This is a delayed post. Life has gotten in the way of being able to post more frequently. But since this race was one of the highlights of my running life – I have to recap it the best I can. I hand wrote this a couple days after the race and revisiting it has reminded me how far I’ve come – both emotionally and physically – with my running.
Before the Race
The week leading up to the race I had a nervous energy similar to what I experience before marathons. Knowing that this was my big goal race for winter I wanted to do well. I not only wanted to do well, but I wanted to make heads turn. I wanted to show people how hard I worked for this and that I wasn’t just a weekend runner anymore. So I took that week very seriously. I slept at least 8 hours each night. I ate very clean. I eliminated alcohol of all kinds (a cold beer with friends after a tough day is one of my biggest vices) and I attempted to calm the nerves by throwing myself into work, cooking, and running the remaining training runs I had on my schedule. The day before the race I even turned down plans with friends for a very low key, off my feet day. Remember – this is an 8k – why was I so nervous about this? Because short distances (less than a 10 mi race) have never been a strength of mine. And this was all I had been focused on since January. I didn’t want to let myself down or my coach and I knew I was as ready as I could be.
During the week I touched base with my coach, Dan Walters, who believed I was capable of breaking the 30 min mark. My 8k PR was just under 32 minutes. I thought he was crazy. Although I knew I was capable of a new PR – I wasn’t so sure about the 30 min mark. It was ambitious – but he believed in me – so I believed in him and trusted his guidance. All I knew was I’d do my very best to cross that finish line as fast as I possibly could. It was going to hurt. Dan sent us a link to view a scene between a boxer and his coach prior to the race. In it the coach screams at the boxer – motivating him to fight one more round. He tells him – this is going to hurt – but who the heck cares – we are firemen. That was how this 8k would feel and I had to mentally accept that and move past the pain at miles 3 and 4 and just push as hard and as fast as I possibly could. That mantra ‘we are firemen’ played over and over in my head during the last 2 miles of the race.
I woke up before my alarm and was surprisingly calm. I had slept really well and was ready to go in a matter of minutes. I made my usual pre-race breakfast (oatmeal, banana and a scoop of almond butter), grabbed my coffee and made my way to the bus to commute down to the area we’d planned to meet before the start. As it got closer to the start, the nerves really started to set in. I just wanted to get this thing done. We did our shakeout as a team and as per usual I jogged a bit faster than I probably should have but it was only a couple miles. We changed into our racing gear and made our way to the start line. After a couple more strides to shake out the legs, we battled crowds to get into the corral about 15 minutes before the start. Once in the corral I saw so many from the Chicago running community that I knew — I was somewhat distracted from my nerves while saying hi to everyone. I was surrounded by my running family and this was our day. It was going to be great and awful all at the same time. I really reflected on how much had changed in the last 3 years and how much I absolutely love this city and these people. I was ready.
After the gun went off I wish I could say I remember every detail – but to be honest, I don’t. It was a blur. I settled into about a 6:05 pace for the first mile. I passed a few people and felt strong and controlled. I ran with a couple other folks that Dan coaches that were also looking to break the 30 min mark. As we approached the 5k mark, the 6:05 pace really started to set in. I hit the 5k at exactly 19 minutes – only 15 seconds off my PR – I started to wonder if I should back off a bit. The fatigue started to hit my legs. They burned. My lungs burned. Everything in my body told me slow down. And then I remembered ‘we are firemen’ and I shut down the negative thinking, listened to the crowds and surged forward.
I hit the 4 mile mark and reminded myself that in 6 minutes this would all be over and I was going to be very close to hitting 30 minutes. I dug deep and started picking people to catch. I’ve tried this in other races and it doesn’t always work. But today, it did. Not only did I start catching and passing individuals but I did so on Mt. Roosevelt – where in the past – I’ve all but walked up the hill (during the marathon). As I passed 2 females up the hill and turned onto the home stretch I could see the finish line. I kicked it into high gear. Never have I felt so strong at the finish of a race. I gave those last few meters all I could — attempting to catch my teammate Colleen who I have raced with a couple times and am always just seconds behind. I closed the gap significantly – finishing just 3 seconds behind her and with a brand new big PR – 30:37! It wasn’t 30 minutes – but with the wind at mile 3 I couldn’t be happier with this time. As I started to walk through the finish area I ran into my coach (who also raced that day) and practically collapsed in his arms. I was spent – I had given it everything I had. He congratulated me on a job well done, we ran into some more Chicago running friends and we all walked together back to grab our gear and head home to freshen up before celebrating our success that afternoon.
After the Race
Following the race celebrations I went through a period of mild depression. I’m not sure why – but my theory is the huge build up for one event and then it comes and goes – and even though I did well – can result in a, ‘well now what’ feeling. What helped me through it? Focusing on finding my joy in running and identifying and changing my mindset for the next goal. Grandma’s marathon in June. A distance I’m much more comfortable with. After a few days, my mood improved and I started to feel reinvigorated and super focused on the long term goal.
This race and new PR could not be possible without Dan and the DWRunning team. His and their encouragement and motivation helped me realize what I’m truly capable of. He has taught me to trust the process. To take each week as it comes and each workout as it is. To identify what it is I want and to go after it. It’s not easy. It comes with sacrifices. But if you work hard you will reap the rewards of your training.