2011 Veteran’s Day 8K: Race Report
Here’s a post to break up the New York Marathon buzz.
I ran an 8K race yesterday, finishing in 33:50 something-ish, which is about two minutes slower than last year’s effort on the same course.
The course is a flat, pavement out-and-back with only one turn (the turnaround!) and it winds pleasantly through a forest and meadow along a river. On a typical early November day, this race is a PR free-for-all, but it snowed five inches on Friday and there’s no plowing that trail, so footing was a bit more, say, “mentally stimulating” than usual and our times were all slow.
Last year, I took it out conservatively and stalked two of my competitors before eventually grabbing the lead. If you read last year’s race report, you’ll see that I pretended I was a wolf stalking a caribou. What in hell? I am not sure what it is with me and channeling megafauna during races, but I’ll blame my job as my excuse for any of the nature-related asininities that pop up on this blog.
The “caribou” I ran with last year ended up becoming a frequent running buddy. He and I are usually evenly matched, and in any given race we’ll trade off on finishing place. He was there today, and I knew he’d be the one to stay with.
Except that, well, I ended up frontrunning the entire time.
I don’t know what came over me.
Actually, I do: My running friend is strong down the backstretch and I knew I didn’t want to be within striking distance of that kind of speed in the last 800 meters.
So from about fifty steps in, I was in front. I kept pushing around every corner, trying to steal an inch of cushion and put some distance on the other runners. I’m getting better at dealing with racing from the front. I haven’t enjoyed it in the past, because I’m a classic sit-and-kicker and I’m afraid of getting steamrolled by somebody who was back there conserving energy. However, it’s time to start trusting my fitness and my speed. If someone else blasts by and pulls a blistering sit-and-kick trick on me, oh well. These small Juneau races with only 20-40 people in them are an opportunity for me to focus on learning something new as a racer, and that “something new” is running alone and occasionally running from the front. (And yeah, I’m fully aware that in any race in any other state, my times would put me in the middle of the pack, and I miss that — the anonymity. But here, that’s not the case, and I’m nearly always toward the front.)
Racing alone is tough. It just is. It’s hard to push myself from the front once I’m satisfied no one will catch me, and it’s even harder if there is no PR on the line.
To deal with this, I have two thought processes I key on:
1. Ironing out the “focus wrinkles.” I’ve had so many races and speed workouts both in rowing and running where I looked back afterward and thought, “S&#@, that race would’ve gone better if I hadn’t endured a sudden bout of amnesia about the fact that racing is supposed to feel hard” or “If only I’d kept my pace up during that crappy second lap instead of easing off the gas out of momentary laziness.”
Somehow, over the past few years, I started thinking about a race as if it were a shirt, and my lapses in focus were wrinkles that caused me to slow down, to lose speed or distance on a competitor. If I could iron those wrinkles out, that would be a real race: a crisp, flawless, dapper shirt and a true, solid effort I could look back on and be pleased with.
(The hilarious absurdity of this mantra is that I’ve only ironed a shirt maybe three times in my entire life and those times all probably had more to do with ironing on letters than getting rid of shirt wrinkles. For actual clothing wrinkle situations, I turn to wrinkle release sprays. It’s you and me forever and for always, Febreeze.)
For some reason, though, it helps me. I’ll repeat this nonsense to myself whenever I need validation for mentally staying with it during a race or harder effort: iron out the focus wrinkles.
(Now I’m attempting to recall the last time I actually ironed a shirt. All I can come up with was my first day at work in Atlanta in 2009. Yeah. Been a while.)
2. Inches. As a frontrunner, I’m nearly always running scared. I’m chronically anxious about overestimating my speed and subsequently being mowed down by a stronger runner lurking behind. But I’m at a point now where I’ve been racing for a few years, and I have a fairly good internal understanding of my abilities. If I’m out in front, it’s probably because I’m at a speed I can follow through on, and I’m learning to trust that instead of being nervous about my positioning the entire time. So today, instead of letting myself get caught up in frontrunner anxiety, I focused on “inches” — putting an inch more here or there between me and the person behind me by accelerating around corners and — theme of the day — staying focused, since lapses in focus cost me the opportunity to eke out more inches.
Ever seen Any Given Sunday? I haven’t. It might be terrible, it might be decent, I don’t know. But the rowing world has had a youtube video (here – speech at about 45 seconds in… F-bomb warning for anybody with kids scrambling near your computer) circulating for quite a few years set to the background of Al Pacino’s “Inches” speech. My rowing team got pretty excited about it in college even though it’s semi-cheesy. It’s not exactly relevant for an individual sport like running, but I guess that’s where some of my fixation with inches comes from. It’s that idea of chewing down any extra inch I can between me and whoever I’m trying to beat.
Apparently today’s effort averages out to a 6:49ish pace. I managed to stay fairly focused and hold my friend off through the finish, but with the snow factor, I’m not exactly sure where that puts me. It would’ve been nice to use this race as a benchmark and go for a PR, but hey, weather happens…