I was feeling pretty confident a week prior to this ridiculous 5k, when a tempo run proved that my training was working and I could possibly, maybe, break 20 minutes.
A week later, I drove east to the Bishop of England private school on ritzy Daniel Island, feeling much less confident. I had run twice since that Saturday tempo and spent the rest of the week fighting an aggressive flu that left me unable to stomach much food until Thursday.
I love to run. I love to train, do speed workouts, long runs, and work so hard my legs shake. But I’m not a good racer. There’s a lingering disappointment leftover from high school that still makes me nervous, when bad races, false starts and angry coaches erased the confidence of some serious achievements. The only races where my knees aren’t weak, my legs don’t feel like bricks and my heart isn’t pounding, are distances I’ve never done before or seem completely ludicrous. Like an ultra.
On top of the absurd nerves, sometime last week the Charleston ‘winter’ broke and every bug in the low country hatched. With the bugs came the humidity, and what should be (in California terms) a pleasant 70-something felt like the sweltering depths of the underworld. After checking in, grabbing my odd and unseasonable long sleeve race shirt, and warming up for about ten minutes, I was completely drenched and already feeling groggy from the heat.
Even though I don’t race that often, it’s easy to see the huge difference between a seasoned organization (Rock ‘n Roll, Ragnar) and mom and pop races. I joined the crowd of competitive runners at the front of the finish line, which I was told was now the start, when the race announcer decided to inform us that we had all lined up backwards. As we reversed and pushed our way through the crowd, two girls in full sponsored Sketchers race gear and temporary Nuun tattoos burst through the crowd to the front of the start (or back of the finish?). It was that moment that eased all the tension I had about this race. The whole thing seemed completely ridiculous. And then the director told us the race was an out and back, instead of the loop the map, and website had promised. I almost expected him to change the distance, or maybe reschedule the race for a hotter day.
The gun went off and I took my place in the back of the lead pack. As we eased around the track, my Garmin said 5:50 pace, which I knew was way, way too fast in the heat, so I slowed down and fell into step with a girl about my age. We rounded the corner together and hit the first mile at 6:35. My second and third mile were steady, I was alone most of the race and enjoyed the easy run through the peaceful neighborhoods, broken up only by the commentary from the high school boys cross country team volunteers (thanks for the entertainment, kids). When your races usually range from 13 to 50 miles, three miles is over extremely fast.
My pace was decent, but I had no fire. I love to pass people or try to outkick them, and throughout the whole race I had nothing extra in the tank from the week of being under the weather. I finished behind two girls and counted myself as 6th overall woman and, disappointed all around, decided to just do a cool down and leave.
The awards ceremony was going on as I made my way out towards my car, and I heard the announcer call the name of the girl who passed me in a different age category. I paused, waited for him to announce almost every other age category (of course he went completely out of order) until he got to 30-34. I got second in my first ever 30+ age group, with an ok (but kind of cool) time of 21:21, average 6:53 pace. And for my efforts I won a $15 Starbucks gift card.
After all that build up and overthinking and blogging, I didn’t make my time, or really even come close. But the training leading up to a semi-failure of a race was actually much more important than those 3.1 out-and-back miles.
If someone told me two months ago I would be able to run sub 7 miles again I would have completely dismissed them. Deciding to run this 5k was a huge step back into running. With nothing to train for, I had completely plateaued and had no reason to gain any new fitness. My excuse, and the reality, is that I don’t have time to train for anything. Which is true when all your races require hours running long distances on the weekend. With my longtime fear of short, fast races, the 5k wasn’t even on my radar until some of my running idols posted about mid-season short races to boost their speed. I decided to just go for it, face that fear of a short, fast race and actually sign up for something I could train for on my lunch break.
So, now what? I made such a huge deal out of this thing and it came and went in 21 minutes (and 21 seconds). It was extremely anticlimactic, especially because I felt so steady the whole race and was missing that ‘I gave it my all’ race feeling at the finish. Which really only means one thing, I have to take advantage of the fact that there’s at least 3 5k’s within a 20 mile radius of Charleston every weekend and find another to prove that I can actually, mentally and physically, get over (or under) the 20 minute hurdle.