Friday, July 27, 2018

Race Reports: Cul-de-sac 5K #3 and a Track Mile

The summer of speed continues with the last race of the Cul-de-sac 5K series and my first track race in 15 years.

Cul-de-sac 5K #3

After coming in fourth and second in the first two races, I really wanted to win one. And in the back of my mind, where the crazy-over-the-top ambitious part lives, I thought if I could somehow pull out a win, there was a teeny tiny chance that I might be able to pull off the series win. The series is scored like a track meet (10 points for first, 9 for second, 8 for third, etc.) and after two races I was two points behind. Getting the overall title involved some kind of World Cup elimination math: not only did I need to win, but Current Leader needed to get third, giving us the same point total. Then it would come down to cumulative time; going into the last race she had sixteen seconds on me, so I also needed to beat her by at least that much.

Right, well that seemed unlikely, especially since I had not beaten her at all yet. But if none of that worked out, I at least wanted to have won one of these races. That was motivation enough.

The weather was in between the previous two races (88° with a feels like temp of 94°) but at this point I felt mostly used to it; I wasn’t obsessing over it at least. (Acclimatization at its best!)

Race plan was to run relatively relaxed the first mile, but not obsess over pace, and then start pushing at mile 2. I was of course hoping to go faster than the previous two, but I didn’t want to obsess over the pace; I just wanted to focus on pushing and not berating myself for going too slow (like the first race) or screwing myself up thinking I was going out too fast (like the second race). I forbid myself from looking at my watch at all the first mile and tried sticking with a guy who I regrettably let get away from me in the previous races. I allowed myself to glance at my watch at the 1-mile marker, but I hit the wrong button and couldn’t really see the split; I think it was 5:55ish. (For the amount of time I use my watch and obsess over splits, you’d be surprised how often I screw it up mid-race.) Whatever, doesn’t matter, good enough. Time to push, only two miles left.

Through the three out-and-backs I was in first and saw that Current Leader was in third. (Second place was a woman who got second in the first race, but skipped the next week so wasn’t eligible for the series competition). Seriously, is this happening? Could I actually pull off both wins? Wait a minute, don’t get carried away, I’ve been caught and beaten by both these women before.

Through the second mile I tried to press harder than I had the other weeks and to use the fear of being caught to keep pushing. Once again I only allowed myself to look at my watch at the mile marker. (12:01 for two miles, so the second mile was probably too slow, but not as bad as previous weeks.) Right, ok, whatever. This is the last mile, the last time I have to run this race, the last chance to push all the way to the finish. With half a mile left I tried to push harder still, but wondered whether I had enough to fight if anyone caught me. The negative thoughts started swirling (I’m going to lose this right at the end!); I had to keep reminding myself that so far those were just fears and not reality: I was still winning and just needed to focus on getting my butt across the finish line as fast as possible and not worry about anything else.

I didn’t believe I had it until I rounded the final turn and crossed the line in 18:36, my fastest time of the series. I was happy to run faster each race, but the time still isn’t where I hoped it would be at this point. I was also happy to finally get a race win, but still wasn’t sure about the series competition; while waiting for the results I convinced myself that I had gotten second. When they finally announced the results, it was a shock: I had pulled it off. The tiebreaker rules worked in my favor and I won with a slightly faster cumulative time. (Happily, they didn’t have to go to yellow cards.)

Prize for the series win was a trophy that's
basically the same size as my 16 month old.
Summer Series 1 mile

In a serious departure from marathon life, the races for the week weren’t over. Two days later, I raced a mile as part of the Richmond Summer Track Series.

In the day leading up to it, I had to constantly remind myself why the heck I was racing a mile. 5Ks are enough out of my comfort zone, but a mile?? I haven’t raced on the track since high school, I don’t even know how to properly warm up for a track race. The truth was I hoped for a PR because my current mile PR (5:19) is from the last interval of a 3x1 mile workout before the 2016 Trials. Surely I could run faster in a race, having focused on shorter intervals (rather than tons of marathon miles), and if I was just running the one (and not three), right??

Wrong. I went out in 80s (5:20 pace) and held that pace for two laps, but the third lap was too slow. My chest and lungs were starting to burn but I simultaneously realized I was still too comfortable for such a ridiculously short race. I tried to kick it in, feeling my last lap would be my fastest and maybe I could make up what I lost in the third lap, but it was another 80 and I finished in 5:23, exactly the same split as I ran in a 3x1 mile workout in April before Pittsburgh.

Racing on the track for the first time in too long.
The reality is I’m just not in as good of shape as when peaking for a marathon; I’m still building my mileage and getting my legs back under me after Pittsburgh. A few weeks of 5K training has not gotten me in the same shape as months of marathon training. (Which also explains the ridiculous fact that my 10-mile race pace from April remains faster than what I’ve been running for 3.1 miles.)

But I also think it was silly to just race the mile once; I suspect (for me anyway) the shorter the race, the more practice it will take to get it right. (Or maybe it’s just that shorter races can be practiced more often.) If I ran another mile I think I could improve based on my experience and not letting myself get so comfortable in the middle. The 5K is the same: I’ve improved in time and strategy with each race. Hopefully on the last one I can get it right.

Dream big,

Friday, July 13, 2018

Race Reports: Cul-de-sac 5K 1 and 2

The summer of speed has kicked off with two 5K races, which I’m using as practice before aiming for a big PR at the end of the month.

Cul-de-sac 5K #1
These races happen on July evenings in Virginia, so you know what you’re getting into when you sign up: it’s going to be hot. Still, the first one was even hotter than I expected: by 7 pm, the temperature had only dropped to 91°, with a real feel of 101°. I knew all time goals were out the window, but I did want to compete well; everyone would be dealing with the same conditions. No matter what, this would serve as a baseline for the rest and let me know where I needed to improve most.

But the heat was making me really nervous. The purpose of these 5Ks is to learn how to push myself, even when (especially when) I feel like it’s safer to hold back. To resist the urge to go into marathon savings mode, as if I have 10 or 20 miles left instead of 1 or 2. But could I fight that hard in the heat? The weather was helping me wuss out before we even started.

I hit the first mile in 6 minutes and second place. That seemed decent but I was immediately passed. And mile two was a mess; I tried to stay with it and continue to push when it got uncomfortable, but I was falling apart. My split for mile two floored me, 6:26. Seriously?? I tried to get back on it and when another girl passed me I didn’t immediately let her go. I remembered the DC Half, when I stuck with a woman trying to pass me longer than I thought I could, and tried to channel that fight. I tried again to not give up because I had been caught, but to use it as a wake up call to get back on it. It worked for a little bit but eventually she gapped me. And another woman caught me too. Geez, this is terrible. Why am I so bad at these?? Why I am running these?? Mile 3: 6:22.

With just the 0.1 left, I finally found a way to push and managed to squeak back into fourth in 19:23 (6:14 pace). I think my exact words upon finishing were, “That super sucked.” I was at least glad to have a kick at the end, but as usual disappointed that I don’t use that energy to push harder from farther out. Maybe that’s because it was freaking hot, but also I just never push hard enough. That’s what I’m supposed to be working on. Blaming the heat for the slow time is easier, but it was hot for everyone and I didn’t compete well. Next time.

The final sprint for fourth.

Cul-de-sac 5K #2
Next time turned out to be about ten degrees cooler (a chilly 82°) and far less oppressive (a real feel of only 83°!). Once again I wanted to compete well, but this time I also had time goals. I figured 6:00 pace seemed doable, given the cooler temperatures, my knowledge of the course, and geez, hadn’t I run faster than that for ten miles three months ago?? I mean, c'mon. My strategy was to hit the first mile in 6, same as last week, and then really focus on pushing the second mile to hit that one on pace too. I generally slip way behind in the second mile but thought if I could just hold this seemingly not too difficult pace for two miles, I could still find something in the last mile to kick it in. I wouldn’t get too far into a hole I couldn’t climb out of.

The race gets its name from three cul-de-sacs you run through in the first mile; three quick out and backs where you basically turn around a cone. I kept my eye on my watch (as I always do, often to my detriment) and it was hovering in the low 5:50s. I tried to relax a little and not get ahead of myself, but it still read sub-6 pace when I hit the mile in… 6:06. What?!? Damn those out and backs for probably screwing up my watch. Damn me for relying so much on my watch.

On to mile 2. I didn’t try to immediately make up those seconds but just tried to stay with it, to not let the woman who had gapped me slightly (when I was busy worrying about going out too fast) get any farther ahead, to try to hit two miles in as close to 12 flat as possible. But mile two was slower still, a 6:11.

And that’s when my strategy changed back to the old RunnerTeal strategy: screw up the first two miles and then push the last one when you finally realize, “Oh hey, there’s only one mile left!” With half a mile to go I tried to push harder still and rounding the final corner, I put on the same sprint as last week, finishing in 18:53 (6:05 pace) and second place. In the last mile I finally felt like I was doing what I was supposed to be doing, feeling the fatigue and still pushing, but it was still only a 6 flat. I didn’t make up any distance on the woman ahead, although she had been steadily pulling away in the second mile and I did stop the gap from growing.

Finishing the second race.
My time was thirty seconds faster but considering the better conditions, my experience on the course, and that last week I was really only getting my feet wet (quite literally as my shoes were totally sweat drenched after that race) I thought I would do better than that. I did improve from fourth to second, but that’s only because two of the women who beat me last week didn’t come this week. And really, given my time goal for the season, it’s not enough of an improvement.

Afterward, a friend asked if my problem with 5Ks is that it takes me longer to get in the groove of it. I hadn’t really thought of it that way but remembering the last mile (which was harder but also felt better somehow) made me wonder if that is my problem. I’ve debated a longer warm up but never sure that’s a good idea on a hot day. I do strides but perhaps not enough. Somehow I need to find a way to conjure mile 3 Teal (or even mile 26 Teal) earlier on.

One more “practice” 5K to go.

What’s your go to strategy for a 5K?

Dream big,