Anyone who knows me personally knows I have a pretty serious fear of shorter-distance races right now. 5k, 1 mile, 4 mile, 3 mile... they all terrify me to my very core. Yes, I realize this is somewhat irrational for someone who routinely runs 8+ miles per day and 14+ mile long runs. But the amount of pain and suffering required for a short race is, in my opinion, much much greater than that required for, say, a half-marathon or marathon. I have realized, however, that in order to be a more well-rounded runner, I need to face my fears and, occasionally, run 'til I very nearly puke. I am much more agreeable to doing this if there is a potential for winning hardware.
And so this past Saturday, I headed north to the small town of Lacon to attempt to run really fast at the Marshall County Old Settlers' 5k race.
Those of you who have read my blog for a while may recall I secretly ran this race last year, and I managed to both PR and win 2nd place in my age group. Not only that, but fellow FASTie Kristi also secretly ran this race last year and placed 2nd in her age group as well. We both kinda-sorta really wanted to defend our 2nd place statuses in 2011. Neither of us were planning to try to PR, considering we had a 20-mile long run the very next day, but we figured we could at least place in our respective age groups without completely killing ourselves. So we both showed up in lovely Lacon, ready to take some names and kick some ass.
Wait. Did I say that out loud? Oopsie! What I meant to say was, we showed up in lovely Lacon to run a leisurely 5k and enjoy the post-race food and festivities.
Kristi and I did a short warm-up jog and then headed to the starting line. As we were walking, we were quietly assessing our competition. Yeah, Coach Brad always says to "run for fun and personal bests", yadda yadda yadda. Because, apparently, it's not all about the hardware. But what Coach Brad doesn't realize is that one of the funnest things about racing a 5k is winning hardware. Because, let's face it, the actual running part sure ain't any fun. No, the running part of a 5k really sucks. So I was fully intent on running "for fun" this day, where fun = winning shiny medals/trophies.
I find that in races like these, it's best to make the competition a little nervous before the race starts. You know, plant the seeds of doubt in their minds. Kristi and I stationed ourselves out in front of the starting line and did a variety of impressive-looking dynamic warm-up moves. Not only were these moves good for our legs, but I'm sure they made us look like Olympic track athletes getting ready to crouch in the starting blocks. If there had been starting blocks available, I totally would've used them. They could've given me a 5 or 6 tenths of a second advantage! Plus, I would've looked like a really serious runner. (As if the dynamic warm-up moves didn't make me look serious enough.) (And by serious, of course I mean ridiculous.)
We toed the line (sans starting blocks) with about 100 other runners and walkers, and when the flag dropped to signify the race start, I took off like one of those Diet Coke and Mentos bottle rocket things. That is to say: really fast... at first. This may not have been the best course of action, considering the first 3/4 mile is a steady uphill. Kristi was right beside me. Usually she's waaaay ahead of me, so I knew I was probably running a teeny little bit faster than I had intended.
First mile: 7:31
Uhhh yeah. That was a lot faster than I had intended. I had planned to run at about my PR pace of 7:45. Whoops. If I could hold onto that 7:31 pace, it would be a pretty impressive new PR. The problem was that I could not hold onto that pace on this hilly course. What followed that first uphill mile was a slow and steady death. 7:31. 7:36, 7:50... Need.life.support.now...
My legs just got heavier and heavier, my breathing became more labored, and with every step I ran, I wanted more and more to just stop. I did not plan to run this race all-out like that, but apparently I am unable to hold back when presented with a race situation where there is hardware at stake. In the back of my mind, I briefly worried about how my hard effort this day would affect my 20-mile long run the next day. The smart thing to do would've been to back off a bit and save something for the long run. My oxygen-starved brain was incapable of that sort of high-level logic, however, and I continued to push at maximum intensity. My thoughts became smaller and smaller until I was only able to process one- or two-word thoughts. My stream of consciousness sounded a lot like "Ouch... Hate.... Never again... Hurts... Why... Death soon... Must puke..."
As I rounded the final turn of the course, I relished the fact that it was literally all downhill from there. I flew through the final 0.1 miles at a blistering 6:43 pace and finished strong. Then I spent the next 30 seconds trying not to throw up (and fortunately for the finish line volunteers, I was successful).
I knew I had just PR'd because I had been vaguely aware that the race clock read 23:something when I finished, and I had never run sub-24:00 in a 5k before. A quick glance at my Garmin confirmed this - 23:39. I was pleased as punch! It made all the suffering instantly worthwhile. I was eager to see the official race results, and find out where I had placed.
While Kristi and I waited for the results to be posted, we enjoyed the post-race smorgasbord of goodies: bananas, grapes, brownies, cookies, rice krispie treats, Subway sandwiches, and ice cold bottled water, among other things. This small town race really knows how to make runners feel better after they have suffered for 20-some minutes.
After I had eaten far more calories worth of cookies and brownies than I could have possibly burned in 3.1 miles of running, the results were posted. I rushed over to the bulletin board to check them out. I let out a squeal of delight when I saw my official time of 23:36. A wonderful new PR, by almost 30 seconds! And then I nearly peed my pants with excitement when I saw that both Kristi and I had won our age groups.
First place, baby! BOOYAH!!!
And what of our 20-mile long run the next day?
No joke, it was the best 20 mile training run I have ever had. It certainly helped that the weather was perfect. But the route we ran, which took us literally from one side of Peoria to the other, and through various parts in between, was a difficult route with a lot of hills. Kristi and I didn't really expect to be running very fast even in good weather. So imagine our surprise when, after running the first 3 miles at about a 10:00 pace, we knocked out mile after mile at a sub-10:00 pace while feeling pretty darn good. We negative split the 20 miles, and our last mile was our strongest, at a 9:13 pace. Average pace over 20 miles? 9:45. It was the first time I had ever run any distance greater than 15 miles at a pace under 10:00. Not only that, but we felt fantastic for having just run such a speedy 20 miles. It was a far cry from just a year and a half ago when I was doing long runs at a 12:00+ pace and spending the rest of the day feeling beat up and exhausted.
So I officially proclaimed Kristi and myself to be a couple of bad-ass rockstar runners. We raced a 5k hard and won 1st place awards, and we ran a really strong 20-miler all in the same weekend. I am sure Nike will be calling us any day now to offer us a rockin' sponsorship deal.
Well, either them... or Walmart.
Peace. Love. Train.