One of my favorite ways to spend time with my family is through a little friendly competition. This past weekend, 11 members of the extended family packed up the cars, strapped on our running shoes, prepped our drinking bellies, and headed to Pennsylvannia. While our goals all differed -- I wanted to win, some simply wanted to make sure they crawled across the finish line -- we all had a common objective -- have fun!
I went in to the race thinking it would be a piece of cake. Any fun run I've done before typically involves a flat, smooth course. I however, was clearly underestimating the vineyards of Western Pennsylvania.
100 meters in to the race, we have a sharp u-turn down a hill with ground that looked more like the roads I experienced in Haiti than a lush green field in Pennsylvania. Trying to make sure I didn't roll an ankle as we flew down the hill and around the turn, I flung my arms out wide, jumped through the air, and said a little prayer.
I was in the lead for the first 3/4 of a mile, an all downhill portion that twisted and turned along the front slopes of the vineyard. My hate for hills quickly kicked in as we faced a mountain of dirt with a steep grade for roughly 200 meters. This was after a steady uphill for a little less than a 1/4 mile. Topping off the first mile with all this uphill made me dread the remaining 2 miles.
I'm not a sprinter. I don't claim to be fast. What I am good at is finding a pace and sticking to it. My happy place is a half marathon right now, at around an 8:25 race pace. I think of a 5k as a sprint, an awful experience where I'm pushing myself to reach speeds my training doesn't always allow for. Part of the beauty of the 5k is, I know my body can push really hard for a short (and long) amount of time, and its the mental factor that really comes in to play.
At the mile-mark, I heard something I've never heard before: "You go girl, you're leading the women!". Wow. I was leading, and only a few paces behind the actual leader, a 30-40 year old male. I knew I wanted to keep pace with him and maybe catch him if the hills stopped. So I pushed forward, through the pain and searing lungs after that dreadful uphill.
The first half of mile two was torture all on its own though. A steady uphill climb in the baking sun, no shade, and on loose straw packed ground. I kept a good distance from the leader, not pushing myself too hard, but also going fast enough that I knew I was making good time for what the race was. A water stop (they have water stops on 5k's these days!?!?) at the halfway point also signaled a turning point in my race. I knew we couldn't have much more uphill to go, so I started creeping up to the leader, pushing the pace, and challenging us both to finish strong. We had about 200 meters of striding together before a downhill and some shade hit, and at the point I took off.
The final mile was weaving through vine rows. Long straight paths that were pretty narrow and didn't allow for much wiggle room. Looping between the vines, I felt strong and in control of my race. I was out ahead of the pack (by a considerable distance) and knew that I just needed to fork over all I had left to kick in to the finish. And that's exactly what I did.
This course was no joke. I compare it to a pretty tough high school XC course (which I will note I have not run in a long time) and my time reflected that. Coming in at around 26 and some change, this clearly was no PR, but it also showed that I have a lot of growth left in this field, and can't wait to challenge myself on the next 5K course I run (hopefully running in the 22's and 23's again though!)