Last Wednesday my hubs and I jogged/walked the 2 1/2 miles to Prospect Park in Brooklyn to participate in the first race of the Al Goldstein Summer Speed Series. Every other Wednesday night during the summer, the Prospect Park Track Club and NYC Runs host timed 5k races. This was actually the first year we learned of the series and since I am off work for a few weeks and able to get somewhere at 7pm on a Wednesday night, we gave it a go.
I think my favorite part of the whole thing was being in the park with all my neighbors on a warm summer-like evening. There were kids playing, dogs chasing each other, couples taking after dinner strolls. It gave me that feeling that I had all the time as a kid but can’t capture quite as often now. It was an “all we have is tonight and tonight is slow and beautiful” feeling. After the race we decided to walk all the way home instead of hopping in a taxi or jumping on the subway. It was still almost 80 degrees. The sun went down slowly, taking it’s time, knowing how all of us loved when it lingered. Restaurants and bars were filled with chatter and laughter. Traffic was moving effortlessly; no one appeared to be in a rush. New shops and cafes had popped up, we made mental notes of the ones we wanted to visit. We even ran into a friend on the street. We caught up with her and had about a million laughs as we walked the 3-4 blocks to drop her at the subway. It was magic.
The race itself…not so much.
Well alright, it wasn’t that bad. I think it’s definitely true that once you have a bit of space from an experience you are able to look at it from a different perspective. All throughout the race and after I crossed the finish line I felt terrible. It was so hard. I didn’t necessarily have a specific goal for the race, it was more about finding out where I was at. I’ve mentioned here that I’ve got a 10k coming up in a couple weeks where I’d like to average an 8:55 mile. With that in mind, I basically set out to run as fast as I could and test my fitness.
My watch was acting finicky and wouldn’t pick up the GPS, so I had no idea what my time or pace was when I crossed the finish line. All I knew was that the run didn’t feel good. The whole race was difficult but the last mile was agony. Mentally that bummed me out because I try to always keep something in the tank in order to finish strong. Instead I felt like I was barely hanging on; at more than one point I was tempted to say fuck it and not finish.
When we got home I checked our times. My hubs had finished in 26:47 (8:38 pace), and I had finished 5 seconds later at 26:52 (8:40 pace). I’m not sure how much faster per mile your 5k pace is supposed to be than your 10k pace (Listen to me, “supposed to be” ugh–I annoy myself sometimes!)–but according to the numbers, I didn’t do nearly as bad as I thought I did. After almost a week since the race, here are my takeaways:
- I have very little experience “racing”. I’ve participated in a lot of runs and I’ve had rough time goals for them, but I think this is the first time I’ve had such a focus on getting faster and on measuring the results of the work I’ve put in. We thought the race started at 7:15, but it seemed to start a bit earlier. As we (and others) approached the starting line the majority of runners had already left and the volunteers let us know “race starts when you cross that line!” It was a bit jarring. I didn’t feel totally prepared. I never realized the push that starting in that big group gives you. Because we started late and participants were at all different paces, we never really felt like we were in a race with other people until the very end. I think getting in a racing mindset takes a bit of practice? Perhaps you more experienced runners can weigh in on this. Anyway, just another skill I look forward to honing as I move forward in this sport.
- Night racing is a bit different! I may have to play around with how much activity I have in a day and what I eat. I did a 90 minute Bikram class the morning of the race to get stretched out. While I was diligent about replacing my electrolytes and getting enough fluids, it was more of a challenge to recuperate and prepare to run in 80 degree weather. I think our warm-up run to the park was good–enough to get loose but not so much that it took anything out of me.
- I didn’t run how I run. My workouts have been so specific lately–tempo, mile repeats, intervals, hill repeats–everything has a focus. I think somewhere I lost sight of the fact that although these runs are making me a more dynamic runner, I still have to approach races with some intuition. The most natural type of run for me is a progression run, where I start slower and gradually build my speed. Whether my pace is slower or not, I know this is something I do well. I don’t ever go out too fast, I never spend my energy quickly and end with nothing to give. But this race, that’s exactly what I did. I was so preoccupied with time that I thought I had to get to my goal pace right away. I thought with the warm-up that would be fine, that I would just treat it like a 3 mile tempo. I think I’ve learned that that’s just not how I perform best. It makes me feel like I’m running in fear, instead of trusting my training. Even in a short race like a 5k, I’ve got to learn to build my speed in order to have that strong finish that’s so important to me.
- I need podcasts or music. More power to the silent runners–I’m just not there yet and am not sure I ever will be. Without something else to focus on, I get in my head in a way that’s really detrimental. I went sans headphones this time because I was with my hubs. This would have been fine if we were running more casually, but since I had decided I was racing, we didn’t do that much talking. Funnily enough, the craziness that dominated my brain for almost the entire 5k was about my husband. He hasn’t been running as much lately as he’s been busy writing papers and finishing up his Master’s Degree. This fact bewildered me as he ran strong and seemingly effortlessly and basically kicked my butt the entire race. The whole time I ran I was comparing myself to him and telling myself that all my work was for shit-that my fitness was crap. Obviously these shitty thoughts were what was crap. Music or a podcast would have helped me drown them out and focus on myself. I will remember that next time! (Oh, and also, super proud of my hubs and what a strong runner he is!)
- Nothing went wrong. I’m so dramatic. I did fine! All of this is just experimentation anyway so it was really good to see where I’m at. I’m not sure what that 8:40 pace means yet, I am now even more curious to see how the 10k goes. Because I felt so exhausted and this run felt so hard, I started to have a bit of apprehension about trying to race double the distance. I began to have doubts about my workouts. My mile repeats have all been inside on the treadmill where I’ve been able to set the pace at 8:49 and control all the variables. I started to fear I wouldn’t be able to replicate that pace for that same mileage out on the road. BUT–instead of letting that fear eat away at me, on Sunday, I got my butt out on the streets for the same workout. These were the results:
That first mile was a warm-up, then I did 6 mile repeats after that (and then walked for a mile, which is not shown here). I don’t know, I think I kinda kicked ass–especially in that last mile.
For all you sticklers out there, I know this is probably not a perfect mile repeat workout–I progressively got faster instead of sticking to my goal pace. But I have to say, this run not only felt fantastic physically, but was also a huge breakthrough mentally. I ended it knowing that my training was not shit–that I actually am improving and becoming a stronger runner. Nowadays, that’s an indication I’m becoming a stronger person as well–and that’s pretty damn exciting.
What’s the way you race? Do you keep a consistent pace throughout? Build as you go? Start out fast and then try and hang on till the end? What works for you?
Whether it’s a Parkrun or a charity 5k, do you feel like you are “racing” or running? Do you feel like there’s a difference? Talk to me about that!
What makes you doubt your training? What makes you believe in it? Is it only results–the numbers? Or are there other indications that you are improving that keep you going?
Who runs with headphones? What do they do for you? Who runs without them? What does that do for you?
pics: mike bradley ❤