Well somehow summer snuck up on me quickly and before I knew it I was toeing the line for one of my less desirable (but necessary since working with the coach) races and tests of my current fitness. The Johnnycake Jog is a staple of the Cleveland racing scene and throughout the years has brought out the best of the best year after year despite incredibly hot temperatures, no shade on the back half of the course, and a killer mile 2 hill. It's one of the only local races to still offer a bit of prize money and so I always assume it will draw out the "big dogs" from the area and near surrounding areas. Many years a van full of Russians or Kenyans from midwest training camps will show up, and usually you can count on any local studs to be there.
But the reality now is that there are just a lot of races and for some reason the past decade or so the womens field at Johnnycake has been a bit diluted. There are still local studs that run some amazing times, but the depth of the field is not like it was in the past. As I have increased my speed the past few years I have noticed a trend in the local "money races" that typically a year with slow times is followed by a year with fast ones. Knowing that last year I placed 3rd here with a 30:16 and that top 5 win money I assumed this year the field would have more depth and I was gearing myself up for a tough fight and hopefully a fast time by using others to pull myself faster. Placing was on the back-burner in my mind dependent on who showed up to race.
I had it in my head that I had two options for this race depending on the field.
1) Go nuts and stick to the big dogs until I died hoping for a huge PR (Goal sub 29) and a breakthrough. After Tuesday's track workout I really was fired up and thinking this might be a possibility.
2) Run a smarter race this year, go out a bit more conservative and have something left to really hammer the last two miles. With the desire that the resulting time would at a minimum be faster than last years Johnnycake (30:16), and in an ideal world a PR (29:31).
I knew three gals that were for sure running that are faster than me on paper. My mental plan was to try and stay as close as I could to them and pull myself to a better time. When I arrived to the race NC announced a van full of Kenyans was here so I quickly put placing out of my mind and decided I was running my race and would let the field play out however it played out. Being aggressive also seemed silly knowing it was 88 degrees at the start.
Warm up felt good but it was sweaty. I ditched the singlet and went with a sports bra for the race. We used ice in our bras before the start just like on the track, my legs felt good, but the heat was making my mouth feel dry and a bit parched despite hydrating very well that morning. I really was not sure how I was going to feel once we started.
I went sans Garmin and purely ran by feel. We started and I went out smooth and relaxed. I counted the girls ahead of me and was surprised to note only 4. NC, BO, and JK who I knew would be up there and then only one Kenyan female. I watched NC and the Kenyan girl go together but noted that BO and JK seemed to be holding back a bit from them before we made the first turn. I felt really smooth and was surprised to see a few men who are usually further ahead of me before we hit the mile marker. I was closing on JK but I didn't feel like I was straining so I went with it. We hit the mile in 5:52 which was exactly my conservative plan. (Last year I ran 5:42 this mile trying to keep up with NC) NC was long gone by this point, but I could see the Kenyan and BO not too far ahead.
The second mile heads uphill right away and I kept my effort the same running side by side with JK. We made a right hand turn and we pulled even with the Kenyan somewhere around the 2 mile mark which we hit at 12:00 even and a 6:11 mile. This was the same time I ran for this mile last year and now I was getting nervous. While my effort was still relaxed and controlled I knew I needed to step it up if I wanted to close better than last year. As I passed the Kenyan I encouraged her to come with me as I upped my effort to stay with a small pack of guys. My friend TJ was out cheering and informed me I was in 3rd place for women. I gave a wave, and incoherently held up 3 fingers. I guess I was starting to feel the heat a bit as I have no idea why holding up 3 fingers made any sort of sense.
Starting to get a bit uncomfortable here as we head out of the shade and I upped my effort. I focused on relaxing my arms and gliding. I had some random song in my head and a few times I repeated the mantra "I achieve when I believe" to myself. But for the most part I really didn't have to amp myself up or talk myself into anything. I just ran and did my best to tune out the heat. Every water stop I grabbed a water and dumped half on my back and drank half. By mile 3 (5:55) my shoes were soaked. I heard the timer call out around 17:57 here and knew I needed to step it up if I wanted to stay under 30.
Shortly after three you make your last right hand turn and head straight to the finish. No shade, just the hot sun beating down and the clock ticking away. I really tried to focus on keeping my effort up. I knew JK has a sick fast kick and I was sure the Kenyan would as well. 2nd place was far ahead at this point so it was a race for 3rd and a race for a good time for me. I closed on some guys here and was encouraged by my friend TJ who informed me I had 3rd locked down with no close chasers. Mile 4 came in 5:56 and it was time to decide how much I had in the tank.
Normally they have markers out for 1200, 800, and 400 to go. This year I did not see the 1200 or 800 but glanced at the watch at some point to ensure I had less than a few minutes to go. Unlike past years nobody passed me during these two miles and I think I passed three guys. 440 to go coach is yelling for me to get on my toes but I couldn't find that extra gear to really "sprint" though I upped my effort and hammered in for a 5:50 last mile and a 29:43 3rd place finish.
I ran a perfectly paced race for this course. My energy management was ideal and I got lucky that the field allowed me to get away with running my own race and still bringing home some money. I'm happy to be faster than last year at this point, and I am happy my racing instincts were solid on Sunday. But somewhere in the back my head I am wondering if I am limiting myself by being conservative and if there isn't a faster racer in me just waiting for my confidence to come back. I'm a bit torn between being realistic based on my current training, and being "scared" of really going for it. While I felt good Sunday I never was able to find that extra gear to really get after it.
So I guess what this race boiled down to for me is that I ran what I deep down felt was a realistic time for me at this point based on training. But this is not the time I want to be capable of at this point in time. I want to be faster. Keeping in mind that the real goal is Columbus Marathon this fall, what this race was for me was a test of my racing instincts and a benchmark of where I am. So I will be working on getting faster and stronger the next few weeks and I will allow myself to dream a little bigger at my next race and really get after it. Now that I have a solid race under my belt I can take a few more risks as a blow up would be worth the risk of a big breakthrough.
Per usual my SERC and Second Sole teammates all kicked butt. NC ran another 5 mile PR winning the race. BB ran a PR and placed 1st overall master despite being 60 years young. JK and BO went 2 and 4 sealing a second sole sweep of the top 4 places. And all the SERC ladies including Salty (PR) placed 1st in their age groups!