Alternate Title: Never Take Your Training Too Literally
I ran a race on Sunday. As in, I actually raced a race with a time goal in mind and a PR staring at me. I knew going in I had slim-to-no chance of beating my PR but that doesn’t mean I didn’t look up my PR time + pace, just in case! While I wasn’t officially gunning for my PR I was toeing the start line of the ERS Westminster Trail 10K with the goal of testing out my speed. I wanted to run hard from the get go and see what I could talk my body into surviving. It was a gamble, but if I’ve learned anything about running in the past year it’s that the biggest road block is your brain, not your body!
This race popped up on my radar when a friend, Sara, signed up for it and started talking about it. I had no business racing a 10K but…if she was driving down to the race why not!? We headed out early on Sunday morning and had plenty of time to debate the weather, contemplate coffee and pout when we discovered the local bunt cake store was closed for the day. Eventually we pulled ourselves together, pinned on our bibs and lined up at the start…fully prepared to take on the out + back course on a sunny Sunday morning, or so we hoped.
I left the start line prepared for an hour or so of pushing my legs, controlling my breathing and staying relatively focused on what my body was saying. The first quarter-mile was a fair bit of weaving as we all settled into our respective paces. Less than a half mile into the race my double-knotted shoelace came untied. Untied! It was double-knotted! I spent about 5 steps swearing then pulled over to the grass to tie it up. Do you have any idea how long it takes to tie a shoe when you’re fingers are fat and clumsy and there is an imaginary clock timing you?!
By the time we hit the first mile everyone had kind of wriggled into a spread out line of runners and I was feeling good. I was actually surprised to see the mile marker. The second mile was spent picking off 2-3 people ahead of me while trying really hard to keep my effort + breathing consistent. As I approached the third mile I forgot how to breath properly and my ribs constricted in weird, painful cramps. I audibly whimpered a few times and while I’m sure my pace faltered I kept pushing forward. At this point we had hit our turn around point and I was counting the women as they ran back toward the finish line…I was the 9th overall female with the 8th female maybe 20 seconds ahead of me. No way was a stupid side cramp going to take that away from me!
I wrangled my breathing back under control, the side cramp magically disappeared and the pep was back in my step. I took advantage of the tiny descent and regained a little confidence in my pace. The turn around also gave me a chance to see just how close behind me a few other women were running. While I originally had no intention of racing against anyone during this 10K I was running without a GPS watch so I had no pace or splits staring at me, motivating me to move faster…so I used the women around me to keep me going.
For the second, third and fourth mile of the race everyone around me was running their own race, a few hundred feet away from the person ahead of them. We were all consistent…I couldn’t catch the women ahead of me but no one was creeping up behind me. It was frustrating and encouraging all at the same time. We were all holding our own, pushing ourselves.
This changed up a bit when we hit the fifth mile – my effort was unwavering but my pace seemed to be dropping. Nothing was falling apart but my body wasn’t used to going this fast for more than two miles so the effort was taking it’s toll. A woman in pink shorts passed me [then spent the rest of the race majorly cutting corners…NOT cool!] with a “good job”. At this point I wasn’t falling apart, per say, but I knew there would be no final sprint…I was leaving everything out there on the course. For the next half mile or so I heard a woman closing in behind me. She’d get close, almost passing, then we’d come upon a bit of a climb and I’d drop her. This went on for a while as we ran through the rollers of the course [who knew underpasses had so much uphill!?]. Eventually we hit a flat stretch and she snuck past me. Now I was rooting for her to overtake the woman in pink shorts because corner cutters do NOT deserve a podium finish, even if it is just age group!
As we neared the finish line I saw the time…49:xx. Hot damn, so close to 50:xx! I kicked it in a bit but didn’t have much to give. There would be no sub-50 finishing but I had an extremely solid race, even if I went out ambitiously fast and lost some speed toward the end. If I had been running with a GPS [or even had the sense to look at my basic wrist watch to see the overall time] I probably could have pulled off a sub-50 but alas, that’s just an excuse. Unfortunately this “so close” feeling has left me with the burning urge to run another 10K in the near future.
I finished the race with an official time of 50:22 which put me an 8:06 pace and earned me a 2nd place finish in the 20-29 age group. The winner of the woman’s race? She was about 13 years old, lead the woman from the get go and finished with a 43:08! Oh, and if you ever get a chance to run a race sponsored by Ultimate Direction…do it! Even age group finished for awesome prizes, like this colorful Jurek Endure waist belt that’s going to come in extremely handy during marathon training!
The race itself went on without a hitch! We did start a little late so everyone could put the port-a-potties to good use but I won’t complain about that. The course was well-marked, the volunteers were awesome and we got a sparkly bunny finishers medal! After the race there was a surplus of chocolate milk for everyone along with hot dogs, burgers and pancakes for all the races. Even the kids got to have fun with a 1K race and Easter egg hunt. It was all worth the drive down to Westminster!
Ultimately, at the end of the day, this race reiterated one thing I’ve been learning and re-learning over the past year…never, ever take your training too literally. Like I said, on paper this race should have been slower or I should have felt MUCH worse running at the speed I was. But silly little numbers on a piece of paper can lie to you. Running mountain trails aren’t the ideal way to train for a fast 10K, but the miles of uphill will build strength. Running short two-a-day runs to/from work aren’t ideal for training your body to run faster for 6+ miles, but those stretches of pavement running get your body used to “comfortable” fast paces. Running a steady 12 miler the day before a hard effort 10K isn’t ideal, but weeks of back-to-back long runs can do awesome things for your confidence. All of that together gave me the race I had on Sunday. #worthit
Don’t let a few numbers on a spreadsheet or Strava or MapMyRun or whatever hold you back. Go out there, throw down whatever you have and believe in your ability to keep your head in the game…amazing things can happen. Even if it isn’t a PR it might be exactly the morale booster you need to take on your next long run with a bit more gusto!