Those of you who have followed my blog for a while know that, ever since last May (when I stumbled upon a 5k by accident, registered with 2 minutes to spare, and ended up running a PR and winning my first ever age group award), I have become a fan of the "surprise race". That is, deciding to race an event either the night before or the morning of said event. For shorter distance events (mostly 5k's), it works really well for me. I don't have time to get nervous, or psych myself out, or worry about my current level of fitness. I just show up and run and whatever happens, happens. If I have a great race, it's a huge bonus. If not, then it's not such a big letdown.
And that was my plan of attack (or non-plan, as it were) for the Run With The Saints 5k in Pekin, which benefited St. Joseph School's athletic fund. I decided yesterday that I was going to race it. And I wanted to race it hard. I had been having a frustrating week between work and several very blah runs, and what I really wanted was to take out my frustrations on the pavement.
I also wanted to know how much speed I had lost over the winter. Or gained, should that be the very unlikely case. I was going to use this 5k as a test of my current level of running fitness. And then I was going to pig out on post-race bananas and cookies. Because, let's face it, the post-race food is what draws most of us to run 5k's. I mean, come on, ALL YOU CAN EAT BANANAS!
Why this particular race? Well, a coworker of mine has recently gotten into running and he and his brother had decided to run it as their first 5k. I thought it would be cool to be there to support them. And by "support them", of course I mean "run like hell so I can finish well ahead of them, catch my breath, and then cheer them on when they finish". Believe it or not, my coworker was okay with this.
So I showed up at Coal Miner's Park in Pekin bright and early at 7:15 this morning, not really knowing what to expect. I paid my $20, got one of the last few available t-shirts, and quickly realized it was a lot colder than I thought it would be. I knew I was going to need to warm up before I attempted to run at any sort of fast pace because I couldn't feel my fingers.
I set out for about a 1.5 mile jog around the park where the race would be held. I encountered a decent-sized hill that I sincerely hoped was not part of the race route. My hopes would later be dashed. Twice.
Once I regained feeling to my fingers and feet, and did some fancy-looking dynamic warm-up moves to scare my competition (I growled while I did them, which I really think added to my ferocity), I headed to the starting line. I positioned myself near the front of the pack. This race was not chip timed and I wanted every advantage I could get with regard to timing. There was a group of three or four other women who had lined up near me. They looked like they could be in my age group (in this race, that was 30 to 39). They also looked like they might be fast. My confidence faltered. Maybe I hadn't growled loud enough during my dynamic warm-up. I did a few high-knees right there and gave them a dirty look.
After some pre-race instructions by the race director (which seemed to last an eternity because I was starting to get cold again), the race got started. The group of fast-looking women took off like a rocket. I resisted the temptation to keep up with them. I repeated to myself "run your own race... run your own race".
Remember that hill from the warm-up? Yeah, it was part of the race route. The race director, Mr Funnypants I think his name was, told us before the start "There's only one hill in this course... But you have to run it twice." Awesome.
The course was an interesting combination of loops and out-and-back, so that it was neither fully a loop nor fully an out-and-back. It was entirely on a nicely-paved bike path through a large park and was really a lovely place to run. My only real complaint about the course was the very tight turns, and in one case there was a hairpin turn that was pretty tricky to maneuver at 5k pace. But overall, not a bad course. I think if this race continues to grow year after year, the path will become too small for the event.
As I watched the speedy-looking girls zip ahead of me, I felt like I was running very slowly despite the fact that I was breathing very hard. I would've put money on my pace being well over 8:15. I don't look at my Garmin when I race, so I had no idea what my pace actually was, but I just felt slow. So imagine my surprise when I passed the first mile and the stopwatch guy called out "7:22!".
That was way too fast. And I still had to conquer the "one hill" for the second time. I slowed down, more out of exhaustion than from a conscious effort to rein in my pace. I passed two of the speedy-looking girls. I attempted to growl at them, but I think what came out was "Guh *gasp gasp* Puh!" The second hill came into view and it looked so ginormous. Nevermind that it was only, like, 30 feet tall. In my current cardiovascular state, it may as well have been Mt Everest.
I pushed up the hill. I passed a few more people. Then the course went onto an out-and-back section that was gradually uphill going out. It was so gradual that I couldn't see the incline, but I could definitely feel it. At this point, I wanted nothing more in life than to get to the turnaround so I could be running blissfully downhill. Shortly after the 2-mile mark, there it was: the hairpin turn of doom. I managed to make the turn without slipping and falling (which, as we all know, is something I'm prone to doing). And I instantly felt the sweet relief of an ever-so-slight downgrade. I passed my coworker going the other way and gave him a feeble thumbs-up because it was all I was capable of at the moment.
It was less than a mile to the finish. Sometimes I like to think of what's left in terms of distance. Sometimes it's easier to think of it in terms of time. Today, time was on my side. A mile seemed long. Eight minutes did not. If I could just hang on for eight more minutes, I would be done! I was breathing so hard I was pretty sure my lungs were going to catch fire, but I figured I could endure that for a few minutes before it became an emergency situation.
As I rounded the last turn, I could see the finish line through the trees. I love it when I can see the finish line. It means the end of my suffering is near. As I got nearer to the finish line, I could start to make out the clock. However, some dude was standing right in front of it and his head was blocking the second number. All I could make out was 2X:52. I panicked. Twenty-what? TWENTY-WHAT??? What if it was 24:52? I didn't think I could make it there in 8 seconds to snag my coveted sub-25 time. Or worse, what it if was 25:52? Had I gotten that much slower?
Finally, the dude moved his big head and I saw a 3. A glorious, glorious 3. I wasn't going to finish under 24, but I was going to finish way under 25 and that was my big 5k goal for 2011.
I crossed the line officially in 24:03. A PR by 1:08. I was ecstatic!
I was able to catch my breath and cheer on Mike and Marty as they crossed the finish of their first 5k race. We all celebrated pretty awesome victories. I think they are already talking about what their next race will be and what their goals will be. It certainly is addictive, this running thing.
We stuck around for the awards ceremony. I had no idea how I had placed, or if I even had a chance. I did know that the speedy-looking girls never passed me after I passed them. But I couldn't remember how many other women were ahead of me. I saw that the awards were actual trophies. I really wanted a trophy. Nothing says "Look how much I rule!" like a gold-tone plastic person attached to a marble slab.
I have won one other trophy before and I thought the plastic person on my existing trophy might be getting lonely, so I wanted to bring home a friend for her. And I did just that. Turns out I placed 2nd in my age group, which ain't too shabby at all for a 10-year age group.
But you wanna know what's even more amazing? I was 3rd place female OVERALL. I don't think I have ever placed in the top 10 overall (I think I have been 11th or 12th a couple times), let alone the top 3. I almost would rather have a 3rd place overall trophy than a 2nd place age group trophy, but believe me, I ain't complaining. I'll take any trophy I can get!
Here's a close-up of my shiny new hardware. Ain't she a beauty? She and my other trophy will be able to sit around and talk about running injuries (stiff legs?) and complain about not having a proper trophy shelf on which to be displayed.
I think I owe my success this morning to many different things, like all the hard work I've put into my training lately, and the incredible support of my coaches, friends and family. But most of all, I think I owe my success to my intimidating pre-race growling. The ability to strike fear into the hearts of my competitors is an ability that will serve me well for years to come.
*looks fierce* GRRRRRRR!
Peace. Love. Train.