I decided that the Lake Bluff Pumpkin Chase 5K on October 29 would be my last race of the season. (Sounds intimidating, right?) This was the final race of the 2016 CARA (Chicago Area Runners Association) circuit, and I had used these races as the basis of my running schedule. Going into the season, I had set several goals for myself, including running a 6:00-pace per mile 5K (18:45) and being top 3 overall in the CARA 34-39 age group at the end of the season. Although these goals paled in comparison to what I was doing several years ago, I knew that it would be difficult to achieve them. This kept me challenged, and even though I went through periods of feeling unmotivated, I always had it in the back of my mind that I didn’t want my efforts to go to waste by not running that 18:45. I had attempted to run 6:00-pace in a 5K the month prior to my final race, but only managed to run a 6:09 average. I felt great in the first mile and went out a bit too quickly, then proceeded to slow down drastically over the last mile and a half. Of course, Scott knew that I wasn’t ready to run 6:00 pace at the time because I hadn’t yet put in the training to do this. However, I still had it in my head that this pace should come more easily than what was really the reality. After this race was when we really started to hammer the interval training to get me more “comfortable” with running 6:00 pace.
Once I decided that the Pumpkin Chase would be my final race, I knew that I only had one chance left this year to make the most of my training, or I wouldn’t be happy with how my season ended up. I was worried that if I didn’t do well, I might want to hang it up. I was putting in a lot of effort and I felt that if I couldn’t achieve my goals and, therefore, wasn’t having fun, there wasn’t much point in continuing at such a high intensity. The thought also crossed my mind that the reverse could happen, and not doing well would just make me more determined during the winter months. Either way, I chose to be positive and optimistic and went into the race with the mindset that I was going to run my goal pace or walk away having given 100% effort trying.
Even though it was the end of October, it was a beautiful, mild morning—perfect racing conditions. I hadn’t run this particular race before, but I had read that the course was flat, which is of course always helpful when you’re trying to run a good pace. What was also nice is that Scott was with me at the race. (He could only make it to one or two of my previous races since he typically has clients on Saturday mornings.) Even though it seems like a small thing, having someone cheering you on is always good, and it’s of course less stressful when you can have someone watch your stuff and not stand in line for the gear check.
During my warm-up, my legs weren’t feeling particularly “springy”, but I didn’t allow negative thoughts to drift into my mind. I remained focused on the task at hand and visualized how I would feel and what I would be thinking each mile of the race. After stretching, changing into my racing flats, and doing several strides, I was ready to go.
The first mile flew by and I felt really good. The lack of bounciness during my warm-up wasn’t a factor, which I was happy with. I typically focus on my competition in races, but I didn’t even consider it this time around. I just wanted to run at my goal pace, and, if I could, I knew I’d place pretty well. I went through the first mile in 5:47, which was a bit quicker than I had wanted to do, but I felt much better than I did in the 5K a month prior. Just like any 5K, I knew I needed to attempt to maintain the pace of that first mile and not allow myself to back off. (Inevitably, you typically do slow down, even with trying to maintain the same pace.) Scott had reiterated this race strategy before the race as well, and I just kept thinking to myself, “I’m feeling great”, “keep pressing”, “don’t get comfortable”. It sounds really simple, but this type of positive talk has been found to be really effective for runners of all types.
I knew Scott would be at about the 1.5 mile mark, so part of my motivation in mile 2 was watching for him. As I passed him by, he cheered me on and told me to focus on catching the runners ahead on the long straightaway that I was now on. It was definitely a good piece of advice because it gave me another boost of motivation as I picked off runner after runner. I did end up slowing down in the second mile and ran 6:08, but I was still within my overall 5K goal range. Now I needed to give it my all for the last mile. I kept thinking how great I’ll feel if I can just hang on. That I couldn’t give up on myself like I may have done in previous races. In the final stretch, which was about a half mile long, I thought about all the half-mile repeats that Scott and I did together and envisioned that I was just doing one final interval. Only three more minutes of my life. I could do this. In the last 100 meters, as I was approaching the finish line, I could see the clock and I knew that I would be right around my goal pace. I gave it 100% and felt a familiar sense of wobbliness in my legs, something I probably hadn’t truly felt since I was competing right after college. I knew just from this feeling, without even seeing my time after crossing the line, that I had given it everything. I saw that I had run 18:52, which was 7 seconds off my goal pace, but I was so happy. I had finally broken 19 minutes and had run a 6:03 per mile average. I’ll take it!
I don’t know what I would have done had the race not ended up like it did, but I’d like to think that I wouldn’t have thrown in the towel. I’m glad that I didn’t have to sit with that decision. This season has been a roller coaster and I’ve learned a lot about myself and as a runner having gone through it. There are some things that I’ll do differently next year, and I’m glad that I went through the experiences that I did. It’s been just over three weeks since my last race, and I’ve been taking it pretty easy with running. You have to give yourself a break from the intensity every so often so you don’t get burned out (or at least I do). Even though the “break” has been nice and the dreadful winter running weather is looming, I’m finding myself excited to get back out there and race again. Hopefully I feel this excitement for years to come and can keep getting better and faster. After all, the master’s level (40+ age group) is right around the corner!