When I race, I mentally categorize races as "target" or "other." To be clear, whenever I race, I cut back on my training a few days before, and toe the line with the intent of giving my best. I hate "training through the race" or "tempoing the race." For me, I think that it creates bad mental habits.
But I can't treat every race as a target race with a full taper - I'd never be able to train. Thus, for a non-marathon season, I pick 2-3 "target races" - this year, they were NYC Half (which ended up being Shamrock Half....), Broad Street 10, and next week's Garry Bjorklund Half (aka Grandma's). The other races are secondary. It's not that I don't care about them - they just don't get top billing.
[For a marathon training cycle, the marathon is the target - there are no others.]
For a target race, I'll take vacation days to ensure I'm well rested, and carefully scrutinize courses, often registering for back-up races to maximize my chances of good weather. Other races I treat like workouts in one sense - if it's a slow course or a bad weather day, oh well. It is what it is, and we all race under the same conditions.
With all of that said, Purple Stride ended up being both a target and a non-target race. My intent when registering was to use it as a final tune-up for my half. For myself, a 5K a week or two before a longer race primes the engine. However, I knew that, based on my recent PRs at both shorter (the mile) and longer (10K, 10M, and half) distances, I was in shape to finally break 19 minutes for the 5K distance. And that elevated the priority to kinda-sorta-a-target-race.
Why am I discussing the above? Because it explains why I was obsessively reviewing 5K course maps and emailing race directors earlier this week.
To provide more detail: there are several 5K races each year that start and finish at Freedom Plaza in downtown DC, running a fast and flat course with minimal turns. That course is USATF certified - a PR there is legit.
But, the course posted on the race website didn't quite match the USATF course.
|USATF Certified on left, race website on right.|
I really didn't want to run a sub-19 that wasn't really a sub-19.
On the theory that it couldn't hurt, I emailed the race director, asking (very nicely) to confirm what course they were using, and was it certified. At the same time, I started reviewing other 5K options.
There was a Pride Run 5K on Friday night (not good - I had a social thing that I wanted to make an appearance at (which I ended up missing anyway due to last minute work, but oh well)). There was a 5K in Fairfax on Sunday, but the forecast was warm and humid. There was a 5K on Saturday in Alexandria but it looked very small, and I wasn't sure I'd have anyone to run with - I'm not in shape to break 19 in a solo time trial.
Additionally, the Lawyers Have Heart 10K (also on Saturday) had added a timed, competitive 5K option. I hadn't been aware of that when registering for Purple Stride. (The 10K was out of the question as too close to my target half marathon.)
I debated swapping to the Lawyers 5K - the 5K course was fast and there'd be plenty of people at my pace to chase. Plus Lawyers started at 7:00 am - 90 minutes earlier than Purple Stride, which could be a significant advantage given the forecast rise in temperatures today.
But in the end, I decided to stay with Purple Stride. The race director had very nicely emailed me back and confirmed that they would be using the USATF certified course. And when I looked at the Lawyers 5K course, I noted three hair pin turns. Hair pin turns are not an issue for most, but I struggle with them - because I need to be careful about putting too much lateral stress on my weak ankles I have to take extra care and slow way down for those turns. Purple Stride had one hair pin turn that actually isn't that tight in practice, since it goes around a median.
So Purple Stride it was. A decision that took more time than the race itself.
An 8:30 am start meant that I could sleep in (relatively speaking) before stretching and heading over to the race. Once there, I warmed up - about 3 miles easy jogging (I'm creaky) and then 2 segments of about 2 minutes each at tempo pace, followed by some more jogging.
The temperatures were definitely heating up - what had felt like good racing weather (well...for June) at 7 am was now feeling a bit warm, with the sun beating down. For a moment, I wondered if I should have gone with Lawyers instead. But the air was still dry, my breathing felt great, and the race was a short one, so hopefully the heat wouldn't be much of a factor. Plus, too late to change now - I was committed.
Drills, strides, and I lined up. I was surprised to see I was the only woman at the start (not counting the obligatory collection of children of both genders). I had to look several rows back to see any women. Of course, this didn't mean that I wouldn't have female competition once the race started, but it was interesting.
Then ready, set, go, and we were off. Interestingly, there was no gun or tone - just a guy saying "go" (arguably a bit too softly). There was a moment, a delayed reaction, and then everyone realized the race had started and we took off.
This course is very very slightly downhill on the way out, and very very slightly uphill on the way back. As a slow starter and a strong closer, I prefer that to the inverse. But it does mean that I have to be careful to pull back on the first mile. Fortunately, I found myself in a pack of several guys who were following a similar strategy - very convenient. I didn't see any women around me, and I resisted the urge to look. I knew that at about 1.5 miles, the course would turn back on itself, and I'd be able to see if any other women were in striking distance.
For the next minutes, I focused on holding an even, strong effort. Like all my other races, I was running with my watch face blanked, so that I couldn't see splits. That may surprise some - you would think that since I was using this race to chase a time, I'd want splits, even if I normally race without.
I gently disagree. I knew from my other races that I had the fitness to break 19, I just needed to execute. And the best way for me to execute is to expend my effort as evenly as I can - something that I do best when running off of perceived effort. Checking splits just distracts me and sucks mental energy. I was going to give whatever I had today - checking my Garmin wouldn't help me there.
When I hit the turn around, there were no other women to be seen behind me. The gap was so long that I stopped looking and returned to focusing on myself. This was good. I'm competitive by nature, and whenever given the choice between a fast time or a win, I'll go for the win. And, as paradoxical as it sounds, I find that it's hardest to run my best race when I'm contending for a win. I end up focusing on my competition and reacting to what they do, or saving something in reserve in case I need to surge later.
Today, I was fairly sure I had the win unless I either dropped out or was surprised by an elite who started the race 30 seconds late (which happens in DC). So I could put winning completely out of my mind and just focus on emptying the tank, using the men ahead or with me.
Up we ran on 3rd Street, towards the final turn onto Pennsylvania. I noted with a weird combination of satisfaction and chagrin that we were taking the USATF certified route, rather than cutting the turn short. Satisfaction because whatever I ran would be legit. Chagrin because mis-marked too-short courses are downright appealing when you're a bit over 2 miles into a 5K race.
The long stretch home on Pennsylvania Avenue is always mentally challenging. It's very slightly uphill (really, a deceptive false flat), and you can see the finish line in the far distance, but it's not getting closer. I've learned to stop looking at the finish line, and take this stretch block by block. The Newseum, then 6th street, then 7th, then 9th, then 10th.
Now was the time to hammer. I was fairly uncomfortable - deep into 5K suck, which I personally think is the worst kind of race suck. But I told myself that I'd regret it deeply if I failed to break 19 and hadn't given it everything I had. So I dug in. After a moment, I realized that this situation really wasn't that different from the Loudoun Street Mile. Sure, now I was racing a clock rather than a really fantastic runner. But the situation was the same - now is my opportunity to gain something I've always wanted, and I've got to give it everything I have.
And that was how I kicked to the finish line, pretending that Alisa Harvey was right behind me. As I approached the clock (and swerved to break the tape) I noted the clock at 18:4x. Safely under 19.
And then I was done, and much like Loudoun Street Mile, I really wanted to sit down.
I did take manual splits for later review, though I didn't check them at the time. Good thing. I suspect the mile markers were a bit off - my Garmin claims that some were long and some were short. Below are my splits, and then what Garmin claims was the average pace for the split.
Mile 1: 6:04 (Garmin says 5:56 pace)
Mile 2: 5:52 (Garmin says 6:04 pace)
Mile 3: 6:18 (Garmin says 6:04 pace)
last bit: 35 seconds (Garmin says 5:11 pace)
[Garmin report here]
The race felt like even pace for 3 miles, and then a hard kick at the end. It certainly didn't feel like I surged in mile 2 and then slowed dramatically in mile 3.
My hunch is that the first mile marker was accurate - the Garmin signal was just a bit screwy. And then the second mile marker was short and the third was long. I think I ran something close to 6:04 pace for three miles and then closed at something faster than 6:04 and slower than 5:11.
But heck, in the end it doesn't matter - what matters is the overall time and the accuracy of the overall course. The inaccurate mile markers do support my preference to ignore splits and pace off of feel. If I had been checking splits during the race, the second mile would unquestionably have been a distraction.
- It did end up being a bit warm for the race - 72 degrees, with a dewpoint of 61, and bright sunshine (I can hear my friends in the Deep South laughing now). But since it wasn't traditional oppressive DC humidity, it wasn't all that bad. I guess I might have run a bit faster if it was 45 degrees. Or maybe not - running's funny that way. I don't really care. I got the sub-19.
- I wore my Adidas Takumi Sens for this race. I usually race in either the Takumi Sen Boost (short stuff) or the Adidas Adios Boost 2 (longer stuff, including marathons). They're very similar shoes - the main difference is that the Takumi Sen has a much lower heel drop, with most of the Boost being in the forefoot. The Adios has most of the Boost in the midfoot and heel.
After experimenting with both, I think I prefer the Takumi Sen for 5K and under, while the Adios is better for 10K and up. My foot strike varies slightly with each distance. For the faster shorter stuff, I'm up on my forefoot, and the Takumi Sen feels like rockets on my feet. It is an AMAZING shoe to kick in. But it's a miserable slappy stiff shoe to run more slowly in, while the Adios feels great at a range of paces.
(It's worth noting at this point that the Adios is a fantastic shoe for the end of a marathon. I've run two marathons in them, and for both, my feet felt wonderful at the end. That's a real achievement for a marathon shoe. Of course, your mileage may vary, both figuratively and literally.)
At some point, I'm going to race a 5 miler or 8K, and that's when shoe choices are going to get hard.
- I left pretty early to get to the race 90 minutes before, and was glad I did. I forgot that the Lawyers Have Heart 10K course was now routed down Rock Creek Parkway and near E St. Meaning that getting to the start of the race I was running required navigating around the traffic jam created by the race I wasn't running. In the end, it was only a 15 minute delay. And since I had built in fudge time, it was a non issue.
- My Garmin read 18:49 for the race, while my official gun and chip time were both 18:51. I was surprised at the time, as I didn't stop my Garmin until I was well over the line. In retrospect, I think I (and everyone else) lost two seconds at the start of the race due to the less than obvious start, and resulting delayed reaction. Since I was at the line, when the race started, the mat caught me, even though I didn't actually start for another few moments. Oh well, not a big deal. I would have been considerably more upset if it had been 18:59 versus 19:01...
- No pre-race inhaler use, no post-race inhaler use. Awesome. I will never get tired of being able to breathe deeply and well.