I came into this race with limited expectations. I've run this race twice before, in 2012 (5:31) and 2013 (5:30), but a lot has happened since then. Including tearing my hamstring and turning 40. I haven't raced a mile in any form since 2013. And while three years may not seem like a lot, my body definitely feels different from how it did back then.
Additionally, all of my training has been focused on longer distances, including my goal half-marathon, which is now 3 weeks away. While my teammates have been doing fast 400m repeats regularly the past few weeks, we've been modifying most of my workouts by skipping the anaerobic hard 400s and subbing 800s done at a slower, aerobic pace. Which makes sense - I'm focused on longer stuff, and anaerobic stuff fries me pretty quickly. But when you don't run at near mile pace in practice, it's hard to know what to expect when you race a mile.
Looking back at my training log, when I ran 5:30 for the mile, I was also regularly doing 800s in the high 2:40s, low 2:50s. Now I do them at around 3:00 flat, sometimes 2:55ish or just under for the last one. Based on that, and the fact that I've done very little anaerobic work recently, I thought that anything faster than 5:50 would be a very good run for me. It's not that I'm horribly out of shape, but I'm not in "mile" shape.
So why did I even run the darn thing? My original plan had been to race either a 4 miler or this race on Memorial Day (I wanted to race something, because I get stale if I don't race every few weeks.) I would have preferred the 4 miler - it works more to my strengths, and my 4 mile PR is still pretty weak. But the weather forecast was looking pretty steamy for the weekend, and I could also do the tempo workout on Friday if I was only racing a mile on Monday. So after finally doing a set of 400s on Tuesday (mostly aerobic - I only ran the last one hard), I decided/let myself be convinced to do this race. What the heck. Even if it totally sucked, it'd only suck for a few minutes.
I did a semi-taper this week - doing a tempo workout on Friday and 12 easy miles on Saturday, but keeping Sunday light. I'd normally rest more for a race, but I just didn't see the point here - my legs were only going to move so fast, rested or not. Then I woke up early this morning, ate breakfast and did some stretching, before hitting the road. My legs actually felt pretty good - I think the speed at which I recover has improved a lot since I started the daily asthma meds. Which makes sense, since it's a lot easier to recover when you're getting a normal amount of oxygen.
Winchester is about 80 minutes from my home, and the route takes me through a very horsey area of Virginia that I spent a lot of time in 20-25 years ago. As I drove down Route 7, I had continual flashbacks to when my friend KT and I would drive down those same roads as teenagers, blasting Nine Inch Nails' Pretty Hate Machine. So I cranked that one up again and let the waves of nostalgia roll. I rebelliously whined to the blue ridge about how the world was stacked against me, as I cruised in my Mercedes SUV, carefully heeding all posted traffic signs.
And then I got to Winchester and had to return to reality, adulthood, and running. I picked up my bib, stretched out my hips again, changed into my racing shoes (went with the Takumi Sens for this one), and started jogging.
I'm one of those people that NEVER feels good in a workout until the 3rd or 4th repeat. For that reason, I've learned that I need an extended warm-up, with a fair bit of fast running, before a short race. This morning, I ran about 3.5 miles for a warm-up, including one very hard extended sprint (about 50 seconds) up hill about 20 minutes before the race started, and another very hard quarter mile about 5 minutes before the race started. In essence, the mile race would be my third interval of the morning, with plenty of recovery between each.
This worked well, as I felt ready to run when I lined up at the start. I still had no idea how fast I'd go, but I'd find out in a few minutes (hopefully less than 6...).
Having run this race twice before, I know how to run it. The race is a straight ahead run, with no turns. But it does have uphills and downhills. The first quarter is downhill and then flat, while the second is up. Most of the third quarter is a fairly fast downhill, while the final quarter is flat and then slightly climbing, with the final 300m running through a brick town square.
So... you run this one by going out slow (though everyone else goes out like an idiot). Start to build slightly as you go up hill - by then, people are already starting to fade. Start hauling ass when you near the crest of the hill. Ride your top gear until you hit the brick and then try to find an even higher gear for the last 300.
And that's pretty much what I did.
It wasn't very hard to hold back the first quarter - since I wasn't expecting to run fast, I wasn't particularly shocked or surprised when pretty much everyone surged far in front of me, making it easier to stay patient. During the second quarter uphill I pulled close to my friend Margaret, and then I managed to pass her when I hit my top gear after the halfway part.
She managed to hang on close to me, though, and when we hit the final 300m, we each reached for another gear. She had one, and I didn't, and so she surged past me and towed me to the finish. Though I never like being passed, I have to admit that her passing me towed me to a faster time than I would have run on my own.
There were no volunteers calling quarter mile splits this year (there have been in the past), so I ran the race just off of perceived effort. Thus I was totally shocked to see 5:3x on the clock as I approached the finish. I think it was actually a good thing that there were no splits announced - had I known that I was splitting consecutive 400s at a faster pace than I've been running them as single reps in workouts, I might have frozen up a bit. Instead, I just ran and raced and that was good.
And as I ran up under that 5:3x timer, I thought to myself: "George (my coach) is right - I really can run pretty fast in short races with little to no anaerobic work in training." (well, it wasn't phrased quite that clearly...). I intellectually understood it before, but running is believing.
I ended up second place master female, behind Alisa Harvey - a local legend who has her own Wikipedia page and a Pan-American Games gold medal to her credit. Though I never like being second, being second to her is pretty cool. As a result, I got a nice backpack for less than 6 minutes of work - not a bad day.
So after all this, you'd think I'd be racing more miles, right? Nope - I'm one and done for this year, unless there's another road mile late in the year. While I'm thrilled with how well it went, I find that these short superfast races really take a toll on me. The road races, with their hard surfaces and straight lines, are easier on my ankles and hips than bouncy curvy tracks, but both are hard. Racing miles regularly has always been correlated with injury for me, so I need to quit while I'm ahead.
- Weather was surprisingly good: temp of 65, dewpoint of 62, and a slight tailwind.
- It only took me about 20-30 seconds to catch my breath after the race. This is as compared to the 5 minutes or more it used to take before the new asthma meds regime. Yay. I also noted (again) that I was much stronger uphill than I have been in the past - I think this is because I'm not going quite as deep into oxygen debt as I used to on hills, and I can also recover my breath on the backside, whereas I couldn't before.
- Didn't need to use the rescue inhaler at all, before or after the race. WOO.
- Once again - my heart rate stayed pretty low for this race - peaking at 176, which is lower than I see in a lot of workouts and longer races. Diesel, not turbo.
- Caramel Machiato GU as part of breakfast really hit the spot. Between those and the Maple Bacon GUs, GU is hitting it out of the park recently.