After threatening to sign up for three or four different marathons since last fall, I finally pulled the trigger and plunked down the registration fee for the Tunnel Lite Marathon September 15th. It’s a point-to-point with a net elevation loss, so pretty easy-peasy as far as marathon courses go. My running volume lately has thus increased as Coach T has started prepping me to haul my chubby ass 26.2 miles. Fitness-wise (and weight-wise) I’m still not where I was last season, but at least now I have a race to train for.
My return to a regular training schedule got my coach’s seamless, sweat-wicking undies in a twist and she excitedly instructed me to find two 10ks to run as part of my marathon training. July has been a hectic month for me — Jason and I traveled to a wedding in Philadelphia earlier this month, plus he’s racing his first 50 mile ultramarathon this weekend — so I only had a couple weekends free to find a potential race. After informing Teresa of my dilemma, she said I could find a 5k to run this month and a 10k in August. Crap.
5ks suck for one reason: they hurt. If you’re intent on doing a 5k as a fun run, that’s fine, 3.1 miles is a fine distance for a walk or a jog or a combination of the two. But if your coach wants you to “race” the 5k, you’re essentially tasked with sprinting the entire distance and are a half-burp away from horking up one or both lungs at any given moment. There’s nothing “aerobic” about a 5k. From the moment you take off to the moment you cross the finish line, you feel like you’re going to die.
Another reason I don’t like 5ks is because my SALS (Stumpy Asian Leg Syndrome) don’t make me much of a sprinter. I always tell people that I’m built for duration. I’m not terribly fast, but when you stretch out the distance long enough, my sheer stubbornness pushes me to maintain a somewhat decent pace until I manage to finish. For short distances, however, I’m no Usain Bolt. Whenever we do sprint work at track, teammates who I’m normally faster than blow by me during 100 meter repeats as if I’m standing still. These legs ain’t built for speed.
But Teresa, who delights in my misery, urged me to sign up for a 5k. I found one called the Swedish Summer Run and forked over some coinage to register for it. I was surprised to find out the race was a little over a mile from where I lived — upon reading “Swedish,” I lazily assumed the race would be some Scandinavian-themed thing over in Ballard, not a cancer research fundraiser sponsored by Swedish Hospital. (I expected aid stations stocked with meatballs and lingonberry sauce.)
I jammed a lot of running into the days leading up to the race, thinking it was stupid to “taper” and rest for a 5k that was like a ‘Y’ race in terms of priority. The morning of the race, I woke up bright and early and Jason brewed me my first cup of coffee since Ironman Canada last August 2012. “It’s from the Congo!” he said. Sweet, maybe its African origins will help me run as fast as some of the folks there.
After drinking about 3/4 of the gigantic mug Jason gave me, my stomach churned and my brain told my b-hole to prepare for an onslaught of disgusting proportions. I shot Jason a look, blurted out “youcanhavetherestofmycoffee,” and sprinted upstairs (I counted it as my “pre-race strides” Teresa wanted me to do) to the bathroom, yelling, “What have I ever done to you, Congo?? I read that Michael Crichton book and saw the movieeeeeeeee!!!”
I spent several demeaning minutes emptying the contents of my bowels and reevaluating my life choices. My gut feeling hollow and miserable, I finally emerged, said goodbye to Jas, and left the house to begin my warm up jog to the race start.
There were tons of people at the race to walk or run in support of ovarian cancer research. I immediately felt super awkward since I was there by myself and was using the charity race as a “training” run. After picking up my bib and timing chip, I did another warm up run and some awkward, lonely drills to try and get my legs warmed up for the impending suffer fest.
The race announcer urged runners to line up according to their projected pace. I shuffled up near the front and felt like a jackass because there were probably about 20 people total who were lining up in the 5-8 minute pace corrals, with the other 5,000 people content to go an easy pace and have fun with their friends. My stomach lurched again and I cursed the Congo and its poisonous brew.
When the air horn went off, I took off like a spaz. What normally feels like a fluid, natural running form immediately became jerky and robotic as I futilely tried to figure out how to increase my leg turnover and sprint this damn thing. Thirty seconds in I was already miserable, sucking in air like a dying fish and watching wiry-looking dudes and chicks pass me.
The course meandered around Capitol Hill so it wasn’t exactly flat (my Garmin had 220 feet of elevation gain). I kept glancing at my watch and counting down the distance until I was done with this sumbitch. Finally, after climbing up one last “eff you” hill and running through a couple blocks, I approached the finish line and wheezed my way across it.
Goal pace: 6:46 – 7:00
Actual pace: 7:28
Goal time: 21:00 – 21:42
Actual time: 23:10
I was disappointed, unhappy, sweaty, gasping, and my stomach still hurt. After chugging a bottle of water, I jog-of-shamed it home and took a shower. Jason asked me how my race went and I made my usual rant about how I suck at life and couldn’t even run this 5k faster than my off-the-bike pace at the Mt. Rainier duathlon last year (where I averaged 7:12′s for 3.4 miles), or the run test I did last year. I know I’m still getting my fitness back after a long offseason, but this race was still a bitter pill to swallow.
My stomach hurt for the rest of the day, and for some reason I couldn’t stop peeing. I weighed myself a little bit after the race and was surprised to see that I was over 2 lbs lighter than when I had woken up that morning. The fact that my body and gut felt more miserable after a 5k than a marathon or Ironman made me feel even crabbier.
For the rest of the afternoon, I was in Full-On Shmood Mode. I tortured myself even more by checking my teammates’ race splits at the Lake Stevens 70.3, and upon seeing how well everyone was doing, I once again became my own worst enemy and started telling myself that everyone was making gains and getting faster while I got fat over the winter.
Eventually, however, I told myself this:
Jesse Thomas, my pro triathlete BFF, also wrote a very timely post this week about the frustration he’s feeling after his foot surgery and how he’s battling his expectations and trying to be patient with his progress. He included a saying his dad often tells him: “Negative thoughts are like birds in your brain; it’s ok for them to circle around, just don’t let them nest.” It’s very easy for me to beat myself up over disappointing race results, but I know that my body will bounce back if I keep working hard and training. I wasn’t in a good place mentally this past fall and winter, but now things are getting better (new job, new race goals, new strength trainer) and I just have to allow myself more time to get back into shape.
My disappointing race and the feeling of sitting on the sidelines this whole season has motivated me to work hard and get strong, lean, and fast for the 2014 season. I’ll be tackling my 3rd Ironman and hope to make significant gains in the half and full distance. And even though I still hate 5ks, I know I can do better so it looks like I’ll be suffering through another 3.1 miles before the end of the year so I can claim redemption. (No Congo coffee next time…for obvious reasons.)
Edit: Jason read my post and keeps sending me Congo photoshops with my distraught face in them. He clearly has too much time on his hands as he’s tapering for his big race this weekend (see below).