You know you're having a tough race when you find yourself wishing that your hands would get itchy (signaling an attack of exercise-induced anaphylaxis) so you'd have an excuse to drop out.
I'm not exaggerating when I say that thought crossed my mind yesterday, at about mile 1.5 of the 5K I was running - that's how bad it was.
There were two 5Ks this weekend - one on Saturday and one on Sunday - and I hemmed and hawed about which one to run. My friends were all running the Sunday one, which made it very appealing, but I knew the weather Saturday was supposed to be coooler. But I had run on Thursday night and had a tough workout on Friday, so I thought a day of rest Saturday would put me in better shape to run hard on Sunday.
So I waited. And I wish I hadn't.
I was out to PR at this race. My goal was to beat my current PR of 20:51. I didn't have a firm goal in mind for how much I wanted to take off that time, but I thought I could at least get a few seconds below 20:50. I've only done a few track workouts since Boston, but they've gone really well, and I've been running some really fast paces, so I thought I had it in me to shave a few seconds off my time.
And as I warmed up, initially, I thought for sure it was going to be my day. My legs felt fresh and ready to run, and it was warm, but it didn't feel too bad. At first.
Then it started to feel hotter. And hotter.
I need to explain, too, that it wasn't sweltering, mid-summer heat and humidity. It was just below 80 degrees - which, as far as summer running goes, isn't even all that hot. And we've had a few days this spring that were even hotter than that. But on those days, I ran early in the morning, when it was still nice and cool. So to my body, which has had no time whatsoever to acclimate to warm-weather running, temps in the high 70s felt more like temps in the high 80s.
By the time I finished warming up, I was drenched in sweat, already feeling tired, and the doubt was beginning to creep in. I tried not to let it get the best of me, and summoned as much confidence as I could while making my way over to the start.
The first mile starts on a downhill, and I tried to not go out too fast, but didn't want to hold back too much, either - when you're going for a PR, you can't be too conservative at the start. But as soon as we had run a quarter of a mile, I honestly was already struggling. I was running the pace I wanted to run, but I didn't feel like there was any way I could ever maintain it for the entire race.
We hit the one-mile marker, and all I could think was "Oh my god, we've only run ONE MILE????!!!!" 6:46
Mile 2 has the slightest uphill grade, but this day, it felt like Mt. Everest. It hurt. Everything hurt. Everything was awful. Everything was wrong. I wanted nothing more than to stop and walk. This is when I was wishing for the itchy hands. 6:52
The last mile of a 5K always hurts, and always feels way longer than just a mile. But this one was spectacularly bad. I was feeling lightheaded, and exhausted, and miserable. My mind wanted my legs to move faster, but they just were not cooperating. 7:05. Ugh.
Scott and the boys had come to the race, which was really awesome, since they aren't often able to be there. And he had told me they'd be right around the corner from the finish, which I knew would be a welcome sight. And it was. Seeing them all jumping up and down and screaming gave me just enough energy to smile and wave.
And I did manage to get back down to a 6:42 pace for the homestretch, and crossed in 21:39. A far cry from 20:51, and even farther from what I had hoped to run.
At that moment, though, I was so incredibly glad to not be running anymore, I really didn't care much. I spent a few minutes with the boys - while I was holding Carmine, he kept touching my neck and saying "Mommy, you're all wet" - and after they left, I joined my friends for a 3-mile cooldown.
Even though it wasn't the time I had hoped to run, it was good enough for 2nd place in my age group, and some other friends had won awards, too - including my super-speedy friend, who was the first-place female! And instead of a medal, I won a beach chair - perfect for this beach-loving family!
So the post-race fun made it worth it, and the race was for a very good cause, but it was definitely not my day.
I'm mad that I didn't run faster. I should have been able to run faster. I wish I had run faster. But I didn't. I'm certain the heat had a lot to do with it, but whatever the reason, it didn't happen, and I was feeling pretty disappointed about that earlier today.
I even found myself wondering if maybe I'm aiming too high. Maybe sub-20 isn't an attainable goal for me. Maybe I won't even get under 21 minutes again. Maybe I shouldn't even bother with 5Ks for a little while, especially since it's only going to get hotter.
Between this bad experience, and the tough time I had at the Cox Half-marathon last month, my confidence has taken a bit of a hit, and I was having a hard time with that earlier today.
But that didn't last long, and this afternoon I was doing some poking around on various websites, seeing if there might be a 5K anytime soon where I could redeem myself and run the race I feel I should have been able to run on Sunday.
I'm not sure if I'll do one anytime soon. The reality of the approaching ever-warmer temperatures is definitely a factor, and I may very well wait until the fall to go after this particular PR again. Or I may try sooner.
Either way, I'll be back at the track next week, and every week after that, so that when I do tackle my next 3.1, I'll be ready for it.
And I'll be ready for the races I'm doing in between, too. As I pushed through all that pain and unpleasantness Sunday, I found myself thinking "Why can't I be one of those people who just does this for fun?"
And the reason is simple - that's not who I am. I think it's fabulous if that is who you are, and you love going out and running a race simply for the pleasure of running it. On days like Sunday, I truly do envy you. But for me, that's not enough, and it never will be.
So I'll continue to work hard and keep trying. And I may have several more failures before I get where I want to be, and I'll learn and take something away from each and every one of them.
One of the toughest things about a 5K - besides the obvious physical pain - is that, unlike the half or full marathon, you don't have a large chunk of time to sort out and turn around your emotions. In a longer race, you have plenty of time to work through the negativity, and once you do that, you can use the remainder of your time to build yourself back up and get your head in a good spot, where you're thinking positive and feeling confident and motivated to get it done.
But a 5K is such a short race, you really don't have the opportunity to do that. If you start out feeling doubtful and unsure, those thoughts quickly spiral out of control, especially as they're compounded by how physically uncomfortable your body is. And by the time you get a handle on them and think you might have a little bit of optimism left in you, you're practically at the finish line.
That's what I took away from this race. Letting that doubt in early on doomed me. I could never fully push it away, and it took over. I know that wasn't the only reason I didn't hit my goal, but it certainly didn't help. And it certainly contributed to making it such an enormously unpleasant experience.
So in addition to training my legs at the track, I'm going to be training my mind to go into my next race feeling strong and confident and ready. I know I'll never edge out the negative thoughts entirely, but I have to learn how to get the upper hand. I've gotten really good at doing it at longer distances; now I need to learn how to do it for the shorter ones.
Not my best race, but not my worst race. And still a good day overall, thanks to sharing it with family and friends.
21:39; 6:53 pace
2nd place age-group award
10th female overall
37th of 365 overall
Onward and upward....