How NOT To Run A Race – AKA The Good, The Bad & The Stupid
When you run a good race, any previous doubts or setbacks are forgotten so quickly that it’s like they never existed in the first place. All mistakes are forgotten and you’re only left with an overwhelming sense of pride and satisfaction. Conversely, when you run a bad race, you try so hard to hold onto any of the better moments despite the overwhelming suckiness of it all. And mostly, you find it easier to engage in self-flagellation more than anything else, beating into you the idea to never repeat the same mistakes. With that in mind, I give you the full spectrum of today’s race. Or what was supposed to be a race anyways.
The Good -
Going into this race I had the confidence of some really awesome workouts behind me. Just the Tuesday prior I had knocked out an awesome 10 miler at 5:18 splits and although that doesn’t correlate well to a five mile race, I was hoping the effort was a gauge for something half that distance. I figured I was in good enough condition to make a go for 5:00 / miles and that was my hope.
Coach Matt had given me a solid race strategy to work from in order to help me get those 5:00 flat miles, or something very close to it. He ended the advice with something of a zombie reference where in the last two miles I was to “hunt the dead, dying and overly optimistic.” That was a fitting metaphor related to my attempt and I could already envision running down the competition, shotgun in hand, “double tapping” them as I ran by to the finish. (more on that later)
The Bad -
Above all else, this mysteriously migrating/growing/enveloping pain in my shin area was my greatest cause for concern. I woke up the day before the run to put down an easy 6 miles when just 1 1/2 in I had to call it a day and jog/walk the rest of the way home due to the overwhelming tightness and pain. Every step brought a shooting pain that I feared was either causing great damage or made me think my leg might give out underneath me. Normally, I would have called the race on account of the leg, seeing as it was only a 5 miler, but I put a lot (too much) of money down for this and was really excited to go back to Chicago to race and see what I could do with my elevated fitness.
Now that my leg pain had taken over, I could only concentrate on whether I was even going to be able to race the next morning. I so desperately wanted some sort of miraculous healing to take place overnight and wake to find my leg as good as new. Now, I KNOW that wasn’t going to happen, but when you want something so bad, your mind does funny things. Regardless, I tried to facilitate the miracle with ice, ibuprofen and sleeping with my leg elevated all night. I woke to find it not that bad to walk on and when I started my pre-race jog I knew I could deal with that. I’m sure the ibuprofen breakfast helped and all, but I also hoped all the icing and elevating had done its job. Regardless, I was still going to the start line with barely a thought on the actual race itself and more concerned about what I was going to do if I had to drop out in the first 800. That is NOT my mental game.
The distance. Of every race I’ve ever run….I hate the 5 mile distance. Granted, this was an 8k, so TECHNICALLY it was 4.97, but you know what I’m sayin. The thing with running 5 miles is that there is no easing up and pacing through any point of the race. It’s pretty much all out, but not like a 5k where you can run over your abilities and still come through the finish without first dying. There is such a small window of effort in a 5 mile race where you must be fast to finish quick, but not TOO fast lest you overshoot your efforts and rig up with a mile or mile and a half to go. It takes an incredibly tempered and self-tuned runner to finish the race strategically and effectively. I’m not that runner. I prefer to either let it all out or push until my endurance takes over.
Then we had the weather. I left Indianapolis where the skies were clear and the temperatures hovered in the 50’s. It was absolutely perfect, but the second we hit the Chicago highways it started…..snowing. YUP. So the morning of the race it had warmed up enough to rain, but it was still cold, drizzly and overcast. Oh, and typical of Chicago….WINDY. Like, real windy. These were not the conditions I wanted to race in considering I was already somewhere else mentally.
The Stupid -
Then we come to the race itself and my inability to understand my own efforts or follow my coach’s very specified instructions that I ASKED HIM FOR in order to run the race well. The strategy was this…..Run the first mile between 5:00 – 5:05, leaning more towards 5:05, come through 3 miles at 15:00 -15:10 then, as he put it, “hunt the dead, dying and overly optimistic.” That was the plan. It was a good plan. However, that plan hinged on my ability/willingness to follow it beginning with the first mile. I had the “hunt the dead..” mantra in my head, but very quickly I seemed to be reciting a suicide song.
A large group of elite runners filled the first wave corral and myself, my teammate and a line of other fast as hell runners shivered as we toed the start line. The skyscrapers of Chicago and a wide open street stood before us as the official began the countdown. At one he sounded his airhorn and we all blasted from the line. I got about 10 feet out paying strict attention to my leg when instantly I realized I was feeling nothing. There was something of a fat feeling, or a tightness, but as I had hoped the adrenaline surged through my body and the pain was non-existent. Motivated by this sensation, or lack thereof, I tore down the street with the rest of the runners, a good deal of them pulling out ahead, which surprised me. The race results from the past 3 years indicated that if I did run 5:00 miles that my placing could range anywhere from top 10 to top 20, so imagine my surprise when all of a sudden I found AT LEAST 20 runners blasting out before me and more trickling past behind. I thought to myself, “Crap…am I running too slow? It FEELS faster than a 5:00 mile, but surely all these guys aren’t going out this fast.” I was wrong. We ran through a darkened underpass, climbed over a bridge and then came screaming down a hill before making the turn to the first mile. I hit the sensor stretched across the ground and looked at the clock. 4:53. SHIT! And that was my first and foundational mistake. I was supposed to run at least 7 seconds slower, if not 10 – 15 seconds slower. Granted, I would have been significantly behind a long line of runners, but I would also have been running in my range and gearing up to start dropping it down.
It was then I realized my hamstrings had already tightened up or began filling with lactic acid. Early into the second mile and my legs were already spent, I couldn’t feel my muscles propelling me forward. I was simply following the pattern of repetition and chasing my momentum more than anything else. Oh, and getting passed. A lot. And let me tell you, it’s so incredibly demoralizing to get passed by so many runners, no matter how fast you may actually be running, when you are getting beat again and again and again, it becomes incredibly difficult to keep your spirits up and continue pushing on. You find yourself tempted to just notch it up to a shitty race and call it a day, running it in with your head down. I, fortunately, did not resort to such measures, but the urge was strong.
We came through 2 miles at 10 and change, which after I thought about it, wasn’t that bad. I was still close to 5:00 flat miles, but I was also aware how quick I came through the first mile, which meant I must have run a much slower second mile. I could only hope my strength would refill my legs and I could continue picking it up, hunting the dead and dying as it would be. Then the course turned again and we hit the brutal Chicago wind. Ripping through the skyscrapers the wind pushed against us harder than we pushed back. I tried to duck behind a runner in front of me, but the wind was at an angle that it simply didn’t matter. Our only recourse was to make it to the next turn where we would either have it blowing at our speed or blocked by a building.
Before I knew it we had hit the 3 mile mark, passing the sensor at 15:20, which again, Matt told me to come through at 15:00 or 15:10, so I still wasn’t THAT far off, but I still didn’t feel strong and this was the point that I was to begin my zombie hunt. But then I got passed….again….and again…and again. We still came through the 5k at around 15:50, just a few seconds off my personal best, which isn’t too shabby, but this was still not the way I was supposed to be running this race. I was a better runner than this…just not tactically smart enough.
Moving into mile four I had one of my only redeeming points of the race. On the sidelines I heard someone yell out, “I love your hair!” So yeah, it wasn’t a total loss right? Too bad I wasn’t running at my abilities….my hair would have been SOO much better then. Anyways, we took more turns that brought us right back into the wind, which we fought all the way to the 4 mile marker. It was a relief to hit that point, knowing it was just a hair short of a mile till this race was over, despite how short it became. Moving into the fifth mile I figured I could push further than I was feeling and started to lay it on a bit. Surprisingly, I managed to pass a runner….A runner. I think the ONLY runner I passed the whole race. Of course, I was subsequently passed by someone else, but still…it’s the small victories. We kept fighting on and I saw the course turn left up the dreaded bridge that marks the 26th mile of the Chicago Marathon, a short but considerably steep incline towards the finish line. I turned to the bridge, started dragging my tired legs up the hill and found myself not only battling an incline, but also the stiffest wind I felt the whole race. And I wasn’t the only one. Believe me, I probably slowed to a 10:00 minute mile pace, but everyone else around me was moving the same. Coming straight from the lake with nothing to block or slow its path, that wind hit us dead on at the worst point and brought us to almost a standstill. Finally though, I worked over the top and started moving down toward the last turn and sprint to the finish. I use the term sprint lightly. I took the last turn and got passed one last time before moving to the finish. There was one runner in front of me and I began moving up on his back, but just couldn’t muster anything in my legs to put in a final strong kick. I just wanted DONE!!
I hit the finish line at 25:54, almost a full minute off my hoped for time. Admittedly, even if I ran that race well, the wind was enough of a factor that I would have been off my projected time as well, so I wasn’t completely disappointed, but I wasn’t thrilled either. I just wanted to get through the finish chute and put that race behind me.
To be honest, I can’t be THAT hard on myself about the run. Considering some of the obstacles I couldn’t really control, like my leg and the wind, I didn’t run embarrassingly bad. On the other hand, the one thing I COULD control, my pacing strategy…I didn’t. And that is frustrating. Even with everything else that was a problem, if I had run smart, I could at least say I ran what I could have considering….but I didn’t. And that sucks. My only consolation in all this is that the race itself was short and relatively unimportant. Granted, I wanted to have a strong showing and see where I stacked up with runners of this caliber, but like I said, a 5 miler is not my strongest distance. What counts are the races to come….the Louisville 10 miler and the Mini-marathon on May 8th. That’s where I can’t afford to race with bad strategy or a gimp leg. That’s the race I have the most personal stake in.
And speaking of the leg…it’s not good. My first priority from here on out is doing what I can to heal up and get back to solid training without compromise. It might involve more days off then I want to admit, but I can’t drag this (literally) out anymore. I sit here with the residual effects of too much ibuprofen in my system and an ankle wrap choking out my leg. I really want neither right now. I want to be healthy and injury free as we build up to the most important training leading up to the mini. And that’s where I leave you friends. A touch frustrated, mildly wounded, but hopeful for what is to come.