Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Winning Silver

The Alabama State Games are going on in Huntsville this week. Sunday was the first ever State Games 5K!

I had not planned on running it. I was supposed to be directing the Youth Triathlon Saturday. Race directing usually zaps me so I had not signed up. Plus, I was thinking I might be needed as a volunteer. But because registration for the youth tri was super low, and the weather wasn't cooperative, my race was officially cancelled Wednesday night....and the 5K RD told me she had enough volunteers...so I decided I would do the 5K.

As of Friday there were only about 20 people signed up for the race so there was a very good chance I was going to qualify for Nationals (by default) depending on who showed up. I figured with my luck I would be the 4th in my age group to sign up and therefore NOT qualify. I could have easily found out but I didn't want to. I wanted to just show up, do my best, and let the outcome be what it would be.

I have had this nagging cough since back before the Give it Back Track 5K. In fact, my throat got sore the Thursday before the race. I was then diagnosed with (possible) walking pneumonia. (The dr didn't test me for it, she based her assessment on symptoms and the fact that no other meds, even a steroid shot, were working.) I thought I was getting better after Cotton Row but I still have these random coughing fits. Nothing seems to help and it's seriously driving me crazy. It seems to be worse at night. Consequently I didn't sleep well the night before the race. When I was up about an hour before my alarm, I almost turned it off to try to get some more sleep. But I quickly remembered that I actually really wanted to run this 5K.

The course started at the Rocket Center and ran down past Aviation Challenge and to the Botanical Gardens then back, finishing by going through the Rocket Park. This course is almost identical to what the high school kids bike in the Kids Fly Tri, and is similar to part of the Rocket City Marathon course. I knew the part from AC to the Gardens is a steady uphill and there are some little stingers (for me) at some other points. But it's a really fun course overall.

I'm not a fan of really small races. More often than not I like interacting with spectators. But my goal for this race was to try to run the whole thing (no matter how slow) and to give my very best effort. Sometimes when there are a lot of people (participants or spectators) I can get too interactive! I figured I would be last, or close to last, in this little race since I didn't figure many slower runners would sign up for a "State Games" race. I had decided that was going to have to be okay. SOMEONE  has to be last. And, in this race "last" was still going to be "21st overall" which sounds VERY impressive! :D

So I got up and showered (my usual pre-race ritual even though I know I'll get nasty/sweaty/stinky during the race I like to start out very fresh)! I ate a banana and headed to the Rocket Center. I got my bib and went to warm up. It was SO HUMID outside it felt like I was breathing water! Overall I felt sluggish but my legs were turning over better than they were a few months ago so I was at least hopeful.

With very little fanfare we were off promptly at 7am. 21 people at the start of a race feels like a very small fun run but with less talking and laughing! The only ones talking were two moms running with 2 little boys in the back with me. They were obviously just out for a fun run with their sons.

I have said it before, and I'll say it again...I ALWAYS race, even if I'm just "completing". I tend to think everyone does but maybe I'm wrong. My secondary goal (after "run the whole time") was to finish in front of the four of them! How sad...finish in front of two little boys and their mothers who were obviously capable of much faster running. But, goals are goals!

Little kids are funny...they "always" start off WAY too fast. These boys were no exception. Because I really didn't want to be dead last from the start, I was sticking with them. When I looked down at my watch about .25 in and saw a 9:xx pace I panicked a little bit. I knew I couldn't hold that. I knew hills were coming. I knew that was going against the number one thing on my "do not do" list...DO NOT start out too fast! In fact I started in the back trying to not let the adrenaline of the start of a race get me carried away. Yet, here I was running WAY faster than I had any business starting out. But yet I couldn't bring myself to slow down!! When we got to the first little increase in elevation the little boys fell back and I settled in.

Did I mention how HOT it was? Holy moly...hot and humid don't mix well. I do not regulate heat very well...thanks to my janky thyroid. Because of this* I have taken to running in a sports bra with no shirt. I have found I REALLY love the air on my stomach and it actually seems to make a BIG difference! But, because the race bib was so tiny I couldn't use my race belt. And because I wasn't thinking about taking my shirt off I had pinned my bib to my shirt...so I couldn't take it off. I wasn't even to mile one and I was already fading. But I told myself fading was okay, walking was not..."just keep running even if you slow down". I saw Dwayne at the aid station just after mile one. He gave me some good encouragement but I knew what was coming.

It's not a big hill like the one in Cotton Row. It's long and steady. Looking at the elevation profile on Garmin makes it seem like there's not even really an increase. But it's there and it seems like it's never  going to end! (It's actually only about a quarter of a mile long.)

There was another young boy in front of me (I figured he was about 12) who had been walking earlier on a down hill...I told him not to waste the downhill since an uphill was coming. On that uphill he started walking again. I'd like to say I had mercy on him and didn't pass him to save his budding teenage pride. But really I just needed a walk break! I gave myself right at 30 seconds and then started up again. So did he!

We rounded the turnaround corner and headed back. He started walking again (on the downhill). I was close enough to have a little chat with him** so I said "look, I'm an old lady. You don't want me to beat you! And, fair warning...if I'm with you at the finish, I WILL out-kick you, no doubt about it. So if you want to beat me, you have to put time in on me now!" It worked and he started running again...and then he yelled out "OUCH!!" I was about even with him then so I asked if he was okay. He said a leaf hit him in the eye but he was okay as I passed him. I took another little walk break and checked on him ***. He assured me he was fine so I started running again. I didn't see him again after that (until he crossed the finish line...after me).

When I got back to the aid station, I stopped to tell Dwayne how hot it was (he obviously wasn't feeling the same heat I was!) and I poured a cup of water on my neck. Looking at my data, that little thing (stopping for a couple of seconds and the cold water on my neck) dropped my HR seven beats! It didn't stay down though. Two minutes later I told myself I could have my third and last walk break.

It wasn't.

I know the middle of a race is the hardest. You are over the rush of the start and the relief of the end isn't in sight yet. My HR is usually pretty high relative to my pace. That's when I entered into negotiations with my body. "Okay...one more little walk break and then you'll tough it out to the finish, right?" My body gave one of those half-hearted nods but with fingers crossed! After my 4th walk break I entered the rocket park. I knew I only had about 1/2 mile to go at that point. I knew there was one TINY little "hill" going from the shuttle out toward the exit. But I also knew the finish was coming.

And yet, I couldn't hold on. I STARTED WALKING AGAIN. I was internally screaming at myself--"RUN!!! ...I mean...come on! You are at the finish! You CAN do it!" My body was like "..." well, I won't even write what my body was saying but it was obviously NOT going to run.

Until...

I rounded a little corner and heard a familiar voice of a friend yell "come on Dana!"...and just like that my body kicked into gear and started going again...all the way to the finish line...

34:11 by my watch. 10:50 average pace, 10:46 average moving pace. 8:39 best pace (in the first quarter mile no doubt!). Fastest paced run for 3 miles  I've had in over three years. In fact, I had to go back to October of 2015 to find one better! (I've had a couple of shorter faster runs but that's like comparing an apple to an orange.)

When I take a deep dive into my data, I couldn't be more thrilled! It's easy to say "I shouldn't have taken the breaks I did" but the data explains to me what was going on. Sure there's an aspect of mentally being able to push through adversity (just suck it up and be uncomfortable), but given where I've been and looking at all the factors at play...I could NOT be more thrilled with this race!! It's EASY to see why I walked. Every. Single. Time. And it's encouraging to see how my body responded to a decrease in elevation and how it reacted to the breaks (and the water dump!).

My effort landed me a 2nd place age group finish which qualified me for Nationals! (Who cares that it was 2nd of 2 or that it just so happened that EVERYONE who participated qualified because there were no more than 3 participants in any one 10-year age group?!)

I honestly feel like I've finally turned a corner. If I can train through the summer heat, when fall hits I will be ready to rock and roll! (Now I just have to find a race to focus on! Preferably one with more people in it and one where I'm not trying to compete against little boys!)

Thanks for stopping by and sticking around!

Footnotes:
*There was recently a "Bra Squad" run where women were encouraged (if they wanted to) run in just a bra (on top). I didn't get to go to that run but I had run a couple of times without a shirt and have found I like it A LOT. And, this post by a friend of mine after that run was total affirmation that "every body is a running body".

**Honestly, I usually think if I can chat, I'm NOT running as hard as I really can, but after looking at my data, I know what was going on and I like it (I'll explain in a later post).

***I honestly thought he was fading and needed an excuse to let me just pass him already. I didn't think he was really injured or that he needed assistance or I would have stopped.

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