Breaking Barriers

Event: Strongsville Super Saturday 5K
When & Where: 9 a.m. Saturday, March 21, Strongsville, Ohio
Results: 22:51 (PR); 4/30 women’s 35-39 age group; 12/138 female entrants

For 2 1/2 years I have been trying to set a new PR at the 5K distance. My old PR from the 2006 Waterway 5K is 23:01, and in the half dozen or so 5K’s I’ve raced since then I’ve finished 23:10ish-23:30ish. It seemed like I could not get through the 23 minute barrier.

In January I ran a 23:08 on a flat course in San Diego and promised myself I would improve my PR in 2009.

I have been training diligently for the Boston Marathon: increasing my weekly mileage into the upper 50s, and doing more hill running than ever before because I actually live somewhere with hilly terrain now. Ten days prior to this race I did one 6 X 800 workout and was encouraged by my interval splits, a few seconds faster than when I was doing them last fall. But other than that, almost every “easy” run has felt anything but – sluggish, fatigued, etc. and my easy pace is almost always a little slower than it was during my last marathon training cycle.

The Strongsville Super Saturday 5K is well attended, with about 450 entrants. The course was described as having a fast 1.5 miles followed by a “challenging hill.” I went into this race with the goal to run hard and not let up on a hilly course as practice for Boston, and to get a good workout in the process.

Temperatures were around 30, with overcast conditions and no wind. I warmed up with about 15 min. easy running and a few short bouts of fast running. My legs felt good and ready to go, but I felt generally tired which I told myself to ignore. I lined up where I thought I should and soon after we were off.

It took a couple minutes to find a groove. In the first few minutes I had all those thoughts of “why do I do this – it’s so hard. I don’t feel like this today blah blah blah.” I wish I never had feelings like this, but I do at quite a few races. I’m not a hyper-competitive athlete, and have discovered I don’t naturally love racing unless I have a strong emotional connection to a particular race. I do love when I overcome “race ambivalence” to have a good day or occasionally PR. Then the feeling of accomplishment, fun, and improvement makes all the mental garbage worthwhile.

Back in Strongsville, we turned onto a road with a slight down grade. That seemed to open up my stride and energize me, so I went with it and quickly felt better. Mile 1 – 7:03 and I felt strong.

We started heading downhill again. For some reason downhill running suits me and I used the descent to naturally and easily speed up. At the bottom of the hill we were at about 10:30. Then the road curved and I could see the “challenging hill” we’d start to climb. I’d run bigger and harder hills, but not in a 5K. I focused on shortening my stride, using my arms more, and pushing myself up. It was steep and I felt pretty bad at the mid-point, a short flat respite. The road curved again and the hill continued, longer but not as steep. I had caught my breath enough to feel better on this part of the hill. Mile 2 came at 14:37 according to the volunteer – my watch had missed the split.

I didn’t feel too bad from the big hill and realized I had a good shot to PR with 8:23 left to run 1.1 miles and still do it. I was encouraged and pushed as strong as I could. The course was still slightly climbing at points, but not bad. It also didn’t feel anywhere as near as miserable as a 5K usually does at this point – more like a hard tempo effort. I focused on keeping my pace as strong as I could.

We made the final turn at about 20:00 and I knew I could get to the finish in less than 3 minutes. I probably even eased up a tiny bit. I was excited to have a good shot at a PR, so these last minutes weren’t as miserable as they usually are – funny how the mental state makes such a huge difference.

I crossed the line smiling at 22:50 by my watch and 22:51 official time. The last 1.1 miles had been 8:09. Not a huge PR, but set on a much more challenging course than my previous.

This was a good encouragement that Boston training is working, and good practice for staying tough on hills. I feel fortunate to be running, and am hopeful of staying healthy for the next weeks to see what happens on April 20.

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