Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Racer . . . or just a Runner?

Last night I ran a local 5K XC race, forking over a small registration fee to benefit a local high school's cross-country team. As I posted previously, I'd run 23:38 there last year, on the way back from injury. Based upon comparing faster 5K runners' road times, the course is about 2 minutes slow. I had thought that running around 21:00 would be a good showing. About that, I was right, as it would have been good for 3rd place overall. I ended up running 21:59 gun time (about 2-3 seconds faster net time), which put me at 8th overall and 4th in my age group. Though objectively that's not a bad showing at all, I was quite disappointed with how I ran.

After Sunday's hilly 15-miler, I cross-trained, lifted weights and did core exercises on Monday. Then, I played in my office's season-finale softball game. Yesterday at work, I felt sore in my hips, upper back, neck and shoulders.

I arrived at the race about 32 minutes before the start, signed up and went for a 2-mile warm-up run with a couple of strides. Immediately, I felt lousy, stiff and my gait was "off". My HR was too high and I figured it wouldn't be my day. When it comes to racing, though, there seems to be a fine line between realistic self-assessment and defeatist thinking, and I must have come down on the wrong side of that line yesterday. I was one of the last runners to reach the start, since I had to go back to the gear area to change shoes. However, the start was delayed just long enough that my Garmin reset itself, and I only noticed it when the RD yelled "Go". I found myself in a pack, fiddled with the watch and got it working about 15-20 seconds into the race. Then I just tried to settle into a rhythm for the first mile. Here's how it played out:
  • Mile 1 - Hit the split at 6:23 (according the HS kid calling out the time), and was in 5th place overall; probably too fast, but I felt okay on the straight (if somewhat soft and hilly) part of the course. Had awful cottonmouth (as usual in short races, and despite drinking a lot during the day), but relieved it at a water stop at around the mile marker
  • Mile 2 - All of this mile (plus some of the next one) is on a gorgeous yet brutal single-track woods trail; it curves and rises and falls the entire time, with probably no more than 20 straight yards at any given time; I pushed it pretty hard early, but felt someone nipping at my heels; it was a guy I really like from my running club, and I told him to pass me; he held off and finally went by me; I was really hurting on every twist, turn, climb and descent, and started checking out as I sensed someone else approaching me; it was the eventual female winner, and I finally gave her space to pass me, too; hardly a racer's killer instinct, but it seemed like an honorable gesture given the nature of the trail at that point; the Garmin measured this mile short, but I'd say I was running an 8:00-ish pace
  • Mile 3+ - With about 0.75 mile to go, we come out of the woods and I realize I'm going to live; I push the pace and see the display get back into the 6:00 range, and then low-6:00, then 5:xx; I was running towards the east, pushing it hard along a long dirt road in the midst of a tall grassy field, until I saw a shadow approach me; it was another running club member, and as he went by, I tried to keep pace with him; I saw the woman who passed me up ahead, and made a last-ditch effort to surge, but ended up a couple of seconds back from the two of them, determined not to let the clock hit 22:00 before I crossed the finish line; at least I managed that feat for a small consolation

The winner ran 18:45, about 1:30+ slower than his usual road time; second place was just under 20 minutes, and he usually runs around 18:00. The next 5 of us ran 21:xx, so it was pretty close in that sense. My disappointment stems not so much from my time or placement, but in how I ran, feeling (yet again) like I was not very strong mentally. It seems like I have not had a truly solid race since Sugarloaf. And, while there may be a few discrete reasons for yesterday's sub-par performance (fatigue, hip soreness, heat), I'm wondering whether I've somehow unwittingly "converted" myself into a longer distance runner, able to hold easier paces for a long time, but no longer willing to endure the acute pain that comes with shorter distance racing.

Well, as tempting as it is to run another 5K this weekend (flat course; cool weather forecast), it's time to focus on Wapack and being to stay on my feet for 3.5 hours going up and down some major hills.


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