Indoor track does make for some nice photos however. Here I am making a bizarre face, as I attempt to pass this woman who is probably 25-30 years my senior. Spolier alert: I did not succeed, and she beat me by 2 seconds. I can only aspire to be such a baller as she is. However, I also appreciate this photo because I think this is the most muscular my arm has EVER looked! #yogaftw
Several laps later, I am ready to stab myself in the eyeball as I cling onto my teammate, who was the one who convince me to seed myself in this heat in the first place. I prevailed in the end, but it was a hard fought battle.
Anyway, over the couple of weeks since the mile time has gone on, training has continued, the Packers didn't make the Superbowl, and finally it was time for the Super Sunday 5 Mile. I REALLY love this race - this is my 4th year running it and my 3rd time running the 5 mile course. It's one of very few races I can think of that strikes a balance between being highly competitive (fast field with significant prize money) which also catering to the casual, fun-loving runner with post-race beer and general festivities. The course is also fabulous as it is one of very few courses I've run since moving to New England that can GENUINELY be described as flat and fast. I really had no concrete goals for this race. 2 years ago I ran a 34:17 which I was pretty happy with at the time, and last year I ran 7 seconds slower but I was also incredibly sick. I basically decided that I was going to aim for 6:45 pace. Over the years I've developed some kind of mental block with races between 5K and 10K where just being under 7 minute pace seems great and fast. In the current life I'm living, quite honestly, that's not good enough. So my goal for this race was basically to prove to myself that I COULD run faster than 6:50 pace for 5 miles. I wasn't sure how realistic the goal was, but I was going to try.
The race morning weather forecast was a bit bizarre and I went back and forth between shorts and capris, long sleeves and armwarmers, before finally deciding on an outfit. I had a cup of coffee, some nuun, and a bagel before heading over to the race. Another wonderful thing about this race is that it's in the city and doesn't start until 10, so being able to get there on the T + late start = sleeping in luxuriously late. Upon arriving at the race I was unpleasantly surprised to find that it was MUCH windier and colder than it had been at my apartment a mere 3 miles away - WTF?! There was some indoor space which I took advantage of, but eventually I had to head out for a warmup, which I ran way too fast because I was FREEZING. I decided to actually wear racing flats which was great during the race, but they're so light and mesh-y that my feet were frozen beforehand. On the way back I happily ran into Joy, and we headed to the start line together. We arranged ourselves at what seemed like a reasonable position, a couple of rows back. I bitched about the idea of having to run fast for a couple of minutes, as is customary, and then finally it was time to start.
The first quarter mile or so was when I ran into my ONE complaint about this race, and I mean literally ran into, because as soon as I tried to start running I found myself literally crashing into the backs of people jogging along at...well...let's just say not 6:30 pace, in packs that were taking up the whole road. It was the worst traffic jam I've ever dealt with in a race, to the point where I think I actually yelled something after almost tripping over someone for the 6th time in less than a minute. The start of the race is the most narrow part of the course and that really exacerbated the problem. I'm hopeful that someday they'll at least put in some pace "guidance" signs or something because it was really pretty bad. I felt like I expended a bunch of extra energy dodging, and once I was finally free it took a little bit to get into a rhythm. I eventually felt like I was in a good place and figured I'd wait until the mile to assess my next move. I felt generally alright, not the awful way I sometimes feel when I know I sprinted out of the gate too fast, but not quite relaxed either. My garmin buzzed and I looked down - 6:27. Huh. Normally I'd totally panic at a number like that, and in fact I actually had a flashback to a random 5K I ran in Washington DC like 4 years ago when I went out in 6:18 and died (brains are weird). But then I thought a thought which has apparently become one of my favorite mantras when racing: "keep this pace relaxed". It works well for me in the early miles where I don't want to be straining but I also want to maintain - mentally, I convince myself that the pace that I'm running is just so, so relaxed. It works! Kind of...because my second mile was a lot slower, at 6:44. We were running into a headwind the whole way out so I'm inclined to give that some of the blame, but even with my attempts at mental gymnastics I do think I internally freaked out a little bit when I saw a 6:27 on my watch - particularly with all of the dodging!
The course is quite straightforward - run out 2 miles, back 2 miles, and then sort of zig zag around for a mile to the finish. When we hit the turnaround and mile 2, I thought to myself "well, I mean, if you hold 6:45 pace for the rest of the race, you'll achieve your goal!". Apparently giving myself permission to hold my current pace was helpful, because mile 3 was a 6:32. That was really all the traction I needed. Mile 4 is the only "uphill" mile of the course, a very slight but steady incline that ends in a bridge. I thought to myself - you just ran another 6:3x mile...in a 5 mile race! You've hardly ever even done that in a 5K! But you know that you can do this. So PROVE IT. And my mind, in the way that minds do, decided that was it's cue to start playing the 1996 Spice Girls hit "Who Do You Think You Are". Swing it, shake it, move it, make it, who do you think you are. Trust it, use it, prove it, groove it, show me how good you are. Mile 4 kind of sucked. I did slow down to a 6:40 (splits per garmin - my official time is a bit slower but given that there aren't many turns in this race I'm convinced the course maybe is a little long, and either way I can only take the data I have) and everything was starting to hurt. But I kept reminding myself that I had to prove it. I was never going to prove I was as fast as I think I am if I didn't prove it in a race.
Finally we hit the last downhill that leads into the damn zig zag last mile of the course. To my great dismay, a girl who I know through the Wisconsin alumni association who runs for a rival club and ALWAYS seems to beat me by about 20 seconds in races under 10K came cruising by me shortly after, waving a greeting as I huffed and puffed. I was so sick of running and so tired and my legs hurt and I had been spitting and blowing snot rockets for the better part of the last 3 miles, but I reminded myself that my whole goal this year is to stop being such a wuss when the going gets tough. And so, I fought. I felt like I was running through molasses but I locked eyes on Cara's jersey, some 50 meters ahead of me, and I fought. And when I started down the eternal final straight away and my watched buzzed, a bit before the line, a 6:32 mile, I felt...I don't know...surprised? Validated? Let's go with surprised, because I did NOT feel like I picked it back up. I crossed the line in 33:23, a new PR.
The least hideous finish photo I've ever had from this race! Although that lean and that upper body twist...yeowza.
I quickly found Brenda and Taylor in the chute, both of whom had finished just in front of me, and who had both had great races as well! We were all pretty excited, but also looking to get to the important stuff - warm clothes, and beer. On the way we ran into more friends, obtained our Sierra Nevadas, and got some SWAG - I will say one new thing this year that was pretty nice was that you had a variety of options for race "stuff' instead of just a t-shirt. They had winter hats, baseball hats, tshirts, gloves, buffs, coffee mugs, and metal solo cup style pint glasses, and you could pick 2 - nice to actually be able to choose something you'd use, and not just another t-shirt! I got some gloves because at that particular moment my hands are freezing (even though I virtually never wear gloves when I run haha), and a buff which I'm pretty excited about because I love those for winter running and they're useful for hiking too.
Friends + running fast + beers = the best of times
Unfortunately it continued to get even colder as time went on, so the beer and fun time went by pretty quickly before we all parted ways. I spent the remainder of the day absolutely craving chicken fingers before finally caving and ordering wings during the second half of the Super Bowl - quality post race fare!
All in all, I sort of feel like I'm almost not as excited about this race as I should be - of course I AM excited, but I think maybe because I've been expecting this level of performance for the past couple of years and never gotten there, it was nice but not mind blowing to actually achieve it. But at the same time..I said my goal was to run 6:45 pace, and I ran EVERY SINGLE MILE faster than that! Maybe I'm getting blase in my old, nearly in the 30-39 age group age. Regardless, I was happy with my mental game in this race and the way I was able to get through the hurt without wussing out and dialing the pace back. And, it was pretty awesome to FINALLY run the pace that I've been running as "10K pace" in workouts for like....3 years...in an actual race! I think confidence is so huge for me in running, and this was a huge boost. I'm now convinced for the first time in awhile that I really can be faster...and I'm hungry for it.