The night before my 10K, I was restless. I’ve gotten bad sleep the night before a race but for a race I wasn’t nervous for, I’m not quite sure why I wasn’t able to sleep (ok, I think it was because my husband was at a bachelor party so I kept waking up wondering if he was home yet but that’s not his fault), but I probably got about 3 hours of sleep total Saturday night. My alarm went off at 5 a.m. on Sunday morning and I got up, took care of the dogs (we were watching my parents’ dog due to my sister’s graduation), and left a little bit behind schedule at 6:30 a.m. to drive the 40 minutes into the city. I had no issue with the drive and had purchased a parking spot on Spot Hero the night before for a garage not far from the race. I parked my car, then headed over to the race to use the bathroom, change into my racing flats, gear check, and do a quick warm-up.
I knew as soon as I started my warm-up that the day was going to be tough. It was already 68 degrees with nearly 100% humidity and my 7:30 paced mile with strides felt tough as is. Running in the heat is hard, but I can acclimate to it over a couple months. For me, running the heat/humidity comes with the additional challenge of my exercise-induced asthma which is further aggravated with extreme conditions (it’s the same way in the freezing cold, too). I hadn’t run in 68 degree weather much at all prior to Sunday’s race (it just hasn’t been consistently that warm in Chicagoland yet) so I knew it was going to be a challenge, but the forecast had been calling for passing thunderstorms so I think I preferred the sufferfest of the heat vs trying to run fast in the pouring rain.
I lined up near the front of the 10K start knowing that last year I was the third overall female in this race and knew approximately where I would stack up against the field. A few minutes before the start, Amanda (@blackbeenqueen) found me in the corral and we got to start together. We had talked ahead of time that we would try to run together and that if one of us was having a good day that we’d be ok with that person taking off. My strategy from my coach was to go out around 6:50-7:00 pace for the first 3 miles and then to try to take it down from there and that lined up with what Amanda’s plans were, too. The gun went off and we started running, having to weave in and out of people for the first few meters or so from people who had positioned themselves incorrectly. I was following Amanda until all of a sudden, a huge gust of wind hit us and sent my visor flying behind me. It’s my favorite visor, the one that I ran my first BQ and Boston Marathon in, and so I wasn’t ok with just letting it fly away. So I turned back, sprinted towards it on the ground seeing a stampede of people coming my way, grabbed it, then sprinted back to catch up with Amanda with my visor in hand. Not the best start to a race and running in the opposite direction of the course was not ideal! We would deal with 15 mph winds off of the lakefront throughout the race so I spent about half the race holding my visor so it wouldn’t blow off again.
We went through our first mile in 6:45 which was a little faster than what I had wanted, but not far off. It didn’t feel good though and I knew that the next 5 miles were going to hurt. I tried to stay with Amanda but she looked comfortable and had a nice clip going so I tucked in closely behind her and tried to focus on staying as close to her as I could. I needed to distract myself as being in a pain cave already at mile 1 was not what I had been expecting to happen so focusing on keeping her orange hat and orange singlet in sight was what pulled me through the majority of the race (thanks, Amanda!). My second mile clicked at 6:50 and I reassured myself that this was where I wanted to be for these miles and just prayed that I would get a second wind in the second half of the race when hopefully the wind would be at my back. At around 2.5 there’s a turnaround in the race and you have to cut back across the half marathon and other 10K runners so it’s chaotic to say the least. Amanda was a few strides ahead of me at this point but seeing her at the turnaround I was able to give her a big thumbs up and say “you’re doing great” while trying to hang on. I was faltering and crossed mile 3 in 6:56. I tried to rally because this was the point in the race where I was supposed to start picking up the pace and bringing it down mile by mile but my mind just wouldn’t cooperate. For the next few miles, I would focus on keeping Amanda in sight while also working on and off with a guy in another orange singlet with the words “alumni” on the back of it, obviously part of a college running team. We played a game of cat and mouse for the next few miles and I tried to use mental tricks to get my head back into the game.
The half marathon had started 45 minutes before the 10K and so around mile 4 the 1:30 pacers caught up to me. They only had 1 runner with them at this point so I tried to tuck in and just hang on with these guys knowing that a 1:30 half marathon was around 6:52 pace. I hung with them for a couple minutes and then just couldn’t keep going at that clip anymore. I think this is where I just completely mentally shut down. Sub 1:30 is one of my goals this year and this evil thought entered my mind, “if you can’t even hang on for a 10K at this pace, how do you think you’re going to hang onto this pace for a half marathon.” Looking back at it now that’s BS. I ran a 1:32 on a course that gained 700 feet of elevation this March on marathon training alone. I can certainly run sub-1:30 on a flatter course with the right training and hard work. My mind started becoming overrun with negative thoughts. It was dark place to be and I wanted nothing more than to step off the course and just be done. But I thought of all my athletes that I am privileged enough to coach, and about Maddie who was running the same race I was only the half marathon which was over double the distance I was doing, and said (in my head), “Katherine. You are ok. You are going to finish this race. When things get hard, we do not quit. That is not the example you want to set. It’s ok to have a bad day. It’s not ok for you to throw in the towel just because you’re not running the pace you wanted.” And so I kept going, wanting more than anything to be done and trying to run faster for the sheer fact that it would mean I could be done sooner.
My body just wasn’t firing. I was a little sore from my new strength training routine (to be expected), but the part that was really hurting was that my chest was tight and my breathing was heavy. I did carry my inhaler with me in case I would need to take it during the race, which I never ended up doing, but looking back I probably should have tried to because of what happened when I crossed the finish line. The lakefront path runs along Lakeshore Drive and this is where I would hit mile 5 and then the 1 mile to go sign. I swear that sign wasn’t properly placed because the next mile felt like an eternity, but I tried so hard to pick it up to the finish. No gas. If my body was a car all of the maintenance required lights would’ve been flashing because I had pretty much pushed myself to the edge. I turned the corner with about a half mile to go and was greeted with a nice little hill and a huge gust of wind. I tried to tuck in behind a guy in front of me but it wasn’t doing anything to block the wind. I hit the 6 mile marker in a 7:23 pace, and then somehow found the guts to pick up my pace to a 5:48 for the final 0.2 miles.
I crossed the line and got down on my hands and knees sucking air. A volunteer came over to get me out of the finish line area and wanted a medic to listen to my breathing since he saw my inhaler in my pocket. Everything sounded fine, so I hung out in the tent for a couple minutes to appease the medics, then was able to leave and go meet Amanda who had finished the race 7 seconds ahead of me. I think my favorite part of the race was being done and getting to hang out with IG friends who have become IRL friends and also to get to see my company’s CEO who completed the half marathon! (My company paid for my entry to this event which is a really nice perk!)
I would later see that my HR had averaged 190 bpm over the course of the race and spiked at 203 bpm so I’m not quite sure if there is anything I could’ve done differently pace-wise, but mentally I’m frustrated by how I just broke down. I had run an unofficial 10K PR in my half marathon in March (42:20) and while I ran a 43:27 in yesterday’s race with was on paper an 8-second PR, knowing that I was able to run over a minute faster in a half marathon for 10K just stung a bit. I don’t think I could’ve pulled off 42:20 in the conditions yesterday, obviously my heart rate shows I was working at max capacity, and most likely in overdrive, but for those asking how I could be upset after running a personal best, this is why. I just know there’s more in this body based on tangible results in the past.
I should be proud of how I hung in there, but I think it’s ok to let this sting a bit before moving on. I need to learn from my mental shut-down because I’m going to encounter this again in these short races; as Eleanor (@smileygirlrunning) reminded me after the race, you’re in the pain cave the entire time in 5Ks and 10Ks unlike half marathons and marathons where you have time to “gear up” for the hurt. This is exactly why I’m focusing on speed and strength this summer though. I need the turnover to get faster in my halves and fulls (my favorite events) and speed/strength are a necessary evil to get there. I am also realizing just how much this is going to help my mental game because I can obviously still fall victim to old tendencies like I did yesterday where I shut down after an arbitrary time went out the window. Bad days make us appreciate the good days that much more so I’m going to allow myself only through today to be down about yesterday and then I’m moving on, because this girl has a 5K on Saturday and it’s a new opportunity to set a baseline. I hate 5Ks more than 10Ks so I really need to start mentally preparing and get over yesterday’s emotions.
I was listening to Tina Muir’s podcast today and the opening line was, “you don’t have to win all your fights, but you have to fight all your fights.” I think that’s going to be my motto for this summer. Yesterday I showed up and fought and that’s what counts in the end. I wanted to step out of the ring many times but I didn’t and I kept going even as I was being beaten down harder and harder with every mile. I’ll keep showing up and even though yesterday was awful, I think I learned the most from this negative experience than I have in many of my more positive experiences in recent history, and for that I’m pretty darn grateful.