St. Pat’s 5k Recap

Only two weeks (…ish) late. That’s not bad, right? I thought about just letting it go, being a little baby 5k, and kind of anticlimactic after the NYC Half (which I’m still dancing around all excited about. Is there a limit on how long I can get away with that?). However, it was a good little race for me, so I think it deserves its moment in the spotlight.

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I wore this to work last week. I swear the matching nail polish was not intentional.

Plus, it’s far more interesting than my workouts this past week (Friday: 3000 yrd swim; Saturday: 60 minutes yoga), or the fact that I’m sick and living on crackers, grapes, and tea. Especially since only the tea is out of the ordinary.

Anyway.

In general, I don’t love 5ks. I look at them and see SUCH a short distance that it hardly seems worth it (which isn’t remotely valid, but there you are). And then I start running and remember that running fast (SO relative) is HARD. I don’t usually plan on racing 5ks when I sign up for them; they tend to end up being training runs with 2-3 miles tacked on at the beginning and end, so I really don’t have a great idea of what my 5k time actually is.

I mostly signed up for the St. Pat’s 5k because, being a week before St. Patrick’s Day, I thought this would allow me to celebrate St. Patrick’s Week and the race didn’t start until 11:15, so I could still sleep in. Score. On race morning, feeling festive and all, I got decked out in green, shamrocks, my Dublin finisher’s shirt, and even my old, 8th grade, bottle green gym skirt. And to think I couldn’t see the point in a gym skirt when I was 13. Little did I know…

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The race itself is part of a three race series, The Tour de Patrick, that takes place in the RI/MA area with each race happening right before the individual towns’ St. Patrick’s Day Parades, making full use of the people getting ready to watch the parade as course-side support. I got to the race early enough, and had no problem getting my bib and shirt. There was enough parking close to the start that I could walk back to the car (with my family dutifully following along), drop off my shirt, and still have time to listen to the band and check out the various costumes before pushing politely making my way through the hordes of people at the start.

I wasn’t exactly sure what my “strategy” was going to be. This was the week when I felt sort of injured, and really tired, and was single mindedly obsessed with New York, and since I have no concept of what makes a good 5k strategy anyway, I was at a total loss. So I decided to try and keep a pace slightly faster than my half goal pace, and go from there.

Standing in the start chute, I actually got kind of excited. Dropkick Murphys blasted over the speakers, which is excellent pump up music, being a Boston sports fan and all, and then the gun went off! We started on a slight uphill, but quickly crested it and got to fly down the other side. People were on the parade route, at least two little girls called out that they liked my skirt, and I was feeling good.

So good, in fact, that my first mile clocked in at 6:59. Way back in high school, I did a single semester of track, during which I ran the mile and the two mile. I only broke 7 minutes in the mile once, and I spent the rest of the day feeling like I was going to throw up. And here I was cruising in at sub-7 for the first mile of a 5k! Not sure exactly what to do with that, but there you are. I was pretty happy!

Mile 2 was hillier (as in: gradual uphill, gradual downhill, slightly more noticeable uphill. Providence is hardly mountainous.) and my pace slowed WAY down: 7:46. Umm, yikes. Although still at half goal pace, so there’s that? I think I didn’t quite remember that this was a shorter race, and so pulled myself way back, in the name of not going out to fast, before I remembered that I did not, in fact, have another 11 miles waiting for me.

So in Mile 3 I picked it up again. Nothing as crazy as Mile 1, but I came in at around 7:20. The last .1 I let loose and sprinted – it didn’t hurt that it was down a hill – and it felt WONDERFUL. I know I said that I rekindled my love of running in NYC, but I got a hint of that run happy feeling in Providence and I definitely think having that taste of it helped me in my half. Despite my all over the place pacing, I finished with an average pace of around 7:20 and a new PR of 22:49.

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RUN LOVE.

At the finish, I found my family, checked out some more costumes, and then took off. I was too cold to stay for the parade (continuing my streak of horrible Rhode Islander, since I didn’t even know there WAS a parade until this year), so instead we got some coffee, and made our way back home.

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Also, there was jumping.

I’m glad I decided to do this race, and I’m especially glad I went in just trying to get a sense of what actually running a 5k feels like. I know my time wasn’t fast by any means, but according to McMillan – my new best friend since he suggested that a BQ was not completely out of reach – it’s right where I’m expected to be. While I’d love to get faster, I think in terms of 5ks, I should work on more even pacing first, and then see if I can relive the high school glory days of 7 minute miles throughout.

In other news, this zero week has been good for me. As mentioned, I’m still riding the high of NYC, and I’m letting my body just crash and enjoy it (minus the being sick part, but whatever). By Thursday, I was definitely spending a ton of time cruising different race websites looking for the Next Big Thing (NBT) and getting excited for all the possibilities, and this is exactly how I want to be feeling!

This week I’ll start to ease my way back into things: hopefully get to cut back on the tea, get my voice back, and see if I can pin down some solid options for the NBT. Preferably one that lets me see just how accurate those McMillan numbers are… In the past month, I’ve conquered PRs and hills, and I’m starting to feel like I can do anything. And I can’t wait to put that to the test.

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My week in workouts

Monday (3/11): 90 minutes yoga

Tuesday: 40 minutes elliptical

Wednesday: Rest

Thursday: 3.14 mile run (Pi day! Please excuse me while I totally geek out.)

Friday: 2500 yard swim

Saturday: Rest/walking around Manhattan

Sunday: NYC Half Marathon aka The Greatest Day Ever

 

Last week I complained about not having a lot happening on a day to day basis. This week, looking back and looking at my out-of-nowhere-didn’t-think-it was-possible PR, I realize that maybe what I was doing was actually something like tapering successfully.

Given my history with taper, that would definitely explain all the crazy I’ve been dealing with recently as well.

After my last marathon, I didn’t give myself a lot of time to rest. I jumped straight back into running long. Some of it was definitely for the love of running, but I also had days where I had to force myself to get out the door, or panicked when I didn’t  And for what? There was the fear that if I stopped for too long, I’d lose too much. But I don’t want to be someone who runs out of fear (ya know, unless something big is chasing me, I guess?). 

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Marine Corps Marathon meets Jurassic Park?

I want to run because I enjoy it. Sure, some days will be tough, but that’s different than hating every step and feeling no satisfaction after. Tough is ok. That other possibility isn’t.

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Running happy

On Sunday, I recaptured my love of running, and I do NOT want to lose it again. I expect this current week will look even barer workout wise, but I’m ok with that. I’m giving myself a pass. I’ve got some little things coming up, but the next big thing on my race calendar is a Half Ironman in June, and I don’t want to struggle to train while staying one rest day ahead of a burnout. This week was my reminder that I can take time to give my body what it needs without sacrificing all the hard work I’ve put in. In fact, rest will actually allow me to get the benefits of all that hard work.

This is hardly some revolutionary concept. Some might call it “common sense” and those people would also be forgiven for saying “Welcome to the party, Steph, we were wondering when you’d finally show up.” Fair enough. But…better late than never?

So yeah, my point: This week, I plan on just basking in the glory of my ongoing high from Sunday. I might do some yoga. I might go skiing. I will definitely hit the pool. I may or may not do some running. And if I do? It will not be long running by any means. We’re talking something along the lines of Pi Day round 2.

It’s nice to know that I can stay strong (ish) during a borderline burnout, and accomplish some great things, but I don’t want that to be my default. I want to get faster, sure, but not if the process involves more mental lows than highs. This is going to be a week of minimal running, or running only when I really WANT to, in hopes that this will recharge me and get me ready for a long year of total run love. Until then, you can find me lounging around in my brand new compression socks (Pink! And Argyle!), most likely surrounded by Reese’s Eggs and talking to anyone who will listen about the glory that was the NYC Half. And I couldn’t be happier.

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Just relaxing with my race number. Normal.

The Magic of NYC

I was in a weird place going into Sunday’s NYC Half Marathon. I was thrilled with my Hyannis time, but still annoyed with my shoes, and those stupid four seconds. I was annoyed with myself for letting a few seconds, in horrible conditions, prevent me from enjoying what was actually a huge accomplishment. I was concerned about my hamstring, and unsure how to balance easing off and resting, with feeling ready and well prepared for NYC. I was too hungry or too full. I was tired, both physically and mentally. I didn’t feel like finishing my swim workout on Friday, so I didn’t. And I didn’t even care.

I was very aware of all the things that felt “off”, and that was stressing me out. I didn’t want to be tired, or stressed. I had heard from a friend that the NYC half course was The Best Course Ever, and I wanted to enjoy it. I wanted to go fast, but I didn’t want to hurt, and I was terrified that I would go into some weird zone, miss everything going on around me, and just not enjoy the race. Wah wah wah, panic, panic panic, rinse, repeat. Super fun, y’all. Sorry for that glimpse into the scary place that is my head. I swear it’s not usually that bad.

My parents were wonderful enough to drive me to NYC so they could watch me run, and by Saturday night, I think we were all tired of dealing with my mental spin cycle. We ate some carbs and they went to bed while I laid out my clothes for Sunday, gave my legs one more once over with my stick, painted my nails neon green and passed out.

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Up before the sun

Sunday morning came quick and COLD. 29 degrees cold. With a balmy 40 predicted as the high for the day. I BUNDLED up, and I was lucky enough to have my parents wake up for the super early start, so I could wear my warm clothes to my corral and not have to worry about checking them ahead of time. In the park, the energy was starting to build. Runners, volunteers, and spectators were everywhere. I made it to my corral and was the first person in the porta-potty. Call that overshare if you like, but I called it a sign that good things were happening.

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Normal amount of patterns

The sun came up, the corral filled, and music started playing. I was jumping around/dancing to stay warm and just felt good being at the start. I triple knotted my shoes – NO chances this time. We started moving towards the start, corral by corral, and I was ready – and excited! We crossed the line, Garmins beeped, and we were off!

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Happy Steph, running

Sort of. Of course there was the giant crush of people at the start. Finding paces, warming up, running four across… I didn’t want to weave and waste energy. Instead, I decided to be zen about this: take opportunities when they arise, and stay calm when they don’t. The hills were in the first half, so I could probably expect a slower pace to start anyway. I’d negative split. Make things up later. Stay positive.

And somehow, with that decision, my whole outlook shifted. It took me until well into mile 1, but I finally felt good. I felt calm, relaxed but excited, and ready to take on the course. My first mile beeped in at an 8:06 pace. I knew I needed to maintain an 8:00 or lower to break 1:45. I decided to let that be my last “slow” mile, saw a gap up ahead, and took it. I saw the first hill and I swear I actually thought “My shoes are triple knotted and I can do anything. Bring it, motherfucker.” which was SO ridiculous that I laughed out loud, but I ran up the hill, no problem.

The race kept getting better. I survived the hills, took the little opportunities to move up when I could, but kept my weaving to a minimum; my watch distance stayed right on track with the mile markers. I still felt like I was staying out of my head, and was able to enjoy everything happening in the park. There were dogs! Cowbells! Ponds? Pretty! SO SOON, we rounded a corner and I realized that I was seeing signs for corrals again. We were almost finished with the park and with that the first 6 miles. When did that happen? No time to wonder. We turned right onto 7th Ave and out into the streets of New York.

And that’s when my love of life, and all things running, turned into a full blown couldn’t bring me back to earth if you tried Runner’s High. I could see the lights of Times Square up ahead. The lights of Times Square! The road felt like it was moving in a decidedly downward direction, and my legs still felt fresh. There was something so magical about seeing no cars, buses, taxis – just runners filling up the streets. Bands played and the lights just kept getting closer and closer. I couldn’t stop smiling.

We turned down 42nd and made it to the West Side Highway. There was a little bit of wind, but what was wind after all those hills? I triple knotted my shoes; I’m ready to take on the world. As a side note, I love running along rivers. Give me a city with a river, and a pair of Brooks and I am one happy girl. I spent the summer of 2012 falling completely in love with New York and part of that was because every time I came into the city, I made time to run along the West Side bike path. So when we turned, I felt like I was on my home turf, and I couldn’t imagine a better place to be.

I passed mile 9, with my pace still holding strong. I was feeling good, but was a little worried; I was approaching the dreaded 10 mile mark. Those last 3 miles got me in Hyannis, and before that in Dublin. I didn’t want that to happen here. As I was telling myself that ALL I needed to do was maintain the pace I’d been keeping pretty consistently – easy right? – I looked up and saw one of my best friends, 8, and her parents up ahead. I knew they were going to try and be out on the course, but I also knew it was very cold and very early in the morning, so I would have understood if they had opted for a warmer, later start to their morning. But there they were! I waved and they whipped out their cameras while cheering super loudly (impressive multi-tasking). The people around them joined in. And just like that, I wasn’t worried about mile 10.

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Courtesy of 8

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Another one courtesy of Super Photographer 8

At mile 12, my mind thought perhaps I should have some sort of moment of doubt so that I wouldn’t start thinking this was easy, but at that moment I happened to be running past the 9/11 memorial, and there is no room for negativity in the shadow of the 9/11 memorial. Sorry brain, none of your crazy here. Not this race.

A good portion of the last mile (1/3? Maybe?) was in a tunnel. The energy was literally echoing and I knew we were almost there. I could pull a 10 minute mile and still PR (LIKE. HELL. was I going to let that happen, but it was nice to know, just the same). We passed a sign saying 800m to the finish. I was close enough to measure in meters! There was a little hill to get out of the tunnel, but no big deal, laces tied, whatever. 400m to go. I could see the 13 mile marker up ahead, and I picked up my pace a little bit. There was a turn right past the marker, so I took the right, and I kicked.

I made a point of not checking my watch right at the finish. Who really cares? I didn’t want to waste a minute focusing on anything but what was going on around me. When I finally did check, I couldn’t quite believe it. My time was a full three minutes off my Hyannis PR. I didn’t think that was possible, and I knew my Garmin got a bit confused in the tunnel but I wanted SO BADLY to believe it.

8 had been tracking me using the app, and by the time I got my phone back – after hurling myself at my mom and dad in the reunion area – she had already texted me my official time: 1:41.57. A brand new, unbelievable, PR.

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This is what happy looks like

This race was incredible. I had such a shaky start after weeks of weird issues, both physical and mental, but the NYC half captured all the best parts of running and reminded me why this is something I truly love. Yes, the PR was great (really great), but the fact that I managed to pull it off, after having decided that I didn’t care as much about the time as the run itself, was even better. I kept a consistent pace, faster than I thought I could (7.47). I felt fresh and ran mostly by feel; I didn’t let the numbers psych me out, and I just soaked in the awesome experience. I can’t even begin to describe how amazing it was having my family – and the people who are basically my second family – there. I’ve run a lot of races on my own, and that’s fine, but having people along the course and waiting at the end makes crossing the finish line that much sweeter.

As for the race itself, it was well run and organized. I am SO grateful for the volunteers and spectators who came out in the freezing cold (seriously, the water at the early stations froze) to cheer for and support the runners. The NYC Half is definitely a race you have to do at least once, and I know I’m going to do it as many times as I can. I swear the high from this year might just carry me to March 2014.