Friday, September 28, 2018

September Slump

The summer of speed ended with a thud. My goal 5K was grossly humid (a constant torment, see below) and I went out at the pace my track workouts told me was possible, hoping to finally master the bravery and suffering required of a fast 5K. Instead, I fell apart hard and finished way off my goal.

So I’m still not great at 5Ks, so what? There will be another time to try to conquer that beast again. It was time to get back to my bread and [peanut] butter: marathon training.

The first few weeks went well, surprisingly well. Maybe the 5K training is paying off?! But while on vacation at the end of August I had a bad workout. I blamed vacation and being out of my rhythm, but when I got home, it was more of the same. Every workout was wildly off my goal pace and twice I cut them short, totally discouraged. It was always 98% humidity, but: Hadn’t I managed decent workouts despite the humidity all summer?

Going into my first race of the season, the Navy Half Marathon, I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t really have the long, hard efforts to back myself up, but I tried to focus on the workouts I was hitting just a few weeks ago. I hoped to run around 1:20 (6:06 pace) and thought that would put me near the top. Given my shaky confidence, I decided starting at 6:10 would be more realistic. When that seemed ambitious too, I tried to stay positive. Don’t give up on yourself before the race even starts. I didn’t look at the humidity. Better to not psych myself out.

For the first mile I tried not to go out too hard and found myself with two other women; collectively our pack was in second. I kept telling myself to take it easy and when the split (6:16) was slower than my plan of 6:10, I took it as a good sign. Over the next couple miles I kept trying to run relaxed and not worry that the splits were closer to 6:15s than 6:10s. It is humid, so slower is probably smarter.
The early miles.
[Photo credit: Cheryl Young]
But despite trying to stay relaxed, I was obsessing over my effort way too much for so early in the race. I couldn’t shut my brain off and was constantly scrutinizing how I felt, which ended with thinking that I really just wanted to drop out. I told myself I had to at least make it to my family (around mile 7) but that reminded me I couldn’t drop out there either. I had dragged them to DC for this race, I had to make it worth it. (Having my family at races continues to be one of my best mid-race motivators.)

Around mile 4 my old teammate Kerry caught up to me. I was happy to get to run with her, it’s been a long time since we’ve run together. I remembered that (possibly?) the last time we had run side-by-side through Hains Point was a workout leading up the 2016 Trials. Despite Kerry’s valiant efforts helping me that day, the workout had gone terribly. Yikes, don’t think about that! Today will be better.
Side by side with Kerry.
[Photo credit: Cheryl Young]
Last year, the combination of a super caffeinated gel and seeing my family had been like rocket fuel, so I tried to replicate it by scarfing down a gel before mile 7. But I struggled to get it down and lost Kerry. I knew if I let her go I’d fall apart and sure enough, the unraveling began.

I did get to see my family just after that, and Baby had learned a new phrase “Go, Mommy!” which was the highlight of the race. But on the out-and-back up Rock Creek Parkway I was slowing drastically and waiting for the inevitable. When will I be caught? I was now in third and figured the women from the first few miles along with other friends couldn’t be far behind. I couldn’t believe how much I was slowing and I just wanted to stop. But maybe the reason I was running so poorly was because I had given up on myself too much recently, and I really needed a longer, harder effort. No matter what, I need to finish the workout.

"Go, Mommy!"
A slight change in the course meant we had to endure a steep hill at the turn around at mile 8.5. I slowly shuffled up it and on the way down could see my competitors coming for me. Despite the cheers of the other runners heading for the turn around (thank you all!!), I continued to crumble. Around mile 11 another old teammate, Maura, caught me. She, like Kerry, tried to urge me to keep up but I couldn’t hang on. By the last mile it was all I could do to not stop and walk. In the last quarter mile I was passed by yet another friend and had no response.

I finished way off my goal pace and place and left feeling completely defeated, similar to how I felt after my last 5K. But a half is more in my wheelhouse, what’s wrong with me? I did at least finish and was crazy sore (and dehydrated) afterward, which told me that—no matter how slow—it was still a tough workout. 

Which reminds me of something I wrote after a nearly identical race, 2014's Rock-n-Roll Philly. It was also humid, my early pace was too ambitious, I fell apart and essentially jogged it in. But despite a similar September slump, that season ended well, with a huge PR at CIM. Sometimes I get caught up trying to prove my fitness in a workout or at a race, but that’s not the point of these early season efforts. Instead the point is to gain fitness, so I’m focusing on doing the work, taking care of myself, and knowing there’s plenty of time to turn things around.

In the meantime Baby continues to say “Go, Mommy” at random times, which is always encouraging.

Dream big,