Last week I continued in my efforts to try and get a sub 20 on a 5k cross county course. Having run 20:18 the week before and knowing that last year I got faster every race my hopes were high that I could finally get a 10 year monkey off my back and go sub 20 on a cross course (don't ask me why but I truly don't feel sub 20 "counts" until I do it on a cross course. Mostly because in high school that was all I had run, and I know I can't compare road times to my high school cross times, and I had run 20:03 my sophomore year at states but never broke that barrier.) This race series is awesome because I can go out and test myself on a cross course, for next to nothing, and sort of relive those days of high school when I was racing every week, most weeks more than once a week. Marathon training really doesn't leave much room to race short stuff every week so I am excited this series falls at a time when I can afford to take my focus off endurance and play with my speed a bit.
Tuesday I got to work early and ate an early lunch then a light dinner around 4. Hopped the bus home and drove over to the cross course. Got there in time for a good warm up. I headed out along the front half of the course thinking it would eventually connect to the back half and I could run the dreaded finish hill but just in time I realized that assumption was wrong and I turned around and made it back just in time for a few strides and a quick change into my trainers while Salty flashed photos before I headed to the start. Me legs felt tapped and I just generally felt tired. My arms were semi trashed from a Monday upper body session and I just wasn't sure how I would perform. Add to that about 4 times the number of runners as the week before and I wasn't sure of my chances at sub 20.
A few minute delay and the gun was off. I don't pay any attention to anything around me the first half mile of this race. The gazillion high schoolers all go out like bats out of hell with many of them dropping the pace before we are even a quarter mile in. But there were so many of these crazies this time around I really couldn't get in my own groove at all. I was boxed in all the way through the first mile. Despite this I was able to move up on most of the female field and by the first mile there were only 3 girls in front of me. First mile was slowish. 6:28, 2 seconds slower than the pace I would need to go sub 20. I gritted my teeth as I knew I would have some work to do to keep that pace.
The second mile of this course is just a bear. I'm not sure what it is but I just can't seem to go as fast as the first mile here usually. I passed by the 3rd and 2nd girls within a few minutes after the 1st mile marker but couldn't see if any other women were in front of me. You run through a field on a bridle type path as you head from the first mile, lots of sun shining down on you and then you head back into the woods where you cover the earlier path you took, a few rollers here, and a steep gravelly downhill before a sharp turn and bridge which are a bit wicked to navigate. You exit the woods and turn onto a paved path directly in the sun. The volunteer here is great and always lets me know what place I am in. He informs me I am second woman and I start to eye the field in front of me, but can't pick out any pony tails.
It is still relatively crowded but it is all guys now. We hit the water stop and I grab water to dump over my head. Apparently I strong armed it a bit as I crushed the Styrofoam splashing water all over. Oops! Salty yells at me that I can catch first. I am pretty sure she is full of it, but I hammer anyways because I know that is what it is going to take to break 20 after the first miles split. After the water stop you are back on the long grass and winding your way around towards the 2nd mile marker. There is a guy who directs traffic as you cross over the park entrance and he always yells out splits. Usually I get very frustrated with him because the times he yells are usually closer to what I want at the 2 mile marker which is still about 30 seconds away. :) He yelled 12 something and I knew that meant I had some work to do. To go 19:59 I wanted to hit 2 at 12:52, I am a bit shy of it, clocking another 6:28. (Which is still my best split on this mile ever)
That means it is time to go to work. The next mile has a slight downhill grade or is flat for the majority, traversing over dirt mixed with foot bridges then you hit the last quarter mile or so and it is a winding uphill to the finish, not steep but long enough to really grind you out. Remembering how burnt out I was on that hill the previous week I knew I needed to find some sort of balance between wasting myself hammering the downhills, but still taking advantage of any extra speed I could grab. A guy commented to me as I went by, "Hey, didn't you win last week?", and I replied that "Yep, I did but this week there is someone way ahead of me" and he told me to "go get her"!
The nice thing about that slow first mile was that I was actually feeling strong this mile and I did just try to catch up to as many people as I could. I never did see a ponytail though as I came to the hill. The hill definitely slowed me down but this time it felt more like running through grass, rather than running through quick sand and I kept pushing knowing it would be close. A high school boys coach was shouting for him just before the 3 mile mark that he would have to push if he wanted to break 20. I wasn't sure how much push I had and it made me nervous! I knew if I could get to mile 3 by 19:20 I had a chance. I pretty consistently run the last .1 of this course in 38 seconds. Of course I look down to see the split and the mile split (6:21) is covering my total time, uggh. So I just hammer as hard as I can. I can hear Salty screaming that I can do it and I watch the dreaded clock and I never see 20 before I cross, which means I've done it, despite seemingly going into slow motion those last few steps. 19:57 and that monkey is finally off my back for good. And I believe that is my first ever negative split 5k!
Quick celebratory photo with Salty before I locate my husband and get in a cool down walk with him then a quick jog with EH, got my 1st age group ribbon (1st was a 16 year old in 19:27 ish) taking 2nd overall female and we headed out to Bakers Square, where I miraculously decided I did not need pie!
Stayed tuned for the final race recap of the series in the next few posts!