This is a great race; the name isn’t lying. I don’t know why I love it so much because the downsides are pretty big downers and the upsides aren’t all that great. It’s fast, it’s flat, it’s always the Friday closest to the first day of summer, but the post-race food isn’t free, and honestly that doesn’t surprise me — it definitely has the “for profit” vibe. A friend was going to have her wedding at this church and they actually wanted to keep any flowers she brought in for the wedding for Sunday’s services — is that even a thing? Come on.
That aside – this race has my PR, which is why I returned. I knew I wasn’t going to PR, but I thought I could definitely make a strong effort. After a rather humid race 8 weeks ago in Virginia, I thought I could drop another minute. Overall my goal was to see what I could do, but I still had a plan. I thought I could nail my first mile around 7:30, then focus on dropping the pace. I know my struggle is keeping my first mile in check, but I thought I could be smarter this time.
Out of all that thinking, I thought one thing right — I did run negative splits the entire race. Finally. But that’s where the thinking stopped.
I went to the race about an hour before the start to grab my packet and get in a warm-up. Aside from a couple strides before a race, I never used to warm-up but lately I’ve noticed my body finally starts to catch its rhythm after a good 15-20 minutes. When I say “lately I’ve noticed” I really mean it probably has done this all along but I never listened.
During my warm-up, I watched everyone else around me and judged the competition. The past two years have been relatively light with a 22 minute time for my age group making the top three. I saw a lot of girls that looked speedy and wondered if anyone saw me and thought similar things. I won’t lie, I do my best to look a little speedy before the races!
After just over a mile and half of easy running, I waited in line for the bathrooms. They budged only by a few people after five minutes so I did the math decided it wasn’t worth it. I finished off my amino energy and went to the starting area for some final stretches, especially for my hip which was a little sore. I lined up in the front quarter of the corral but realized that the people in front of me weren’t anywhere near my pace. I knew I’d have to control my impulses to dodge like a crazy woman and make smart choices.
The gun went off and it was about a twenty second lag before I crossed the timing mats. The course is almost an entirely flat out an back through residential streets with more than a few 90 degree turns, but they were obvious enough where running the tangents was easy. I found my pace after the first quarter mile and felt comfortable but fast. I looked at my watch to see 8:xx current pace. Uhhhh what?
So I pushed a little harder. I mean, maybe I forgot what being 5k uncomfortable felt like, right? I saw ponytails ahead and tried to guess their ages from behind, wondering if they were in my age group but I figured it didn’t matter – I could catch them. There was the tiniest of downhills ahead so I used it to my advantage, even if it was entirely mental. Finally the first mile ticked away – 7:40.
I knew I had some work to do but was relieved there wasn’t an 8 in front. At this point, we started to turn even more just like suburbia does. I kept focusing on running the tangents, trying to not add any additional distance. I saw that water stop ahead that stole my 3 seconds two years ago; I was not about to stop this time. As we turned the corner, more people started to slow down. A couple of guys were to my right, one of which I pegged to be around a junior or senior in high school. As I came up to the side of him, I caught him give me a side eye and he made every effort to stick with me. For every footstep of his, you heard two of mine. Soon, I was making every effort to stick with him and I knew I couldn’t keep up the pace, so I slowed it down. He passed me and I didn’t see him again – 7:35.
With one more mile left I saw two girls within striking distance, possibly one within my age group (as it turns out after the fact, one was). I could hold on for another 7-8 minutes, right? Unfortunately, the last mile had a little bit of that incline I tried to beast down in mile one. “Focus on your strengths, push up that hill,” I told myself even though I haven’t run in hills in forever and this is not a strength anymore. Apparently it worked because I passed both girls in the first half of that mile, but then the noises came. You know, the gross runner noises that sometimes sneak out? I’m not a vocal runner, but there was huffin’ and puffin’ and gruntin’ and God knows what else coming out of my mouth, including a stringy spit that got stuck to my hands. Oof. Finally mile 3 ticked by and I could see that last 90 degree turn to the finish – 7:22.
I honestly didn’t even see my final mile split, I was far too focused on that finish line. My stomach was sinking rapidly and it took everything in me to not pull to the side and throw up the Bonk Breaker I ate three hours earlier. How embarrassing would that have been? Girl pukes before the finish in a 5k? I wasn’t about to have that on my record. In my usual fashion, I passed as many people as I could with my kick. Only one person caught me – an older gentleman I remember from his distinct breathing about a mile back. I saw the clock as I crossed the line and my stomach sank for a new reason – 23 minutes.
The results (and clock) showcased gun time of 23:48. My watch displayed 23:23 and 3.11 miles, which is what I’m going with for a time. I don’t know why I have a chip on my bib if there will be no chip time provided! Finally after a few minutes, my stomach was calm enough to straighten myself up and head back to the car for immediate reaction grumpy texts. My cool down run was shorter than the warm-up due to a side stitch, but my legs still felt fresh – go figure. I headed to where the times were posted and saw a 12th place age group finish which made me even more disappointed. I didn’t even want my post race beer.
Now that I’ve had some time to digest the race, pizza, and w(h)ine, I’m a little calmer. Of course I’m disappointed. I feel like I’m in much better condition than what my legs are showcasing and that hurts, but everyone has bad races. I know I’ve said it before but it’s really obvious that running hills regularly was the main component to my speed — it’s the one thing I totally removed from my training this winter. I’ve decided to really work it back into my training two to three times a month heading to Chestnut Ridge for runs through that terrain. Even though Chicago is flat and I’m not aiming for any spectacular time goals, I want to feel strong through the finish. Preparing my legs with hills makes me feel strong.
I have two more 5k’s scheduled and one more in August (Tops 5k/10k) I’m looking at, but I might do the 10k instead. My next 5k is this Saturday about half hour from my home, which finishes in one of my favorite places — Ralph Wilson Stadium. I’ve had this race in my mind for years now when it was a half marathon, but now they took that away so 5k it is! I’d like to see 22 on Saturday, but we’ll see what the legs have in store. After some 800m repeats the other day where 7 minute pace felt ugly, I’m not sure what will happen.