Friday, July 14, 2017

My Initial Check-In Race for this training cycle: Belmar 5, Belmar, NJ, 7/8/17

To solidify my focus and to get a handle on what my training paces should be right now, I needed a "Check-In" Race. 

I also needed to wait until I felt ready to enjoy the experience. It was going to be a challenging day, with a race time that was much slower than I have run in the past, as it should be. I worked incredibly hard for my PRs last Fall. I am not at that level of fitness now. I am having fun on the track. My long runs are up to 18M. I am doing my hill work. 

Starting over can be hard to do, but once the ball is rolling, positive progress can be made. I know that reminiscing about past performances and feeling "bad" that we am not running as fast right now does nothing to move us forward or make us fitter. That is wasted energy, negatively toned, that only operates to hold us back. It is human to think about where we have been and how great we have run before, but that is the past. Today is not that day. To get fitter I know I need to assess where I am right now, in this moment, and build from here. I don't have a lot of trouble moving past that hurdle once I get started. It is the first race back that is the hardest step. I need to wait until I feel ready and then all it takes one Check-In Race to give me a new present focus to build from. Today I found my focus. 

After a beach run with Kim last week, I emailed Suz. I had been asked by Laura if I was racing again. Suz was building a team could use some runners. I wasn’t going to make any promises about my ability. I had no idea what I could do.  I needed a race to find out. I could promise to be a body on the roster if she needed runners to field a team. Suz was happy to let me on!  Thank you!

My last race was a 10K in April. At Mile 4, I strained my Achilles.  It was a weird mishap that was not from training, but rather from walking 8M (unplanned) the day before in crap shoes and really exhausting my calves and Achilles. (Sometimes it is what we do when not training that has the biggest impact on our race day experience).  When I started running to 10k, my Achilles was already very tired. I truly needed recovery from that walk, not to run 6:45 pace up a hill. By M4 of that race, my Achilles just gave out. I knew I was going to need a lot of time to recover. I just should have stayed home that day, but I had no way to really know I was not going be able to run 6M and finish in one piece. Just the week before I ran a 1:30 20k with a 6:35 final mile. I thought I be ok.  I was mistaken.   

So today, I was a bit anxious about racing again. I did not want to restrain my Achilles. Trust is hard to build back once broken, but the only way back is to take some calculated risks and accept the consequences. There was no reason to think I would get hurt. I took a long time to heal properly. I felt 100% well. I was not just race-ready.

Because I am still building up my volume and this was not a goal race, I wanted more than just 5M of running, especially if I was going to take a drive to the beach (45 minutes each way). Kim had 8M on her plan, so we met at 5:45 am, caught the sunrise, and ran that together as my “warm up”.

We parked just over a half mile from the race staging area (so Kim could be sure to get out of Belmar easily). SuperDave came down to race. He parked in the same lot, arriving as I was in my car trying to remember what it felt like to lace up a pair of racing flats. Dave and I got our bibs, I found some of my teammates, and we headed to the start.

The first race back always feels a little surreal. My body hadn't felt the rush of the neurochemical cocktail that primes the CNS to perform in a long time. 

During the warm-up, Kim asked me what I thought I would do. 

Me: “Oh Jeez, I have no idea??? I really hope to be between 7 and 8, but I would be really happy with sub-9! I haven’t run anything in the 8’s in a long time. I hope I can run 8:30s!” 

Kim: “OMG! You will be faster than that! Would you be happy with 7:30’s?” 

Me: "Absolutely! I would be thrilled with 7:30s. I ran 6:38 here last year… I don’t expect that to happen today.”

Just jogging to the start felt hard. The 8M 10:00 paced warm up felt hard. I had trouble imagining running in the 8:00’s. It is human to reflect back on how fast and fit I was just months ago and feel “something’ about not being in that type of shape again. But I was ready to see where I stand.  In some ways, this is "Just a Race." But for me, running is also my livelihood. The bulk of my income comes from my coaching. I need to be able to perform well (for me), to role model good balance, and to practice what I preach. It is very very important for my survival and this often makes running and racing much more important to me in some ways than probably most of the runners standing there at the start alongside me.

I line up a few rows back, further than I would if I was fitter. After the National Anthem, off we go. I am immediately trapped behind a wall of people, most running too slow for where they seeded themselves. I try to find my way around groups of runners without running too far out of my way. I try to be patient, but I really just need room to run without getting jostled around. 

After hitting the accelerator to get clear space, I see my pace is 6:28 at less than a half mile into this thing. I am pleasantly surprised! No way! I didn't expect to see that at all.  It is clearly too fast, but it doesn't feel terrible and that is the best part!  

I pump the breaks to get myself closer to a 7:00 pace. I feel good! My breathing is not out of control (yet). My legs feel springy and energized. Nothing hurts!  But I know running too fast is a trap. Lactate is building up, imperceptibly, behind the scenes in my blood stream. It is only a matter of seconds to minutes before a pace that seemed unbelievably easy to hold becomes soul-crushingly hard and requires even more slow-down to recover from after the LT is over-shot that if I just slowed before overshooting, which then destroys average overall pace. I decide to aim for 7:00 and see how that feels. I work on slowly, slowing down but a part of me is still falling for the false promises my lungs and legs are making me, making me wonder if 6:45 is possible… I slow and hit M1 6:44.  

Ok, I have 4M more to go and I know better than to start too fast. No. 6:45 average pace is not possible. I am out of practice. I have no frame of reference. What is "too fast?" I have no idea? Negative splitting everything is what brought me great success last season.  Going out too fast on a wing and pray is a formula for negative experiences, not negative splits. Accepting my ability and working on control, holding back until it is time to kick, this is the path to PRs. But to do this I need to trust that I know my ability really well. Today, I am not sure of my ability so I get to mess this race up judgment free and then use the information I gather to make better decisions next time. Next time, I will have no excuse to not negative split. No pressure ;) 

I get the watch to read 7:0x. Could I possibly come back in M5 with a strong enough kick to dip me back into 6:59 average? Maybe?   Let's make that the plan: Find a seemingly sustainable pace and try to reserve another gear for M5. I stop looking at the watch and start running by feel. I don’t care what the pace says, sustainable is a feeling, not a time. M2: 7:04 

We continue on towards Ocean Ave. I can hear Dave D. playing his trumpet. That makes me smile. I wave my arms to catch his attention and he cheers for me like I am winning the Olympics! This gave me a little boost as I head down the road that parallels the boardwalk that I run almost weekly. 

A guy moves to my side and says “So are we Winning this thing!?"

I answer “I don’t know about you, but I am! I haven't run a race in months so just getting myself to the Start was a Win for me… this stuff, the running part, this is the celebration!”… 

He says something back, that I can’t make out and then pulls ahead. I let him go. I am running by feel. I don’t care what others around me do. M3 7:04.

We turn and I feel tired. The pace is catching up to me. I am about to blow past my threshold. I feel my legs subtly heavier. I feel my breathing has increased a little. I have 2M to go. I slow a little because I want to make sure I have something left for M5. I don't look at my watch. I don't care what it says. Again, I just run by feel. This is the only way I know to run my best. Sustainable is a feeling, not a time on the watch. M4 7:19.  

As we hit 1M to go, I starting thinking in tenths. "Just tenths to go!"  I start thinking about the intervals I do and how I ran 59 seconds for the last 300 after doing 14 other 300s before it.  How maybe with 1 minute to go, I can find a faster gear, not 300 meters in 59 seconds fast, but faster than what I am doing now. 

I focus on form, try to keep up my turnover, and work the last mile the best I could. About three ladies blow past me in the last mile... I just let them go. Today is the day for competition to crush me down the home stretch, but come fall, I hope to be the one with the blazing fast finish. Today is not that day. M5 7:04

Once I met back up with SuperDave we walked back to the car. I was hoping to head back to the venue to socialize with my team, take photos, cheer on the award winners. But once at my car, I realized it was almost 10:00 am, I had 8 runners on my roster to write plans for and I wanted to be done with work as soon as possible. I messaged Laura and Suz to apologize for leaving. I just really needed to get home to work.  

I did not expect to win anything. It turns out I was 1st in my Age Group a--nd our team actually won overall too!  <3  

This is a great way to start the training cycle!  

Time:  35:19 (7:04)
Place: 26th F OA
AG: 1st Place

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