So in January, I made this goal to race once a month. My January race was wiped out by a sudden trip out of town, but I made my own race and decided that was good enough. But then injury killed my February goal race, and as I was going on my registering spree the other night, I realized: With triathlon training starting next weekend, if I wanted a race for February, I had to do it now.
I’d heard great things about the Bay Breeze 10K, but having run about a total of a 10K since returning to running, that didn’t seem like a smart call, much as I would have loved an octopus shirt. (I just realized right now that Bay Breeze had a 5K. Oh well.) So I checked in with the Dolphin South End run club and learned that the club’s weekly race was a Sunday morning 5K starting just past the turnaround point of my usual short run. And, like most DSE races, it was $5. Done.
I jogged about 1.75 miles to the race start, being mindful of my leg and figuring I’d decide on the way if I wanted to have a time goal. On the one hand, the race goal wasn’t made to be some cupcake thing I could knock off just by showing up; “I want to get into the habit of showing up to a race to race it,” is what I wrote at the time. On the other hand, in this one case, I figured I’d be OK with meeting the goal in letter if not in spirit and hopping back into things full-force in March.
The other thing is that before Sunday, I’d never raced a 5K, nor had I even run casually in one. I had absolutely, positively no idea how to race a 5K. But since my triathlon running will all be relatively shorter distances, I was curious what a comfortably hard 5K would be. A tempo 5K, I guess, maybe? Something to set other paces from, a not-full-out effort but still a bit of a test. I figured that would land me somewhere around 27:00 — just under 9 minutes a mile, my tempo pace back when I was training for Kaiser. On the way to the race, I was feeling pretty good, and so I set that number in my mind: 3 sub-9 miles, with a result around 27.
I lined up somewhere in the middle-back of the pack — there were maybe 100 people? — and totally missed the actual race start fumbling around with my stuff, but within the first few hundred feet, I got into a groove. And then I looked at my watch, and I was running around an 8:20 pace. Wait, what? OK, well, that couldn’t possibly last. I started focusing on people I thought were running my pace so I could key off them, but all of a sudden, I was passing them. Huh?
The course was downhill on JFK, uphill to Stow Lake, one turn around the lake, and back up JFK to the finish. I somehow managed to miss every single lap on my watch, but the mile markers were chalked on the ground, so I had a general sense of where I was. I checked my instant pace a few times, but mostly I was running by effort (um, effing finally) and chasing down various people in front of me. Which — again, what? That’s not what I expected to be doing in this race.
For the first 2.5 miles, I felt so much stronger than I guessed I would. The last half-mile was like, “Oh. Uh. Can I walk now?” But I take some comfort in the fact that my legs didn’t start feeling like short leaden stilts until I could see the finish line clock. I crossed at 26:04 — nearly a minute faster than my goal, my fastest ever pace in a race, and with my first and last miles both clocking 8:17. (Mile 2, which had the biggest hill, was 8:31.) Automatic PR! And I made it to the last 90 seconds before thinking I might puke.
Back when I was training for Kaiser, I was able to hit mile repeats at around an 8:15-8:20 pace, but I had no idea I could a) still do that, b) do that on a road, and c) get faster after slowing down during a tougher mile. Basically, this is exactly the kind of “try hard and maybe surprise yourself” experience I wanted to have when I challenged myself to race more. Part of this, I’m sure, is an ignorance-is-bliss situation; I had moderate expectations for pace and zero expectations for the race as a whole. But it was cool to be out of my head for a while and thinking only of running down that girl in the purple T-shirt or not letting the guy in the short briefs pass me back.
Also, yeah, like everyone else in the world already knew, DSE races are the greatest. There was chocolate cake at the end. Cake! And huge platters of grapes, and bagels, and peanut butter pretzels. It’s actually kind of depressing how much more I’ve paid for a far worse race experience.
I wound up with 6.5 miles on the day, and sadly, I feel it today; it’s been a while. My leg’s a little angry, enough that I’m going to get in touch with either doctor #1 or doctor #2 to see if they think a few physical therapy sessions wouldn’t be such a bad idea (I can’t just show up; thanks, HMO!), but I don’t think I’ve led myself down a path of utter disaster. I seem to have two kinds of days these days, and they’re completely distinct: days where only running hurts and days where everything but running hurts. Yesterday was clearly the latter, or I never would have raced; today is mostly the former.
This week I’m commuting an hour each way to a client site every day, and with tri training starting on Saturday, I’ve been thinking of declaring this a week of sloth — or, at least, a week in which I only do what I need to do for my sanity. That may mean fitting in a head-clearing swim and a quick little run, or it may mean milking every last second of sleep I can get. Regardless, I’m glad I got to send February out with an effort that suggested maybe, just maybe, I’m getting back in the game. Maybe.