Well, I almost didn't go. Most of my morning was spent in contemplation of just staying home. But since I knew I was going to run something anyway, I decided I might as well just show up, try my best, and use this race as a workout at the worst.
I have had a lingering cold for two weeks. I am guessing mild bronchitis? Who knows. I don't feel horrible. I had a fever two weeks ago. But the last week and an half I have had a cough, chest and head congestion, a constant stuffed up nose, and stupid split lip that will not heal (likely from breathing dry air all day through my mouth since my nose is non-functional).
The only time I actually have felt ok over the past two weeks is when I run. But I stopped doing speed work. I cut back the intensity but I did crank up the volume because it felt good. The activity clears my chest and I can breath. Then I stop running and my head fills with congestion again. This is getting so old.
I was looking forward to this 5k race because it is the first 500 points race of the year for the 2020 USATF-NJ Long Distance Running Grand Prix. I wanted to start off well.
My last 5k was frustrating because I thought I could run faster than I did. I felt I had no final gear. I didn’t like that feeling.
I was hoping to run this 5k faster that the last one (19:38) but mostly I wanted to have a kick at the end. If I felt great I wanted to run 6:05 pace or better here today. I would have loved to see at least one 5:59 mile. To be fair, this race has a decline to the finish so there is really no excuse for me to not have a faster last mile than the one before it which has in incline. However, having what is probably some type of bronchitis for two week is not really setting me up to succeed. So I lowered my standards.
I got 2.5 miles of warm up before the start and actually gave myself enough time to use the restrooms and focus on my race without panic. I timed my pre-race routine. I need at least 30 minutes of pre-race time to get my act together. From here forward, that pre-race time needs to be protected time for me, free from chit chat or other people's problems. It is the minumum amount of time I need to focus and that doesn't even count warm-up miles. I can run warm up miles with people and chit chat then. But at 30 minutes to gun time, don't talk to me anymore. It's not you, it's me ;)
I lined up towards the front, two rows back, and wondered if I would be able to hold low-6 minute pace with a chest cold? I would try. I would let myself fall off pace if I felt I needed to based upon my body’s response to the effort. I was comfortable with that plan.
The gun went off and I started off a bit fast. I look at my watch and I see 5:40 for the first tenth of a mile or so. Ok. I can run.
We turn toward the incline and it feels like a mountain to me. Ugh. At least it is short. I didn't want to slow too much until I knew where I was in the race. I got jammed up at the start behind some guys who were not aware I wanted to get through. I had no idea what place I was in for women. I saw some ladies doing strides before the race so I suspected some were there to race fast.
The first lap of the park is clear and the lead runners get to take the inside of the loop. But when we start lap two, one problem with the bigger turnout is now the leaders have to run in the outside lane of the circular road because runners are lapping the walkers. This adds unavoidable distance to the runners race, but not really too much. It just feels "wrong" to have to run so far outside the tangent.
Just before Mile 1 I am passed by a female runner and wondered how many more were ahead of me. One specator then said I was 3rd... the rest said I was 2nd.
I have no idea what happened to me in Mile 2 that cause me to lose 13 seconds. It didn’t feel like I faded that much but I did. I know I slowed up when I merged with the crowd I was lapping but I just moved over and expected to run long. That is fine. The Clock Time didn't matter to me today. I dont need it for any reason. I could see my watch's data for pace even on a long course.
I was getting hot. I had worn an extra layer to the start. I was going to throw it to the side before we started and I should have. But the wind was kicking up and we were standing around long enough for me to feel cooler than I wanted to feel at the start. I thought I need it the whole way. But by mile 1, I realized I did not need it and it would slow me down. I fumbled to try to pull it off.
I was struggling with my breathing at the same time as we were running back up the initial incline part of the loop. I can’t bear to call it a hill. It is not steep, but it was definitely impacting my breathing so I slowed down.
At 1.25M, I was losing contact with the woman who passed me. I knew that I could not hold the pace I started off with and still have a kick so I let her go. It was too soon to chase her down. I need to wait until 2/3 of the race before I felt ready to dig. I told myself that 2nd place is good, if I was in second, as the spectators advised.
At the half way point around the park on loop 2 we hit the streets. It felt good to be out of the crowd. The road has some turns and I can see the lead female runner out some distance in front of me… and then I see her look back for me.
I used to tell myself that looking back really isn’t a big deal. Everyone looks.
Well, I will tell you that I know now that it IS a big deal. I saw her look and then I glanced at my watch and it said 1.72M. Then out loud but softly to myself I said, “I saw you look for me! I saw you look!” I just knew at that moment she was worried about something and wanted to know how far back I was. I felt, whether true or not, that if I could work hard enough to reel her in I was going to have a really good chance at passing her.
Spectators love the underdog. “She is right there… 30 yards… 20 yards… you can catch her!” Their energy was fueling me to push harder.
And then suddenly, all the noise faded.
I was autopilot.
Voices became muffled.
I wasn’t racing HER anymore.
All I could feel was my heart pounding in my ears while I was caught in the middle of a battle between My Ego-Oriented Self and My Self-Doubt. The winner of that fight would determine my placement. This no longer had anything to do with my competition. This was about ME fighting ME.
“The race is almost over. It is big race. If you take 2nd place, you get an almost perfect score. That is great! You are doing so much better than you thought you could do today. You aren’t going to nail your target pace anyway. That pace was the real goal. Who cares if you win a local 5k? You still aren’t running as fast as you wanted to run. Be happy with second. Let her have the win. Why suffer? For what? One or two additional points? A win doesn’t make up for not nailing your goal. You know that. Besides, you may try to pass her and find out that you can’t hold her off anyway. That will just add insult to injury. Good plan. Go out and lose twice in once race. She is probably running jsut as fast as she needs to run to win and she will just pull away from you if you challenge her. Why make things harder than they need to be,” says The Voice of Self-Doubt and Lame Excuses.
“Knock it off! What are you even talking about? She is RIGHT THERE. You could practical reach out and touch her. You just ran an entire mile as hard as you could to chase her down and NOW that you reeled her all the way in you want to back off? Who ARE you? Do you even know why we are here? Sure, you hoped to run a goal pace that you aren’t going to run today. BUT you probably have bronchitis! You are not 100%. And you are still running faster than the last 5k you raced. We are here to compete and that means fighting for the win. You don’t just let people have it. That is crap and you know it. How can you get this close and give up? Who does this? Not you. Don’t you hear the crowd. They believe in you. Believe in yourself, Dammit. The downhill part is coming for Christ’s Sake. Even the course is on your side. When will you listen and understand that you are better than you think you are. You spent a year WISHING you could race again and now you have a chance to win and you wont go after it? Why? Because you might lose? You would rather CHOOSE to lose than TRY to win??? This is illogical. Stop Thinking! You are NOT good at that right now. Just RUN HARD. WHAT HAVE YOU GOT TO LOSE!,”... The Ego fired back
Well, you can’t argue with that…
So at 2.82M miles in I was right there next to her and I had to decide what to do. My decision was a 5:24-paced burst that sent me fast down that same incline that knocked the wind out of me earlier in Mile 2.
… and moments later I was suddenly running alone.
Where is the finish?
I could see a turn into a parking lot. Some tables were set up. Was that the finish? Who knows. My brain was ordered to stop thinking. My legs are burning. My lungs are on fire. I need this to end right now because I am falling apart. My form feels like a distaster. Where is the clock? Where is the mat? Where are the people?
OMG!!! That is NOT the finish. We aren’t done yet.
I hear breathing. Someone is coming for me. It is getting louder.
Self-Doubt to Ego: “See. I told you. I knew you couldn’t do it. That is her coming back to blow past you just before the line. You made your move TOO SOON, Dummy. Well, you tried your best. It was a good effort. This is still a really good run. You can still be proud no matter what happens.”
Ego: “Ignore the Doubt. This is not over. Whatever you do, DO. NOT. LOOK BACK. Trust your self. You negative split everything. It is what you do now. It is your superpower! Just believe in yourself and focus. Run. Fix your form. Your wheels are falling off. You are getting all twisty. Who taught you to run like that! That is not how to run fast. Straighten up and concentrate. Get ready to fight. It is not over until you cross that line. Never Give Up. The harder you push, the sooner it ends. You haven’t lost until you lost and you are winning right now!”
Just before the final turn, the breathing is in my ear and I am passed… by a guy. I try to go with him but he is too fast for me.
And then I finish. First. I did it! I held her off!
I look for my inhaler. I can’t breath once I stop running. This was so awesome. I dreamt about racing like this for the last year of my life. I thought it was over. I was so broken I thought I would never feel this way again. I am so happy.
Five seconds later, I am shaking my competitors hand and thanking her for a great race.
Then 2.5M of cool down and my work is done for the day.
Time: 19:29 (6:16 official pace.)
OA 17th place/975
USATF-NJ Grad Prix Cat I - 500 pt.
Shannon McGinn, MS, MA, JD, EdS. is the owner of Shannon McGinn Creating Momentum, LLC.