Wow. Today I exceeded even my own expectations — which doesn’t happen often.
In case you missed it, I’ve been nursing a stress injury for about six weeks. This means my on-road running has been very limited, though I have put in many hours on the bike and in the pool (both running and swimming). Needless to say, I was very nervous going into this race about how that would impact my performance, and I wasn’t sure what to shoot for or how to run.
Brian politely suggested that I don’t go for a PR or anything of that sort. But if you’re an endurance athlete, you know that it’s hard to go to a race and NOT RACE. I’m not very good at race strategy or planning, but I did want to try to keep it under control and avoid further injury. Because let’s face it — Boston and my tri season are more important than this.
So last night after carbo-loading with fellow DC Tri folks, I laid out my clothes, packed my bag and prepped for my morning meal (one piece of wheat toast with peanut butter and banana). I haven’t done this for a longer road race in quite awhile, and I’d almost forgotten all the steps involved. Set my alarm for 5am and passed out.
Well, I woke up to this:
33 degrees, feels like 25? SERIOUSLY?!? DC, it’s almost April, and we’re still getting winter weather. What is wrong with this picture? There was a lot of buzz on Twitter yesterday about how to dress for this race, and I was really hoping to wear shorts. Or even capri tights. In the end, I had to go with long tights, my High Cloud jersey — which unfortunately is sleeveless — arm warmers, a headband and gloves. I also had a throwaway long-sleeved shirt to wear in the corral and a t-shirt, running top and High Cloud jacket to wear before bag check. This was a great call. While I was a little bit cold after discarding my shirt at the start, I quickly warmed up and was comfortable for the rest of the race.
Emily and I had planned to meet up and catch a cab to the start because stupid Metro decided not to open until 6am. On that schedule, the first train wouldn’t even arrive at McPherson until 6:20 and then we’d get to Stadium-Armory around 6:45 for a race that starts at 7am. Epic fail, Metro, epic fail. And we knew the traffic would be horrible trying to park around RFK — not to mention getting out at the end of the race. Well, if you’re ever trying to catch a cab anywhere in the Logan/Dupont vicinity at 5:45am on a Saturday morning, you can forget it. We ran around like crazy people but to no avail. Two very nice girls felt bad for us and gave us a lift — when you’ve got a start line to reach, getting into a car with strangers becomes way less sketchy.
Thanks to our hitchhiking, we arrived at RFK a little before 6:30. I went in and checked my bag — so sorry to lose all those layers — and then heard last call for the start line. Guaranteed there were plenty of people still on the metro or sitting in traffic trying to park. After saying a quick hi and bye to my fellow High Clouders, I headed to Corral 2 of 10. I don’t think I’ve ever been so close to the front of such a large race, but National is based on qualifying entry times and I’m fairly sure I submitted a 10-mile finish for my application. Thus the corral placement.
When the gun went off, it didn’t take me long to cross the start line. I kept telling myself to be careful and not go out too fast, which is hard to do, especially when you are surrounded by plenty of other speedsters. I was feeling strong and even, but my first mile split was 7:22. Uh oh. Maybe a little fast. Going through my head: run your own race and don’t worry about people passing you or the time on your watch.
Mile 4 — 6:51. OH SHIT. At this point my calves were tightening and I wasn’t sure how the next 9.1 miles were gonna go down. But I kept plugging along, trying to ignore my Garmin and the rest of the runners. Sometimes technology works against you, right?
The course was really interesting — it took runners past major monuments as well as down streets you probably wouldn’t otherwise see unless you lived in particular parts of NE. It was unexpectedly hilly though — I knew about the elevation increase on Connecticut Ave. and 18th because I live and run around there, but some of the other more subtle climbs caught me off guard. As did the downhills. These changes are hard on the body. Good thing I’ve done all that Mass Ave. practice!
Anyway, as the race continued I realized 1) my Garmin was a little bit ahead of the official mile markers — of which there were only a few — meaning I was running further than 13.1 and 2) I was going to PR. In a big way. That motivated me to keep it together despite a very hungry stomach and some not-so-happy calves (they calmed down as I warmed up). When we turned off H St NE and into the last mile, I had plenty left to race it in.
The end result: 1:35:54 — just shy of a 13min PR. Official average pace 7:19, though my Garmin has me running 13.58 miles for an average 7:03 per mile. I think the course may have been a bit long, and I clearly didn’t run it efficiently. Since this is the first time I’ve ever run a longer race with GPS, I had no idea it could vary so much. Granted, my Garmin could be a little off, but half a mile is a pretty significant difference.
If this doesn’t speak to the power of cross training and pool running, NOTHING DOES.
In summary, I’m in good shape, and while I probably ran a little bit too hard given my injury, I still feel ok and definitely didn’t kill myself for it. Boston is in three weeks — I won’t be going for a PR there, but this bodes well for my performance.
I also qualified for guaranteed entry to the 2012 NYC Marathon, a race that is definitely on my bucket list. I haven’t made any attempt at it, however, because the lottery is an annoying feature when planning a year-long race calendar.
Post race: I absolutely took advantage of the massage tent, which I’ve never done before. It was a great call, as I was able to get my calves worked out before they tightened any further. I’m convinced I would be in a lot worse shape now if I hadn’t. I also inhaled a bagel and banana to satisfy my growling stomach before going to pick up my gear. My body temp was all over the place and I was shivering until I got home and took a super hot shower. Followed that up with compression socks, some foam rolling and a post-race meal:
Now I’m relaxing on my couch, watching the Food Network and waiting for Rachel to come over for dinner. Blisssssss. I think I earned it.
Other observations: I saw a guy wearing his 2011 Boston jacket. Dude. Not only are you breaking the cardinal rule — wearing race gear before the actual event — but it’s still three weeks away and it’s not just any race. It’s BOSTON. That just makes you an asshole.
Also ran by a guy who was running — fast — in a polo shirt and cargo shorts. And got passed by two guys talking about how this was there 27th marathon in the last year. Since I started tris, I’d forgotten about these types of crazy feats runners pull. I’ll say that for triathletes — they’re much better at careful planning, periodization and taking time to rest.
And a huge congrats to all my awesome friends who rocked it out there today — plenty of PRs, overcoming of personal obstacles and all-around amazing performances!