I almost didn’t race today but I’m really glad I did!
I had my heart set on running the Pineland Striders Chilly Willy 5K for the past few weeks. I’ve run at least four Pineland Striders races before and they have all been extremely well organized. Medford Lakes, New Jersey is an absolutely stunning location for a race, especially during wintertime when the lakes are frozen over. All the houses in town are log cabins. The neighborhood has a rustic, Olympic village feel. The people are great. Pineland Striders events attract a lot of older runners who throw down incredible times. It’s extremely inspiring.
I haven’t been feeling well for the past few days, so I didn’t think I’d run a particularly great race this weekend. When you’re a female runner, timing is everything. I was willing to bite the bullet and give it my best shot, though, because if running depended on being dealt a perfect hand, no one would ever run.
But, when the race director sent out an email warning about heavy icing on the course the day before the event, I started to have serious reservations about whether racing would be a wise idea or an unnecessary risk. I’m the kind of runner who puts her running longevity ahead of any one race. It’s not worth it to risk seriously hurting myself just to run one race when there are literally hundreds of races I could run each year.
I couldn’t sleep last night either. After an hour of tossing and turning, I decided to make productive use of my time and read instead. I was up until 4:30 AM reading. When my alarm went off at 7:30, I wasn’t feeling it. I decided to give myself permission to bail out. It was 20 degrees outside, I’d been forewarned that the course was icy, and I kind of felt like death. But I couldn’t go back to sleep. Inner Liz/Angel on Liz’s Shoulder demanded Lazy Liz get out of bed and just do it.
When I was a little girl, my mother used to give me the old There are starving people in China guilt-trip whenever I refused to eat my meatloaf.
Her admonishments had very little effect on my meatloaf-eating.
I did have a particularly strong reaction to my mother’s dramatic narratives regarding the plight of Russian figure skaters, though. Every time I’d complain about a relatively minor issue, such as “little kids” “getting in my way” during practice or a blister acquired by breaking in new skating boots, she’d launch into one of these elaborate rags-to-riches fairytales about how, behind the Iron Curtain, there were very few ice rinks, so they were all dangerously overcrowded, and the people didn’t have much money, so even really talented skaters (who were all starving orphans by default) had to wear secondhand skates that didn’t fit properly and made their feet bleed. My mother insisted these disenfranchised skaters developed the character and discipline necessary to become Olympic champions. I think about my mother’s stories to this day, whenever I feel like giving up or cutting myself some slack. They almost always propel me forward.
Anyway, I showed up to the starting line of today’s race with seconds to spare. Chris came with me. I had zero time to warm up, stretch, or psych myself out. Runners…Set…Go!
The first 100 meters of the course traversed a narrow, sandy trail elevated above a frozen lake. It really was very icy, slippery, and bumpy, so I took it slow and so did everyone else. After the ice patch, we found ourselves on dry asphalt for the next 2.7-ish miles. Three women shot out ahead of me. I passed one immediately after my feet hit the pavement and started to settle into a reasonable 5K race pace (about 6:50). The lead woman started to gain an impressive lead, so I knew I wouldn’t be able to catch her. I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to catch the second place woman either and, after a turn-around midway through the race, I realized the fourth place woman was close enough behind me that I would be happy just to finish third woman overall. I had a pretty fast-paced playlist going (Die Antwoord + Rihanna) but I was feeling really calm. As I get older, I’m learning how to leave my body when my body starts to feel pain or discomfort. The mental space I end up occupying is sort of a vague, meditative state. I imagine myself coming in from the freezing cold, drawing a bath, teasing out the seconds before I dip my toes in warm water…
With less than .5 miles ago, I started to notice the second place woman beginning to slow down, so I revved up, ever-so-gradually, until I passed her. It was a great experience, to keep a competitor in sight for miles before gaining an advantage. I was able to hold second place while I sprinted to the finish without even looking at the clock.
I was shocked when I saw my chip time (21:25) which is a 3 second 5K PR and over one full minute faster than the 5K I raced three weeks ago. It felt pretty awesome to run my best time ever, especially on a day when I wasn’t (physically) feeling my best at all.
I won a beautiful trophy for finishing second woman overall and a gold medal for finishing first in the 20-29 age category. I finished 11th overall out of 100+ runners. I couldn’t believe I got two awards! I did some quick yoga poses (I’ve decided Dancer’s Pose is my favorite post-race pose) by the frozen lake before heading home.
Questions for the Internets:
Have you ever run an unexpected PR?
What’s your “mental” race strategy?