Monday, October 8, 2012

You Just Never Know

One of the perks of being on Team Luke's is that you they will offer free race entries throughout the year. When they offered an entry to run the IBM Uptown Classic on October 7, I jumped at the chance. Greg has run it the last two years and really enjoyed it, so I was looking forward to checking it out. To run as a member of Team Luke's (the main sponsor) was an added benefit. Unfortunately Greg needed to lead worship at church that morning, so the family could not go with me.

My plan was not to "race" this event, but rather use it as a good training run. I wasn't going to run slow, but around a 9-minute pace would make me happy. The previous day I ran 8 miles with our training group and felt so good during that run that I picked up the pace more than I normally would have. I was pretty tired and definitely underfueled when I went to bed Saturday night. I didn't think the race would be anything to write home about.

I'm not going to lie...getting out of bed Sunday morning was difficult. I felt a bit dehydrated, was hungry and fatigued. But I made a commitment to Team Luke's to run this race, and I needed to represent them well. I couldn't go around complaining about not wanting to be there, although I really could've crawled right back into bed. Greg offered to take a picture of me before I left, but since it wasn't going to be any kind of magical race for me, I declined.

It was a bit difficult to actually get to the race itself. The crew had prematurely blocked off Duval and Burnett Roads, so I couldn't even get to the parking lot I planned to use. Several other cars were clearly confused as well, and I ended following some of them around a barricade to get to the parking garage near the start. It was a little frustrating as I hate starting race morning with irritating setbacks. Luckily I had set out from my house so early that I had plenty of time to kill. After finally parking and getting my stuff together, I headed over to the start area and the vendors. I debated on taking my jacket with me and then just tying it around my waist during the race since the windchill was in the 40s. But I left it in the car...big mistake! I was FREEZING out in the windy cold. It was by far our coldest morning in several months and the wind was brutal. I didn't even think about bringing gloves, so I was starting to feel totally unprepared. Luckily Luke's had given us long sleeve technical shirts, so I was wearing that one rather than the team tank top. After milling around for several minutes and chatting with a friend I had run into, I decided to go back to my car and stay warm until closer to the start.

As I sat in the car, I had serious thoughts of just not running. I really don't understand what my problem was. I had kind of a frustrating week as I was pretty exhausted. You can read about it in my previous blog post. So I wasn't really in a good mental place to run. But again, I remembered that I had made a commitment and part of it was to run to the best of my ability for Luke's Locker. I had to live up to that commitment.

At about 7:40 I headed back over to the start (scheduled for 8:00). I chatted briefly with Gray from Luke's. He asked how I was feeling, and I said I was going to run to the best of my ability for that morning. He liked that, so that made me smile. As I found a good place behind the start line, I ran into another friend, Eddie, who is in Round Rock Fit, and that lifted my spirits a lot as well. It's a weird thing for me to be at a race totally alone, having driven there alone, with no plans to meet up with anything, no plans to run with anyone, and no one waiting at the finish line, so to see friendly faces is always a good thing. Eddie was going to run a much faster race than me, otherwise I probably would have tried to stick with him. I think I told him I would be happy with 2-3 minutes over my 53:33 PR.

The race start was uneventful. I got into a good rhythm right from the start, and even got to run with another Round Rock Fit friend for about a mile. I didn't overdo the pace, but I wasn't running particularly slow, either. As I entered Mile 2, I picked it up to a more difficult pace, but one I thought I could probably hold for a few miles. I knew I could always back off if it got to difficult. It was about this time I realized I had never used my inhaler that morning, but with the cold air I thought it would be okay. The heat and humidity is what tends to irritate my asthma. I was enjoying the course a lot. There were several turns and I wasn't being so good about cutting them close, but I didn't really care all that much.

During Mile 3 I still felt okay, but I honestly thought this wasn't going to be close to a PR day, not that I ever had any real thoughts of trying to PR at all. As I went through the 5K check point, I glanced at my watch and it said 27:44. I had already added on a little bit of extra distance because of my sloppy turns, so I'd definitely be running longer than a 10k. A quick calculation told me that I'd have to run less than 26 minutes to get close to my PR and I just didn't see that my pace could possibly pick up that much.

I stuck to my usual routine of not looking at current pace while I run, but rather just trying to run on feel. I would glance at average pace and was genuinely surprised that it kept dropping pretty significantly as I headed into Miles 4 and 5. When it dropped under my PR pace, I had a brief thought that maybe I really could PR this race. I knew it had to go quite a bit below PR pace, however, because of all the extra distance I had added, and that I'd have to keep increasing my speed. The brief thought faded very quickly when reality set in. It wasn't going to happen and I wasn't going to push myself to make it happen. That's not what this race was about.

I continued to run at a difficult pace, but one I felt I could maintain, never looking to see how fast it was. I was really surprised, however, at how great I felt. The course was awesome, with no crazy hills and what seemed like a lot of downhill. It really was a PR course, if you could cut the corners well or let the elevation work to your benefit. I figured with just a bit over a mile to run I had nothing to lose and wanted to finish strong.

When I had about a half mile to go I actually felt like maybe a 53 minute race was possible. I didn't think I'd have to slow down and I was running very well, right around 8 minute even pace. At the final turn, when I could see the 6 mile marker, I looked at my watch and saw a 51. With 2/10ths of a mile to run, I was going to easily break my PR. To say I was shocked is an understatement. I flew to the finish line, hitting a pace in the low 6 minute range for part of it. And I was certainly smiling.

As I crossed the finish line and stopped my watch, I couldn't believe it said 53:13, a full 20 seconds under my PR.

And I felt awesome. Nothing like my PR pace last November, when I could hardly breathe and thought I was going to throw up afterwards. No, I felt incredible after this race. I had a lot left in me and certainly didn't run as fast as I could have if I had set out to run a personal best during that race.

But I had done it anyway....even with adding a 10th of a mile!

I saw Eddie right away after the race and got a huge hug from him and I'm so glad. To have no one greeting me afterwards would have totally sucked, especially considering I had run so well.

My splits for the race were almost perfect: 9:15, 8:42, 8:33, 8:21, 8:04, 8:09, 2:06 (7:00 pace) for the final 0.3 mile. A 27:44 first 5K, 25:28 second 5K. Official time of 53:12, which made me 25th out of 149 in my age group. I honestly think this was the very best I have ever run.

So I run 8 miles the day before, don't fuel or rehydrate properly, I go to the race alone, it's cold and windy, I feel unprepared, I run alone for the majority of the race, I didn't use my inhaler...and I run better than I think I ever have. Just goes to show that when you have zero expectations, magical things can happen.


  1. Great Job! Sometimes it's the runs that we really dread that give us the biggest boost!

  2. Awesome PR Steph!!! Those are impressive negative splits! I can't count the number of people that have told me that some of their best races were on days when they felt like doodoo. Never underestimate yourself!
    I was purposely trying to run the tangents and I ran 6.27 miles and all of my friends ran a little more than that.