April 11, 2012

Race Recap: The [Hometown] 8K That Almost Wasn't

For a week leading up to this race, I fought with myself over whether I really wanted to run it. There were a couple attractive details: a hometown race, run largely on roads where I train weekly, a short course, an historically small-ish field of runners, and a race organizer whose events I've run before and found to be very organized and well-staged. Despite all this, though, the doubts were going strong all week: is the course too hilly? Will the lack of music (headphones weren't allowed) make me miserable? Am I capable of finishing with a pace that won't embarrass me? Did I really train hard enough this winter? Can my shins handle it? Have the six months (ouch) since my last race left me incapable of ever doing it again? What if I get to the halfway point and just can't keep going? Am I mentally prepared for a race? The various voices in my head were rather loud as I rolled the decision around in my brain for 6 days. I knew deep down that I was fully capable of 5 miles at a decent pace, and I ran the distance a few times early in the week in an attempt to convince myself of that -- once with satisfying results, but once with a time that didn't exactly inspire confidence. I also knew that the guilt that would plague me if I decided not to run was likely be much worse than any potential disappointment in my finishing time. I think ultimately this was the biggest motivating factor: after contemplating it for so long, I knew waking up Saturday for anything less than that race would have left me feeling like such a failure.
Still, it took me until Thursday night to make a final decision, and I arrived at work Friday morning comfortable in my choice and ready to register and at least get it over with. I clicked onto the website for the race, which I had been stalking all week, only to be greeted with two awful words... "registration closed." If I could have kicked myself without pulling a muscle, I would have. I was so mad at myself -- if I hadn't been so hesitant, if I hadn't been so unsure of myself, if I hadn't been such a wimp. After a week of indecision, in a split second I wanted to run that race like I've never wanted to run in my life.
I spent another 30 minutes on the website, clicking every link in a sincere effort to sneak into the registration form a back way, to get into the race no matter how illicit my tactics. Finally I remembered an email I had received a week before, the one that had kicked off this week of stressful flip-flopping in the first place. I dug through gmail and unearthed it from the archives, reading it twice through before I noticed the tiny print in the expo section: "onsite registration will be available." Bingo.
Immediately after work, I dragged poor hubby down to the expo, pulled him past booth after booth of cool stuff, and finally made it to a woman who would accept my ridiculously high registration fee in return for:
 I was so excited to clutch this baby in my hand that for a minute I totally forgot to be nervous. Unfortunately, that adrenaline only lasted until hubby asked what I wanted for dinner, at which point I realized that my stomach was in knots and oh-my-goodness-did-I-really-just-pay-money-to-wake-up-at-the-crack-of-dawn-and-try-to-run-fast? Have I lost my mind??
My carb-loading that night may or may not have included a milkshake (isn't protein important too?) and I was in bed by 10, thankfully too exhausted from the stress of the day to lie awake and worry. I slept surprisingly well and woke up in plenty of time the next morning to get ready... and to get very nervous. Despite 70-80 degree days all week, it was still in the mid-30's when we left the house, so I opted to wear long sleeves for the first time in a race (a decision which I regretted less than a mile in, when my hands were numb from cold but my arms were already overheating). I grabbed my trusty Garmin (no headphones = no phone = no Nike+) and crossed my fingers that it would hang in there with me for 4.96.
My mom met us at the start and I had just enough time for a quick warmup, bathroom stop, and a super attractive picture:
Yikes. Good thing I'm holding tight to that handsome guy next to me, otherwise he'd probably have been running as well... in the other direction.
I kept warm and shook off the nervous energy bouncing up and down for a bit before the gun went off, and luckily found myself pretty far forward in the pack so I didn't have to waste too much time weaving in the first mile. We got a nice preview of how awfully hilly the course really was within the first .25 as we booked it up a steep incline to the first major road, which boasted some pretty serious rolling hills itself. My first mile clocked in at a 7:40 pace, which I was happy with but honestly a bit skeptical I could keep up for 4 more miles. Mile 2 was mostly uphill but not too steep, and ended with a glorious, beautiful, well-earned downhill stretch, which certainly contributed to the 7:15 pace that flashed at the end and kept me smiling. Mile 3 into the turnaround was again mostly uphill, a struggle but possible because I knew I just had to make it a little further and then I'd get to come back down the road I was climbing. What I didn't count on was that after that, I'd get back to the aforementioned "glorious, beautiful, well-earned downhill stretch," that had now become a "terrible, interminable, practically-impossible uphill stretch." It took every ounce of strength I had to get up that hill without just dropping and rolling back down to the bottom. At this point, I stopped paying attention to my splits and just willed myself to keep running, so I was pretty shocked that I hung onto a 7:20 through 3 and 4. Thankfully, the end of the course made up for the preceding brutality with a flat stretch and a downhill .5 into the finish. In another exciting race first, my final mile (which according to Garmin was actually a full mile, I'm not sure where that extra .04 snuck in there) came in sub-7:00, a fact of which I am especially proud considering that by this point the field had completely spread out and I had no one in sight ahead or behind to push me at the end.
I crossed the mat with an official time of 36:05 (an automatic PR for my first 8k race), which was good enough for this:

21st overall, 5th female, and 2nd in my division! Not bad for my first race in six months, and hopefully a nice bit of foreshadowing for this summer/fall. It really surprised me a bit to find out that the speed I had last October is still sticking around, despite the fact that I haven't felt especially fast so far this spring. Now, I'm inspired to get out to the track for some speedwork, get a few more interval runs on the calendar, and really focus on my pace, because even though this run felt good, I know that I have quite a bit of room for improvement. With several shorter races coming up in the next few months, I'm excited to spend some time working on my speed before building mileage for at least one half in the fall.
This weekend's race was just part of an annual marathon/half/8k series, with a longer course that is similarly hilly but also famously scenic and relatively fast. Perhaps next year I'll be out for 13.1, or even (dare I say it?) 26.2? Either way, one thing is for sure: I'll be deciding -- and registering -- early.



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