In my very first training log post on Salty Running, I outlined my six-month training plan, which culminated in a goal 5K road race at the end of July. It seemed so far away at the time, especially given the state of my fitness, confidence and mindset when I wrote that post. But here we are at the end of July, goal race day has come and gone, and I’m here to tell you how it went.
My training for the race progressed more slowly than I had anticipated. I had hoped to be able to build up with fartleks, tempos and long runs for a few months, and then start including interval and repeat running at race-specific paces, culminating with a triumphant sub-20:00 5K personal best. Well – spoiler alert- that didn’t happen. Though I did build up to consistent weekly 10-mile long runs, and did do some fartleks and short effort-based tempo runs, I wasn’t able to get to the point of race pace-specific intervals or repeats in time for this race. What did happen is I paid attention to every warning signal my body sent me, pushed just beyond the edge of my current fitness but not too far, and prioritized strength and self-care measures. So I stayed healthy! After two and a half years of chronic overuse injuries, I completed a 7-month block of training without any major setbacks and got to the starting line strong, fit and ready to race, even if not trained to quite the degree I had been hoping for.
In my last, light, preparatory run on the day before the race, I told myself I was ready to run fast. Strides went well, and I felt strong and light on my feet. But then things took a down-turn; I woke the next morning to stomach cramps, fatigue and my period. I was dragging and definitely did not feel race-ready. In a panic fueled by my nerves, I consulted the other Salties and got some great pep talks and suggestions: mantras, positive visualization and mental rehearsal, proper hydration and fueling, and inclusion of pre-race caffeine. Luckily, my race was in the evening so I had all day to rest up, pull myself together, and go out and get an espresso-flavored Clif shot with 100 mg caffeine.
After a long, trafficky drive to the race, which took place in a seaside town about 40 miles away, I arrived, picked up my number, and had a little time for stretching and sucking down my Clif shot before starting my warm-up. It was a large race with over two thousand runners, and many local competitive clubs and teams were in attendance, so there was an electric energy that was contagious. I jogged through the scenic, closed-down streets with some of the other runners, did some drills and strides, and secured a place just behind the starting line. I was packed in against the other runners, some joking, some serious, but everyone poised in nervous anticipation. The starter motioned us to move up against the line, I crouched into a starting stance, the horn blared and we were off.
The first mile was very fast and passed in a blur. I could hardly believe it when I heard the tell-tale mile sound of the Garmins around me. My heart was thumping. I knew I had gone out at a pace that was way faster than anything I could sustain, and I was starting to feel some fatigue setting in. Settle down, settle down, I told myself. Focus on form. I backed off the pace a little and a few people passed me, but I tried to stay within myself and get into my own rhythm. We turned onto a waterfront street and ran under some sprinklers to the 2-mile mark. As I passed it, I heard a woman’s voice, “13:06, 13:07, 13:08…” Oh good, I thought, I’m on pace. But then it really started to hurt. I had the odd sensation of my legs moving of their own accord, with the rest of me just hanging on for dear life on top of them. I had looked at the course map several times before the race, so I knew there was a left turn about a half-mile from the end. I was looking, hoping, aching for that turn. Where was that turn?!
Finally, the turn came, but I had little chance to feel glad about it because I was met by the formidable shadow of the steep uphill that stretched endlessly ahead. My legs were burning, but I managed to pass a woman in front of me, only to get passed back by her seconds later. My stomach was in knots. I wanted to turn to her and say “can you believe this *#&$ hill!” but I had no breath to do it. Then, another woman who looked to be in her 60s blew by both of us. Respect.
At the top of the hill, we turned again to the left, and then made a quick right up to another short steep hill that led to the finish. I was grateful for all the months of my twice-weekly hill sprints, as I was able to dig deep and unleash a small kick up that last hill to finish strong. I saw the clock as I crossed the line: 21:06, a substantial PR. Later on at home, I looked up the race results and saw I had won my age group and finished 17th overall out of more than 1100 women!
Though I would have loved to run this race in under 20:00, as I had set out to do, I feel proud of my training and my performance. As anyone committed to succeeding in distance running knows, much patience and persistence are required to achieve your goals. And sometimes you have to re-set your goals along the way – or at least identify smaller goals to achieve on your path to the loftier ones. So I’m content to keep at it and to let my fitness come. I’m looking ahead to the next challenge and the ways it will bring me closer to reaching my potential. I’ll keep you posted!