Nearly all of my PR races I’ve set post-pregnancy, with one glaring exception: the 15k.
In fact, the only 15k I had run was Hot Chocolate, when I was about 16 weeks pregnant, back in 2010. It’s not a race distance that I see frequently or readily available in Chicago, so I haven’t thought about trying to reset this PR-by-default (inshallah) time until a few months ago, when my mother-in-law sent me a link to a 15k/5k race coming to Rockford in June, organized by The Biggest Loser.
Yea, the TV show.
Apparently they’re launching a nationwide series of run/walks, and part of their schtick is having previous season’s winners (losers?) come to each race to give motivational speeches, talk to the runners/walkers, and, for some, I think actually participate in the events.
I was lukewarm about the tv show tie-in to the race because I don’t watch it, but since I wanted to get a more accurate depiction of my 15k ability, sans pregnancy, I committed to it. And, just like with last weekend’s Ragnar adventure, I didn’t “train” for this race in the way of a structured program like I did for Eugene; hell, again, I haven’t done any formal speedwork since Eugene training. I figured I’d just see what my body could do… and hope something was still left in the tank post-Eugene, post-5k, and post-Ragnar (muscle memory, anyone?).
I think any runner would agree with me that, when you do a run that’s not organized by a running club or a running store, race day might be a little spotty. This was no exception. Packet and bib pick-up took place a day before the race only, outside, and it was a pain in the ass.
Standing outside in a line for 45 minutes with an active two year-old gets old really quickly.
I’m not quite sure why they couldn’t offer race day pick-up, but A and I stood around in lines to get my bib (and sign some obligatory paperwork, pretty sure the same fine print that I agreed to when I registered online), and then to get my shirt, for longer than it took to drive the 12 miles round-trip to get to the park in the first place.
Race day weather was about 62 degrees and non-stop rain/drizzle, but it was doable, and compared to what it could have been in late June, totally fine. The 5k runners and walkers started 10 minutes before the 15k folks, and it was really pretty cool to see the wide variety of runners/walkers whom this race attracted. In this respect, this run/walk series, I think, has the potential to do a lot of good because if their overarching goal is to inspire people to move, or to inspire already-active people to keep moving, then they’re heading in the right direction. Without sounding like a complete pretentious ass, suffice it to the say that the “look” of the 5k and 15k runners/walkers at this event was nothing like what I usually see at races.
After a skittish warm-up that involved many stops for bathrooms (hoping my guts wouldn’t tell me to fuck off this morning, like they had been telling me to all week), double-guessing whether I should gear check my stuff (even though I had parked steps away from the start/finish line), and a couple times of stopping to cheer for the 5kers, I finally lined up in the very front of the pack to race. The gun went off, and out of the gate, I was the second woman and held steady there; I just watched my gazelle sister in sport easily check-off sub-6:30s and thought “have at it, girl.” (Sidenote: what was also cool about this gazelle, just like many of the other 15k/5k participants, was that she didn’t “look” fast. This might warrant a separate post about body images, runners, and speed perception…)
Anyway. About a mile, mile and a half, into the race, I felt the car key drop from my shorts—despite being in a pocket, and having the top part of my shorts folded down—so I backtracked a few steps, got it, and carried on. Somewhere immediately after this song and dance routine, another woman in a really cool-looking purple UA tank caught up to me and stayed a consistent few strides ahead of me, so I just focused on her incredibly muscular back (b-a-d-a-s-s) and tried to settle into low 7s, a goal pace that my Ragnar ladies AB and Mere told me I should and could do.
The first few miles of the course wove through some neighborhoods near downtown that I didn’t recall seeing before (and ones that really reminded me of parts of the Champaign/Urbana marathon course I ran in 2012), before the course dumped us onto the trail adjacent to the Rock River. Here, about 3 or 4 miles in, Purple told me it was “my turn” to go in front and lead.
I liked this woman already.
A few more miles along the river, and then a few out-and-backs off the river and through some more Rockford and Loves Park (I think) neighborhoods I had never been to, and I was beginning to see that I was still within the lead group, even though the guys were significantly ahead of me, and Purple was still behind me somewhat significantly.
I was beginning to wonder when “my turn” was going to end.
Pre-race, I didn’t know how to race or pace this distance because of my green experience with the 15k. I figured I should go more slowly than a 5k or 10k, but faster than 10m or 13.1, but I didn’t know what that should feel like, nor did I know if I’d really be able to do what I “should” be able to, coming fresh off Ragnar last weekend and, more importantly, not specifically training for this distance. My legs, quads especially, were beginning to feel like lead, even though my pace was staying pretty consistently sub-7:18. I’m pretty sure I retired from running several times during this race, which, for the record, might have been the longest of my life.
As each mile ticked off, I was trying to change my perspective and make it positive. Instead of thinking about how weak I was for getting tired and wanting to quit, I told myself that I was allowed to feel tired, that my legs/quads were probably fatigued from doing the at-home strength stuff 3x this past week (more than I’ve done it in recent history), and that I was going into this event pretty much relying on my Eugene/5k/Ragnar fitness. I would imagine that, like many other runners, I tend to think I’m invincible and expect nothing less than mind-blowing performances at every race I do. Rationally, I know this is ludicrous and that, if I expect a life-changing PR every time I race, I will be disappointed 99% of the time. Sometimes, however, I guess I have to pretty much mentally scold myself and remind myself that my racing is a work in progress and that patience is a virtue.
A huge fucking virtue.
Once I had this mental moment with myself, I felt like I was in a happier place… even if I swore I would never do this godforsaken distance again.
We finally returned to the river with just a few miles to go, and I remained pretty consistent in my pacing and was still wondering where the hell Purple was. I tried to look for her on some of the out-and-backs and figured she was still pretty far behind me, but I didn’t want to give up or, worse yet, assume that I was handedly going to be the second woman OA.
Around mile 8, still along the river, and still in the rain, I was beginning to tire and curse all RDs’ ideas of making their runners run along riverbeds, so to pass the time, I began to do 20-100” of strides and pick-ups, counting my steps along the way. It was in this mile that I dropped my slowest interval, a 7:22, no doubt from the incessant GOGOGO speeding up and slooooooooooow it down nonsense I was doing, and suddenly Purple got within earshot. I turned my head some and told her I had wondered where she had been—love the friendly trash talk, and I’m sure she knew it was innocuous—but when she didn’t pick it up to catch me soon after I had dropped that a-hole remark, I decided that I was done with this race and was ready to go home.
After exiting the river with about a mile or so to go, we ran along Madison St., which I later learned is a mainstay of Rockford races that begin and end at Davis Park, and it was a bit mind-numbing: empty (early Saturday morning), industrial, and gray. I was beginning to see more and more walkers from the 5k who were leisurely making their way downtown, so I began to focus on them and the two runner guys ahead of me and less so on whether Purple was going to catch up to me. Madison was a straight-shot, with a slight uphill at the very end, and after rounding the corner, the finish line was in sight, and on a nice down.
I tried my best to leave everything on the course once I realized how close I was to the finish. I knew by now how I would place—second woman OA, most likely first in my AG by default, even if they didn’t double-dip, and probably within the top 10-15 finishers—and that the longest race in the history of races was going to end in seconds. As I approached and crossed the finish line, the announcer lady made a huge deal about my finish, damn near proclaiming to the world that I HAD JUST FINISHED THE BIGGEST LOSER 15K RUN AS THE SECOND WOMAN!, and she and the volunteers rushed in to give me my medal, high fives, and some sweet congratulatory remarks.
I felt a little embarrassed at all the fanfare, but I also remember thinking how sweet it was and how cool it would be for a race novice to feel like that big of a rockstar at the conclusion of his/her first race. Soon after, Purple rushed in, and we gave each other some congratulatory remarks, and she said dropped some flattering lines to me about how tough and gazelle-like I was. …sure.
The race experience was about what I expected from an event not designed by a running store or a running group. The pre-race stuff was frustrating, and the post-race logistics were also messy, with other runners and me having our entrant statuses messed up (walkers versus runners), things not starting on time, and the like. However, for an inaugural event, and especially one that catered to a (presumably) nontraditional audience for an endurance event, it was successful. The entrants’ race premiums included a drawstring bag, tech SS, chip-timed bibs, medals for all finishers, and free race photos (which, alone, can be more expensive than many races’ entry fees). TBL has since added a stop in Chicago in August, so it will be interesting to see how that experience compares with that of Rockford. I imagine that they’ll attract more participants in the city and will have to make some adjustments to the race logistics, especially the pre-race pick-up stuff.
All in all, I got what I was after—a more accurate 15k time and, to boot, a shiny new PR—and was happy with all the bonuses—the OA placement, the de facto AG win, and meeting Purple, a badass Rockford runner whom I later learned was about twice my age. (For the record, I would love to kick that much ass 29 years from now). Truth be told, I probably wouldn’t have registered for this race had my MIL not informed me about it, but I’m glad I did, even if I never did figure out how to properly run the thing.