Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Tales from a weekend double: Westfield 5K/Harpoon 5M

Last weekend was utter chaos - the studio where I teach had it's annual recital, so I was biking back and forth to Lexington all weekend, wrangling young children missing pieces of their costumes, and oh yes...dancing with my high school class because a girl dropped out last minute, all weekend. And somehow, I ALSO managed to fit in not one, but TWO races! Not something I would typically do when I'm fit, let alone when I'm "out of shape" (running, but hadn't done any workouts since Boston). And yet, while I may not be the fastest member of my club, when my team needs me, I answer! Which is how I wound up at the first of the two races, the Westfield 5K.

This 5K was part of the USATF-NE grand prix, and as our women's team is currently in 3rd in the series we knew we needed to field a full team (5) to keep any hopes of winning the series alive. Unfortunately, it was a NIGHTMARE putting the team together - I went from "yeah sure, I'll run if you need me but there are 7 other people running" to being upset because I had signed up and we somehow only had 4 women running! The fact that the race was at 1 pm on the first nice Saturday of the year and almost 2 hours away from Boston was also not helpful in recruiting potential runners. Luckily, our former club president who unfortunately has been injured for quite some time is slowly starting to return to running, and stepped up to complete the distance, if not race for time. And so, after I spent literally the entire day before bitching about having to do the race, our full car hit the road to Westfield!

To be honest I was fairly stressed about this 5K - 5Ks are dumb and they hurt like hell, ESPECIALLY when you aren't in fitness for them. I wasn't looking forward to driving an hour and a half to race a shitty 20:45 5K. The one glimmer of hope was that the race was literally entitled the "Westfield Fast 5K" and word on the street was that it was actually more than flat, it was slightly downhill. I hung my hopes on my lingering marathon fitness and the sweet sweet thought of 'net downhill' as we pulled into the parking lot. In additional news, race day had dawned gorgeous for things besides running - 70s and sunny, I could think of 6000 things I would have rather been doing besides running a 5K - the majority of them involving drinking beer on a patio somewhere. Unfortunately, I wasn't there, I was here, wearing sunglasses and wishing I had worn a crop top, at the start line of a 5K. Oh well. My teammates made it much more fun as we all bitched and moaned together (3 of us were racing the following day, an intersecting 3 of us had run Boston, and 1 was the injured one - clearly the 5K squat our coach was seeking lol) as we did a solitary stride and then headed for the line.

I begrudgingly crammed myself into the "elite women" area with my teammates and the rest of the general USATF women's crowd, and while I felt like I didn't belong there I at least belonged there more than the ~7 people attempting to move into the front of the start corral with baby strollers, small children, and large groups of people who just were not going to be running a 17 minute 5K (as many of the top women did). After some shuffling, it was finally time to do the damn thing!

The gun went off, the course started immediately up a short but steep hill, and I immediately felt the fatigue in my legs from 25 miles of biking the day prior. OOF. Thank God the remainder of this course is supposedly downhill. I didn't feel outstanding from the get-go but I didn't feel bad either, and I just attempted to find a rhythm and groove with it. I felt like I was doing a nice job of staying relaxed and holding back to a reasonable pace for my fitness, but I was brought out of that fantasy by my first split of 6:08. WHOOPS! I'm a dumb dumb! Oh well, nothing to be done for it now but deal with the inevitable slowdown of mile 2. I did not enjoy mile 2. I slowed down (duh), the sun was hot, my stomach hurt, and I was just regretting all my life choices. I ran the least surprising 6:40 of my life lol. However, I can always manage the last mile of a 5K better than the second - once I convince myself I only have 6 minutes left, things just seem much more doable. I felt like trash but the course was heading downhill, and I just tried to hold on as best as I could, passing a few people along the way. We made one final turn towards the finish line and my watch popped a 6:26 for mile 3. Wait, what? I attempted some math, then glanced at the clock, and then gradually came to terms with the fact that I WAS ACTUALLY FIGHTING FOR A SUB 20?? Oh man, I tried so, so hard in that finishing straight. I wanted it bad. But it wasn't enough - when I crossed the line I looked down at my Garmin, which read: 20:00.00. I mean, COME ON!! I prayed to the racing gods that perhaps I started my watch early or something, anything, that would give me that .01 second, but the time stood. Honestly, I'm kind of proud of it now - when do you ever run a flat, even time? I've certainly never done that before. The downhill course nonwithstanding, this was also my second best road 5K of my career (3rd best including track races), not something I would have expected at all given my current fitness. Best of all, our team managed to scrape out 4th place overall thanks to some really strong running by our frontrunners, keeping us in our 3rd place spot. Not the easiest race, but a successful one by all accounts!

So then, I headed home, did some stuff, and got up the next day ready to race...again! This time, at the Harpoon 5 Miler, the race that I had actually planned on doing this weekend. While my mind was in a better place for racing this time around my legs were not. Turns out when you race for the first time in awhile on already fatigued legs, it's tiring! Oh well. This was another team-centric event, so we rallied the troops and got ready to run. I ended up running out of time to warm up and basically just jogged around for like 5 minutes on a dead end road, excellent, quality racing stuff. I also elected to race with music because I just couldn't fathom surviving a 5 mile race in the current state of my legs without a little extra shot of motivation. I'm getting much more lax in my views regarding racing with music - I am 100% certain that I race faster when I have it (see: Black Cat, Philly) partly because it keeps me out of my head and partly because I think it helps me find the "flow" state that typically leads me to my best races. It also seems to be becoming much more common even among fast/high level runners, so I feel less like its "unprofessional" to run with music. Whatever.

The gun went off, and my legs were immediately like WHOA BUDDY! I mean I had known this going in, but how I felt when I started running confirmed that this was going to be something of a struggle. Still, I was in it and willing to do the best I could. I've done this race a couple of times so it was helpful to be familiar with the course and have a sense of how long certain sections were going to take. After barrelling through some crowds of improperly seeded people (I will never understand why people line up in the second row at a 5000 person race and then leisurely jog off the line) and managed to sort out my life to a 6:26 first mile. The pace didn't feel even remotely sustainable, but at least now I only had 4 more miles to go! During mile 2, there's what you could probably consider a veeeeery gentle incline, which felt pretty awful, and at that point my legs basically just gave up and died. And you know what? I actually kept myself in a very happy mental place with that! I just sort of laughed at myself and was like "this is what you get for racing 2 days in a row" and just listened to my techno and survived the remainder of the race. It was nice, and I'm happy to have reached a point in my running career where I can just shrug off a struggle performance and not get so caught up in it that it makes my life even more miserable. Miles 3 and 4 were slow, 6:51 and 6:53 (I'll admit that my thoughts here were: welp, you can run 5 miles at your goal half marathon pace! You've got some work to do!) People were passing me and I was just kind of like, yup, carry on, these quads aren't moving any faster at this point. The last mile I was able to convince myself to summon up a little extra energy, and I crossed the line in 33:21 - only a few seconds off from the last time I did this race, but I'm pretty sure they fixed the course since then so the race is actually almost 5 miles (4.98 on Garmin) vs. 4.9 even. Woo! I think we were all a little disappointed as we pretty much knew that we hadn't won the team title, but honestly I think everyone was pretty content with our 3rd place steins (and beer!) given how the rest of the weekend had gone.

Laughing at myself

And then after the race, I had a couple of beers, went home, ate a snack, rode my bike 8 miles to Lexington, supported the recital for 4 hours, biked home, and was exhausted! But looking back on it, it was the type of weekend I live for. I suck at relaxing and I thrive on movement and a two-race weekend has plenty of one and virtually none of the other. And speaking of busy weekends, my summer is definitely going to be busy in the athletic sense, because after years of pondering it, talking about it, and considering it, I finally pulled the trigger and am signed up for a half iron triathlon in September! I am PUMPED. Running is always going to be my love and the sport that comes first, but I honestly think Boston broke me a little bit this year and I needed a shift, at least for the time being. I'm super excited to be learning about a new sport where I have virtually nothing to compare myself to, and to participate in a sport where both of my experiences to date have felt like nothing short of pure joy. I'm also convinced that pursuing the triathlon life is going to help me in the long term as a marathoner, but that's not really what it's about. While I love running, it turns out I also just generally love moving, and pushing myself, and challenging myself to see what I'm capable of, and I can't wait to see where that love can take me!