Know how you know you're having a really good race? When you think to yourself in the midst of mile 6 "huh, I think I just might be having a breakthrough right now." This is the story of an unexpected breakthrough, and of how I learned that sometimes you have to just lay it on the line and see what you can do.
Prerace GBTC crew!
Photo from Great Stew Chase facebook page
I was up bright and early Sunday morning to a cold, calm day and a light dusting of snow on the ground. I don't think at any time during the morning I ever got nervous, because this was of course not a race. It was simply a good excuse to get my long run done. With 10 GBTC ladies racing, we were quite an intimidating pack in our matching red jackets, and as we headed out on the warmup I had to smile. Although I've technically been running for Greater Boston for almost 4 years, this was the first time that I've truly felt like a part of the team, and its a great feeling. My legs felt like total crap on the warmup, which of course led to the typical spiral of "why am I doing this, this is going to be awful, I haven't even RUN 9 miles in the last 6 months let alone raced it..." I still wasn't really nervous, just much less excited. For some reason I decided to wear racing flats, which I haven't ever worn for anything longer than 6k. Whatever, see what happens, right?
Photo by Krissy Kozlosky
It was lightly snowing as we stood on the start line, and then without much fanfare we were off. I initially kind of stayed at the back of the GBTC pack, but eventually passed Joy and found myself running in flying V formation with Taylor and Brianna. Well, this is new. It's been so long since I had teammates to work off of in a race, and its thrilling. In the back of my mind I was vaguely aware that both of these girls are faster than me, but I couldn't seem to make myself care about that fact...until we came through the mile in 7:05. "Shit!" I didn't know what I was doing. Taylor, running next to me, says "don't worry, just go with it until it starts feeling bad". And so I take a leap of faith and do just that. The next mile is 7:10, I'm still hanging with our little trio, and perhaps strangest of all, the pace just...doesn't feel that bad. I'm not pushing at all, I just feel like I'm relaxing and letting my legs turn over; just letting it happen. This is confusing but I decide to just go with it (sensing a theme here?)...after all, what do I have to lose? I pass Taylor just before mile 3, which comes in 7:05. Pretty sure my most recent 5ks have been slower than this.
Brianna has pulled ahead by this point, and so I decide to do the only logical thing I can think of in a race where for some reason I'm feeling great: I start reeling her in. By mile 4 (a bit of a slowdown in 7:20 or so), I've caught her, and now I find myself in a position I never thought I would be in: leading a pack of GBTC girls. We head into a business park ("scenic" is not a word I would use to describe this race) and head towards a hill. Things aren't so effortless now, but I try to keep my fear of an impending breakdown on check. A hill looms in the distance, one I assume is the big hill Joy told me about before the race. "Nice and relaxed, right on up", I think to myself, in a display of mental fortitude that seems crazy to me as soon as I think it. I crest the hill, home free or so I think....until I turn the corner and am staring down an absolute monster of a hill. All the positive thoughts in the world won't help me as I drag my suddenly exhausted legs upward. This time my thoughts are along the lines of "this hill is chewing me up and spitting me out", and to add insult to injury, at that very moment a fellow PT student from Spaulding flies by. "These hills suck, don't they?" she says, and then she's gone, leaving me to gasp and bemoan my lack of hill training as I watch her fade off into the distance.
This, I realize, in the moment when I have to decide. Whether I give up and lose myself here on this never ending hill or push on to glory. And while my mile up the hill is 7:45, as soon as I crest the top I'm right back into racing mode - where's Mary? How far ahead is Katie? How much distance do I have on Brianna? At the turnaround I'm able to judge how much of a cushion I have, while also finding the energy to cheer for my teammates as they go by. And as we head down the hill, the relaxed feeling returns...I might not be out of the woods yet, and there's definitely still a chance to crash and burn, but for the moment I've made it through the darkness alive. Clearly, my legs agree since the downhill mile comes in at 6:43 (notably, the first time I have EVER seen a sub 7 mile in a race over 6K). Off in the distance I can see Mary and Katie duking it out, and I vow to keep my eye on them. Will I catch them? Doubtful...but the least I can do is keep them in my sights.
Coming back out of the business park with a 7:18 is the moment I realize that things are really happening right now...and with 2 miles to go, why not just go for it? It's funny, because every mile of this race I've told myself "just keep going with this pace, see what happens" with the expectation that at some point I'm just going to drop off and lose it. But here I am, with 2 miles to go, and still holding on...so why not hold it? I glance over my shoulder to assess the situation behind me - Brianna is maybe 300 m back, and I know that holding her off isn't going to be easy, but if there's one thing that can light a fire under my ass, it's having someone on my tail.
The last 2 miles of the race are difficult, and annoying, as the course goes through turn after turn and we cross back and forth across the street to follow the tangents. It literally seems like this happened every 2 minutes, which gets old pretty fast. I can still see Katie in the distance, and I'm aware that Brianna is somewhere close behind me, which motivates me even more to keep up the pace. There are plenty of small hills, rises and falls, but at this point they seem to balance each other out. We finally make the final turn that leads to the finish, and beautifully, there's a long, gentle downhill...and now, finally KNOWING that I'm going to make it, and that I can stop waiting for the crash because it's never going to come, I fly. I pass 2 more people in this stretch and make up some time on Katie, and when I look at my watch to see a 6:54 I almost burst out laughing. Once again, I don't see sub-7 miles in distances over 5K, especially not in the last mile. I just don't. Except for the fact that I just did.
Once we pass the 9 mile mark time seems to slow down, as things always do late in the race when the finish line is so close and yet so far. I see two of my speedier teammates cheering as I give one last push through the finish line. 1:07.
Finish face..attractive, no?
Photo from the Great Stew Chase 15K facebook page
Brianna, Taylor, and Jenny come streaming through the finish soon after me, and we head back into the building to get warm. I'm still kind of figuring out what to do with myself - I can't BELIEVE that I ran the time I just did, and the fact that I beat the 3 girls behind me makes things even more ridiculous. To make matters even crazier, I hear through the grapevine that the course was long - somewhere between 9.5-9.6 miles. Now, I know, I KNOW that my time is my time and I mean, I am beyond thrilled to have just hit 7:12 pace for almost 10 miles. But the little voice in the back of my brain that understands 'hey, so you might have just closed in on 7 flat pace for a 15K' is also kind of hard to ignore.
And even now, finally finishing this blog post almost 3 weeks later, I can't quite figure out how I did it. My mileage has been pretty lame, I haven't done ANY long runs, besides doing miler-style track workouts every week there is nothing that makes me deserving of the kind of time I just ran. I will say that I think my mental game has GREATLY improved lately - call it maturity, or doing more hard workouts on the track, but my head was 100% in the race the entire time during this race, even at those moments when I really felt like something awful was happening.
But then again, I do have something else working in my favor. Because after the race, I headed back to Cambridge, and spent the next 5 hours of my life doing this:
Dancing "Belief" for the OnStage National Choreography Month Showing
Photo by Jessi Haggerty
I think this whole crazy pairing of dancing and training for races might just go together better than I expected. :)
Great Stew Chase 15K - Lynn, MA
9/52 F0-39 (sidenote - holy GIANT age group, Batman!)
11/100 overall women