July 4, 2016

Race Report: Superior Mile

I wrote on Friday about my July goal of “eating the frog” first thing every morning. Even before I woke up today, I knew what my frog was going to be: some quality time in front of my computer, writing this blog post.

This Fourth of July, I am so excited that I got to be home for my town’s annual one mile race; I was really excited to see how fast I could go. So that race was technically the first thing I did today, and running a fast mile would probably also qualify as the toughest thing I did today. But the thing I knew I was most likely to procrastinate on was writing my race report, so I earmarked that as my frog to eat as soon as I got home. To be completely honest, I ended up waiting a few hours after I got home to get started – so much for eating the frog! But in that time, the official results were posted online, and now I am so glad I waited!

…but let’s start back at the beginning. I’ve been kind of planning my weekend around this race, trying not to do anything too leg-intensive yesterday or the day before. On Saturday, I planned to go for an easy run with my running group – I figured that would be a good calorie burner to make me feel accomplished, but wouldn’t really tire out my legs as long as I took it slow. Unfortunately, I woke up to rain, and I decided I didn’t want to run that much – so I swapped it out for a yoga class later that afternoon. I felt like the class was more relaxing than it was strenuous, and yesterday morning I was itching for a really good, sweaty workout. Was I being dumb by trying to “save” my legs for the race? I wanted to go hiking both Friday and Saturday, but both days were too stormy, and yesterday, the weather was finally perfect! But I stuck to my guns – instead of hiking, I headed to the pool and did about 40 minutes of freestyle laps, being careful not to use my legs too much.

As a result of going easy the last two days, I was hoping this morning I’d wake up feeling totally fresh and ready to go. As luck would have it, not so – I woke with a jolt to my alarm (even though I had slept 9 hours), and while my legs didn’t feel particularly sore, they didn’t feel fresh and raring to go either. I got dressed, had some coffee, and then drove over to the race start on the other side of my neighborhood. (In my defense, I live in a big neighborhood, and the start was about 2.5 miles away.) As I expected, it was a fairly small race – only about 300 people – and so the packet pickup table was just a few hundred feet from the start line, with parking just on the other side of the road. Made it super easy to pick up my bib/shirt while drinking coffee, then bring the coffee mug and shirt back to the car before the race!

Scoping out the other runners, it seemed like it was going to be a tough race. There was one woman in particular who was wearing a sports bra and briefs, plus compression socks, and she looked ridiculously fit. I wondered if she was one of the Olympic pro athletes who I’ve learned live in my neighborhood, but some post-race stalking revealed that neighborhood favorite Neely Gracey was busy knocking out the 10K Peachtree Road Race in 33:25. Insane! However, I knew that the other runners in my neighborhood were nothing to sneeze at, either.

Prior to the race, I looked up last year’s results to see what I would be up against. Last year, first place finished in 3:51, and the top five all had sub-4 minute finishes! I was hoping to finish somewhere in the 6:00s or 6:10s, which would put me pretty squarely in the middle of the pack, and nowhere near the front. That really surprised me, since I still have a (very outdated) mentality that anyone who can run a sub-7 minute mile is a total superstar. But then again, my mile times in gym class were never faster than 12:00, so I reminded myself that I’d be doing pretty awesome if I could get even close to half that – regardless of what the rest of the field was doing.

With all that pre-race stalking research, though, I wasn’t sure where to line up at the start. There were a ton of really eager elementary school kids in the very front row, but then the crowd seemed to be a mixed bag from there. I got into the crowd somewhere close to the front, and tried to listen to the conversations around me to figure out if I was in the right place. Then I overheard the two guys next to me discussing how they were going to try to go sub-5 minutes. Yikes! I tried to back up a little bit, but with two minutes till the gun it was fairly crowded, so I ended up just staying put. I was in about the 3rd row or so, and hoped it wouldn’t be hard to stay out of the way of anyone faster who was behind me. The pre-race announcements were pretty brief – just a reminder that there was a parade and pancake breakfast after the race, a recording of the Star Spangled Banner, and then the mayor counting down 3, 2, 1, and firing a gun into the air. We were off!

I had told myself that for a one mile race, I just needed to start off sprinting as hard as I could… and then keep sprinting. But right away, I found myself settling into a more comfortable pace than I knew I really should. My legs weren’t sore, per se, but they weren’t feeling peppy and I found that they were limiting me more than my lungs. After a minute or so, I looked down at my watch to see how I was doing – and discovered that I had accidentally pressed the wrong button at the start, switching back to the home screen instead of actually starting the clock! I was so mad at myself for that mistake, as I knew it was going to be a lot harder to gauge how hard to push when I didn’t know how far I was or what my average pace was.

What I had started properly, though, was my music. I had created a special playlist of a few power songs, and I knew that the first song, Some Nights by Fun, was about four minutes long. So presumably, the length of my race would be that song + half of another song. As I ran, I kept trying to remind myself to push the pace hard, but I also kept feeling myself settling into a pace where I could catch my breath – which I knew was not what I wanted in a race this short. Come on, Laura, let’s go!

Unfortunately, while I think I’m pretty good at the mental challenge of sustaining the pace in a marathon, I officially sucked at the mental challenge of pushing hard throughout a short race. I felt kind of demoralized by just how fast everyone around me was – definitely a mindset I need to work on, especially living in Boulder. I just couldn’t help but remember when I ran the Denver Heart Run 5K, and how glorious I felt taking off out in the front and keeping pace with the guys (yes, even though I didn’t sustain it). Here, though, I felt like everyone was passing me, and that I was doing a really crappy job. There were at least 50 people ahead of me, and I wanted to be closer to the front, but I didn’t seem to want it badly enough to really push and make it happen.

On the bright side, the course was a great one – you basically just ran straight on Rock Creek Parkway, with no turns whatsoever. And, more importantly, the course had a slight downhill grade – with the start at 5633′ and the finish at 5446′ (for a net drop of 187′). The road did curve a little bit, so you couldn’t see ahead of you the whole time, but it was really nice that we didn’t have to turn at all. Super fast!

Of course, as much time as I had put into checking out last year’s race results, I hadn’t actually looked at the course ahead of time. (In my defense, they didn’t have a course map on the website; the above link to Gmaps is something I created after the race because I was curious what the exact descent was.) While the number of the spectators along the route had been fairly minimal for most of the race, I soon started seeing cones and a few lines of people on either side of the road up ahead, as we approached the traffic circle at 88th. “Hmm,” I thought, “I wonder which way we’ll go from here?” As I got closer, I saw the chip mats and timing clock, and then it clicked for me: this was the finish line! A mile goes by a lot faster than I expected. I saw that the clock was just approaching 6:00, and I picked up the pace as much as I could to finish strong…

…but then, after crossing the finish line, I wasn’t sure what to think. At first I was busy trying to catch my breath and slow my heart rate down and make my throat not burn and also not fall over. But then, I wondered – what was my finish time? My best guess was 6:01, and I really didn’t think it could have been any earlier than that. (If anything, I thought I was generously giving myself an extra second and actually ran a 6:02.) I was really bummed. I knew that I hadn’t given it my best effort because I just couldn’t get into the mindset to push hard, and I was really pissed that I had missed going sub-6 by only a few seconds. I definitely could have shaved off some time if my head had been in the game, and now I was paying the price.

I spent the next ten minutes or so hanging out at the finish line to see if the timing truck would print out results and post them on the side of the truck. No dice. I finally got the nerve to ask someone on the timing crew, and they said that they were immediately headed over to Longmont to time another 4th of July race, and so wouldn’t post the results online until afternoon. ARGH! Patience is not my strong suit.

See: how I snapped a selfie rather than look around for someone to take a good post-race pic for me.

So I headed back to the start, got in my car, and headed up to Boulder to do an 8am hike with some friends, including Amanda. One great thing about a one mile race is that it’s short and easy to make definite plans afterward! We had a really great time starting at NCAR, taking the Mesa Trail over to Chautauqua, and then doing a quick loop around the lower Flatirons before heading back to NCAR, for a total distance of about 5.5 miles in 2.5 hours. It was such a fun group to hike with – I definitely need to do more group hikes instead of always heading out solo.

After the hike, I headed home to shower, eat lunch, and write this race report. Going back to how I started this post – I kind of did a crappy job “eating the frog” in that I first cleaned up a bit around the house, and then finished watching an episode of The Bachelor that I had put on while cooking. But as the episode was ending, I browsed to the race website on my tablet, and saw that the results were posted… and that my chip time was actually 5:58!!! I had gone sub-6!!!

Well, you better believe that motivated me to head up to my office and write this race report! It’s funny how much my perspective on the race changed based on just a few seconds difference in the results. When I thought my finish time was just over six minutes, I was mad at myself for not pushing harder and giving it all the energy I had. But when it turned out that my mediocre effort had netted me a sub-6 finish, all of a sudden I was content. That’s not really a good thing – regardless of the clock, I should still be disappointed in my performance because I didn’t give it my best effort. But for now, I am grinning ear to ear that I ran faster than I ever thought possible 🙂

However! When I thought my time was over six minutes, I was looking around online for some other one mile races in the area. It’s really not a popular distance, but it turns out, the Pearl Street Mile happens in Boulder in mid-August. So maybe my penance for not pushing my hardest in this race is that I will try again next month?? I am excited to see how it will go 🙂

Race stats:
Distance: 1 mile
Time: 5:58
Pace: 5:58/mile
Overall place: 55/261
Gender place: 21/127
Age group place: 7/25


8 thoughts on “Race Report: Superior Mile”

  1. I got into running by joining friends for informal one mile races on a track. The mile really tests you. Congrats on breaking six!

    1. I haven’t run on a track since I was a kid (and hated running)… I think I need to look for some track races to try now!

  2. Congrats on going sub 6! But I totally feel you on comparing yourself to the Boulder super athletes. Last time I went to yoga at my old studio, there were TWO Olympic gold medalists in my class! I know I should mostly focus on competing with myself, improving, etc., but I’m competitive so I can get bummed about the fact that my bike rides are usually in the lower middle on Strava. I recently went and rode in an area that wasn’t full of super athletes and I had the fastest ride on one of the uphill segments and it gave me such a boost!

    I love living in an outdoorsy place full of super fit people, but it’s nice to remind myself it’s not the norm every so often.

  3. George Sheehan writes in his chapter on ‘Excelling’: “They are telling us that nothing can prevent man – the species – from growing still greater, as long as he preserves in his heart the passion for growth. And there is nowhere better to watch that growth than the mile run. … The mile is mind, body and spirit. ‘The mile remains the classic distance,’ says Paul Gallico, ‘because it calls for brains and rare judgment as well as speed, condition and courage.’ And its searching third quarter requires the leap of faith that what you are doing is worth the effort.” (Running and Being, p.106)

    I believe that the last year or two, Runners World has begun re-publishing a lot of Sheehan’s works, but I could be wrong.

  4. There is something really exciting about doing something that you’ve never done for the first time. “I’ve never ran a mile that fast before” is an amazing accomplishment as you’re taking stock of the day. ALSO, isn’t it funny how long the short distance race reports are? I remember all of my 5K ones as being the longest!

    I really wish I could have been there to cheer for you

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