I wasn’t sure what to expect of this race and to be honest, I didn’t give it much thought until Saturday morning. The point of even going was a fun reason to get together with Heather and Laura, obviously with a reason to run. We’ve been lucky enough to have really awesome weather this winter, so I was happy to have an opportunity to put forth a hard effort that would truly show my fitness.
On Friday night, I was welcomed with a beer before we headed out to a late dinner. We had more beer at dinner, along with buffalo wing dip and I had a salad. You know I’m nutrient deficient when I have the option of all the yummy appetizers, but I order a freakin’ salad. I mean, it was a really good Asian salad so it was worth it. It was a little after ten by the time we got home and we all went right to bed #thisisyourlatetwentiesandearlythirties.
Saturday morning we woke up to a cloudy, but “dry” day — at least in the sense that it wasn’t raining at the present time. I drank my Generation UCAN probably an hour too early, but I hate the feeling of liquid sloshing in my stomach and debated between shorts and capris extensively. I settled on capris, tank top, and light jacket because I wanted to be a little warmer and I wouldn’t be running fast enough to warrant less clothes, in my opinion.
As we were driving to the race, we chatted about goals and I put it out there — I want to run in 40:xx. I ran the Turkey Trot in November and finished in 42:18 which has a small incline and 83 feet of elevation gain, whereas this race had a few shorter hills for 111 feet of gain. I only hoped that the extra six weeks of running I’ve had has helped my fitness enough to put me there, but I honestly had no clue. Most of all, I wanted to give a solid effort so I could put some new times in my McMillan calculator and feel good about them.
My longest run since the marathon was last week and it was just under six miles, so as much as I felt like a warm-up was a good idea, it made me nervous. What if my legs couldn’t handle a warm-up and hard effort for five miles? I was willing to find out. We did a mile and half easy (9:39 pace), but it felt hard. Yikes. We got back to the car with enough time to pin on bibs, make last minute wardrobe changes, and get to the small start with two minutes to spare.
Mile 1 – Other than hills at mile two and four, I had no idea what to expect regarding the course. I opted to run without music and run entirely based on effort since I have nothing else to go off. It took me about half mile to find a groove that didn’t feel like I was pushing, but also didn’t feel like I was sitting back. I found a guy running a similar pace to me early on and tried to tuck in because there was a slight wind but apparently I’m not very good at drafting because I noticed no difference. As we approached the first mile, most of us were running in single file and my watch clicked off about 50 feet before the marker. The guy calling out the stopwatch times was also way off from me which is hard to believe since the race is under 200 people — my watch showed 8:01 first mile, he told me 8:20!
Mile 2 – This was really difficult for me because I didn’t want to stare at my watch, but people kept passing me. I maintained focus on whoever was in front of me and keeping the same or smaller distance, but after the 2nd person passed me I was curious. A quick glance at my watch made me feel better; I wasn’t slowing down, the people behind me were just a little faster. Knowing it wasn’t my pace causing people to pass me allowed me to remain focused on comfortable breathing.
At the end of the mile began the first true hill, but it was my favorite kind — the ones that look like a hill and you can see a definitive top. As I approached it, I started to shorten my stride, pick up my cadence, drive my knees and pump my arms focusing on everything I should be doing. People kept slowing down and I started to pick ’em off one by one. As I hit the crest, I started to let momentum carry me but steadied my breathing and lowered my heart rate. I felt good and closed out this mile in 8:03.
Mile 3 – I definitely started to slow here as mile three was the slight downhill in the beginning and then just flatlined. I did a little yo-yoing with a guy who sounded like he was recovering from a nasty chest cold, eventually passing him for one final time. I think ultimately the hardest part of this was just that it was a straight shot. The wind was coming through the open field and there was nothing I could do about that, so my watch ticked and 8:13 it was.
Mile 4 – Here was a steady incline, or so the elevation chart shows, but I distinctly remember a hill that I could see. I started to think “less than 20 minutes” even though I knew I could finish out in less than 18. It was almost as though my legs just decided to kick it up a notch and I couldn’t slow them down; I just hoped it wasn’t going to be too much, too soon. I again focused on staying strong up the hill – short strides, quick steps. Then as I got towards the top, I felt that familiar lurch in my stomach. Uh no, you are not puking with less than two miles to the finish. Given the uphill, it’s no wonder me feeling like I was picking it up so much only got me an 8:12 mile here.
Mile 5 – Weee! When I realized I had less than a mile to go, my gears shifted again. I tried to break it down in my head — two minutes gets me to that location, two minutes to that location, sprint to the finish. I refused to look at my watch because I knew if I saw anything more than half mile remaining, my legs might slow up to “save” energy — energy I most certainly had. Finally with about half mile to go, I could see that the street ahead was the main road where the park entrance was and I could envision how far I had left to run. At this point I felt comfortable attempting to pass whoever I could and knocked off one guy before turning onto the road. I saw people turning into the park not far ahead but nobody else was picking up their pace so I started to second guess how much further was truly left. My watch told me I had just over 400m to go so I went with it. I saw Laura and Heather cooling down and offered a wave as they cheered to which I said, “Don’t encourage me to run faster because I will puke!” and I wasn’t lying… but I did pick it up (sans puke)! When I saw the clock at 40:02 (because I honestly hadn’t looked at my overall time or done any math during the race) it was such a good feeling. I sprinted to the finish trying to out run the guy directly in front of me and we crossed at pretty much the same time. A 7:37 final mile? I’ll take it!
After the race (officially 40:25, per results), I did an immediate cool down with the girls for another mile and half, averaging 9:35 pace. The cool down was… tough. I wanted to stay warm after the finish and just hurry up with another 1-2 miles so we could do what I’d been looking forward to since 8am — breakfast. More specifically, coffee.
We chatted about our races, all having great ones that left us feeling happy with the day, and ran .75 out before turning around to finish a 1.5 mile cool-down. I would have loved to spend a little longer cooling down because I felt that I needed it, especially knowing I had to drive home in a couple hours but my legs and lungs weren’t having it. I can’t complain when that was my longest overall mileage in a day since the Chicago Marathon! Our breakfast spot was walking distance from the race so we didn’t have to move the car and surprisingly, nobody was really there. It was kind of nice to have the diner almost entirely to ourselves and not feel rushed to finish and get out.
So in all, I’d consider this a really successful kick off to 2016. I got a hard effort in, which was much needed to gauge my fitness, and got to update my training times! I’m especially happy since I thought 40:xx was going to be difficult to obtain and I walked away feeling like I gave it a very hard effort, but still had a little wiggle room. Next up — another 5 miler at the beginning of February (or maybe 10, to be determined!)