I haven't been this excited about a race in a while. Racing had become something that I did for fun- not to push myself or see what I can do, but as a moderate to hard run that I went to with friends and had a good time.
And there are lots of reasons to race. Fun is the biggest and best, and I was having fun, and that's all that really mattered, at the time.
However, when I decided to follow the Daniels training program, and did his speedwork sessions at (roughly) the speeds he suggested, I could help but wonder- how much good is this doing me? The miles are easier at the same pace, and I really do feel like I'm getting better, but, I wondered- how much?
Well, now I have a feel. And it feels pretty good. :)
I started the race by doing the course nice and easy about an hour before gun time, thinking that I'd get about 30 minutes of down time after the warm up- not enough for the muscles to tighten and lose their advantage of the warm up, but enough for me to psychologically prepare and hang out a bit with friends.
I lined up with my friends, although there were a variety of paces represented. The gun went off without much preamble- I didn't hear a pledge of allegiance, or the national anthem, or anything- or even a "on your mark..." just "bang!" and the slow walk to the mats, and then the running.
My main goal was to run smart. I wanted to run the first mile slowest, and slow build my speed so that my last mile would be my fastest. I wanted to pay attention to my shin (which didn't give my any issues, by the way). I wanted to make sure my breathing was smooth and even, that I left some in the tank for the finish, and that above all I maintained a smooth, even gait and a cadence somewhere in the vicinity of 100 strides (200 steps) per minute.
So I started off 'easy'. My steps were light, my breathing easy, and my turnover fast but not labored. I passed a bunch of people, and was passed by people in turn (though I do have to say, I passed a lot more than was passed by). Running fit might benefit from adding pace markers/staggered start for some of their larger races. I mean, this one may have been up to 1200, and it's been growing quite a bit since I ran it in '07.
Granted, it was below zero in '07, but that's part of the game. :)
First mile passed uneventfully in 7:03*. (* = According to Garmin)
I felt fine, and was surprised at my (newfound) ability to take advantage of the downhills. I could really feel the addition to my momentum. If there was one thing nasty about being a heavy heel striker/overstrider it was this- going downhill was painful. Hard on the body, hard on the muscles. Leaning into them and developing a midfoot strike has made downhill a much more enjoyable experience, although it's still painful when my form gets sloppy.
The course was an out and back, and somewhere in the middle of mile two I saw some of the front runners coming back towards me. I was curious if I would know some of them, but without my glasses it was kind of hard to spot anyone. I managed to say hi to a few, but I would have felt better had I been able to catch more. It was a big psychological plus, I found, and sorta had to reign myself in because after a group of friends passed by all cheering for me, I had enough of a boost to put myself into oxygen debt. I had to gasp for breath for a while to get it back, and slow down a bit. All in all, though, I'm sure it was a net plus. :)
Second mile went by at a speedy 6:47*.
Final mile started with a relative down hill, then a fairly steep down hill, followed by an uphill, and finally flat pretty much to the end. At least, that's how I remember it. I passed a few people who's breathing was pretty labored during the uphill, and that felt pretty good. I sort of felt my feet losing their cadence a couple of times, and really didn't want to allow that, so I went back to counting steps to make sure I was somewhere near where I wanted to be.
I wasn't hurting quite yet, it wasn't quite pain so much as feeling on the knife's edge of going to that place the good runners go, pushing for all they're worth in spite of the pain. I was pushing hard, but not that hard. Personally, I think I was in flow- a place where minute and miles sort of fly by in a sort of half- trance state. It's a really nice place to be- quite restful, in a weird sort of way. Though my body was working Really Damn Hard (tm) my mind was half somewhere else, detached, doing its own thing, and happy to be there.
Could have been the endorphins, too. Running does that to me, sometimes.
Something else that was purely subjective but also possibly real: I could feel my tissues going into oxygen debt (and the burn that comes with lactic acid) and also feel them dealing with it. I don't really know how to explain it- just the sensation that at a certain point I really expected my body to complain, go into shut down and make it a lot tougher to maintain the sub-7 pace. I expected to really have to work to keep moving, and watch my pace slow as much as I pushed. During a 5K, this has happened to me typically halfway through the third mile. And it didn't.
Believe it or not, I imagined all my little mitochondria working to produce energy for me. Making all those little ADP molecules (and maybe even AMP) back into ATP. One of these days I'm going to have to see a picture of a mitochondrion so I'll be able to properly image it. Weird, eh?
Mile three came and went in 6:41*, my fastest mile in maybe a couple of years.
Anyway, I kicked it up at the end, passed a few people but was passed by a couple of young cross country kids who had a hella lot better kick then me. Hit the stop button when I crossed the mats, got my pint glass, and hung out and talked to friends who also ran the race.
According to Garmin, my pace was 6:50, the course was 3.15 miles long (possibly due to weaving/not taking the most efficient path), and my average heart rate was 176 (max 189). Of course, if the course was measured correctly, my pace was 6:55. Either way, it's sub-7, which I haven't seen since I was in North Carolina, weighed less and trained on more difficult terrain. So... daymn, that feels good. :) And hitting my goal (sub-22) felt really good, too. And the knowledge that this training schedule is really, truly, making me into a better runner who can go faster with less effort makes for some happy feelings, too. Although I really do have to give accolades to the people at Good Form Running, also. Altering form has been one of the more difficult things I've tried to do in my training, but it's also been one of the most rewarding.
So, executive summery:
Time- 21:28 (chip) 21:30 (garmin)
Pace- 6:55 (chip) 6:50 (garmin)
Place- 7/98 AG 111/624 Gender 126/1167 OA
[edit for further info]
45 second PR
1:20 faster than the same race last year!