Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Finally, a 5K PR!

Well, it's only February and I've already achieved my major running goal for 2018 - I finally broke 20 minutes in the 5K! I technically did this once before on the track in college, running a 19:54, but I've never even come close since then. My road 5K PR up until Sunday was a 20:12, and that was set way back in 2010! As my focus shifted to the marathon and with the 5Ks I did run typically landing in the 21 low to 20 high range (seriously, I bet 70% of the 5Ks I've run have fallen somewhere between 21:15 and 20:45), I had mostly given up on ever seeing a 19:xx next to my name - I mean, I'm not getting any younger, I never train specifically for shorter races, and I figured that one magical college race could have easily been a fluke. But hey, why not try for it right? For all of my fairly solid longer distance running PRs I felt like it was high time I got myself at least a little bit of credit in the 5K. Aside from track races, this has been my longest standing PR - most annoying because it's one of the distances that is easiest to race frequently!

Now, don't confuse "trying to PR in the 5K" with "actually putting together a training cycle for a 5K", because that most certainly didn't happen. It's been a slow roll into Boston training with motivation not at an all time high, and I put in maybe 4 weeks of training that could maybe sort of qualify as 5K "specific" training before this race. January included an odd conglomeration of trying to fit in long runs (which, so far, I've done extremely fast but only every other week), going back to track practice and doing shorter, but faster workouts, and trying to convince myself to get my mileage over 45 miles in a week. I raced the mile at the GBTC invite in 5:53, at that point having done one track workout, so I felt pretty good about that. I had already planned on running the 5K (as opposed to my usual, and typically more competitive 5 miler) at Super Sunday because I knew the course was flat and fast and I felt like it would be a good place to figure out where I stood in relation to my goal of breaking the 20 minute barrier. But after doing 6 x 800 at 6:15 pace with only 200 meter recoveries and feeling like it wasn't bad at all I started to wonder: could this 5K actually be where I went for it?

When I woke up Sunday morning I did not, in fact, feel ready to go for it, but as I braided my hair and tied my red bow into the hairstyle that I think of as my racing armor, I realized that there was no doubt that I was at least going to try. The weather forecast had originally been for the 40s, but as I jogged to meet Taylor it was much colder than that with a biting wind....uggggh. Reverting to my usual coping mechanism, I immediately started whining. "Ugh my legs feel terrible, and this wind is ridiculous - I'm never going to be able to run fast in wind!" Etc, etc, etc. Taylor and I did about 3 miles of warmup and then headed to the start, tucking our outer layers in a random planter just in time for the 10:12 start. Or...not...because the 5 milers (who were supposed to start at 10) were still gathering, with the MC continuing to announce "just a few more minutes to the start".  I was irritated about this - I mean, starting 15 minutes late (with no announcements anywhere besides the start) is pretty obnoxious, especially when it's cold, and there wasn't a whole lot of clarity about whether the 5K runners should be starting with the mass start or not. Eventually we sorted it out as the 5 mile went off and the announcer called the 5K group up. Taylor and I found ourselves smack dab on the front line - not a position I've EVER been in in a Boston road race before. "How fast did the women's winner go last year?" Taylor asked. "Uh, like 18 something I think? But I don't think I see anyone around who looks like they're going to run 18 something..." We did a few out and back jogs and then stood back at the line, several runners asking "aren't you COLD?!" as we stood there in our singlets. Finally it was almost time to start - "8 seconds to the start!" - what a random countdown, and then finally the horn!

I almost ran down the photographer who was standing directly in front of the start (I thought he was going to move?) and immediately was happy about my decision to begin at the front of the pack as several men passed by, followed one. Taylor had blasted off like a rocket and I knew that to go with her would be suicide, so I fixed my eyes on the back of her singlet and just ran. After standing around for almost half an hour in minimal clothing, my legs were FREEZING and we began the race directly into the wind, so my eyes were watering as well. Lovely! It was a fun change to be out at the front of the race though, and I tried to focus on locating an appropriate effort level without trying to rely too heavily on my watch. At some point I heard breathing behind me and spent way too much brainpower trying to figure out if it was male or female breathing - soon enough, I found out as a girl in a purple shirt cruised past, looking strong. Damnit! My hopes of going 1-2 with Taylor went floating away. Oh well, all I could hope for was that she was in her 20s, and that she wouldn't be stealing my dreams of 30-39 age group champion glory!

Shortly after my Garmin split the first mile - 6:22. Essentially perfect. But I was worried. While I'd nailed my plan of going out just a hair under sub 20 pace, I had now given myself almost no wiggle room to slow down in the second half. But it was what it was and I continued on. Shortly after the 1 mile mark we turned to rejoin the 5 mile field, the top of which was at the same point on the course. This was actually great as it gave me some targets to both pace off of and try to pass (the fact that they were running 1.9 additional miles wasn't important). The one "hill"/incline on the course occurs in mile 2, and I will not deny that I felt like SHIT running up it. I kept thinking about something Taylor had said before the race about 5Ks being full of "searing pain" and thinking that this didn't necessarily feel like that, it felt more like I was slowly dying. But soon enough we hit the downhill side and things evened out again. The 2 mile mark must have been placed incorrectly, because I was only at 1.8 on my watch when I saw it and all I could think was "if this course is short, I swear I will kill someone".  However, I've run the 5 miler of this race several times and the measuring is always spot on - that was one of the things that made me mark this on my calendar as a goal race. There hadn't been any changes to the course so I tried to just not worry about it and go with it. When my watch finally DID beep for mile 2, I wasn't sure how to feel when I saw a 6:28 split. I tried to do some mental math - OK I was 4 seconds under on the first mile, but now I'm 2 seconds over - it's gonna be really, really close. Being able to run 2 miles at 6:26 pace doesn't mean squat if you can't run the 3rd one. In fact, the 5K I ran on my birthday (and the closest I've come to a PR since 2010) I actually ran VERY similar splits for the opening 2 miles, then crawled home in a 6:54. I would not allow that to happen today. I thought about what I had said to Taylor before the race - "I know I can do it, I just need to not be afraid to hurt. I need to lean into the pain and just go". Lean in, I thought, lean the fuck in.

The last mile of this course is in many ways the WORST, as you run basically a squiggle through the streets. Turn right, long straight stretch, turn left, short stretch, turn left, another long straight stretch, turn right, short straight stretch, turn right, and you're FINALLY in the home stretch. I tried my best to turn off my brain and just run. You don't have to speed up, but you have to hold this pace. HOLD IT. My left quad was tying up horribly and I just wanted it to stop. Every random pothole and crack in the sidewalk seemed designed to trip me. Just to the end of this street. God, 5Ks are literally the worse - what idiot chose this as a goal race again? Turn. Is that a photographer? Ah, who gives a shit. Now - just to the end of that street. You're almost done. One more turn. At the turn towards the home stretch, I let myself dare to look at my watch. 1.9 miles, and 18:4x. It's not enough time! I thought - you can't run a 400 in 75 seconds! Of course, I didn't have a full 400 remaining, and I also clearly had underestimated the part of me that stays dormant most of the time but that just once in awhile, when I want it just bad enough, I can call forth. I was practically to the line before I even looked at the clock and I could see from 100 meters out that the clock was still in the 19:20s and I almost started laughing because after all the years of talking about it and wanting it and asking myself why I couldn't do it ALL I HAD TO DO was believe I could do it and actually, specifically TRY to do it, and I did it! I crossed the finish line to the cheers and hugs of Taylor, who had won the race for women in a 30 second PR of her own! I then nervously checked my watch, dreading that I might see 3.05 or something...but no, a beautiful 3.10 flashed before my eyes. It took me a few moments to fully take in my own happiness, and when I finally fully processed that I had achieved this stupid, seemingly insurmountable goal on my first real attempt at it, I almost burst out laughing. Then I was almost crying! Then I just jumped in the air and yelled Fuck YES! It was lovely.

We had some beers, which is always an excellent plan after a PR, and while I was a little bummed that I didn't get to take my age group award (a mini lombardi trophy!!) home because of some results snafus, I was overall extremely happy. It's a rare thing to just decide: I am going to do this thing and then actually go out and execute it - or at least that's always the way my running career has been. It was almost anticlimactic - like I sort of felt like...that was it?! Shouldn't I have had to have a bunch of near misses before I finally claimed this long-sought goal? But then again, in a way, that's been every 5K I've run in the past 9 years. It took finally saying "you know, this is stupid, I KNOW I can run a sub 20 5K" to actually do it. That, and leaning into the pain a little - and that, I have to say was more fun that I expected. It may have taken until the ripe old age of 30, but I can finally call myself a 19:xx 5K runner - and that feels damn good!

Super Sunday 5K
19:50 (PR!)
11/600 OA, 3/335 F, 1/100 F30-39