Fourth of July 5K
Last week was really hard. I lost my dog of 16 years on Monday and spent the first couple days locking myself in a bathroom stall at work, putting my hand over my mouth to contain the sounds of crying, and wiping away tears with strips of toilet paper. It felt like an eternity leading up to the Fourth of July, even though it was only 3 days. I had signed up the week prior to race a 5K on the 4th in Barrington, the town I grew up in and ran for on the high school teams. I had no time goals for the race, especially after the emotionally charged week I was having, but just wanted to run hard and see where I was at fitness-wise. On the 3rd, something I ate for lunch at work unfortunately didn’t sit well with me and instead of spending time in the bathroom stall crying, I was making emergency trips to the bathroom stall the rest of the afternoon at work up until I left to go home for the holiday weekend.
Things seemed to be improving when I got home and I quickly fell asleep being tired from the mentally exhausting week. Unfortunately, I woke up at 3 a.m. and made another emergency bathroom run which not only interrupted my sleep but also just further contributed to my dehydration. I was able to fall back to sleep around 4 a.m. before my alarm went off at 6 to get ready for the race. I had never taken Imodium before but knew that if I wanted to get through this race with my pride in tact that I would need to try something. I popped one pill and prayed it would help me get through the race.
It was hot and humid on the 4th of July and my warm-up felt uncomfortable. I was dripping by the time I got to the starting line and knew that between the elements and how I was feeling that it was going to be a tough day. My only goal was to run as strong as I could, also hoping I could potentially beat my high school self on this course, and when the gun went off, that’s what I set out to do. The first half mile is flat and I used that to my advantage, knowing that we were about to hit the uphill section of the race (from about .5-2 miles). I saw my family at about .8 miles and gave them a wave but they could tell I was hurting. Mile 1 clocked in at 6:27 and I knew it was going to be a grind. I didn’t give myself permission to step off the gas but my body was just toast and I tried to keep pumping my arms and doing the best I could. I could tell I was dehydrated – I felt pretty weak and my stomach was cramping pretty badly. Mile 1-2 includes more uphill and that second mile slowed quite a bit with a 6:56. Fortunately, there is a bit of a reprieve past mile 2 with a nice downhill for a majority of the mile and I was able to pick up the pace back to 6:42. Around 2.7, I saw Jeff who I had met at a Memorial Day 5K; I recognized his purple singlet as he approached and then passed me and told myself to go keep up with him. I focused on keeping his purple singlet in sight and when we hit the uphill with about .1 to go to the finish, I charged forward in a 5:37 pace reminding myself that I hadn’t done all those hills for Boston training for nothing, and crossed the line in 20:54. I grabbed a water bottle and Gatorade from a volunteer and sat on the curb for about 10 minutes until I felt better.
Reflecting and Moving Forward
The 4th of July 5K was brutal but I knew I had left absolutely everything I had out there on the course on that day. I was not upset at myself by any means, but I was a little disappointed by the circumstances and knew that I had more in me if given an honest day without digestive issues. I gave myself a few hours to process and texted Jessica, my coach, asking what her thoughts would be on racing again on Sunday. She asked me to give myself a day to process and see how I felt but that it wasn’t a bad idea – this is the beauty of the 5K. You can race more often safely unlike distances like the half marathon or marathon which should only be raced sparingly because of the physical tax on the body. Friday rolled around and I wasn’t sore at all on my recovery run. I still waited to sign up for another race until Saturday, however, because in my experience 2 days after a hard effort is when I feel it most. I also wanted to make sure that mentally I was ready to battle again, which was confirmed after having a really good shakeout run on Saturday morning. I signed up for the 5K that morning, picked up my race packet, and really only told my coach, husband, and family since I didn’t want to make a big deal out of it and add unnecessary stress. This effort was going to be for me.
July 7th 5K
Sunday morning was the first cool (70 degrees), non-humid day we’ve had in weeks and you could tell it was the perfect day to run hard. There was a slight breeze in the air but for the most part things were still. I hesitated to call it PR weather, but after weeks of humidity, that’s exactly what it was. However, my focus wasn’t on a “PR” so much as it was on just running hard and giving myself the opportunity to run an honest race. The course was flat which played to my advantage since I live in an area with rolling hills and don’t get to run on flat very often. During my warm-up, I felt smooth and strong. I felt comfortable since this was the same course I had run before on Memorial Day weekend and also because many of my running club friends were here; I was calm. And then I saw a big group of cross-country girls line up and started laughing about my chances of getting on the podium for females. I quickly snapped out of it though and reminded myself that I was in it for my race and my race alone. While placing would be nice, it wasn’t as important as just running the strongest effort I could.
The gun went off and a ton of men/boys went flying to the front. Surprisingly, none of the cross-country girls were up near the front and I only saw one other woman ahead of me and focused on staying in contact with her. I looked down at my Garmin and saw 5:XX. “Ok calm down. Relax and get things under control. The race is not won in the first 400 meters.” The first mile was fast and I came through in 6:10. I knew I wasn’t in shape to hold 6:10 for another 2 miles but I just focused on effort and continuing to push. My coach had told me before the race to check in with myself every 2 minutes and see if I could push any harder; pushing harder here meant pushing to stay in contact with the woman and putting myself into a world of hurt. I knew if I could get to 2 miles that I could run the last mile on guts alone and so I kept pushing to that 2 mile marker sign and my watch clicked 6:25. This was more in line with the kind of shape I’m in but I definitely paid for the fast mile from mile 2-3. I grabbed a cup of water just past the 2-mile marker and dumped it on my head and splashed some in my mouth. It was a nice distraction from the hurt for a few seconds and then I just focused on pumping my arms to keep the momentum going. I remember saying to myself, “Katherine, sub-20 is yours to lose right now. Keep pushing, you are doing this today.” The first place female was probably about 10 seconds up on me at this point but I could see her blue singlet in the distance. My arms were so tight; I hadn’t felt this much tightness in my arms since…high school. The kind of tightness that comes with running as fast as you can for a short distance.
When I turned the corner to head into the finish, the finish line looked so far away (about .4-.5 miles; I can’t exactly remember). I focused on digging deep and knew that the faster I ran the faster I could be done. I hit mile 3 in 6:34 and somehow found it in me to sprint the last little bit in 5:46. I could see the clock ticking “19:45, 46, 47” and it was up to me to see just how far under 20 minutes I could get at this point. I crossed the line in 19:53 and dropped to the ground (common theme here with 5Ks). I grabbed some water, sat on another curb for about 5 minutes until I finally caught my breath, and then excitedly texted my coach a photo of my time and cry-face emojis because I had finally broken 20, my husband got, “I broke 20 and beat all the little high school girls!!!”, and my family, “I’m officially as fast as my high school self”.
Unpacking Stored Baggage
I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face on the 2-mile solo cool-down. To say I’ve been working for a sub-20 for a while is somewhat accurate, but I haven’t really devoted the energy to it until this summer so it hasn’t really been an honest attempt. After high school cross-country, I was left with a sour taste in my mouth for the shorter distance events. I had gotten caught up in the comparison trap pretty badly and instead of focusing on being the best runner I could be, as the team captain, I was constantly feeling like I had something to prove and put a ridiculous amount of pressure on myself, pressure that I often crumbled under. My senior year was defined by being injured with a stress fracture for the state cross-country meet and being out of shape for indoor track as a result. By the time I got to the track, I wasn’t in the shape I was in my junior year and had to focus instead on 800s instead of my preferred 2-mile race because I just didn’t have time to get into 2-mile shape. I remember breaking 2:30 in the 800 in one of my last track meets (2:29) for the first time and just being exhausted and mentally worn out from chasing arbitrary time goals. I think I associated these feelings so much with shorter distance events that I wrote them off for a long time.
For so long I have pigeon-holed myself as a long distance endurance athlete, and while that’s pretty true, until now I haven’t given myself a real shot at much of anything else because it didn’t come as naturally as the longer distance events. We set these arbitrary time marks in our head for distances – sub 20 is one of those – but I can honestly say that now that I’ve done it I’m curious just how much further I could go if I kept training for these kind of races. They are so far outside of my comfort zone but I am having so much fun being able to race more often because I absolutely love to race. However, at the same time, doing well in this race reignited a spark for marathon training in some odd way. I do miss the long tempo runs and the long runs on Saturdays and I’m looking forward to getting back to them later in August. But until then, I’m excited to take another crack or two at this distance after a few more weeks of training. I’m thankful I did this summer of speedwork to try something new and to remind myself that I don’t need to “specialize”; I’m not a professional and while marathon training will always be my favorite, as amateur runners we have the opportunity to try lots of things without much risk since our careers don’t depend on this.
My call to you all is to try something new this year and risk putting yourself outside of your comfort zone; it’s where the most growth happens. I have mad respect for the 5K and think that the hurt from a hard 5K can be even worse than a marathon – if you don’t know what I’m talking about, you probably haven’t trained for and run a 5K hard enough so give it a go! You should hear the alarms sounding from a half mile in, but be willing to keep pressing hard on that pedal until you reach the finish line no matter how much it hurts. And if you’re a self-declared endurance athlete like myself, I promise you the mental strength you’ll gain from doing something like this will pay dividends in your marathon. Give it a try and let me know what you think!