It's been a quiet few weeks as I've been doing my best to be a smart runner and dial it back while I rehabbed this hamstring strain. The good news is that my patience has paid off and I'm back to running pretty consistently now - 52 miles last week. I'll feel the hamstring on occasion (usually after doing speedier stuff) and I'm still sloooowly easing back into doing any type of true speed work. I've been going to get ART (Active Release Therapy) and ice + stim on it once a week and that seems to be helping as well. But after feeling pretty good last week and getting the thumbs up from coach to try and bump up the intensity, it was time to put my fitness to the test in a local 5K. Due to the hot and humid weather (70s at the start with the course in full sun), this race was run based on a combo of pace and HR. I'd be aiming for a 6:15 pace (faster than tempo, but not true 5K race pace due to the conditions and the hilly nature of this particular course) but also keeping an eye on my HR - trying to get it up as high as possible in the last mile or so of the course to ensure that the effort was there. So with those parameters in place I headed over to WestCreek at 7am for the Virginia Memorial Day 5K & 12K Run.
Pre-race was pretty uneventful. I'd woken up, had a banana with almond butter, a LaraBar and some water. Why no bagel, you ask? My friend Sage has challenged me to do a Whole30 - 30 days of eating whole foods. More on that in a later post. In any case, I ate my food on the way to the race site and got there with plenty of time to pick up my packet, use the restroom and do my 2 mile warm up with strides.
This was the inaugural race and I wasn't quite sure what to expect. There were 750 runners in the 5K and 12K and we all started at once. I lined up at the start and looked around - I didn't see any of the usual Richmond speedsters, but wasn't shocked since the race was new and not well advertised. I was already sweating thanks to the temps and my little warm up. It felt weird to be standing at the very front, but there were a few fast-looking guys but also some very young children so I figured I was in the right place.
Mile 1: 6:24 The gun went off and we took off down a fairly good incline. I made a mental note to prepare myself to run back UP that thing at the end. (start and finish were in the same place) Even within the first half mile I was having a hard time holding 6:15 on my watch - I knew I didn't want to go out too fast but I was bummed that the pace felt so challenging so early! The hills and heat were quickly proving that this wouldn't come easy. Towards the end of this mile I found myself in 3rd place behind two faster guys.
Mile 2: 6:27 Another guy pulled up alongside me at this point and we exchanged a few out-of-breath words about the twists and turns of the course (we were zig zagging all over the place - even went through a small roundabout!). Somewhere around here I got so frustrated at seeing the slower pace on my watch that I just switched it to heart rate mode and kept an eye on that. I was already in the 190s (my max seems to be 202 or so) so I knew I was giving it the appropriate effort despite not having the pace to show for it. I had a few moments of "why did I sign up for this - 5Ks are so hard - oh my goodness this sucks" but then I heard some friends cheering and that boosted my spirits. I managed to drop the guy that had pulled up next to me so that was encouraging as well. I told myself to keep pushing.
Mile 3: 6:26, 6:20 (last .1) About a quarter of the way through this mile we went through a hillier section and then hit the 5K/12K split where the 5K folks turn around and the 12K folks went ahead. I was looking forward to this for two reasons: 1) I could see how far ahead the guys in front of me were when they turned around and 2) I'd get to turn around and therefore be heading for the finish! I charged up the hill and prepared to take the turn - but to my surprise the two guys in front of me went straight. They were doing the 12K!! I didn't have too much time to think about it as I focused on getting around the turn, but when I looked up, I had a bike escort. I was suddenly leading the 5K. I definitely had one of those "oh, crap" moments where I thought to myself, "Ok...it's okay. You'll be okay. Just don't screw this up". I was tiring badly and had no idea how close anyone was behind me. I wanted this to be over. The bike guy kept far enough ahead that he wasn't talking (which was fine by me since I couldn't manage a word at this point), but folks along the course were cheering even louder once they realized that a women was leading the whole thing. I tried to listen to hear when the next set of cheers would come (was the person behind me close?!) but eventually just focused on getting my legs to move as fast my body would allow. Heart rate was through the roof (hovering around 200) and I was willing the finish to appear. I hadn't looked back at my pace but I was really, really hoping I'd at least manage to break 20 minutes. (Did I mention I'm terrible at 5Ks?) I finally hit the last hill to the finish and snuck a peek at my watch - 19:xx and counting - Ugh! You gotta move, Jen!! Bike guy peeled off and it was me on my own up the hill to the end. Lots of folks cheering - and shouting "You go, girl!!" - and I was all smiles as I crossed the line in 19:44. I'd finished and managed a win - my first ever - and even sweeter was the fact that I'd won it outright. Beat all the girls AND all the boys.
Now before you think my head is swelling up a bit too much, let me tell you that I know that this was a local, brand-new race - and that I lucked out in that none of the usual Richmond area speedsters were there. I would never have won if any of those folks had come out. And if those two guys ahead of me had been doing the 5K I wouldn't have won either. So I know this "win" comes with a bit of an asterisk. But I'm still tickled pink to have won, and to have a shiny new 5K PR that is under 20 minutes!!
My favorite part was getting my medal placed around my neck by three US military veterans and getting to meet them. The race benefited the Families of the Wounded Fund, which provides financial resources in support of family members/caregivers of military service men and women who have either been wounded in combat operations, or injured as a result of line-of-duty activities. Standing on the starting line and listening to the national anthem I felt so grateful for the freedom I get to enjoy in this country, and I was happy that the money from the race was going to such a worthy cause.
If you are in the Richmond area, I'd happily recommend this race to you. The race director did a great job. There was plenty of parking, the course was clearly marked and there were plenty of course marshals to help guide runners along the way. It was definitely a challenging course at times with some turns and hills, but all together this was a well-run, well-organized event.
Up next? It's more base-building training with hopefully a bit more speed as the hamstring gets stronger. 15 weeks until Erie!!