My first 5K of 2014 and my first road race since the NYC Marathon is in the books! I could not be happier with the results: a 38 second 5K PR, a beer mug prize and yes- being the first female was pretty cool too. But the story of this race, or any race for that matter, definitely does not start at the finish line.
Where the story begins…
The story of the YMCA Frozen 5K begins one year ago as the 2013 race was my very first road race held at my hometown YMCA. Prior to the January 2013 race I had solely been spinning to stay in shape but when the race organizer yelled “GO” a fire ignited inside of myself and I bolted as fast as my legs could take me. Regardless of the physical pain my body endured, the endorphin rush surrounding the race was worth any temporary discomfort! Somehow I even managed to nab 3rd place in my age group with my 22:50 finish.
The YMCA Frozen 5K was the race where I discovered a part of myself that had been laying dormant for years: not only am I a runner, but I am competitive. It seemed fitting to return to the Frozen 5K one year later as a reminder of why I love running and racing. Since I am an active member of the South Shore YMCA the Frozen 5K also offered the priceless opportunity to support and be supported by many of my friends in the community.
Feeling like a ticking time-bomb…
Even though I have been looking forward to this race for the past year, training this week has been emotionally and physically trying. Where should I begin? Should I tell you about the tough weather conditions that forced me indoors for 3 runs (0 degrees, feels like -14! 16 inches of snow! Um, no thank you!)? Or what about how I spent most of the week worried that I was nearing injury because my right knee felt tight and tender from speedwork drills from the previous week? Or maybe how I somehow slightly tweaked my Achilles on my left foot on Friday’s treadmill interval workout and it hasn’t felt quite right since?
Like I said- it’s been a tough week leading up to this race! Due to unsafe weather conditions and feeling on the cusp of injury I backed off in training this week; I took 3 full days off running and skipped a speed workout of mile repeats planned for Tuesday. Even though I firmly believe in challenging yourself, it is critically important to give your body time to rest and recover when it demands it. This week my body needed to rest!
I arrived at the Y feeling uneasy and unsure how my body would hold up during the race. The uncertainty made my stomach churn. I didn’t have a goal time in mind or a goal of placing. Today I simply put my body in charge and let it decide the future of the race.
Despite a winter storm dumping over a foot of snow on the area just two days earlier, the roads were (mostly) clear and the weather was a brisk 3o degrees.
The race organizer yelled “Go” and the masses took off! I was off at a breakneck pace of 5:30 min/mi to keep up with the main pack. Clearly, I could not hold up this pace, so I eased into a 6:30 or so pace and held tight for the first mile. I glanced ahead of me- no other women; unfortunately that means that she is either REALLY fast or I am the first woman! Crazy! If I indeed was the first woman, that means that I have a target on the back of my head from woman #2- better keep my pace up!
After a half mile I realized that I was behind a friend from the Y with whom we share a healthy level of competition on the rare occasion we run in the same race. Guess who had a target on the back of his head! 🙂 Seeing him motivated me to hold onto this rigorous pace as long as possible. About a 1.3 miles in I made my move, passed my competitor and held tight at a 6:43 min/mi for another mile. Of course my lead didn’t last long as around 2 or so miles out he swiftly pulled ahead and left me in the dust. One day I’ll smoke him… but today was not the day (like I said- healthy competition) :).
Even though my ankle and knee felt great, a small part of me wanted to ease up on my pace to steady my breathing. This pace was not easy for my body to maintain and my will to persist was being tested. Then I heard the awesome support of other runners screaming “Go girl! #1 woman!!” By this time I was on the return route of an out and back course and I was able to cheer and be cheered on by other runners and friends from the Y. Seeing tons of familiar faces, like my trainer Deb and new gym friend Tiffany helped me trudge onward. Thank you runner friends- you are amazing!!
The crest of the final small hill revealed the finish line. I gave the race one final push- all I had left- and finished with a final time of 20:20 (about 40 seconds ahead of female #2 and 2:30 min faster than last year’s 5K time). I am happy that I improved my 5K time, relieved that my knee/ankle felt great during the race and excited to win a race- especially at my local Y.
Well organized. Perfect weather. Surrounded by tons of friends. Yes, the YMCA Frozen 5K was a ton of fun and you will definitely see me back there next year!
The smoking gun: The Key to Improving
As I crossed the finish line I was reminded of something Coach said during our first track workout… and I now believe this is why I have been able to PR many races this past year and improve in my running.
Recently Coach told me about a runner on his team who “stays in her comfort zone…she doesn’t like pain, and because of this she will never reach her full potential as a runner.” His comment was quickly followed by another unforgettable one about my running form. Coach said, “You know those people who effortlessly glide when they run… you’re not one of them. You look like it’s tough work, like you’re really working out there!!”
Coach hit the nail on the head with his comment: when I run I breathe heavily, I hold my arms too high and close to my body, and my face is often a lovely shade of purple. I am well aware that my stride is rough on the eyes. And yet somehow I seem to move forward while running (and make progress in training). How is this possible? I believe it is because I run a race by myself and against myself. I not only train hard, but also smart (at least I’m trying to… more on speedwork, recovery and injury in next post). Most importantly, I am not afraid of feeling pain or uncomfortable during a run.
I feel like I am gasping for air during most of my races- but that’s part of giving it your all and pushing your limits. During a race I bring it- all of it. For better or worse I put it all out there on the table and see what happens (See Beastmode post). Slowly but surely I am becoming aware of my body’s abilities on the road and more confident in my running ability.
Food for thought: If you never push hard in training, you will probably be afraid to do so during a race. Embrace the discomfort. (This does not mean that you should push hard on every single run, rather you consider integrating a tougher/speedier run into your weekly routine 1-2 runs a week.)