Damn, it's good to be back. It's been about 9 months since I've raced, and it felt like it. It's been a long journey back, and I'm still not quite at 100%. But I needed (in that way that other runners understand) to get back on the horse.
I was entered in the Monument Avenue 10K in Richmond for today, but opted to stay local for a few reasons and eat the registration. Part of the reasoning was that racing in Richmond would involve taking Friday off of work and paying for a hotel and dinner the night before, plus dealing with the drive each way. I wouldn't mind most of these if I was in decent shape, but it didn't make sense to go to the effort and expense for my first race back - I'd rather do something low key and local.
Plus, I wasn't 100% sure that my back and other issues would hold up to the stress of racing, and I knew that if I invested the time and effort in going down to Richmond, I would find it very hard to drop out if something felt wrong. Far better to do something low key, so that it would be easier to pull the plug if things started hurting. Know your limitations and work with them.
So, I did some searching, and found several local low key 5Ks. I decided on the "Runway 5K" based on the fact that it was on Hains Point, which meant flat and minimal turns. Which is great for fast times, but more importantly fairly easy on the body. The website for the race came across as a little disorganized, and I noted no mention of a certified course.
(you may, if you like, highlight the previous sentence with dramatic foreshadowing - reader's discretion)
But I did enough research to reassure myself that the race would indeed happen, so I registered. If it ended up being a total disaster, I could just run a 5K on Sunday instead.
And yes, race morning was not without its share of snafus. When I showed up to collect my bib, there was a lot of confusion on where to pick it up. My friend Allison and I waited in one line, only to get to the front and learn that since we had registered within the past two weeks, we needed to go to another tent... Luckily, both lines went fast.
There were other indications of trouble - for example, the bibs issued did indeed have chips on them, as promised. But no timing mat to be seen.
More significantly, we were given pre-race instructions that we should turn "at the water tent" down on the tip of Hains Point. I asked if there would be a cone or similar to mark the turning point - "at the water tent" sounded vague and open to interpretation, and runners halfway through a 5K aren't known for their clarity of thinking. Yes, there would be. Well, OK then.
We lined up (only 5 minutes late) and the race started. I had already resolved to go out conservative, at a tempo like effort, before upping the effort. Part of this was following my coach's eternal dictate of "start slow, finish fast." But additionally, I had a hunch this course might end up long, and the air was pretty sticky - both things that would make it even harder to recover from going out too fast. Better to be careful.
So when two other women sprinted off of the line (this was a women only race), I mentally took a deep breath and stuck to my plan. I gave myself about 30 seconds to ramp up to tempo effort, and then started cruising, keeping an eye on the two figures ahead of me. After about 3 minutes, one of them came back to me, while the other stayed ahead and continued to build, eventually getting to a 7 second lead over me. I opted to keep an eye on her, but let her go - either she'd come back to me or she wouldn't.
And so we ran, down a very foggy Hains Point. I didn't see the tip until we were close to it, but once we got there, I saw no water tent, so I figured we were running further. We continued around the tip and back up the back side, still looking for the missing tent. I felt a bit sorry for the leader - she had to worry about where the heck the tent was - I just had to worry about her. And note how the gap between us was slowly closing.
Eventually the tent materialized, but no cone. I could see the leader waiver, as if she was figuring out what to do, and then continued on. I didn't want to run a shorter course than her, so I followed instead of turning at the tent. She ran a bit past, and then someone flagged her down and told her she had gone too far and to turn. So she did.
In turn, I noted the spot where she turned, and then ran a second or so further, and then turned, to make sure I didn't inadvertently cut the course on her. I had a hunch I was going to be able to close the gap on her in the second half of the race, and I wanted to make sure I did it honestly.
So back we headed - I noted someone grabbing a cone as we passed back - I'm hoping they marked the turn for the later runners. I continued to run, slowly building my pace, as she came back to me. As we approached the tip of Hains Point again, I could see her running right at the inner edge of the turn, and also weaving a bit, which told me she was starting to struggle. With more than a mile left, I was still feeling good, so I held my effort level, and just waited for her to come back.
I couldn't help but feel sorry for her, though. She had led this race the whole time (hard), had to deal with the confusion about where to turn (hard), and now was having to push her way through some crowds (hard). This was a decent size race, and the slowest runners and walkers had not been advised to stay on the right side of the road. So as we ran back up the road, we were effectively weaving our way through a crowd. Or rather, she was - I was running in the path she was clearing.
Eventually, I caught up to her, and passed her. And then I was in the lead, with what was probably a bit less than a mile to go. I felt bad - she had done all the work - but that's racing.
Being in the lead was strange. I've been first woman in a race before, but I've never run a women only road race and so I've never not had someone ahead of me. But now it was just me. And a foggy road ahead.
I knew the finish line was up there somewhere, but I had no idea where - visibility wasn't great. And with no mile markers, I really wasn't sure quite where I was, relative to the finish. So I kept running at a hard but controlled effort, focusing on my form and posture. This was feeling like the longest 5K ever, and I was really ready to be done. Eventually, thankfully, the finish line appeared (complete with a red carpet they had rolled out - a cute touch), and I rolled in.
They handed me an envelope as I finished, which ended up being a $100 gift certificate to a local running store. Not bad at all. But the best part of the morning was getting out there, racing, and running a well executed race.
Since there were no mile markers, I have no splits. Based on Garmins and comparing notes with others, I think we ran about 3.2 miles. Which is the equivalent of a 19:5x 5k. Which sounds about right. Of course, I'll never know for sure - I'll just put it down as a good morning and move on.
- Air was pretty thick - temps and DP were in the upper 50s (yuck). No wind though - a rarity for Hains Point. Fog was thick enough that you couldn't see across the Potomac.
- No asthma issues though, despite the humidity, which I am not used to. Yay for my Dulera inhaler.
- Looking at my Garmin report, I can see where and when I turned, letting me figure out how I split the race. Looks like I ran for 10:24 out, and then 10:00 back. So yay for negative splitting.
- Warmed up with 2.5 miles, and cooled down about the same. Did some drills before the race, which felt strange - I haven't done drills in a long time, it seems.
- It was really cool to experience being the overall leader of a race, without having a guy to tow me in - for that reason, I'm really glad I did this.
- Wore my PureConnects instead of my racing flats. I haven't worn my flats in forever, and didn't see any point in taking the risk of wearing them here. Plus the PureConnects are pretty light anyway - I think a lot of people would consider them a racing shoe.
- The results are up, and quite confusing. They added another 20 seconds onto my time (?) and also have me as 40 (I'm not over that hill quite yet, just breathtakingly, tantalizingly close).