To kick off the Fourth of July, I ran in my town’s annual one mile race. I ran this race last year and was thrilled to finish just under 6 minutes, in 5:58… but this year, I wanted to go even faster. I knew that all my Orangetheory classes have significantly improved my running over the last year, and also that all those short intervals are perfect training for a one mile race. But how fast would I be able to go this year?? I had no idea.
I spent a while yesterday trying to figure out an approximate finish time, and also plan ahead for my splits so I’d have a good idea whether I was pushing it hard enough or too hard. Last year, I found myself really surprised by just how short a mile is – I was approaching the finish and wondering why there was a clock when we still had more to run, before it clicked that it was the end! This year, I wanted to be much better prepared, and I wanted to give it my best effort rather than finishing feeling like I could have done more.
Since I didn’t even bother to check last year’s finish time in my planning (oops), I thought I had run 5:53 last year… so I thought a goal of 5:30 would be plenty aggressive. Twenty seconds off a mile pace is definitely quite a bit, especially at those speeds! So after figuring out that there were two intersections on the course that would serve as good visuals to break up the race, I punched 5:30 pace into my favorite running calculator and figured out that for an even effort race, I ought to hit 0.3 miles in 1:40, and 0.6 miles in 3:18. Per Adam’s advice for mile pace strategy, I ought to go out hard but consistent – going at exactly target pace for about the first two thirds, then sprinting as hard as I could for the last third. (For any other runners trying to learn from this, it should be noted that I always feel like I left something on the table in a race, so the advice to start sprinting with 0.4 to go was specific to avoid that; Adam normally would only recommend starting with a quarter mile to go.)
The race started at 7:00am this morning, so I woke up sans alarm around 5:00am and read in bed for a while before getting up to get ready. When I got up, I realized that my right calf felt really tight and odd, which was concerning, so I tried to massage it and loosen it up without overdoing it and potentially hurting it more. I lingered in bed a little bit too long, so I needed to get ready quickly… but I didn’t skip making a big pot of caffeinated coffee. I normally drink decaf, but today I wanted to be energized for the race!
I usually don’t warm up before races, but lately at Orangetheory I’ve been noticing that I’m always slower when I first get on the treadmill, and I do better after I’m warmed up. (Huh, look at that… I’m actually conforming to what experts say rather than just pretending my body is super special and different.) I asked Adam for advice on how much to warm up, though, since I didn’t want to tire myself out. Per his advice, I wanted to run for about ten minutes and include some strides at near-race pace. With the start of the race being about a mile from my house, you’d think that I would run to the start, right?
I was able to park a few hundred feet from the start, and pick up my shirt and packet without much fuss. (Though they were out of my size shirt and I had to size up… bummer, especially since I registered super early.) After stowing my shirt and coffee mug in the car, I joined the many others who were warming up on the course. This may only be a little local town race, but my town has some serious athletes, including a few Olympians! I honestly felt like I looked kind of silly warming up like they were, but I wanted to do well. I headed downhill at an easy pace, mixing in some quick sprints just to feel my leg muscles fire up. When I got to the intersection that marked the 0.3 mile mark, I turned around and headed back up the hill – no sprints on the way back, but I still kept a solid pace and arrived at the start out of breath. Five minutes till the gun!
This race only has a few hundred people, so there are no corrals. You’d think that would be fine, but tons of kids do the race, and of course they all want to line up on the starting line, regardless of what their pace will be. I certainly wasn’t going to elbow little kids out of the way, so I started a bit further back than I would have preferred, but I hoped it wouldn’t matter once the race started. And after the mayor made some announcements and played the National Anthem, we were off!
My first issue was the kids in front of me – it wasn’t nearly as easy to get around them as I thought, and I just couldn’t go as fast as I wanted while trying not to take someone out 🙂 But the second issue was totally my fault – about fifty feet into the race, I felt my left shoelace come untied. Yikes, rookie mistake! I knew that in a race this short, stopping to untie it would completely destroy my time, so I decided to just keep running, taking a slightly longer stride than usual and also trying not to get too close to other runners who might step on my lace. So… this was going to be interesting.
After I finished dodging the people in front of me, I settled into what I hoped was my sprinting-but-still-in-control pace. The intersection marking 0.3 miles came up incredibly fast, and I checked my watch to see how I was doing. Goal time here should be 1:39; I crossed at 1:24. Quite a bit ahead, and that explained why I felt so tired. But despite being so far ahead, I didn’t want to slow down – I tried to just keep going.
I was listening to music (as per usual), but even though I knew I’d only have time to hear less than two songs, I hadn’t picked it ahead of time; I just relied on whatever the Orangetheory Spotify list played next. Since I had started the playlist before the race started, this was the point at which the song changed, and I knew that whatever came on was likely what I’d be listening to for the rest of the race. (So weird to me, compared to a marathon where you have hours of songs.) But the selection was great – Britney Spears’ “Work B*tch.” Both my legs and my lungs were burning, and while I desperately wanted to slow down, I kept reminding myself that it was time to “work b*tch”.
Normally this song would have had me thinking about the lyrics (“don’t stop now, just be the champion”) and using the beat to propel me. Today, though, it was barely a distraction – I was just so focused on going hard and fast and getting to the end. I knew that this race would be over before I knew it, and I didn’t want to get to the end wishing I had done more. So far, so good, though – I reached the 0.6 mile mark at 3:14, which was now four seconds ahead of my goal. I had lost a little bit of banked time in this section, but it was now time to see if I could sprint, knowing I’d be done in a little over two minutes. It sounds like nothing now, but at the time it sounded like forever!
Adam had told me that if I could smile for the camera at the end of the race, I hadn’t done it right. Well, not to worry – my mouth was hanging open and I was definitely giving it everything I had! By now the field had spread out quite a bit and I had plenty of room to run, but in the crazy athletic world of Boulder, me running at a 5:30 pace was squarely middle of the pack, so there were still tons of people ahead of me. I felt a little funny looking like I was dying when there were so many people ahead of me, but it was just a quick passing thought – there really wasn’t a lot going through my head other than just. keep. going.
I tried to go as fast as I possibly could, and remembered Adam’s advice to lengthen my stride if my lungs were burning, and shorten my stride if my legs were burning. Well, both were burning… so no adjustments possible. At long last, we came around the curve and I saw the finish looming ahead of me. For probably the first time in any race I’ve done, I had no second gear to shift into for a sprint to the finish. In fact, a young teenage girl whizzed past me in the final few hundred feet. I didn’t care – I was giving it everything I had, and I was damn proud of that.
There were three timing mats, and people seemed to be running across the first one and then walking in between the second two. Since they were in front of me, I had no choice but to do the same. However, my watch time said 5:24 (YAY!!!!!!!) but my official time was 5:26 (STILL YAY!!!!!!!) so I’m wondering if I lost a few seconds there? Very possible.
BUT. Despite all these excuses about the timing mats and the kids at the start and my untied shoelaces… I want to be clear that I gave this my very best effort, and I am so incredibly proud of myself. Could I have gone any faster? Sure, if those three things hadn’t happened I probably could have shaved a few seconds off. But I was so incredibly focused the entire race on going fast, and I didn’t let myself daydream at all (you know, for the whole five minutes), and I feel like I just left it all out there. As a result, I consider this to be my absolute best race I have ever run. And that feels amazing!
The hedonic treadmill says that once we reach a goal, we underestimate the effort it took to achieve it – and already a few hours later, I’m feeling like I’m ready to go run more. I don’t think that means I did the race wrong; I think that’s just the nature of running short distance, that you can give it your best effort but later not be exhausted. (Actual short distance runners, feel free to tell me I did it wrong, as I really have no idea.) So even though I know I gave it my very best effort today, I’m now already dreaming of going faster. But I don’t think that’s a bad thing! I managed to take 31 seconds off my time from last year, which is huge – an 8% improvement! I know that any future gains will be harder-won and likely smaller victories, but I am already eagerly looking forward to next year’s race and training to hopefully beat my time once my again. AND… just for fun, I went and plugged my finish time into the Jack Daniels pace predictor. Turns out that my 5:27 is equivalent to some pretty awesome 5K and marathon times!
I know that sort of equivalency table doesn’t really mean anything, but it sure does inspire me to train harder and see what I can do 🙂
Have a wonderful fourth of July, everyone!
Distance: 1 mile
Overall place: 41/265
Gender place: 9/114
Age group place: 3/23