Go Till it Hurts...

Last year was the year of distance - I finally ran my first ultra and finished my 50 mile race. This year? Because of my eye, any distance plans I might have had for the year quickly evaporated. Something about not running for three weeks and then having to build back up while trying to avoid jarring... So that leaves one option! If I can't go long, I'm gonna seriously focus on my speed. And focusing on my speed means short and hard - the two things I struggle with and have struggled with even more since my 50. The furthest I've been able to run since March has been 5 miles. I started with a mere two miles - just to test things out. Then it was three miles, three times a week for a few weeks. Since that's all I was doing, I figured that I might as make it quality. Which meant running a little faster then I usually do and really pushing the pace during the intervals. Even the intervals were shorter then what I would normally run - five minutes or less. When you're only running three - four miles you don't have much time to get long intervals done. I had some really good quality days, then showed up for the May Neilson. I wasn't sure of what to expect. Would it be a struggle or would I be able to run a decent time? Decent time was the answer - faster then I'd enticipated for sure. Humm... With the Meowler canceled, I would be home for the Women's Distance Festival 5k this year. Test out my legs and get a point for Fieldhouse? Sounded like a plan! I still sat on the fence for a while. I wasn't sure if that extra mile would more stress then I wanted or if I would be able to hold the Neilson pace for another mile.
Gulp... What am I getting myself into! A 5k?!?
I was more nervous picking up my bib for this race then I have been in a while. I haven't run a 5k in years! This was also on a course I've very familiar with. I ran this course three times in one week back in high school! So between the fear of speed that I haven't experienced in a while and the history on that course there's plenty of reason for me to be nervous. Add in the fact that I really haven't been running much and there's even more mental pressure. Yikes. I decided to get there early, get my number and go warm up away from the crowds. I needed a solid warmup for something as hard as a 5k, but didn't really want to be around people that much. A few miles, some drills and some stretching and then I was ready to face the people and the fear of the unknown. The fear of going till it hurt and then going harder if I could. Luckily, there was a large group of Team Fieldhouse assembled. I'm not a really social runner, but the Brewers Cup has really encouraged me to come out of my shell. I stretched some more as we gabbed and then it was time.

The runners assembled on the starting line and I was momentarily back in high school, staring down the long grass fields to the narrow opening of the gravel path. Then the gun and we were off. I tried to start conservatively, knowing I have a bad habit of jackrabbiting off the start. There were four women in front me as we started on the gravel. Two of them were already slowing down, so I knew I just needed to run smart. Unfortunately, there's not a lot of time in a 5k to run smart! Up the middle trail, then the turn to head back down towards the start/finish. I made my way around three of the women ahead of me before the turn and had my eyes on the tiny girl in the lead. She was running smoothly,  but with the slightly gangly stride of young teen. Would she slow down or keep up the pace? As we rounded Boddington Field, another young woman moved around me. She got a few feet distance, but didn't pull too far away. Huh. I tried to speed up just a little as we approached the first mile and re-passed her. I wasn't sure if I'd be able to hold it, so just decided to run steady. Sure enough, she once again moved around me on the long stretch downhill to the turning tree. This time it was a little more of a gap - not much but a gap.
Not as comfortable as I look at that pace and just about to be passed
Photo - Marty France, http://martyfrance.zenfolio.com/
Around the turning tree - the speed was starting to hurt. Go hard until it hurts and keep going. I repeated that a few times and focused on the ponytail in front of me. She'd gotten a gap, but wasn't pulling away anymore. Humm. One more obstacle ahead of me - the only major hill on the course. Back in high school, that hill was a race killer - situated just at mile two, when you wanted to start speeding up. Charge up the hill and that last mile could hurt. Take it easy and the race could just run away from you. I opted for a course in the middle - just try to hold my pace as best as I could. I closed the gap down just a little on second place women. She was fading just a little. We were now facing oncoming traffic, so I wasn't able to really open it up and try to make the catch. It was more a slow reeling in. Finally, as we turned for the final half mile southbound, I was able to really start making up ground. I originally planned on tucking in behind her for a bit, use some of the tactics I've learned over years of racing. But it came too quickly and I was around her. I was the hunted, but without the speed of youth on my side. I was pulling away, but could still hear the footsteps behind me. Onto the final stretch of grass and the footsteps softened. But I could feel the rush of someone pulling along side me. Yup! Still don't have that finishing sprint!
Yeah, I didn't have much of a sprint back in High School - some things haven't changed!
Photo - Marty France,  http://martyfrance.zenfolio.com/

Regardless, I crossed the line in 20:37 - faster then I'd anticipated and one of my better times on that course. The winner - a 13 year old! - ran 19:58 and second - 17 years old - ran 20:33. Man, I feel old looking at those ages... more then twice their ages! I was the old lady on the podium for sure...

It did reveal something to me - a short, hard 5k hurts just as much, if not more then a longer race. The pain is just over sooner. It's more intense then the longer races, but over sooner. And you can walk easily afterwards! It doesn't take weeks to recover from a hard 5k, but the satisfaction is still there with a strong race. I'm actually looking forward to running a few more hard, painful 5k this year. Like I said, if I'm not going run long, I'll work on that speed. And have some fun doing it!


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