At the beginning of this year, when my 5K PR was 21:38, I decided that this was going to be the year I broke 21 minutes. At the time, I felt pretty certain that I could do it at some point during the year, but I didn't know how long it would take.
And since I was busy running six half-marathons over the course of the year, I kind of put the 5K goal on the back burner. I still hoped I'd get there by the end of the year, but I wasn't all that driven, and had kind of made my peace with letting it go and trying again next year.
Then I found out that the Jingle Bell 5K, which is usually held on the beach (i.e., NOT a place to set PRs), was going to be held on the road, on the same course as the Super 5K, which is mostly flat and fast.
I signed up immediately, and the idea of breaking 21 minutes suddenly came back to the forefront again. But I haven't done any kind of speedwork in well over a month, so I didn't know if I'd be able to pull it off. I knew I was damn well going to try, though.
Going into today's race, my PR was 21:31 (a 6:52 pace). To come in under 21 minutes, I'd have to run a 6:45 pace - a good 7 seconds faster per mile - or a little faster, to give myself a bit of breathing room. On the best of days, that's a tall order. And with virtually no actual race preparation, it's an even taller order.
Which is why, as I warmed up, my mind was positively racing with negative thoughts. 'I have nothing to prove to anyone today. I've had a great year, with tons of PRs and age-group awards, and huge improvements in my half-marathon time. Why am I going to torture myself in a 5K? I should just run it easy and cut myself some slack. I'll get the sub-21 next year. I don't want to do this. It's going to hurt. It's going to be miserable. I'm going to hate every minute of it.' And so on and so on and so on. For two miles.
But we all know that I am not one to back down that easily. I've battled plenty of negative thoughts on plenty a race day, and I was definitely not going to give in this time. Yes, it was going to hurt, but only for a short time. And, as always, it would be worth it.
This is usually a very small race, and this year was no exception. I thought they might get a slightly bigger turnout, due to the fact that it was a balmy 55 degrees at the race start (highly unusual for Rhode Island in December), but that wasn't the case. Fine by me, though - made it easy to get a spot right up front.
The gun went off, and as usual, I went out way too fast. I knew it, though, and was able to reel myself in very quickly, dropping from a 6:30 to a 6:40-ish pace. Once I got into the 6:40s, I actually felt pretty good, and was enjoying being right behind the leaders.
There's one small hill on the course, right around the 1-mile mark, and other years, this hill has felt really difficult to me, but this year, I cruised right up and felt great. I took this as a good sign.
Mile 1 - 6:47.
After the hill, there's a longish stretch down a side road, and a turnaround, so you can see everyone as you're running back. I hate turnarounds, but in a small local race like this, it is kind of fun to be able to see friends who are also running, so waving and getting/giving shoutouts made this stretch a little less torturous.
But this was still the point at which I started to feel tired and crabby and like I didn't want to do this anymore. Which is how I feel at mile 2 of just about every single 5K I run, so I knew I just had to put my head down and keep moving - the faster I ran, the faster I'd be done.
Mile 2 - 6:47. How's that for some consistent pacing???? And that's with barely one or two glances at my watch!
As we came back down the hill and turned onto Ocean Road again, and I knew I had less than a mile to go, I decided - as I have in so many recent races - to not look at my watch again. I'd just run as fast as I could, and hope that it was fast enough.
So I did. And it was.
I did look down once more when I heard the beep for Mile 3 - 6:30. Negative splits in a 5K - imagine that!!!!
As I turned the final corner, I saw just over 20 minutes on the clock, and I knew I had it, but I sprinted anyway. Final .1 at a 6:03 pace.
Shock. Awe. Elation. I really didn't know if I had it in me this year, but apparently I did.
I jogged back to the 3-mile mark to cheer on a few friends, then set off for a couple of cooldown miles, grinning ear to ear.
And my lovely new PR was also good enough to get me a 1st-place age-group award, and rank me 5th female overall. It's a small race, to be sure, but there were a few very talented/fast women in the top 5, and I'm happy that I was able to hold my own with them as competition.
Philly was an amazing weekend, and overall a great experience, but definitely a subpar race performance for me, so I'm glad I was able to fit this race in and make it such a great one. Always good to end the year on a high note!
The final numbers -
1st place age-group award
15 of 100 overall
So now I close the chapter on 2012, and kick off 2013 with a bang - Boston training begins next week!!!!!!!!!! Well, it's supposed to start next week, as long as I can settle on a training plan by then.
I thought I had one picked out, but certain aches and pains that have made themselves apparent during the last week or two are making me question whether a 5-day-a-week training plan is really going to work or not.
I have the next 5 days to decide for sure.
But no matter what training plan I settle on, the fact that I took 20 seconds off my 5K time in just over 3 months has given me a big shot of confidence as I embark on my journey to what will hopefully be a 3:30 marathon finish in April.
Let the games begin!