St. Luke’s Half Marathon & 5K

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I’m not one to bury the lead so I’m happy to say I set a new 5K PR by running 22:37 at the St. Luke’s 5K!

This was the first time I’ve run sub-23:00 and I broke my previous PR by about 30 seconds. I am so incredibly ecstatic to have finally broken through what seemed like a barrier for the past couple races and I’m excited to see what’s to come.

The race itself was really solid. I ran the half marathon last year and didn’t have such a good time but the 5K was perfect. In hilly Pennsylvania, the St. Luke’s 5K is known to be a fast course. I knew it started with a pretty significant downhill, followed by rollers on the out-and-back course, and finished with a slight (kind of steep but short) uphill before dumping runners onto a track where you run about 300 meters into the finish line.

I got to the race with not a whole lot of time to spare but began my warm-up immediately with a few loops around the block near the finish line. I only managed to do about three strides before heading over to the starting area but I wanted to make sure I’d be able to line up closer to the front so I felt that was enough.

I might have been a bit ambitious with my self-seeding but it’s always tough to gauge, especially when there’s a significant amount of younger kids running the race. Regardless, I decided it would be better to get closer to the front than to get jammed up in the middle.

Instead of getting nervous before this race I decided to take a Shalane Flanagan approach to my racing and just go balls to the wall from the beginning. I figured if I blew up later on, at least I tried. My mantra for this one was the same as Shalane’s—f–k shit up.

When the starting gun went off, I did just that and raced down the downhill letting my legs take me at whatever speed they felt was right. Turns out racing a downhill at the very start of a race is hard. With all the excitement and adrenaline pumping I felt almost as if my legs were getting ahead of me but I tried to keep up as much as possible. Once the road flattened out a bit, I reined it in and settled into a steady pace.

I decided again not to use my watch during this race. I feel like this helps me focus on how I’m really feeling instead of worrying about pace. I don’t know if I’ll keep doing this every 5K I race but I really like the feeling of tuning into my body and listening to what it’s telling me instead of what my GPS says.

I kept a steady pace until the turnaround when I decided to try to pick it up a bit. I was pleasantly surprised when I was able to pick off a few runners on some of the rollers. Hills are usually not my specialty but I think I’ve gotten strong enough where I can really charge up them.

By the time I passed the 2-mile marker on the out-and-back the half marathoners had begun their race and were coming towards the 5Kers. This was a bit tough because it really squeezed the 5K into almost a single file lane, which made any passing or surges hard. Soon enough though the course took us up the final hill and onto the track. At this point, Adam—who was volunteering in the medical tent—was waiting at the top with the rest of the St. Luke’s medical volunteers and I started hearing them cheer my name which gave me a boost of energy for the final trek around the track. I tried for one last surge and as I was coming up on the finish I saw the race clock and knew I was going to break 23 minutes.

I crossed the line at 22:35 (although the official results list me at 22:37) and was thrilled with my time! I feel like breaking 23 minutes has remained elusive to me in the past two 5Ks I’ve done. It always felt in reach but either conditions weren’t great or something was off and it didn’t happen but today it felt easy. Yes, I said easy. I know I had more left in the tank and I know I probably could have run even faster. I still need to practice on getting uncomfortable in the 5K. I think I’m still a little hesitant to reach that point but I know once I do, I’ll be able to really see some improvement.

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Big Hearts Bright Hope 5K

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I won—yes, outright won—a local 5K. WHUT. Here’s the story.

As many of you know, I’ve been training for 5Ks lately. It’s been a humbling and rewarding experience and so far, I’ve learned a lot. I’ve done more speed workouts than ever before and my average pace per run has dropped significantly.

The thing I like about training for 5Ks is I’ve been training for a season as opposed to training for a goal race. I actually really like this because it takes the pressure off of one day and one race.

I raced a 5K a few weeks ago (and completely neglected to post about it–sorry!) and was pretty disappointed I didn’t automatically snag a new PR. I came close, but didn’t get it. It was a cold, windy day and I was pretty nervous–like marathon nervous–to start. I ran even splits and my legs felt great but my breathing was way off. I ended up placing third in my age group, which was great, but I wanted more.

Two weeks ago I ran my second 5K race of the season. The weather wasn’t ideal, steady winds at 16-20mph with gusts of 25+ mph. (Wind is my nemesis when it comes to running weather.) Right off the bat I knew it probably wasn’t going to be a PR race. I decided to run sans watch because I knew if I kept checking my pace I’d just get disappointed.

The race started at a local community center which was surrounded by a park. I did my 15-minute warmup trhough the park before heading over to the start line. I wasn’t as nervous as my first 5K of the season, I think because the pressure was off.

I also finally had the balls to line up relatively close to the start and when the gun went off I just went with the leading pack of guys.

It only took about a quarter of a mile for me to realize I was the only woman around. The lead pack went out and got ahead (with Adam leading the group!) and then it was me and two guys. Seriously, no women to be found, anywhere. I kind of assumed there must have been a woman in the lead group but I really couldn’t recall seeing one. I didn’t want to worry about it too much though so I kept focusing on my pace and try to build a gap between myself and the guy behind me.

The wind was pretty brutal though at some points. It wasn’t a cold wind but it definitely increased my level of effort a lot and made it hard to breathe at points. The course was also pretty confusing though. It was through neighborhoods by the community center but there were tons of turns (which slowed me down) and most of the turns were lacking volunteers telling the runners which way to go. Since I’ve never been so far in front of a race, I’ve never not known where I should be going. Usually you just follow the pack. But not this time. There were at least two points in the race where myself and the two guys running near me totally guessed which way to go. We ended up running the right course which was good but the added stress didn’t help.

Since I didn’t wear my watch, I don’t know what my splits were so I’m not going to do a mile-by-mile breakdown of the race. But, before I knew it I was headed back toward the community center and the cops holding traffic yelled out at me “First female! First female!” That was pretty surreal!! I came into the parking lot where the race finished and Adam was yelling for me (he had already cruised into first place!). I ran around the parking lot and into the finish and asked him, “Was I the first girl?!” And I WAS! It was so incredible.

Now, if I’m being honest, the race was not that competitive but I don’t care. I still was the first woman to cross the finish line and I am damn proud of it!

Running and Racing Fearless

fearlessThis weekend I have my first 5K since I started training to race the 5K—and I’m getting nervous!

About a month ago I started getting coaching advice from our own Runner’s World coach (and 2:13 marathoner) Budd Coates. I needed help because I honestly had no idea where to begin with 5K training. I knew I would need to push myself and I’d be running a lot more speed workouts than I’m used to but I needed guidance as to how to actually construct a training week. And boy did I get it from Budd.

He’s handed me weekly plans I never thought would be possible for me. I’m talking about workouts with paces as low as 6:20. But I’ve surprised myself and I’ve nailed those workouts without a problem. They’re hard. My legs feel it afterwards. But I know it’s working.

Going into Sunday’s race, I know my biggest obstacle won’t be trying to hit my goal pace but rather overcoming my fear. I’m afraid to line up too close to the starting line because I don’t want to be in anyone else’s way. I’m afraid to see those paces flash across my watch in case I don’t hit the right pace. I’m afraid that I’ll miss my goal and be disappointed in the outcome.

But none of that matters because 5K training isn’t marathon training. I only know what it’s like to train hard for a race that is left to chance at the end of the day. I only know what it’s like to follow a plan for four months only to not be able to go to the bathroom on race morning and cramp up at mile 15. Training for a 5K isn’t like that.

It’s hard and more challenging (for me) than training for a marathon but I’m enjoying it so much more. If I can’t overcome my fears on Sunday and really lay it all on the line, it’s not a big deal. I’ll be fully recovered by next Tuesday and have two more 5Ks coming up in the next month to test my fears again.

So far, I like 5K training and I’m just looking forward to running fearless this weekend.

Training During the Holidays

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I once read on this cool, little website called runnersworld.com (cough, my employer, cough) that to maintain fitness when you’re not in training you just need to run 30 minutes 2-3 times a week.

I kept telling myself this last week as I watched days go by during the holidays and I barely ran more than 5 miles at a time. I ran exactly one speed workout (6 miles with 3×1-mile at goal 5K pace, so nothing to scoff at!) and managed to fit in three other measly runs between the presents, the family time, the cookies, and the wine… all of the wine.

Instead of feeling guilty about missing a long run and consuming about a billion calories, I reminded myself of that nifty running tip from RW. Fitness doesn’t disappear after a week of reveling and enjoying yourself with your family during the holidays. In fact, sometimes breaks like I had last week help to restore your determination in training, whatever your goal might be.

Last week I made sure to check off my most important workout and I planned it so I’d run that workout before heading back to Massachusetts to see my family. Why did I do this? Because I knew I wouldn’t be able to drag myself away from a delicious breakfast with my family in our cozy New England home on Christmas Day to run 3×1-mile. I knew I would be up late, drinking wine, eating delicious foods, and enjoying the company of those I love. Missing out on moments like that to run a workout is not worth worrying about my fitness.

Your fitness will be fine during the holidays. Enjoy time with your family, friends, and loved ones, and worry about your training after New Years and the holidays are just really lovely recent memories. You can hit the roads as hard as all the other New Year’s resolution-ers do every year.

Happy holidays!

Monday Motivation: Stronger Each Day

Last week I hit a new 5K training milestone – I ran six days and 40 miles total. I’ve hit 40+ miles before but that was always when I was training for marathons, definitely never for a 5K. It was the first time I’ve ever run six days in a week. Usually I run five days a week with one cross-training day and one full rest day.

I’ve added in more speedwork and a lot more strength and now I’m starting to see the changes. I’m seeing more definition in my legs than I’ve ever seen before. I’m feeling better and faster on easy runs. And paces that I once thought were impossible for me are starting to become more and more possible. So far, my personal little #5Krevolution is turning out even better than I had hoped!

(Source: Pinterest)

(Source: Pinterest)

What Should My 5K Goal Be?

Photo from Shalane Flanagan's Back the Track 5K where I ran another 23:02.

Photo from Shalane Flanagan’s Back the Track 5K where I ran another 23:02.

The other day I went on a lunch run. I didn’t have an agenda. I thought I’d go out for a 5-ish-mile easy run.

During the first mile I settled in to an 8:30/mile pace. Lately, this has been my natural “easy” pace. (In truth, it’s probably a little faster than I should be running on easy days but it feels comfortable.) The route I decided to run was an out-and-back and was rather uneventful until mile four clicked off and I looked down at my watch and saw 7:57/mile.

I don’t typically run 7:xx/mile during an easy run and I most definitely don’t run it comfortably. At least that’s been the case until this lunch run. I felt totally comfortable and didn’t notice a change in effort or breathing. Then my fifth mile clicked off and my watch read 7:47.

So what’s the deal?

About a month ago I posted about how I wanted to focus on speed for the winter. I decided to hone in on training for 5Ks because I think it’s a manageable goal, especially once the weather gets really bad. To work on this I’ve been incorporating more speed work into my training week. I’ve been running at least one tempo and one interval run each week and now I’m starting to see the impact.

My only problem is I have no idea how to actually “train” for a fast 5K. Sure, when I started running I did a couch-to-5K program. I ran my first 5K in 28:07 in September of 2012 but then I immediately began climbing the race distance ladder instead of working on speed.

I had never really raced a 5K until a month ago when I decided to test my fitness to see where I should start. I ran a 23:02, a nearly 2-minute PR since my previous 5K. After that I decided my first goal should be to break 23:00 but then my next goal should be… I don’t know?

If I’m running high 7:xx/mile pace at the end of an easy run, I don’t know what a more realistic 5K goal should be. Maybe a 21:xx? All I know is I like this newfound speed and I like the challenge running fast presents to me. Sure running long is fun too but right now, at the risk of sounding super corny, I’ve got the need for speed.

I’m welcome to any suggestions about what you might think would be a good 5K time goal. Share your thoughts in the comments! :)