until this moment, I had felt really good and honestly thought I had a chance of placing in my age group, even in this competitive field.
I could see the final (which was actually not final at all) turn and decided to pass that last woman back. Pass now, worry later.
We turned and turned again, onto the track in Hornet Stadium (where they hold Olympic trials and USATF nationals – very exciting stuff). I was dying. I had started my kick waaaaaaaaaay too early. My stomach had squeezed itself into a hard, hard knot, and my lungs were burning. This was every single last drop I had in me today.
And that woman passed me back.
I was so sad, but I had to let her go. There was nothing left.
My disappointment was incredibly short-lived, though, because right as she was passing me, I looked up and saw the clock. Holy crap! Better than sub-25, better than sub-24, better than I had even let myself dream of:
Official Finish: 22:47
That’s a 47-second PR, faster than I ever imagined I could go.
(Wanna see something funny? They have video – which I can only share as a link, rather than embedding, sorry! – of the Finish Line, and you can hear me laughing as I crossed. I was SO happy!! https://results.chronotrack.com/athlete/index/e/26890938 )
I found Little Boy and a banana and walked around in a happy, delirious daze for a bit. We checked results online and by some miracle, I had placed third in my age! OMG! We chatted with friends and wandered our way around to the official results and awards table. I checked in with the computer before going to claim my award, and somehow I was now in fourth place. Of course. 🙂
Nothing was going to bum the high of that PR, though!
I feel like this past year has really unlocked something inside of me. Six PRs in six races. Faster, stronger, more confident running than I’ve done in ten years of racing. It’s an exciting time, and I have to be honest: I wonder how much more I can do.
I beat my “end of season” goal on my first outing – is there more? Can I actually get to my previously-not-even-spoken-out-loud, pie-in-the-sky goal of running a sub-22 5K? That would be a 7-minute pace, something I wouldn’t have even put on my goal list a year ago… but now? Well, now I’m going for it.
Stay tuned. 🙂
P.S. That 3rd place/4th place thing: It looks like one of the Top 3 Overall women was my age, so it’s likely that they pulled her out of AG standings in favor of the OA award. Which is nice! I like it when RDs do that, especially if it bumps me up to third. So, I am emailing today to see if there’s a medal somewhere for me. Yay!