My 15 year old son who is on the high school XC team ran the race with me. Paul is still recovering from his AT so he went for moral support. The race starts and ends in front of the fairgrounds and the course is on city streets with the final stretch down a main, heavily traveled, five-lane road with stores, shopping plazas, restaurants, etc. Here is a map of the route.
The 5 mile started at 8:00 and the 5K started at 8:15 so I figured if we were there by 7:30, that would give us some time to park, walk to the staging area, etc. plus my friend from work was running the 5K and we usually meet up beforehand to chat and wish each other well. We live about 15 minutes away so I got up around 6:15 because I like to have a cup of coffee or two an hour before we need to leave. Not sure if it would help or not, I decided to put on Willow Balm and my knee and calf just in case. 7:15 we were ready and out the door.
With every repeat race, it is my goal to do better than the year before. Last year I ran this race in 46:57 and was 10th in my AG. I have significantly stepped up my game in 2016 and since my pace for the hilly 10K in March was 9:14 and for the 10 Miler in April it was 8:58, I wasn't sure what kind of pace I "should" have for this race but I did a number on my kneecap when I fell 4th of July weekend and I hadn't been able to run all week so the elliptical was my only source of exercise. About mid week, the top of my calf on the same leg started doing something weird so I really didn't know how this race was going to go and kind of just decided I'd just run however and see what happens.
I debated whether I would do a warm up run because I was worried about my knee and wanted to "save" it for the race and figured my "warm up" could be the 1st mile. My plan was if my knee started to act up during the race, I had several options. I could turn off where the 5K runners were going and walk the 5K route (not crossing the mat, of course). I decided to run with my phone in case I had to stop running and I could have Paul pick me up since the roads were only closed in one direction and were still accessible by vehicle. Also, as we drove to the race, I saw there was a first aid station at mile 3 so I had several options. Well, I decided to run a brief warm up with my son anyway and while my knee cap wasn't bothering me, I felt "that" feeling in my calf and really started to doubt whether I'd be able to finish the race. But, with all my back up plans if I couldn't, I decided to give it a go anyway.
About 7:45 we headed to the starting line. 566 people ran the 5 mile and 230 ran the 5K. The 5K people hung out on the sidewalk and we 5 milers took our positions. Since there were timing mats at the start, I wasn't too concerned about being up in the front plus I knew I wouldn't be running fast so I stood several yards back. My son found one of his XC teammates so they decided to get a little closer. We were packing in like sardines and when the gun went off, it took a bit for the pack to move. I crossed the mat 40 seconds after the gun.
There are some more starting line pictures in the 20's as well. Yeah, I'm somewhere in that madness.
Since the entire race was all right turns, I decided I would hang to the right side because that's how you run a race efficiently, right, by "hugging" the curves? For this race, it was blessing and a curse. Blessing because there was no way to start out too fast because it was soooo crowded but a curse because you were constantly doing the bob and weave and trying not to trip over each other and it wasn't until after mile 2 where it opened up and I was able to run at a constant speed. I think next year I may opt for the middle or the left side until mile 2 because it was really annoying and people are just so dang inconsiderate. Plus, I'd probably be able to run more consistently and therefore not really lose any time.
For some reason, I had it in my head that I wanted to keep my pace around 9:00. I'm not sure why. Maybe because I knew I had to go 5 miles and I didn't want to run too fast and be too tired at the end? And I know from my last several races not to rely on what my watch says, especially if there is a lot of tree cover but with the absence of trees and just being curious, I'd glance down every now and then just to see where I was at. It was at mile 2 or so where I was feeling really good and noticed my pace was in the low 8's and at first I was like "hey Joy, you better scale it back because you still have a while to go" and then I decided to stop looking at the watch, just run and who cares what it said just like I've done for the last several races. So that's what I did for the duration of the race.
I kind of got "lost" in my thoughts and kind of observed people ahead of me. There was one guy who kept stopping to fiddle with his armband. I wondered at what point he was going to just say "screw it" and run because I got closer and closer and closer to him and eventually passed him somewhere on the home stretch. There were also a couple women from one of the local fitness centers. The gym has a running "team" so they are at most of the races I do. Watching the two of them was cracking me up. One was constantly taking selfies of her and the other woman as they were running and when they passed their gym at mile 2.5, she took more pictures. Needless to say, I passed them just as we approached the small decline towards mile 3.
The final stretch of the race, the last two miles, is probably THE worse part of the race. It's a straight shot and it seems like it goes on…and on….AND on forever. When you can finally see the finish arch around 4.25 miles or so, it feels like it's STILL going to take FOREVER to get there so the best thing I have found to do is not pay attention to what store, plaza, or restaurant I am running past and just keep looking forward. The last mile of the race I was feeling tired and wasn’t sure I was going to be able to pick it up towards the end. I decided to just maintain the rhythm I was in and just keep going at that pace. My son's XC coach had already finished and was walking back up the route and when he saw me, he gave me a high five. There was a little boy watching the race and he stood up and put out his hand for a high five so I gave him one too. I try acknowledge people who are standing along the route so I'll high five the kids if they put their hand out or if there are adults standing there clapping, I always say thank you or wave. It just seems like the right thing to do. Anyway, I can finally see the finish arch and the crowd of people standing along the route is getting thicker. Ahhh, almost done! I had two people in my sights who I was going to try and keep up with to "help" me finish the race. I eventually saw Paul and then looked at the clock. Holy crap! I was going to beat my time after all! That gave me the little boost I needed so digging as deep as I could, I crossed the finish line. Woot woot official time was 43:25…almost 3.5 minutes faster than last year! While I didn't get an AG placing, I set a new 5 mile PR and I was 7/30 in my AG, 82/263 females, 30/119 female masters, 251/566. Super stoked that both goals were met! All that and my knee didn't bother me one bit.
My splits: 8:55, 8:57, 8:27, 8:30, 8:26. You can tell from the first two miles it was "slow" going due to the crazy amount of people.
So I cross the finish line, take one of the waters they were handing out, and then walk over to the table where they were passing out the finishers medals. My boss, who I had seen before the race started, walked over to me and we chatted about our times. Then I see Paul looking for me so we walk over to him. He asks me where our son is. He is much faster than me so he should have crossed the finish line well ahead of me. I explained I had no idea where he was and that around mile 2, I noticed my son and the friend from XC walking back along the race route. I didn't stop running but I did ask if everything was ok and they both said yes and told me to keep going. Come to find out after the race when we finally found him that his friend from XC started having a seizure as they were running so they stopped and our son decided to walk back with him to meet the boy's father. After his friend left, our son, not knowing what to do, decide to just walk back to the staging area and not finish the race. Do you get mad at the kid for helping his friend and taking a DNF? While I'm certainly not mad he helped his friend, should he have finished the race after the boy left with his dad? I don't know. What's interesting is even though he never crossed the finish line, they still have a time for him of 50:07. Odd. Anyway, I grabbed some post race snacks and these races never disappoint: bananas, water, bagel bites (my favorite) and this really awesome pizza yum! We walked over to the computers where the race times were. Even though Paul received the text when I crossed the finish line, I wanted to see where I placed in my AG. Super stoked I went from #10 to #7 in my AG and I missed #6 by less than a second.
So once again, I surprised myself and exceeded my expectations! I thought about it later on in the afternoon that maybe I should have pushed myself harder. I mean I was running hard during the race but I didn't feel as nearly as hard as I do when I run a 5K. Heck, I ran my 10 miler in April at a 8:58 pace and that was twice as long! Was I capable of more? Does it matter? Not really, I am very pleased with my results and even more pleased that my knee didn't so much as twinge during the race so it was a win all the way around.
One thing I thought was weird is how my watch would hit the mile markers several feet before I reached them, especially with this being a certified course. I know there are a lot of factors that come into play with GPS watches and also how a course is measured, it's just never been that far off. Just an observation I had.
By the way, a new overall course record was set this year by a 37 year old male with a time of 23:16 37.
A realization I had after my goal race and even after Ragnar was reinforced after this race and that's having confidence in my training or "non-training" as I call it. For a really long time, I thought maybe I should be stepping up my game with some kind of formal training plan, including scheduled speed work, running hills/hill repeats, intervals, etc. but I have yet to do come up with a plan. I HAVE stepped up my game by running more miles more consistently this year, but really that's been it. I don't do tempo runs, I don't do strides, I don't do repeats, I went to the track a few times this Spring but that was it. I kind of just run however I'm feeling on any given day if you look back at most of my training runs, they are at a slow/easy pace, probably slower than what I "should" be running. But something is working and I am continually surprising myself with how much I am improving or how well I am doing despite not taking a more serious approach to training. Knocked 8 minutes off my time from my 10 miler in April, met my sub 25:00 5K in June, ran all three of my legs totally 15.5 miles at Ragnar at 9:18, 9:26, and 9:36 (which floored me because I was guessing they'd be in the 10-10:30 range) and that was probably the toughest race I've ever done, and I improved my time by almost 3.5 minutes this race. Could I be making more significant improvements if I DID have a formal training plan? Could I be running 21 and 22 minute 5Ks like some of the other ladies in my AG? Perhaps but I really don't want to put forth the kind of effort it would take to get there. Some may call it lazy or having lack of ambition but for me, I'm kind of content where I am and my "just winging it" way of doing things, plus I am meeting my goals in the process. I don't need to be the best or the fastest. Sure, getting an AG placing is nice and I love getting them but it's not what's important to me. I just want to run and at the end of the day, as long as I continue to have fun and enjoy what I do, that's what matters.
If you made it to the end of this race report, thank you for sticking it out. You may be the one who deserves a finisher's medal.
Just keep swimming...and running.