Saturday, September 25, 2010

Women's Fitness Celebration 5K

It has been just shy of a year and a half since I have run in a race. The last one I finished was a fairly disappointing Race to Robie Creek (billed as the toughest half marathon in the Northwest), followed by a local 10K that I actually quit halfway through a couple of months later. Only later in the fall did I finally discover that I was anemic enough for it to be significantly affecting my daily energy level, so you can imagine what that meant for my running performance. At the time, I really felt as though my best days of running had come and gone, and I just needed to get used to it. I pretty much gave up on the thought of running races, took my iron pills, and I started running just to stay in shape and for the pure enjoyment of it. My training has been pretty mediocre, to be honest, but racing today ignited a certain spark again. And, for the first time in a long while, I'm starting to dream that maybe with a little hard work I can reach some goals that seemed very far out of reach.

The Women's Fitness Celebration has been an annual event in Boise since 1993, and has now grown to be the largest 5K for women in the nation, drawing in approximately 15,000 participants. The event organizers' mission is to inspire women of all ages and abilities to live healthy and active lives. In my opinion, they are doing a fantastic job of it. Every year, women of all ages come together with their friends and their families to enjoy an athletic pursuit and push themselves to do their best. And, most of them come back for more each year. I personally credit this race with helping me discover my love of running and racing, and for teaching me about the rewards of pushing myself.

My first first time participating was in 2002. I had begun my path towards becoming a runner about a year and a half beforehand. I was slowly getting into shape after the births of my daughters, and I had found that running was the best way to do it. My best friend told me about the race, and it sounded like fun. It's billed as a run, walk or stroll, to encourage as many people to participate as possible. The red wave is the timed competitive run, while the purple and blue wave are the non competitive run/walk waves. My best friend and I signed up for the race and chose the purple wave. We jogged and walked the course, using it more as time away from our small children to actually be able to have grown up conversation. But, I can still very clearly recall the excitement of race day and the energy that rolled through that huge crowd of women preparing to take on 3.1 miles, and I knew it was something that I wanted a piece of.

In 2003, I was running more and seeing improvements in my physical ability. I hadn't planned to run the race, but a couple of days before, at the end of a bench stepping class at the gym, the instructor asked if anyone was going to be racing. I told her that I wanted to, but that I didn't want to go by myself. She encouraged me to join her, and that was the only push that I needed. Again, we signed up for the non competitive wave. She hadn't raced since high school, and I was still very unsure of my own capabilities. This time, because I really admired her athletic ability, I pushed myself to keep up with her and ran almost the entire course. Along the way, I noticed that we were passing people with red race numbers who had started several minutes before us. It dawned on me that I would actually be able to compete with the "competitive" runners. As we came down the home stretch toward the finish line, Allison kicked, and I watched her speed away from me. I didn't have the strength or energy to follow, but she helped that fan that little flame that was burning in the back of my mind, the one that told me I could do better. And, I knew at that moment that the next year I would be coming up towards that banner with a timing chip around my ankle. I don't remember my exact time that year, but it was somewhere in the 28 minute range, something near a 9 minute mile pace.

By 2004, I was feeling much more confident and I signed up for the competitive race without having anyone to run with. I happily headed down to the start line by myself, and ended up meeting up with a friend from high school. I hadn't seen her in a few years, and she had been running quite a bit. She was with a friend who was training for a marathon, and they told me that she would complete the 5K as part of a training and run and continue on for a total of 10 miles that day. I was a little awestruck at the sound of that, and that flame in the back of my mind was stoked a bit more and began to turn into a full fledged fire. That year, I clocked in at 27:03.

My training changed and intensified in 2005 as I prepared for my first ever half marathon (the aforementioned Race to Robie Creek). I knew it was a tough race, running 8.5 miles straight up, and then another 4.5 miles down the other side of a mountain, so I didn't take it lightly. I worked hard and ran a lot of hills, and ended up with a half marathon debut of 2 hours and 22 minutes. In Sept, I met up with the same high school friend to run the Women's Fitness Celebration and obviously my hard work during the year had paid off. I chalked up another big PR, this time running 25:58.

2006 was a bit of a plateau year. I started out the year running hard and I caused myself a little injury. It put a damper on my Robie Creek training, which almost resulted in me not running the race. In the week leading up to it, I decided to go for it and just have fun. I ran just a few seconds slower than the previous year. And, my September 5K tradition continued, this time with just a two second PR, 25:56. The lack of huge results didn't discourage me, though, and I began to plot my next move.

I was ready to take on a full marathon in 2007. I ran long, I ran hard, and I ran hills in preparation of my first 26.2. I was on a mission and even though it was hard I never wavered. I was rewarded by smashing my Robie Creek PR to bits, and running the course 18 minutes faster than before. 3 weeks later, I ran my first marathon in 4 hours and 15 minutes. By this time, it had become pretty obvious to me that running longer distances at a little slower pace was much more comfortable for me, so any kind of speedwork was quickly thrown on the back burner. Coming off my marathon high, I ran only sporadically the rest of the year. My 5k time was 26:01, and that would be the last time I would run the Women's Fitness Challenge (or any 5K race, for that matter) until today.

There has been no racing, no putting stress on myself to perform, and my iron levels seem to be back to where they should be. I've lost a little weight, and I've been running pretty decent paces regularly, but not necessarily pushing myself. Signing up for the race was sort of a whim. I missed running it, but I hadn't really been thinking about it too much. In fact, I didn't even really think I would be in town. But, since I was, and since my sister in law was running, I decided I would, too.

I have very recently run 3.1 miles in less than 25 minutes, albeit on a treadmill, and near sea level. That seems like cheating a little, but still when I was given the option of lining up in front by saying that I would finish in 25 minutes or less, I took the chance. Honestly, though, that seemed pretty far fetched to me. I expected to PR, but probably by just a few seconds.

The pass to the front of the line turned out even better than I expected. I don't think there were more than 30 people in the warm up area. There was time to run a little and warm up, without being grouped in with thousands of other women, and not even being able to move. Just a few minutes before the start, we moved out to the front of the start wave, just behind the elite runners. The anticipation was building, and then finally, the gun. We were off.

I didn't wear a watch, and I wasn't listening to my iPod; it was just me and the 30 or so women around me. I took off hard, but I really had no idea what sort of pace I was running. I just know that even though it didn't seem like I wasn't moving all that fast, I was hurting like I was. I guess that's a product of not running different paces enough. I'm not very in tune with my body. I was passing people, though, and not being passed very often. I wish I knew for sure, but I have a feeling that I ran that first mile pretty damn fast for me.

Shortly after the one mile marker, there is a little hill. It's not even a quarter of a mile, and it's not really all that steep. It's enough to hurt a little, though, when you are trying to run your 5k pace. For me at least. It's the only hard part, though, and I told myself that over and over and over again. Get up the hill as fast as you can and you will start to recover. Push yourself just a little bit harder than you think you can. I was past the worst part, but I felt myself slowing down a little. A couple of people passed me. I thought to myself, 'you're not going to run in less than 25 now. Just slow down and enjoy the rest of the race'. And then, the other voice in there said 'you have no idea how fast you are going. No one is getting that much farther ahead of you. How fast are they running?' Yes, all this internal conversation. If you have run, you know what I am talking about. If you haven't run, I challenge you to go out and listen to those voices. They are entertaining.

I thought back to the 10k last year that I quit. It's a rather ironic story. I was running with my then boyfriend, now husband and he was in really good shape. I was not. The race started and within a quarter of a mile, I couldn't hang with him. I watched him roll off into the distance and I got pissed. Not just a little. A lot. Not really at him, but at myself, for not being as fast as him. For not being as dedicated or working as hard to get into shape. It made me feel small, and like I wasn't good enough. I don't know why I put that on myself. No one one is holding me up to any unattainable standards...but I suppose that's another issue altogether. So, as I watched him disappear, I decided I didn't want to run. I thought I must be going really slow and why bother to run 6 miles at a 10 minute mile pace. I turned around, and ran back to the start/finish area. Ron continued on to run on and finish in 48 minutes, which was a huge PR for him, and far faster than I would have ever expected to run, even if I had been in good shape. I wasn't running all that slow after all. He was just running really fast. Here comes the ironic part. Looking back at the times of the finishers afterward, we found out that I would have WON the woman's 10K if I had continued. Not just my age group. The whole race (it was a small race, but still). Live and learn....and back to my current story.

So, I thought about that day. I thought about what it was like to just give up. And I asked myself if it really hurt to run as fast as I was running. And, I asked myself if I could go any faster. The answer to both of those questions was no, but during this internal conversation I had covered a little more ground, and the downhill portion was in sight. Keep going, keep pushing and pretty soon you can get a little respite. That down hill is enough to recover at least a little, and maybe even make up a little time.

I rounded that corner and started down the hill. I was really unaware of the other runners around me by that point. I didn't have any rabbits I was chasing. I don't know if anyone passed me. But, as I started down the hill, I saw a familiar face. Or rather, the back of a head and a camera. It was one of my former co workers. "Marty Herceg!!", I said, and he turned around smiling. He asked me how it was going and I said good. I passed on by, and hoped that he wasn't taking a picture of my backside as I passed. I heard him yell "You've still got the Hawaii tan!", and that made me smile. I pushed on a little harder.

The last part of this course is sort of hard. You run up one side of the road right past the finish line, then make a u-turn to run up the other side of the road to the end. It's so hard to be so close to the finish line and know you still have a little way to go. I was hurting a lot near the end. I wanted to slow down, and I probably did slow down a little. But, in the last tenth of a mile you pass by "tuxedo row". A bunch of men stand in the middle of the course in tuxedo jackets and cheer you and slap your hand as you go by. It's a good pick me up, because you don't want to look like you are in pain and suffering in front of them, so you suck it up a little.

Of course, by this time, I could see the clock, and that was my biggest motivator. I could see that the seconds of 23 minutes were ticking away. I had run much faster than I had expected. If I had it in me, I could have sprinted for the line, and shaved off a few seconds. Would I have made it in under 24 minutes? Probably not. But, at this point, it doesn't matter. I ran under the clock at 24:10. Nearly a 2 minute PR. Enough to leave me hungry for more, and wondering, just where does my speed top out? How much more am I capable of? I really can't wait to find out.