Given all that's been going on with my running (or lack thereof), and the fact that this injury just will. not. go. away., I really didn't expect too much at this race. I hoped to do well, and I've had several great runs over the past few weeks, but I knew I didn't have much of a base built up, so I wasn't sure how fast a pace I'd be able to maintain - especially since this is one of the hilliest 5Ks around, with a monster of a hill at both the beginning and end of the course.
But, a race is a race, and I knew I wanted to give it my all, so I rested up most of this week, sticking with cross-training, and only running once. And when Carmine and I both came down with a whopper of a head cold on Friday, resulting in possibly one of the worst nights of sleep I've ever had, I took Saturday off altogether. And thankfully, we both slept a bit better last night, so despite still feeling very congested, I was relatively rested this morning, all things considered.
It couldn't have been a more perfect November day. Temperature was in the low 40s, and skies were blue and sunny. I had picked up my race number yesterday, so didn't have to get to the race too early, and ended up arriving about half an hour before the start - just enough time to walk around and look for some friends who were also running (none of whom I was able to find, since this race has grown to a huge event - almost 1600 people today!), and to soak up the scene. It's been over 2 months since I raced, so I was thrilled just to be standing there in the crowd with a race number on.
Since the race has grown so much, they actually had starting corrals this year. I lined up behind the '23:00 - 27:00' sign, feeling confident that even if I had a really horrible day, I'd be able to break 27 minutes - and even if I had a really phenomenal day, I wouldn't be able to break 23 minutes.
Things got started right on time, and we were immediately making our way uphill. The first one is rough, but it's over pretty quickly, and then the course settles into a nice flat stretch. I've run this race two other times, so I knew the course pretty well, and drove it the other day just to remind myself of some of the details.
As we moved onto the flat stretch, I glanced down at my Garmin a few times, and was happy to see a pace right around 7:50. I had hoped to run the first mile in about 8 minutes, and although I was going a little faster than planned, I didn't feel that all-too-familiar "Oh no, I went out waaaay too fast" feeling. I felt good. I was working hard, but I wasn't pushing myself too much, and I knew I was saving some energy for the later miles.
At the 1-mile marker (which, amazingly enough, was exactly in sync with my Garmin beeping 1 mile, which has never happened to me in a race), my Garmin read 7:51. I was very pleased : )
Mile 1 had seemed to fly by, and I was just enjoying myself so much, and Mile 2 was mostly the same, especially since Mile 2 has one of the nice downhills on the course! I was still feeling like I was just cruising along - putting in a good effort, but not killing myself - and very happy to see a time of 7:32 for the second mile.
Around the 2 1/2-mile mark I had a brief moment of feeling a little tired and wondered if it was going to turn into full-blown exhuastion, but it actually passed pretty quickly, and I got right back into a nice steady pace, and started to mentally prepare myself for the final climb.
And I think I can say that the mental preparation made a huge difference. I know this hill - I've run it twice before in the race, and a few other times on training runs. I know how long it takes, and I know how much it can take out of you - if you let it. But this time, I didn't let it get to me. I put my head down, shortened my stride, and kept cruising. I slowed down, without a doubt, but not by much. And once I got to the top, I recovered very quickly, and shifted gears to get myself ready to enjoy the downhill on the other side.
I barely heard my Garmin beep the mile 3 mark, but I did hear it and quickly glanced down to see 7:42. After that quick look, it was all about picking up the pace for the finish line. I rounded the final corner, and ran for all I was worth, as I knew that I was well on my way to beating my previous time in this race, and coming very close to my 5K PR. Final .1 was a 6:33 pace.
I crossed the finish line, and my Garmin read 23:44 (official time is 23:50). I was a bit shocked, but also elated. I had secretly hoped I'd break 25 minutes, but never imagined I'd break 24! Not only was this a course PR for me, by nearly 30 seconds, but it was also only about 30 seconds off of my 5K PR, which was set on a very, very flat course, nearly 2 years ago. I was glowing - and still am : )
I chatted with a few friends who were there, racing and/or spectating, grabbed a quick drink and a banana, and then made my way home, where the boys both greeted me with a wonderful "How was your race, Mommy?!" I love that they always ask me that!
I'm so happy I was able to do this race. I'm still discouraged about the chronic injury, and the fact that I can't run nearly as much as I'd like to, but clearly, I'm doing something right. I think I'm the poster child for the power of cross-training! It seriously works! I definitely feel fitter and stronger than ever, and I've only been able to run a couple times a week, at most. And today's results, I think, are very definitive proof that I've maintained some serious fitness while I've been sidelined, which I'm very happy about.
Part of me can't help but wonder how well I could have run if I hadn't been dealing with this injury and had really been able to train, but I try not to let myself go there, because I don't want to end up discouraged and depressed. I'm going to just focus on the fact that I ran a damn good race, and I'm not letting the injury get me down - mentally or physically.
And I'm only slightly embarassed to admit that, in that vein, the song that's really been resonating with me lately when I run is Britney Spears "Stronger." I've never in my life listened to a Britney Spears song voluntarily, but I heard this one on Glee a few weeks ago, and immediately downloaded it and put it on my iPod, and it was the final song in my race playlist today - the song that was playing as I made my way up that final beast of a hill, and that carried me into the finish line.
You never know what's going to motivate you on a tough run, but when you find out what it is, you just go with it, no matter how foolish or embarassing or cheesy it may be.
So - a good song, a great day, a fabulous race, and a course PR. What more could I want?
By the numbers -
Official time - 23:50
13 out of 258 in my age group
335 out of 1558 overall
Now on to PT Tuesday morning, so that hopefully I can race in next month's Jingle Bell 5K on the beach.
And I figure that f I can run 23:50 on a super hilly course, with almost no real training or preparation, I should have a really good shot at finally breaking 23 minutes in the Super 5K in February. So, time to get this injury straightened out, so I can get back at it!