The Time I Broke a 13 Year-old PR!

PoppyAt the beginning of the calendar year, I jotted down some goals for 2016 in my paper running log. Yes, that’s right, in addition to my online log, I still use a paper running log as well. It’s a very fancy composition notebook that I paid a whopping $0.97 for at Target.

Anyway, like I was saying, I wrote down some goals for the year. One of them was “PR at something.” It’s a pretty general goal upon first glance, but keep in mind that I’m 37 years old, have been running competitively for 24 years, and I’ve only run one PR in the past ten years, a 5-mile road PR in 2013. 

In the time since 2006, I have had several running-related injuries, a collection of health issues, and have had two children. My body has been through a lot. So, this goal of logging a PR was a long shot, but I wrote it down anyway.

My second child, Emmy, just turned two last week. After I had my first child in 2012 it took me about nine months to feel like I was getting back to my old runner self. I naively thought the same thing would happen after I had my second, but my body took a lot longer to bounce back after kid #2. I had a good stretch of training when my youngest was between seven and nine months leading up to a 2:46 marathon in June of 2015, but after the race it felt like my body completely forgot how to run and it was as if it was telling me that racing a marathon 9.5 months after having my second kid was too much. I felt like crap for a solid six months after. 

On Emmy’s second birthday I also celebrated two years of postpartum recovery!

Finally, at the beginning of 2016, I started to feel like my old self and became very optimistic about having some successful races this year. The spring went pretty well with my track 10k and while Broad Street wasn’t the race I had hoped it would be, I still consider it a success. I also realized that sometimes the product of a race is the cumulative effect of months and years of consistent and healthy training. Going into this summer of training, I wanted to build on the workouts and races of the spring and log some fast performances in the late summer and fall.

As anyone who lives in the eastern part of the country knows, it has been a very hot and humid summer. Despite that, I have been able to get in some workouts and feel like my fitness has slowly been improving over the past few months. Still, I haven’t been completely sure where I am. It’s one thing to hit certain times in workouts, it’s another to run well and to your ability in a race. So, I was looking forward to running a race that I knew to be competitive, was a USATF certified course, and potentially would have better weather than what I had been dealing with most of the summer.

In years past, the Chris Thater Memorial 5k in beautiful, bucolic Binghamton, NY has been a highly competitive and smoking fast 5k. Binghamton is only about an hour from my mom’s house, right across the Pennsylvania border, so I thought this could serve as a good opportunity to run a fast 5k due to the course and the competition. It would also serve as a nice little tune-up for the Philadelphia Half Marathon in three weeks.  

My mom graciously offered to watch the kids Sunday morning, so my husband and I could arrive in Binghamton with plenty of time to pick up our bibs and get in a warm up without feeling rushed or stressed. On my warm-up I felt so-so. My legs did not feel all that peppy and with a 9:50 a.m. start time, I could feel the temperature quickly heating up. Nonetheless, I tried to keep a positive and open mind about the race.

As we entered the corral I noticed that the race field looked small and didn’t see anyone I recognized. This is the first year they didn’t have prize money, but they were generous with gift cards. Nevertheless, by losing the cash prize it appears they lost the depth of competition (Molly Huddle and Lindsay Scherf have competed here in recent years, and in 2012 the first three women were sub-16:00). I figured if nothing else though, perhaps I could at least race my husband. Ha!

I tried not to go out too fast with the gun. I ran at an effort that felt quick, but controlled and tried to take in the runners around me. A teenaged girl was just ahead of me. I decided I’d tuck in behind her and let her pull me along for a bit, but after only a minute or so I could tell she was running slower than what I wanted, so I took off and went after a few guys ahead of me. I should mention at this point that my husband was also running nearby and I thought, Awesome!  We can run together and push each other to run fast. By the mile mark though, I had pulled ahead of him and never saw him again until the finish. In his defense, he hasn’t been training much for almost a year now after a stubborn back injury.

I went through the mile in 5:36 and felt good. My first thought was, Gosh, I had a hard time trying to run 5:36-5:40 pace for 800s on Wednesday, this mile felt way easier. From this point on I found myself with two or three guys who were running pretty steadily at the same pace I was. We had a little jockeying back and forth whenever we’d hit some little hills, but for the most part we were together in a decent sized pack. I made myself focus on sticking with them and not overthinking the pace I was running. This really helped and thankfully, the guys were super encouraging to me as we motored along. My second mile was a 5:31 and I still felt strong. One of the guys in our group noted we were about to turn and be on the section of the course that was most exposed to the sun and that it was “about to get hot.”

I prepared myself for the last mile to feel tougher than the previous two. To some extent it did, but not because of the weather, more so because I was pushing myself so hard and it was starting to catch up to me. I willed myself to run relaxed and fast and not let my form break down. I missed the three mile marker, but based on what my husband ran and his position to me, we deduced I was 5:43-5:45 for that mile. The finish line approached quickly after a turn up and over a bridge.

I could see the clock was 17:1x as I barreled down to the finish. I was excited because I knew I was going to be near my record of 17:37. I was about to cross the line, when, very abruptly, some officials threw up a finish tape for me to break. I had to hit the brakes to cross the line and break the tape without taking out the race volunteers who were holding it. With all of the hullabaloo at the finish, I didn’t get a chance to stop my watch until I was well past the finish line. I looked at it and saw 17:32. I had no idea if I broke 17:30, but I knew that either way I broke my 13-year-old road 5k PR! Hooray!!!

After I got through the finish chute, I had to bend over and put my head on a traffic cone. I felt like I might hurl. Oh, the joys of pushing yourself to run all-out! Thankfully, I did not see my breakfast for a second time and I rebounded pretty quickly. I found my husband and was anxious to hear how his race had gone, his first one since last September. He said it was really hard (racing off of no workouts: don’t try this at home kids) and as it turns out, he was only two seconds behind me. I asked if he let me beat him and he said, “NO!” He was trying to catch me in the last mile and ran out of real estate. So I wifed my husband. I feel kind of bad about that. I’m hoping this is just the fire under his butt he needs to get back into his own training and perhaps if it works out with sitters, we can start doing some workouts together again!

Enjoying the spoils of victory
Enjoying the spoils of victory

After he recovered, we went on a nice, easy cool down, but made sure to get back in time for the awards ceremony. It was during this time that I finally discovered my official time was 17:27 (17:26 chip), which meant I broke my old road 5k PR by 10 seconds. Wa-hoo! To say I was happy to finally run a PR after several years is the understatement of the century. Additionally, and this is what is really significant to me about this race, I had planned to do this race a year ago, but had to pull out because the week of the race I hit one of my all-time post-partum lows. I felt awful and couldn’t hit a workout of 800’s at a relatively easy pace earlier in the week and could barely pick up my legs to do strides the day before. I was in no shape, mentally or physically, to race and compete. This was a real victory.

It’s cliche, but it’s true that sometimes the lows really make the highs much sweeter and more enjoyable. I also have to give a shout-out to my kiddos for helping me keep things in perspective when running was in the toilet for a time last year.

Between my win and my husband finishing as third Master, we came away with some sweet gift cards, most to local Binghamton businesses. So, before we left town we put some to good use and got sandwiches and coffee for our lunch and a giant tray of pizza and a growler of IPA for our dinner later that night. It was a really nice morning and we were back to my mom’s in time to go swimming with the kids.

I am really excited about this race and hoping it serves as a nice stepping stone for a good performance at the Philadelphia Half Marathon in mid-September. And of course, it’s nice to be able to put a check mark by one of the hand-written goals in my cheapo composition notebook running log!

Have you ever surprised yourself with a PR?

I'm a licensed massage therapist with a background in biochemistry and also a mother of two. After almost two years of focusing on shorter race distances, I am back on the marathon training horse. My next goal race is the Bank of America Chicago Marathon. I write mostly about health and science as they relate to running as well as being part of a running family.

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    1. For sure. And if you look at my log with the workout I did a few days before the race, it did not look likely that I could average anything under 5:40 pace. Glad my body saved the turnover for the day it counted.

  1. Congrats on a great race! I don’t think it’s too late to run PRs (at least I hope not!), especially since you’ve taken time off over the years to have kids, recover from injuries, etc. Sounds like everything is going well and you’re on a streak to break some more!

    1. Thanks! Yeah, I have faith that I can still run some other PRs before I slow down for good. BTW, you are a rock star for running in your third trimester while pushing a double-wide.

  2. This is so awesome! I read this this with a huge grin! Congrats Poppy! P.S. – I think you got ripped off on that composition book, I got three for $1 recently 😛

    1. Thanks! Ha ha, yeah I splurged and got the fancy comp notebook. It has some hipster art on it, so you know, I had to pay more.

  3. Congrats — AND you got to break the tape! That’s a goal of mine, but there don’t seem to be many around here. (I can pick up my share of first-female finishes, but no tape. Misers.) A 10-a.m. start is a doozy this time of year — I had a 4th of July race at 9 a.m. in Kentucky and was like, seriously? Way to break that over-aged PR!

    As a newer runner (10 years this past May), I’ve seen most of my PRs coming. But I would say my half-marathon PR in 2014 was a bit of a surprise. I haven’t peaked/trained for hardly any halves, so my PR was right around 1:30 despite my other race distances indicating faster. I gave sub-90 a shot in June 2014 and, not surprisingly, got waylaid by the weather in the later miles and missed it by 17 seconds. I really focused on it for that fall and felt like I was more than ready, then faced sub-freezing temperatures and 20mph winds on race day. I ran in a long sleeve and capris, for Pete’s sake! So I tossed that goal out the window and figured I’d try to run a smart, controlled race and not worry about it. I didn’t look at my pace at all. Around mile 9, a guy I was running near asked what my goal was and I admitted I had hoped for sub-90 but had given it up due to the conditions. He remarked that I was currently on pace to break it. Hm. Once we hit the 10 mile marker, I realized he was right … and felt good enough to lay down 6:30s the rest of the way and cross in 1:28:11!

    1. That’s great! It’s pretty funny how sometimes the PRs happen when you least expect it. I bet when you get ideal weather, you’ll run even faster at the 1/2.