Sunday, November 23, 2014

Running fast is hard....and fun!

So, after a long season of training for longer-distance races like the Mississauga Marathon back in May and the Niagara Falls Barrelman in September, I decided not to set any big goals for the fall.

By big, I meant long. I still wanted some goals - and you know me: I love to race. So the idea of not racing was never a question.

Instead, I decided to set my sights on some shorter races to see how my speed was doing. So I signed up for 3 races:

  • Scotiabank 5k (October 19, 2014)
  • Toronto Women's Run 5k (October 25, 2014)
  • Angus Glen 10k (November 2, 2014)
Now, I knew after a summer of doing mostly tempo (~10k pace) work, I wasn't going to be in peak speedy mode by any means. But so what! I figured running fast would be fun and I'd learn some lessons that would help me going into my winter track workouts.

And was I right? You bet! The biggest lesson I learned was that running fast is hard. And by hard, I mean HARD.

Scotiabank 5k

I'll be honest, I mostly signed up for Scotiabank for the Honest Ed's medal. The store is closing and I figured a medal commemorating it (and the race's 25th anniversary) would be neat. But a friend was getting married the day before on Toronto Island, so I figured there was no way I'd be able to run a good race.

Turns out I was wrong - and right. The day before was nothing less than a full day of running around. Since it was self-catered, I went over and helped from about 9am until it was over. So by the end, I was a walking zombie. I walked at least 6-7k carrying heavy stuff back and forth between locations and a lot of time on my feet.

So yes, I wasn't expecting too much from the race the next day. Plus side: It was an awesome wedding. That was the most important thing!

The next day I chose sleep over eating, so got down to the start just in time to get in line for the shuttle buses to the start line (it was a point to point 5k due to the marathon/half marathon also going on. I arrived there tired, hungry and really, really cold. But I still managed to get my warm-up in and had brought a space blanket which was wonderful. Saved my butt from being a Jana-icicle that's for sure. (In hindsight, it probably wasn't that cold...but it was one of the coldest fall mornings yet, so it felt cold).

The race itself felt difficult - possibly because I don't run 5ks often enough (or because it was cold!). Either way, it took my legs a lot of time to warm-up. During the race, I also remembered why I dislike the course...while straightforward, it goes under the Gardiner and through a tunnel to get up Bay. My watch never gives me the right data as a result. That drives me nuts when I am trying to go fast! So yes, the last couple of km were based on feel and I felt like I was running through a fog. It just felt hard.

Still, I finished in a great time (and a personal best) of 22:42. That was good for 7/480 in my age group, 46/4056 women, and 176/6356 overall. Recognizing that a lot of the fast runners were doing the marathon or half marathon, my placing still really surprised me given the size of the race.

The funny thing here is I felt better after the race than during. I feel like if I had run another 5k race afterwards, I'd have done better now that I was really well warmed up. I doubt it would've been that easy, but it certainly felt that way!

Toronto Women's 5k

Given my results of the previous weekend, you'd think all of the ducks were in a row for me to have a great race at the Toronto Women's Run 5k/8k (I did the 5k). The weather was perfect. I had a longer warm up and felt good standing on the start line.

Alas, too good. There weren't a lot of people in the "Under 24 minutes" group and most of them were way faster than me. Which meant I started a bit quick. My first km was first mile 6:51.

Here is a picture of me going too fast. At least I was happy!

Honestly, I felt great for the first kilometer and a half - but then I got a cramp and was forced to slow down so I could get some deep breaths. The middle few km were much slower - with km #4 4:53. I finally got rid of the cramp with just enough time to pick it up a bit on the return trip past the photographer. I think my smile here was sheer relief.

I finished in 23:15 - so 33 seconds slower than the week before. Amazing how long 33 seconds can feel. But it's still a great time and I learned a lot. In terms of placing, I finished 3/56 in my age group and 17/418 overall. I even got a plaque for coming in third place, along with a Mizuno running hat. 

So despite not being as fast as the week before and getting a cramp because my pacing skills leave something to be desired, I had a fabulous day. The weather was beautiful, the people were friendly, and it was just a great day to be outside!

And the best part? I got some great pictures since one of the photographers was setting up while I was doing my warm-up, so asked if she could take some photos of me. I found this weird- but awesome! Can't complain about practically made to order running pics!  Here's the best one.

Of course, I would've been a bit more picky about my outfit if I'd known I was going to be doing a photo shoot, but isn't that always the way?

Angus Glen 10k

Angus Glen was my big race for the fall after Barrelman. I did it last year and loved it. Mostly because the race kits are amazing (a pile of full sized J&J body products), but also because it's a bit hilly and a nice course. Not sure I'd want to do the half marathon - but the 10k is perfect.

Got there with not a lot of time to spare, so I pretty much had to get ready, get changed (I got a locker for a $5 donation) and out to the start line. After chatting with my coach about starting too fast the week before, I positioned myself a bit farther back (5th or 6th row) and turned my watch on.

"Ha ha!" my watch said, not wanting to get a signal. I turned it off and restarted it - but it was still trying to find a signal when the gun went off. So, trying to be conservative, I stuck to my position and focused on my breathing for the first km (basically until my watch started feeding me accurate pace times. I didn't pass a single person in the first kilometre - which is a record for me. Now, once I was past the first km (which I only ran a little bit), I started focusing on my effort. Around 5k, I found myself running with 3 guys. I caught up to them and passed them on an uphill. This is funny because I didn't realize how close they were...but my friend Brenda was a pointer at one of the turns and she snapped a picture of us.

Hillarious, right?

The four of us stuck together into the golf course, where one of them fell back. The three of us still standing (figuratively), kept going - switching places depending on whether we were going up or down. When we got out of the golf course and were on the home stretch, I dropped another one...but the last guy beat me to the line and promptly thanked me for letting him draft off me half the race. Mind you, he also asked if I could gain some weight and a few inches in height before next year! Jokingly of course.

Overall, I felt like I had a fantastic race. Don't think I would've done anything very different - although a bit less wind would've been nice. I finished in 47:26 - which was a 2 minute PB on this course over last year. The Yonge St. 10k is still my 10k PB - which is no surprise given it's mostly downhill!  I placed 3/112 in my age group, 7/465 women, and 23/644 overall. I even won another hat - this time an Angus Glen Golf Club hat!

Best of all, I had a great day with friends. Several people I know did the race and we all had a blast. Which was exactly the kind of atmosphere I wanted for the races and fun times!

Lesson learned: Running fast is HARD.

So, going back to my point at the beginning of this post: Running fast is hard.

I did these fall races mostly because I wanted to have fun. I had a pretty long season and figured I didn't want to do anything too nuts this fall since I'm saving up all my craziness for next year. I might be crazy, but I am still very methodical. These races were exactly what I needed. But just because I was having fun trying to run fast, doesn't mean I didn't learn a lot. Like:
  1. Pacing is everything. You might be able to get away with starting just a bit too fast in a longer race. But the shorter and faster you're running, the more likely you are to crash and burn if you start much quicker than you're capable of. That's not to say the impact of starting out too fast isn't much worse in a marathon where you might have to walk the last few km. It just means you could go from running a 4min per km pace (or less) to a 5 minute per km pace. That's a huge difference in a 5k.
  2. Everything needs to go right: In short races, to get a PB pretty much everything has to go right. Tripping and falling, swallowing water wrong or, in my case, a cramp, can have a major impact on your time (relatively that is). So, you want to do everything you can to make sure things go right (see#1).
  3. Warming-up is a big deal: For a short race, you need to be warmed up to run your best. At least I do. I found that when I was nicely warmed up, my legs felt stronger and I felt great. Of course...that doesn't mean you can run faster from the get go because (see #1).
  4. Run your own race: Short distance or long distance, it's easy to get caught up with the crowd. Right from the gun, you need to run your own race. That means going out at (or close) to your goal pace...not running a full minute per km/mile faster! Because (see #1).
  5. Running fast is FUN: While running fast is hard, it's also incredibly fun. You're pushing right to the edge of your capabilities. Maybe you'll succeed, maybe you won't - but the feeling of running fast is so powerful and so different than anything else that you can't help but have fun (at least I can't).
So, even if you think you're a long distance athlete...consider taking some time to focus on trying to run fast. Who knows, you might enjoy it!