I learned a lot about myself today. I learned that I am capable of so much more than I thought possible. I learned that I need to trust in my abilities and let myself “go there” … that I thrive on finding out what I’m made of and that I love sharing this feeling with other women who run and with my family.
I ran this race again on Saturday, and I honestly feel as though one year later I could start this post with the exact same paragraph. I feel like every race (and really, every run) teaches us something. Maybe it’s something about race strategy and pacing. Or about how far we can push our limits. Or about what we should or shouldn’t eat or drink. The list goes on and on and some lessons are bigger than others, but every single race is ripe with lessons. Every single one.
My race on Saturday was no different. I was surprised by what I learned and I am still soaking it all in and thinking it through. I am HAPPY with the results. I know that I did my best that day. I also know that I am capable of better and that there is room for me to grow and learn from this.
My goal for this race was to PR, which meant running faster than a 21:18. I also truly believed that I could break 21 minutes for the first time and I was going to GO for it. I was familiar with this course having run it last year, and I knew that it was not an easy one to navigate or maintain lots of speed on consistently — there are several sharp hairpin turns, two sections of trail with lots gravel and wood bridge crossings, lots of hills and sections with zero shade.
I got to the race start and warmed up for a little over two miles. I ran easy and gradually picked up my pace during the warmup, finishing with some fast strides near where the finish line would be. Before warming up, I commented to a friend that I felt nervous – I had butterflies in my tummy. She said she felt the same way. We both sort of laughed at ourselves – I mean, this is just a little local 5k after all – why does it matter so much??? But we both knew the answer to that question. Even for endurance athletes who run four times as many miles as a 5k every weekend, it is NEVER really “just a 5k.” We were going to be testing our limits. Giving it our very best. We wanted to know what we are capable of and we did not want to disappoint ourselves. Running MATTERS to us. Believing in ourselves matters to us. So this race was important.
|ready in my fast shoes|
I got to the start line feeling excited but a lot calmer. My heart was grateful – my sister Jodi, my nephew Spencer, my buddy and training partner Chris, and my husband Robert and our three children were ALL there to support me. They all believed in me and were there to cheer for me!! I knew it could not be a bad day because I had them all there. I would do my best.
As I stood at the start line, I recognized two girls I had seen at the track earlier in the week. They asked me what my pace plan was for the race. I told them that I was hoping to break 21 for the first time and that I was going to try to go out more conservatively than I usually do. I have a hard time controlling my pace at the start of a 5k and I was not going to make that mistake again this time. I knew the course was tough in miles 2 and 3 and I didn’t want to burn all my energy in that first mile. They said they were going for the same goal, and one of them remarked to the other that I should just pace them. I laughed a little nervously and told them not to do that – that I didn’t want them to count on me. When the race started they stuck by me. I went out and immediately told myself – RUN YOUR OWN RACE. This was going to be a new kind of race for me, one in which I was racing others but really just racing myself. I checked my watch early on in the first quarter mile and I was going too fast, just under a 6 minute pace. I pulled back and reigned myself in. I wanted to be steady at 6:35. When I hit that, I was amazed that it actually felt EASY. The girls (whose names are Kaileen and Theresa) were right there next to me, one on each side.
|looks like I’m a pacer|
The first quarter mile of the race is around a parking lot and then we head up onto the W&OD trail. Here I heard my nephew Spencer call to me – “BREATHE & BELIEVE” – and I smiled. He is 13 years old. I am so proud to be his aunt, and so thankful for the person that he IS. It was so awesome that he was there to cheer for me and support me.
The W&OD trail is my training ground. My running HOME. I have logged so many miles on this trail. I love it and I know it. Once up on the trail I saw Robert and my kids. I felt so strong in that moment, so comfortable and happy and grateful. Grateful for their support and for their love. Grateful to be where I am in running and in life.
|On the W&OD. Happy and strong.|
After a short time on the W&OD we took the first hairpin turn and were off the W&OD and onto another trail that looped up and around a pond. Here we crossed the first mile marker – 6:35 – right on the NOSE. Kaileen and Theresa were still right with me. I said out loud to myself – perfect, this is right where I want to be. We started looping back onto a trail after that and could see the other runners coming towards us as they headed off the W&OD. I started cheering for them. I knew I was spending energy doing so, but I decided I didn’t care. One thing that I love about this race is that it is an ALL women race (I am not sure how many women, maybe 300ish?). I know a lot of these ladies and their stories are so very inspiring to me. It was fun to cheer for them and be cheered on by them. So I let out a “WOOOOO!” and a “lookin’ good!” here or there along that stretch. And I smiled. Big.
The second mile was trickier. It was during this mile that we ventured onto some trail – gravel, rocks and dirt. It was beautiful – I love the woods of Reston – but it was definitely not something I’m used to. I felt like I was holding strong though I knew that while on the actual rocks and dirt my pace had slowed a bit. I stopped looking at my watch because I just wanted to maintain my effort and didn’t want the numbers to discourage me. Kaileen and Theresa were still right there with me. When we were on the paved part again I felt my pace pick up with the same level of effort so I felt assured I was running a SMART race.
As we began the third mile we moved back onto another woodsy stretch – a loop – and then again onto more paved trail. I was holding strong and feeling really good. Theresa was right next to me at my left hip and Kaileen had dropped back slightly. I could not hear or feel her breathing anymore but I knew she wasn’t far behind. We had passed a few women on our way through the woods, but I wasn’t paying attention to how many women were still ahead of us at all. I was so focused on running my own race, sticking to my own pace, going for my own goal, that I hadn’t thought about placing or winning anything.
I am still mastering the psychology of racing myself. I haven’t really figured out the psychology or the strategy of racing others just yet. I have a lot to learn in that area.
We came up out of the woods and made another sharp turn, back onto the W&OD trail. As we turned I saw Jodi and Chris and they were cheering for me. Telling me to GO and GET IT. There was an overpass up ahead as the 3rd mile came to an end. We had to go UP a hill and then down into the final stretch. As we turned and started up the hill Theresa sort of tucked in behind me, hanging on at the hip.
She was SMART. I have no idea whether or not she meant to do this since I don’t really know her at all, but I am planning to ask her about it if and when I see her again at the track. We ran up that hill and in this weird sort of way I felt like I was carrying her up! Does that even make sense? I thought to myself. In retrospect it totally makes sense to me – this is a race! If I were racing HER and not just myself, I would have eased up and let HER push the pace there, and then I would have gunned it down the hill and into the finish. Because, you see, she passed me on that down hill and she wound up beating me by just a few seconds! I crossed the finish line in 20:59 and was the FOURTH overall finisher.
I am not upset, in case you are wondering. It was an incredible race for me! A truly valuable experience on so many levels. I am ecstatic that I broke 21 minutes, that I PR’d by 19 seconds and that I ran a smart race (against myself). What I learned about racing others, however, is this –
Run your own race and do your very best, solely focused on you and where you are — until you get close to that finish. If you are neck and neck with someone, don’t let them make you do all the work! Save your energy to surge past them in that last stretch. Every second counts!! I also learned that I know very little about this side of racing and that if I want to compete locally for placings and age group placings, I have to do my homework. The prize I lost on Sunday by coming in 4th was not a cash prize or gift card (it was a feather boa!) – but if it had been I would have been seriously bummed.
After crossing the finish line on Saturday I was showered with hugs from my family and my kids decorated me with medals they had made. My heart was FULL.
Some of my favorite pictures …
|me and my babies|
|proud of my medals|
|me with two of my LOVES|
|oh sistah i LOVE you|
|My buddy Chris. This guy ROCKS – oh so much.|
The finish line celebration was tons of fun. I placed first in my age group and got a fun trophy to commemorate it. I loved seeing so many of my friends as they finished the race – many of them surprised themselves with new PRs and strong races. I love the atmosphere of this race. I love this community of women runners!!! I love that my family and dear friends were there to support me.
This race was about SO MUCH MORE than a new PR or breaking a time goal. I guess they all are, really.
It was full of celebrations beyond my running achievements. Celebrations of my family, of my health, of my life, of my FAITH and of my relationships with my friends and my community. It was also full of lessons and of reminders of what is MOST important to me. Just as I did last year, I came away from this race feeling both proud of how far I have come and excited about all of the possibilities ahead. And, of course, so very grateful for the LOVE that surrounds me.