Welcome to my first Post-Race Rave!
This past weekend, I packed my bag and hopped on the Friday afternoon commuter train north towards Baltimore. It was race weekend, leg two of the three part King Crab Challenge that combines the Frederick Half Marathon (May 3) with the Baltimore 10-miler (June 6) and the Baltimore Running Festival (October 13). Fresh off a 6-minute PR at the Frederick Half (1:50:34), I was feeling motivated, but not quite sure if another PR was on the horizon.
As anyone who has heard me talk about running knows, I HATE hills. My High School XC coach just had a piece of her soul rip out, but lets be real. Hills are the worst! Yes, practicing on them make you a stronger runner. Yes, powering up them gets them over faster and keeps your race on pace. But really.... there are very few things in life I know for a fact I will hate every time, and thats big rolling hills for mile after long, draining mile. And the race organizers at the Baltimore 10-miler seemed to be out on a mission to break me down.
The morning started off great. My mom and I crashed at the race hotel just off of Johns Hopkins University's campus. I woke up at 5:30, showered (a race ritual), braided my hair, and hopped in the car. We got to the Baltimore Zoo around 6:30, hung around the car for about 15 minutes, before heading towards the start line. And thats where my frustrations began. After a mile and a half of walking (I guess we can't say I didn't warm up) we finally made it to the start line. As most runners do, I went to find a port-o-potty before the race -- just in case :). Well, at 2 minutes til start, I still hadn't used the john, was a 1 minute jog from the start line, and an impossible number of people away from meeting up with my pace group.
I started the race back with the 1:35 pace group. While this is a great pace for anyone to aim for, I was out for a personal best. In March, I ran a 1:24:15 at the Frederick Rescue Mission 10-miler, and knew I had put in a lot of really great miles between then and now. I wanted a PR, and I wanted it bad.
The first mile, I pushed myself extremely hard. I wanted to catch -- and pass -- the 1:25 pace group, which was the group I was aiming to start the race with. About 3/4 of a mile in, I caught them. And passed them, and didn't see them again for the rest of the race.
At mile 2, my mental facilities started to weaken. I was tired, exhausted from a long work week and a stressful week of Masters work as well. I actually thought of stopping, walking, and maybe not finishing the race. I wasn't in the zone, but knew that if I just picked a couple of runners and stuck with them for a few minutes, I could hold on, and bring myself back.
By mile 3, I was feeling good, boosted by an unexpectedly fast pace of 7:58. While this wouldn't last (though I hope one day I can get there), it gave me the energy to push through the next mile and a half of flat -- some may say boring -- terrain around the city lake. A woman in roller blades dancing to what I have to assume was really great music glided along us runners as we circled the lake. She provided a great reprieve from the growing internal fight I was having with myself about my pace and my ability to finish strong.
When I was new to the game of distance running (read, longer than a High School XC course), I never, and I mean never, would take nutrition or liquid during competition. After I realized this was actually crazy, I began spacing out my liquid intake to roughly every 2-3 miles, depending on distance, heat, and current physical condition. I didn't realize how dehydrated I was during the Baltimore race, but I found myself craving liquid between every station. As soon as I got that cup in my hand, a weight lifted off my shoulder, and I was boosted for the next few minutes.
At mile 8, the true challenge presented itself. A beast of a hill, one that wound itself, snaking up to the Zoo and the finish line, teasing us with a view of the festival celebrations, but torturing us with its merciless accent. My legs were screaming. I could feel the lactic acid building up, a sign I had pushed myself hard, but a warning sign that my end was quickly approaching, whether I made it to the finish or not. Behind me, the familiar English accent of my favorite pace group leader boomed. That was my sign. I couldn't let the 1:25 group pass me. I knew if I kept them behind me, I would surely PR, since I started behind them.
Three quarters of a mile to go. We flatten out. The road winds around a sharp turn and we head down hill. I pick up my pace, open my stride, expand my lungs, and push to the finish -- with a huge smile across my face.
A new PR. A new success story in the face of running adversary. I new accomplishment that continues my extremely successful racing year so far.