Yesterday morning I remembered I was out of milk, which was a good excuse to put ice cream in my coffee. Henry thought this was wildly unfair, so I gave him ice cream, too. So there we were at 7:30 on a Thursday morning, eating/drinking ice cream while discussing the Whitey Bulger trial. Pretty much your typical mother-child bonding set-up.
The reason I had no milk was because I raced a Tuesday night 5k instead of going to the grocery store. My priorities are obviously in order.
Having not run a 5k in a year and putting in only a few weeks of speed work since September, I hadn’t really planned on a race this week. But then Monday morning, I went to the track for a 4-mile tempo run and inadvertently came within 4 seconds of breaking my 5k PR. When a gal pulls off a feet-feat like that, she finds a 5k right quick before the magic wears off and her shoes turn back into pumpkins. Actually, maybe they’d turn into glass slippers. Anyway, you know what I mean.
There’s a weekly race series in my area that’s really popular, but I’ve always been coaching or mothering on Tuesdays. This week, I had a spare 22 minutes to try to bust through my PR on the streets of Lowell. The Good Times series has a crazy, fun theme every week, and this week’s theme seemed to be: Crush Your PR And Then Drink Beer. With the exception of the beer thing, it was a perfect fit for my Tuesday night 5k needs.
I paid my $10, then jogged a self-conscious and slightly nervous warm-up around the block of the bar. Lowell is not exactly Newbury Street, but that said, I love it because its relation to Boston reminds of where I grew up, near the somewhat depressed Harrisburg, and its inferiority complex 2 hours west of Philly. I do gritty way more comfortably than I do swanky.
I anxiously milled (little Lowell pun there) around the Start, retying my laces and checking out the field. I wasn’t prepared for the ubiquitous Boston Strong shirts, and it was a little painful to be around them. Those shirts make me sad, not strong. I put in my ear buds to redirect my mind to the screaming Pogues. The announcer said some stuff, then held up his starter pistol, which to be completely honest, unnerved me, too. I wasn’t scared for my safety; I just wanted to be a runner without being a Runner-After-Boston.
Everyone sprinted across the Start, and I found myself running near a teenage girl for the first mile or so. We traded places a few times, which is a fun distraction.
Here’s the order of how I run a 5k:
First, I must pass all the 10-year-old boys and their auras of hubris.
Then, I must pass as many women as possible.
Finally, if I haven’t already collapsed in a heap, I like to pick off the men around me.
I like when any girls under 18 beat me because they’re using their bodies instead of decorating them. Okay, maybe I don’t like when they beat me, but I like that they’re running.
Back to my strategy. All of my PRs have been negative splits, so this was my plan for breaking my 21:24, which is a 6:52/mile. I was going to start at 6:55, run faster, then run faster than that, then hurl myself toward the finish line.
You know you’re in trouble when you’re wondering where the hell the first mile marker is. That is never a good sign in a race longer than a mile. Because I was feeling that way, I looked at my pace, which was a 6:40. Oh, dear. I pulled back.
The course was hard for holding a rhythm because it turned corners constantly or weaved along paths down to the river, where you had to jump curbs, cross grass, avoid tripping on dog leashes, and try your best not to plow into toddlers on tricycles. It was like an urban steeplechase. Here’s a video of the course:
Finally, my watch buzzed the mile at 6:48. However, due to the fast ways of slutty lady Garmin, I hit the actual first mile at 6:55. I would have to keep this in mind, which is hard in a 5k because the only thing in mind is usually, “Oh, my God, this sucks. I hate running. This is horrible. I hate racing. I can’t breathe. This sucks so bad.” Etcetera.
I grabbed water at the stop, poured it down my throat, and started cruising for 10-year-old boys. Please, you know what I mean.
I approached the spot where the rules specified that anyone under 18 had to run on the sidewalk because the road was full of traffic. This made it very easy to see the boys losing steam from their silly starting paces. I delightfully picked them off one by one. I like to create a teachable moment by henning boys who sprint off the line.
[After Constantina Tomescu-Dita won the Beijing Olympic marathon, I coined the word "henning" to describe the act of a mother beating you in a race. It's the maternal form of "chicking." As in: "That woman with the baby jogger just henned four guys."]
My second mile was a 6:51, so I was pretty much holding even at this point. The problem was that I forgot to mind the matter of actual-vs-Garmin distance and underestimated how much I’d have to drop the pace. Instead, I was gleefully noticing that there were no women around me, other than one in a yellow shirt way up ahead. I wasn’t racing to place, so I just ignored her and focused on passing men, which is one of the more delightful experiences for a gal runner.
I looked down at my watch as I was crossing a bridge with about a half-mile to go and saw I was doing a 6:41 and was confident I’d crush my PR, but not so confident I took water at the last water stop. I hurdled more toddlers on the path along the river, and approaching mile 3, I noticed the yellow woman was getting closer. Or, rather, I was gaining on her. Mwah ha ha.
As we wound along the path from the river to the street, we took a tight curve together, then faced a straight away and a final turn. We both dug deep, running side by side. We approached the last turn, and sprinting, she groaned hard. I knew I had her, which only made me run faster. As they say, you can take the woman out of the race but you can’t take the race out of the woman. She faded in the last 100 meters, and I willed myself to the mat.
According to plan, I hurled myself across the line, hit my Garmin, then hyperventilated, as is customary. She crossed, and I congratulated her on a good race. As I stumbled slowly away from the Finish, drunk on fatigue and endorphins, a man I’d passed congratulated me on my final mile pick-up. That always feels so good, especially if it’s someone I haven’t blown my nose on during the race. That’s what happened in the last 5k I ran.
I hadn’t noticed other women at the Finish line. In retrospect, this should have been a clue about the standings. But I was tired, and my gentleman friend was grilling steak, so I just walked to my car and went home, delirious with my 21:21 (Garmin). Negative split. With 3 weeks of speed training and no racing in a year, I had a PR in my pocket and was perfectly content.
Wednesday morning, I got an email from the race with the official results.
2nd in AG
Huh. I placed third and just made a bee line to the steak. Not bad for a Tuesday, and totally typical for me to have medium/rare rose-colored glasses.
I find 5k to be a miserable racing distance, but when you set a new PR and put yourself in a place to aim for your fastest marathon, it’s pretty much like putting ice cream in your coffee. With a curvy course like that, I know I can PR again on a straighter route with no small children or dogs. That idea pretty much feels like putting coffee in my ice cream. Yum.