Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Soooo close... and yet so far

Sunday was the Irongirl 5K at Green Lake, and although I kept my expectations self-protectively low, I did, deep down inside, hope I could set a new 5K PR and perhaps—dare I even hope—possibly break the elusive 25-minute 5K barrier.

In the end, my expections were exceeded, partly. I did set a new PR for myself. But I missed the 25-minute mark by four measly seconds (five to go under). Yes, my official time for the race was a thrilling, disappointing 25:04.

This is by far the closest I've ever gotten to 25 minutes. My previous PR from earlier in the summer was 25:28, and I've had plenty of slower times as well. Twenty-five minutes is a time I would never have dreamed of a few years ago. Actually, I can hardly imagine it now!

The Irongirl race had both a 10K and a 5K, and for once I picked the 5K. I already had my recent 10K PR, and I didn't want to mess with that so soon, and I thought maybe the time was ripe to take another crack at the 5K ceiling.* Or would that be floor?

This was the first all-women's race I've participated in, and I wasn't sure what to expect. Mostly, it was no different than a co-ed race. Once we were actually running I didn't really even notice that all the persons around me were female. I was too focused on my own pain—I mean running.

One thing I did notice was that the women runners seemed less likely to put themselves up in the faster starting categories. I lined myself up by the eight-minute-mile sign, and the crowds around me and in front of me were sparse. The women seemed more inclined to cluster around the nine and ten minute signs, and of course there were numerous walkers closer to the back as well. I suspect in co-ed races men are much more willing to put themselves up front, even if they aren't sure they can do the seven-minute pace, whereas women might move toward the back just in case they don't run as fast as they hope.*

Of course I know the feeling of not wanting to be too close to the front and trampled, or embarrassed, by the faster runners. But I've also decided over the years that there's no harm in pushing the limits a little bit, and no matter where you start, you're going to be passing some people and being passed by others.

So I picked the eight-minute sign without a qualm. I probably could have gone a little bit toward the seven-minute pace as well without risking degradation. Actually, because there were so few people in the front, the announcer directed us all to move forward, and in the end I was standing close to the six-minute sign by the time we started. I should have had a picture, as that is the closest I will ever get to a six-minute pace group!

I've always said (well, since sometime earlier this year) that Green Lake is the place for me to break a 5K PR. The loop around the lake is almost perfect for a 5K—it's 2.8 miles around so the route has to divert a bit to make the full distance—and it's basically flat with just a couple of slight inclines. I can do a long warm-up by running a pre-race lap around the lake.*** The first time I broke 26 minutes was at Green Lake.

On Sunday the race conditions were perfect. Although the sun would later come out, at the time of the race it was still slightly overcast but balmy. I ran my slow pre-race circuit and finished at about 7:45, only fifteen minutes before race time, leaving me still fairly warmed up at the start. I had plenty of time to use the porta-potties and there weren't lines.

By 7:53 I was waiting in my (6-minute) corral area for the race to start. I was also waiting for the Garmin to find the satellites. It's a good thing that I started fiddling with it early, because it took a good ten minutes, right up until start time, to find them! I had resigned myself to running without personal GPS (it's not like I really needed it) when the timer screen finally appeared. So I was all ready to go, but we still had to wait for the opening remarks and Star Spangled Banner.

The director of Irongirl made a nice, inspirational speech about all the great women participating. She also said that so many people had registered for the race that the City of Seattle (or police, or somebody) had authorized use of the roads for next year. I hope that's just for the 10K—I see no good reason to move the 5K away from Green Lake!

She also encouraged us not to worry too much about being fast or slow. She said that there were about 30 women in front (not including me) who looked really fast—but after the race started we would not see them again! The rest of us should just have fun.

Fun! Now there's a concept.

And then, around five or ten minutes past eight, the "gun" (Aflac duck) sounded, and we were off.

I started out as fast as I could, in keeping with my 5K race strategy, endorsed (er, borrowed) from Runner's World. While their strategy really applies to more elite, competitive runners, I pretty much agree that the time you save by starting out fast makes up for the subsequent slowing, more effectively than if you tried to run a steady pace, or pace yourself. (Obviously this is a good strategy only in short races.)

It was really difficult for me to gauge how fast I was going. I didn't feel like my body was moving that fast, but I was breathing hard only a few minutes in. I had to hope that meant I was running faster than I normally do. If not, it meant I had suddenly lost all my cardiovascular fitness and was sucking air for no good reason.

I really didn't want to look at the Garmin too much but I did sneak a peak as I finished the first mile. And my time was... 7:50! I was shocked and excited. I had not run a mile under eight minutes (at least not timed) since high school—and then only one time that I can recall.

I'm not sure whether knowing my first split time was a good or a bad thing. It certainly encouraged me and gave me hope for a good finish. On the other hand, did it allow me to let up a bit? I immediately calculated that if I did the two remaining miles at 8:10 each, I could finish under 25 minutes. Perhaps this was giving myself permission to slow down. On the other hand, or the other leg, or the other heart-lung combination, I don't think I had too much rational choice in the matter.

Although I looked at the Garmin numerous times again as the quarter miles ticked away, I don't think I saw a split time again until I was done. My mind was a little too preoccupied with my imminent death to worry about times. At least a couple of times I wondered, "what if I just stop for a second?" But I didn't.

Eventually, finally, I saw the balloons and banners that indicated the rapidly approaching finish line. I veered off into the finishing stretch, pitying the 10K runners that had to start their second loop, and tried to pick up the pace and run like hell.

We had to make a hairpin turn into the finishing chute, and once I did I could see the timing clock in the not-so-far distance. It still said 24—but it also said 50-some seconds and I knew there was no way I would cross before it turned to 25. In fact, it said 25:10 as I crossed the finish line. Of course, I still didn't know whether my chip time might take me under 25....

But as I threw myself across the finish line and then drew to a gasping stop, I was less concerned about my time and more concerned about whether I might barf up a lung. Once I was sure that there would be no puking or other disasters, I dragged myself off the course to find some water, my mother, and my chip time.

As I stood in the line to obtain chip times, I noticed that most of the other women in line held index cards advertising a local running store's weight loss program. I commented to the woman in front of me that it seemed kind of insulting to be handing out weight loss flyers to runners finishing a 5K! (Like they are suggesting we might do better if we lost some weight.****)

Finally I got to the front of the line.***** They had a really cool system where they just type your race number into the computer and it prints out a slip with your chip time on it. I held my breath—and of course got my 25:04 result.

Later on I was able to look up all my stats on the Irongirl website. My 25:04 time made me 8th out of 202 women in my age division, and 72nd out of 1284 participants in the 5K. Not too bad, I think. Certainly I was statistically higher than I would have been in a co-ed race. All the top finishers, including age group winners, were much closer to, or below 20 minutes... which means I will never, ever be in that category. Not that I care one bit!

We didn't stick around much longer, deciding to head over to the Sunflour Cafe for breakfast. It was only a little past 9:00 and for once we got right in without having to wait in the Sunday brunch crowd for a table. Then after a side trip to Barnes & Noble, we headed home.

Later I met a friend at the Farmer's Market. I did not want to load up on too much produce, since I'm working towards leaving for Maine and I don't want a full refrigerator left behind, but I got some beets and radishes and some assorted fingerling potatoes for my dad. I also bought him a birthday gift, an engraved rock from the rock-engraving stall. They sell rocks and stones engraved with different words and quotes, some inspirational, some meant to be funny. I chose a medium-sized rock that said "To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive" (a quote from Robert Louis Stevenson).

I liked that quote a lot. (Maybe I'll go back and get my own rock next Sunday!) It's the kind of thing that my English-major, essay-writing, quotation-quoting wannabe writer self would turn into a topic on my travel blog. (Which I may in fact do at some point.)

I thought my dad would like it, since he likes to travel, is obsessed with signs and labels (my parents' garden and beach property is heavily endowed with brass plaques and various markers), and in any case could use it as a paperweight for the piles of "paperwork" he always complains of having. Little did I think that he would insist upon reading it as "To travel, hopefully, is a better thing than to arrive"; thereby turning it into a springboard for whining about how he never gets to go anywhere.****** (But I'm sure he liked it. And the potatoes too. Potatoes and a rock... nice gift, eh?)

After the market I went on to my parents' house for the birthday dinner.

Grilling eggplant.

The birthday spread—something for the carnivore, pescavore, herbivore, and of course the omnivore (me) who likes it all! The little patties are mini crabcakes from Metropolitan Market in Seattle. You can buy them pre-made and just panfry in minutes. Delish! Their homemade cocktail sauce is wonderful too, very horseradishy.

My sister with her baby!

*Which, like Hillary, I failed to shatter completely.

**I can't deny that men are more likely to actually run the faster paces as well.

***In theory, I could also make it a longer run by doing another post-race lap. But I've never been able to talk myself into actually doing that.

****So if I had lost 10 pounds before the race, I could have taken a minute off my time. Now that's depressing.

*****Actually at the time I finished the race there was nobody to speak of in the results line. But by the time I dawdled around for five or ten minutes, a crowd had formed.

******Which is a complete exaggeration. Hello? What about Maine, England, and probably Norway on the schedule over the next twelve months?

1 comment:

Tall Girl Running said...

Now that's what I call a great race report! Congrats on what must be an awfully satisfying PR. Maybe not quite that number you're shooting for, but with a performance like that, you have to have confidence it will soon come. You're an inspiration!