Injury? No time for that.
The weather was a crisp, sunny mid-40s by the 8am start of the Loudon 8K (5 miles). Team 30@30 would be competing for the Team Championship on a smooth, flat course in Ashburn, VA. PR Races timed the event.
A little backstory: Back in January, after my half-marathon debut, I circled this race on the calendar and set a private goal of running it at a 6:30/mile pace (32:30). After a strong 4-Mile race at 6:14/mile in March, I thought I could shatter this original goal. However, my recent plantar injury has meant that I couldn’t run much, which jeopardized everything – now, even my 6:30/mile goal seemed questionable.
Would my foot hold up? How would my fitness be given all of the cross-training and time away from running? Should I wear full-length tights in this weather?
1) Don’t aggravate foot injury ✓
2) Break 32:30 (6:30/mile pace) ✓
3) Finish top 10 and win the team award ✓
I arrived an hour early to grab my race bib, warm up, and find my teammates. Murat, Dathania O’Brien (Kat), Brendan, and Geordie joined me way out in VA for this one, as the race featured a team award: Like a cross country race, the top four runners (including at least one female) on a team score points based on combined times.
My pre-race routine was a bit chaotic and I should have given myself another 15-20 minutes of prep time.
Eventually, I got in a short jog, put all sorts of weird creams on my leg muscles, chowed on a pre-race carb waffle and some Run Gum, and found a men’s room out in the corner of a parking lot……
I cut my warm-up pretty close to gun time and arrived at the starting line just as the National Anthem played. I found my teammates and we were off…
My plan was to run the first mile at what “felt” like a 6:30/mile. I wanted to focus more on effort-perception than constantly pacing against my watch.
That didn’t last very long.
I checked my watch more often than I should have but discovered we had started at a pretty reasonable clip.
The pack quickly thinned out and after only a quarter mile it was clear that myself, Murat, and Brendan were nestled nicely in the top ten.
At about the half-mile mark, Murat casually turned to me and said “I think I’m going to chase the lead guys,” at which point he and Brendan began to pull away from me and a few others in our group.
Now running with only a few other competitors, I tried to focus on keeping my pace even. The first mile finished in about 6:25 – not bad! I felt pretty good.
The pack of runners near me began to thin during the second mile. It seemed like a few of the guys had gotten excited by the slow competition and had run out front a little too quickly. I stuck with this pack for a bit and then decided to pick up the pace on a gradual uphill around the second mile marker.
I like passing people going uphill. I get the sense that it’s more psychologically devastating to have someone looking strong coast by while you’re working hard up a hill – especially at a point in the race when you might be wondering if you went out too quick.
My plan works and I drop the group… but now, I’m by myself.
I can see Murat and Brendan ahead in the distance – but they’re already 45 seconds ahead of me.
I pass a group of spectators by the water station and raise the roof a bit to get them cheering. I even get a high five (okay, mid-five) from a guy in a full-body Chewbacca outfit.
Ever since the half-marathon, I make a point of trying to enjoy myself with the people positioned along the course of longer (than 5K) races. That means high fives, thumbs ups, and cheering inducement (when required). It keeps me relaxed and enjoying the experience, which is worth much more than a second or two that I might lose to an imperfect step. (It’s also a psychological tactic: Imagine that you’re running hard and suddenly a guy racing next to you reaches out and excitedly high-fives a traffic cop. That’s gotta be a little spirit crushing, right?)
Now it’s time to hold this pace until there are two miles to go, when I can try to pick it up a bit.
Oh, hi foot!
My left foot doesn’t hurt – but it starts to feel a bit uncomfortable. This is also my first race in my new Brooks Asterias – which feel pretty good! They’re light and the bottom feels similar to the Brooks Hyperion, but with slightly more stability and width.
Luckily, the pain doesn’t increase, so I know it should hold up for a few more miles at this pace. Mile 2 had a bit of an uphill stretch and my pace was about 6:35.
Right about on pace.
The third mile meanders along a major road. Occasionally, I can see the outlines of Murat and Brendan ahead in the distance when I careen around a long turn, but they’re just green and orange dots that have at least a minute on me.
A quick peek behind me reveals just one runner who is probably about 45 seconds behind and slowing.
It’s just me.
Mile three averages just over 6:30 pace. I want to try and pick up the pace just a tad in mile four, but I struggle to generate more speed. My aerobic strength feels decent and my legs don’t feel too tired… but I don’t feel much power. This is where the lack of recent running is beginning to show itself.
Mile four finishes and I glance at my watch. I don’t feel great, but that last mile felt like it was about 6:20-6:25 pace. My GPS watch bleeps 6:34. Shit.
That’s okay, I tell myself. I’m still on pace and have been planning to pick it up the last mile. Then, the course changes.
We switch from running on roads onto a few meandering walking paths of gravel, wood, and dirt. The gravel is a bit slippery, though the softer surfaces are a nice change… but the course itself winds through the woods and it’s hard to increase speed around the sharp corners, especially with the slight uphill.
At one point, I glance behind me on a tight turn to see if anyone is closing. A course volunteer cheers and yells: “Don’t look back! Don’t look behind you!”
Listen, lady, I appreciate the strategic advice and all, but I’m good, thanks.
Eventually, we get back on the road for the final quarter mile. I check my watch and it looks like I should break the 32:30 barrier without changing pace, but it would probably require a really heroic effort to dip below 32 minutes. Running by myself without anyone to chase down and not wanting to push my foot further and harder than I should, I just pick up the pace a tad and cruise through the finish line at 32:24.
I was pretty tired but not exhausted and recovered relatively quickly. My last mile was about 6:14. Not exactly the 5:31 at the end of my four-miler, but enough to meet my original race goal.
The 30@30 Team crushed it!
Murat was the Overall Second Place
Livestock Male at 30:03 and Brendan was right behind in 3rd place with a smooth time of 30:09.
My time of 32:24 was good for 6th overall out of total of 340 runners (112 men), while Geordie had another strong running performance in 24th overall.
Dathania Kat was the 10th female finisher and surprised herself with a solid 38:48 time on no training. Really looking forward to seeing what she can do in a 5K on Memorial Day weekend…
Team 30@30 was the clear winner – beating the 2nd place team by nearly 40 total minutes. While only the top four finisher’s on a team count in the scoring, our team was so strong that all five members of our team combined to beat the top four from the next team!
We posed for a few photos, grabbed our awards, and headed to breakfast.
It was an encouraging race given my recent setbacks… but I’ve got a long way to go. It does mean that I can knock off another 30@30 spring goal of running at least four races of distances other than 5K/10K!
Next weekend – a fun 5K that finishes at the 50 yard line of FedEx Field. Join me if you’re in the DC area!