Thursday, May 17, 2012

Adversity causes some men to break; others to break records. -William A. Ward

Spartan Shape-Up, Day 302:

After a much needed (and well-earned!) rest day, yesterday, today was a RACE DAY!

The Vermont Corporate Cup Challenge and State Agency Race (5K) is a statewide race put on by the Governor's Association for physical fitness. From what I gather, pretty much anyone can do it, but it is geared toward businesses and state agencies to form teams and encourage their employees to get moving. It's a pretty big event, in that it pretty much closes Montpelier (our state capitol) for several hours. It's such a "thing" that our work actually adjusted our work schedules for anyone that wanted to participate, to allow for us to make it there on time (which was still an adventure when traffic is backed up to the highway exit... but...).

I was really looking forward to this, not just because I'd know tons of people there, but because it would be my first 5K road race of the season. My last one was in December (remember the Santa Run?!) and a WHOLE LOT of my strengths, skills, etc. have changed since then. I was thinking that this would be an excellent sort of start to the season marker.

After braving the massing throngs, scoring my free t-shirt (seriously, this collection may start to get ridiculous...) and finding my co-workers, my brain started to settle in to Pre-Race Routine. For me, as a focusing tool, I mull over my goal for the day. It used to just be "run the whole race without walking"... now it was, "run the whole 5K in under 30 minutes." WOW, how things change. I also take this time to think about some recent races I've done, what I've learned and where I can improve. In this case, I know that I need to focus on running MY race, and not keeping up with the mass of people. That is how you burn yourself out. I learned this the hard way at the Tortoise and Hare 10K. Yikes. I also did remember my Spartan race and the most valuable lesson there: I can. I was a little unsure if under 30 would be a reasonable goal, but the GT seemed to think it was good, I thought I could work it out... and hell, I can if I think I can.

Per the GT's suggestion, I moved up toward the front of the horde at the starting line. I wanted to work for time, and didn't want to have to fight and elbow my way through the first mile, losing precious seconds. ... But... up towards the front is where the serious fast people go. People that run all the time. OH WAIT. It even says it on my bib, "Runner":
I guess I can't argue with that.

I paced a bit and shook out my arms to relax... the only downfall was that due to all the traffic, etc. I didn't have time to jog a bit of a warm up, before we had to get to the starting line. The next race, I'm going to make sure I try this, and see if that helps improve my time. I really think it will. There's no sense in spending your first 1/2 mile or so of a short race like this, "warming up."

The gun went off and the initial crush of enthusiasm pressed in around me. There were a lot of spandex-clad crazies all trying to get moving at once. I took a couple deep breaths, reminded myself to keep it in check and started running my race. The first half mile was pretty uneventful, as I spent it trying to steady out my stride, get into some even breathing and - most importantly - check out the outfits around me. Seriously, BlogLand, you have no idea how much neon was out there. The 80's called and wanted their glow-in-the-dark materials back.

Over a bridge and around a corner, the throng pressed ever onward... and I felt pretty good. I watched the leaders (seriously, there were people that finished in 18 minutes. WHAT?) pull away, tall people bound like gazelles next to this burly t-rex, and the crowd begin to stretch out a little bit more.

At this point, I did have a little chuckle. Two guys running behind me, one apparently not so much into running the 5K, but sucked into it by his friend. He went on to whine about getting bored with road running and saying something like, "...well, if we could just add in some mud or barbed wire or something..." I AGREE!!! I thought to him, in my head. Shortly thereafter, those Tough Mudders (sporting every piece of identifying gear possible) passed me, and all I could think was, "hmm... I wonder if they've tried a Spartan Race, yet?"

Just before mile marker 1, as always, my body is finishing up sorting itself out, but I'm never entirely convinced this is a great idea. As you are well aware, I do not "love" to run... thus, at this point in every run, I'm questioning whether I still need to keep running, why my body is protesting this (because it usually is, in some form), and why I subject myself to this... particularly when I could just stop, walk a block and hit up the coffee place.

Right then, like some fabulous messenger, sent by the Cosmos to keep me going, was Roy! I turn my head to see my (uber tall and easy to spot!) friend, yelling my name and encouragements AND..... (wait for it....).... Holding a sign! I'm pretty sure it had my name on it. Even if it didn't, that's what my mind decided at the time, so I'm running with it (no pun intended). I had no idea he would be there, and all I could do was smile and push on. You can't  do the Disgruntled Mile 1 stuff, if you'd just received a cheering section! This was a pretty big deal, to me. When someone you don't see regularly takes time out of their life, unprompted, to support you in your pursuits (particularly when so many others have not), you have nothing but gratitude (Thank you, so much, Roy.).

As a big cluster, we went up the first little incline, and hit some more flat, and around again. At Mile Marker 1, there was a guy calling out times. I heard 8 minutes and change... At this point, I smiled and was happy inside (Ooo!! 8 minute mile!!).... and then I had a little bit of a reality check. I had to slow my roll a little bit. If I had run a sub-9 minute mile out of the gate, chances are I was going to fizzle later on. I brought my pace down.

Right about this point, we started seeing the runners (who's way was cleared by Screaming Bike Guy) at the front of the pack come back at us. They were moving like nothing I'd ever seen before. I'm pretty sure none of them could've maintained that speed over 10K, but it was a beautifully impressive thing to watch. I gained some inspiration here, and tried to use it to fuel my own left-right-left march on.

The Hill Section kind of sucked, although it was nothing too major. Just a few relatively short, annoying climbs. I did find that this is where my training shows. Where people that are "ahead" of me start  up these hills then have to walk, I can maintain the steady up the hill, and recover on the fly at the top of it. No need to stop, walk and die, anymore.

As mile 2 wrapped up, I wasn't feeling awesome. I knew I had burned too much gas out of the gate. This was not as effortless (ha!) as it usually was. Nonetheless, as I hit the 2 mile mark, the official called out a time of 19:35.... Which means I was running right on target to get that sub-30 min goal. KEEP pushing, I reminded myself.

Shortly thereafter, I ran in to Roy again, who decided to play photographer. LOL:
One of these things is not like the others...
This may be my favorite race picture EVER. Everyone all serious... me popping up and slightly ridiculous in the middle. Story of my life. hehe
Camera! (dude. check the guns. lol)

The last mile was bad. Or at least not good. I was feeling tired, thinking I should've eaten dinner before this ( the race started at 6pm), and was really starting to fade. But left-right-left it was, and I was going to get the job done.

Back over the bridge and I knew we were almost done. Right after that hill. I leaned into it and kept my steady pace pumping up this hill. There was a guy behind me that was wheezing and breathing in such a way that I thought he was about to die...and trust me, I am familiar with "I want to die!" breathing. He was... not doing well.

As I reached the top of the hill, I heard irish jigs on strings. Yep, because this is Vermont and VT can be more than a little awesome, there was a string quartet sitting at the top of the last corner/hill, playing some tunes. Loved this.

Even with the fiddle music in my ear, I was really feeling done after that hill. I had started to really slow, I felt it. I knew I was thinking about walking. Thankfully, the Cosmos gave me a push. There was a runner who'd already finished (!!!??!??!) sitting in a lawn chair at the side of the road. As I glanced at him, he caught my eye and said, "Keep going. Dig deep and pick up the pace! You have it in you, you're almost there!" I knew he was right, as I could see the finish line crowd... but Lawn-Chair Runner Guy, you have NO idea what you did for me (if you're ever out there reading, Thank you!). I channeled a burst of speed that saw me around the corner and down the big hill. The announcer was sporadic names/numbers as you finished... I was in the home stretch. I thundered down the hill and rounded the bend.

Finish line, about 300 yards away. Time to leave it on the table. With the encouragement from the crowd, I hit the gas pedal on a great sprint ( Yay regular Sprint WODs!). Roy (who apparently was everywhere!) managed to capture the finish line focus:

I glanced at the clock, and barreled through the chute. Ahhh.... Stopping is always nice, after a race like this.

While clutching a water bottle and a half a bagel like my life depended on it (I am pretty sure it did, at this point), I ran into a coworker, who had just finished in something like 23 minutes. WTF? That's crazy time. That is all I can say about that.

As for me, 5K, 31:13 seconds, average pace: 10:03 min/miles. My initial reaction was not one of happiness. I was going for UNDER a 30 minute race. Goal not achieved. Inner competitive perfectionist, pissed off. I ran through the couldda wouldda shouldda's.

While recapping the race, in this tone, via text with the GT, I got the reality check that my brain needed to recalibrate: "Stop and rethink what you just did."

I ran a 10K race, I said. In my head, no big deal. Right, BlogLand, "No big deal."... yeah, would Aja of a year ago have said that? No... not at all. I'm not sure Aja of a year ago would've even gotten to the starting line.

When I did stop to rethink it, I also noted I ran almost exactly 10 minute miles. There was a time (actually, I noted it in December at the Santa Run) that I was praying to stay under 11 minute miles. Just finish in under 34 minutes. I guess things have improved. My best 5K race time to date was 32:23 and that was a nice, flat race with my GT at my side coaching me through it. This race, I managed 31.13 pretty easily and probably could've gone faster. Hell, I'll say that's an improvement.

Me, who less than a year ago could not run 20 seconds (literally), just ran 3.1 miles in 31.13 minutes - a very respectable 10 min/mile pace. I needed to STFU and claim my Victory.

So I did. With a couple of my training buddies, and a big 'ol Margarita:

While I will admit, I am slightly disappointed that I did not hit the goal that I wanted, I also have to continually remind myself where I have come from. These things are NOT going to happen overnight, no matter how much I want them to. The more I am able to do, though, the higher my expectations for myself. So, I will just keep pushing until I reach them. There WILL be a sub 30 minute 5K race this year. I promise.

In the meantime, I'm relishing the small victories. I didn't walk. My pace was steady. I ran 10 minute miles. I was consistent on the hills. I ran fast enough to be able to cross the finish line, then turn back to it to cheer on my Up-the-Hill running buddy, as well as my co-worker team mates - all of whom have been training like animals to hit their own personal goals. I'm happy to say I fought the good fight at this race, beside all these ladies, and new personal bests were established all around, and everyone wore satisfied smiles of accomplishment as we headed home. I'm SO proud of all my ladies!

Lesson of the Day: Sometimes it is easy to get down on yourself for the things you did not or could not do. But no excuses. There is more training and there is next time. You will get there. Instead, take a time out to readjust your brain and check out what you DID accomplish, however small.

So, with a new 5K PR under my belt, I'm headed to bed, BlogLand.  My knees are tired and a little sore. Due to an old injury and bunch of compressed cartilage, my knees are not so excited to see straight road races (particularly with down hills...). However, nothing a little Ibuprofen and a good night's sleep won't fix.

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