Even though I was already signed up to do the Broncos 7K on Sunday, last Saturday, I ended up running a race too. The town of Lafayette was hosting a statewide cross country meet, and they were offering a free timed community 5K before the school events kicked off. Free? Why not?!
On Friday night, I had planned to meet up with my friend Mike for ice cream at Little Man downtown as a low-key happy hour alternative. My plan was to head home after that for a healthy dinner, a quiet evening with a book, and an early bedtime. However, both Mike and I ended up getting out of work pretty late, and then when we finally met up, we chatted for a while. We had so much to catch up on, as it had been a while since we’d seen each other! It also took me a while to eat my ice cream. I was pretty surprised by the size of my cone – it was absolutely humongous! So I ended up not hungry at all by the time I went home, and called the ice cream my dinner 🙂
Even though I hadn’t gone to bed very early, I woke up well before my alarm. It was not good that I didn’t get enough sleep, but on the bright side, it meant that my body had a long time to fully wake up before I needed to start running. Although I usually wake up feeling totally alert (hooray for popping out of bed as soon as my alarm goes off!), I’ve learned that when it comes to actual running performance, I tend to be faster if I’ve been awake for a while.
After knocking out a bunch of cleaning tasks around the house, I got myself ready and headed for the start over at Waneka Lake. Because the community race was before the cross country meet, most of the schoolkids weren’t there yet, so I was able to get great parking right across the street from the start/finish. Sweet! I headed through the park to the registration tent for my bib, and discovered that in order to keep the race free, the local running group was recycling bibs with timing chips from other races. What a great idea! As a result, we all had different colored bibs, and a lot had random names on them too, which I thought was kind of quirky and fun 😉
I still had about 15 minutes before the race start, so I headed out on a quick jog around part of the course as a warmup. The last mile of the race was on a gravel trail around Waneka Lake, and I was glad to get out there beforehand so I could take some photos. There are a bunch of hot air balloon companies in Lafayette, and it was beautiful to see them in the distance over the early morning quiet of the lake!
I ended up running about 8 minutes for my warm up jog, but I didn’t look at my Garmin to know how far I had gone. I was just trying to maximize the time I had before the start! My jog took me back to what I thought was the start, but there didn’t seem to be much going on. Was I confused about where to go? Just as I was about to go ask the people in the officials’ tent, an announcement was made that all the “coaches” should report to the start, right where I was.
As it turned out, while this was technically a community race, most of the runners were coaches of the various cross country teams. Talk about intimidating! However, when I lined up at the start, I found a friend – Thomas, who I had met the week before at the Superior 5K. It was nice to see his friendly face at the start, and I also chatted a little bit with some of the coaches near us. After some brief announcements (and a warning that we were essentially the test runners for the meet course and so might find some cones out of place), the race began.
We started by running through a grassy field, and I was nervous about slipping on the grass. Fortunately, I didn’t! But I slowed myself down in another way instead: when about 20 super speedy male coaches ran out in the lead, I found myself inadvertently keeping pace with them. It felt like a comfortable pace… and then I looked down at my Garmin and realized I was going out at a 5:30 pace. Yikes! I tried to slow down, but continued to feel totally comfortable running sub-6… so finally I just stopped trying to go slow and went with it. Oh, Laura, when will you ever learn?
The first mile took us on a looped running path that was lined with cross country kids cheering their coaches on. That was fun! We went a tiny bit downhill for the first half mile, then back uphill on a sidewalk for the second half mile to take us back to the lake. I ended up clocking in at 6:32 for that first mile – faster than I should have gone, and an especially poor split when you consider how much I burned out my energy by going so fast in the first half.
For the second mile, we circled back through the main part of the park where all the crowds were assembling, and headed toward the main road. Then it was a quick right turn to run on the sidewalk of the road, and one more right to loop us back on the gravel path back toward the start. I clocked this mile quite a bit slower than my first mile, with a 7:05 split. However, it felt infinitely easier because I didn’t have the crazy sprint followed by the uphill slowdown – I was fairly steady throughout.
However, just because that mile felt easier didn’t mean that it felt easy. The start of the third mile was right at the end of my warmup run, and even though I was trying to psych myself up for it, I arrived at that point feeling like giving up. I knew I wasn’t going to PR, and beyond that, I didn’t really care all that much how fast I finished, or if I placed. I tried to zone in on my music to kick it faster, but I just felt slow.
That feeling of defeat was exacerbated by the many people who passed me in that third mile. Right around mile 2.8, I even got passed by a guy pushing a stroller! Now, it’s Boulder, so he was running a sub-7 pace with his stroller… but still. I also had several women pass me right around the same point, so I knew I wasn’t even going to make a good showing in the standings. (This race didn’t have awards, but the results were published online.)
Finally, I got back to the beginning of the lake loop, and turned right into the parking lot toward the finish. Less than two tenths of a mile to go, and I was relieved that this race would soon be over. When I crossed the 3 mile mark, I could see the finish clock ahead, slowly ticking its way up to 22:00 – and then I got in my head.
Rather than focusing my mind on kicking as hard as I could, I instead started trying to mentally calculate whether or not I could beat the clock and get to the finish before 22:00. My Colorado altitude 5K PR is 22:04, so I thought going sub-22 would at least be something (even though I’m aware it’s stupid to qualify a PR by course difficulty). But I’m starting to learn that mental focus is absolutely crucial in a 5K – and me running calculations wasn’t nearly as helpful as if I had been thinking about lengthening my stride, pumping my arms, etc. My finish kick was basically non-existent (7:18 pace for that last tenth of a mile), and I still missed my arbitrary 22 minute cutoff. Double bummer!
Even though I wasn’t happy with how I ran, I was still glad I had done this race to get more experience in strategy for a 5K, as I clearly don’t have it down at all. I do think my training is reasonably solid for me to PR soon, but I think I’m totally messing up the mental game – and I need to work on that a lot.
Furthermore, I’ve been really focused on intervals in the last few months. This race made it clear to me that I need to get back to incorporating some steady state runs to get used to sustaining effort. It’s really not doing me any favors to get comfortable at speeds so fast that I can’t keep them up for more than a half mile or so!
I did feel better knowing that I had another race the next day: the Broncos 7K down in Denver. After starting hot then burned out really fast in Lafayette, and knowing that I was planning to spend all day Saturday out in the sun at a water park, I decided that my Broncos 7K would be less of a race and more of a chance for me to try my hand at a steady effort in a race environment. Stay tuned to hear how that went!
Distance: 3.1 miles
Overall place: 42/128
Gender place: 7/44