Every Tuesday in the non-snowy months, the Sugarloaf Mountain Athletic Club runs a 5k race, at a park in Northampton. I ran this once before, and posted a PR by a good bit, hitting 21:02. I wasn't expecting to do that again, and given my pretty unfocused training the last few months, combined with a lot less sleep than I'd like this past week, I wasn't expecting much speed. But I strapped on the light shoes, did a barely-enough warmup, and set myself a goal: finish in front of Peter Gagarin. He ran 22:xx two weeks ago, and I figured breaking 22 today would be good, so I thought it would be close. The challenge was issued about a month ago, see who was faster at running, and although my times from last year put me in front, you have to be worried, because Peter doesn't take a bet he doesn't think he'll win, and he's fixed the injury that was holding him back last year.
So I lined up, they said "go", and I took off - this course starts with a downhill, and I can do downhills. After the downhill I was passed by a steady stream of people as I settled into my pace, it felt easy, in the way the first interval feels easy if you're actually going the pace you want at the track, but you know it's going to start hurting pretty soon. We go up the first hill, and I tried to run within my abilities, just nice and light and relaxed, and by now there were fewer people passing me. I could see that I was the fifth girl, behind Ali, Kelsey Allen, her friend Kristine, and a teenager with an ipod, but I knew the race wasn't really about beating them - they'd either be faster or I would. I was in it for the time, and to beat Peter. Stay focused, kiddo.
I rolled through the first mile in 6:36 - my plan had been to go for 7min miles, because that would put me at something below 22min, but this didn't feel that hard, yet, so I didn't slow down. We did the loop through the field and headed down that first hill again, and I used it to narrow the gap between myself and ipod-girl and Kris. Ali and Kelsey were long gone, but the other two didn't seem to be pulling away very fast, encouraging. Every time I turned a corner, I was checking behind me for Peter, but he was wearing a gray teeshirt in a field of people wearing white and gray teeshirts, so I couldn't really tell if he was closing.
As we cruised along the river, I could feel the work load settling into my legs. This pace was ok, but I knew there was a steep hill coming up just after 2 miles, and I could tell that I was right on the brink of my lactate threshold - wouldn't take much to put me over and into a world of hurt. I hit the 2mi mark at 13:13, still right on 6:36 pace, but I was definitely starting to feel it. Another check for Peter and I thought I saw him back there, just had to survive this hill and the last false flat mile... The shirtless guy I'd been pacing for the last mile dropped me up the hill, but I closed the gap to Kris, focusing on a light stride, relaxed shoulders, just flow. We got to the top and I was solidly in the hurt box, legs feeling heavy with lactic acid burning, but if there's anything I ever learned from racing a bike, it's that you don't rest after uphills - you attack. So I surged, Kris matched it, pulled ahead, and dragged me up to ipod-girl. ipod-girl was looking pretty wasted, but I couldn't help it, I rested a second or two behind her, and Kris got a gap.
The last mile of this course is just stupidly painful. I had passed ipod-girl, and was in full-on fat-kid-with-asthma-breathing mode, with my own phlegm threatening to choke me any second. My legs were burning, and there was none of this relaxed pacing stuff going on anymore. I could see my rabbit, and I was doing my darnedest to chase her down, as we got to the crest of the little bump at 2.7ish, I checked my watch, 19min - less than 3 minutes left, you can suffer through just about anything for 3 minutes! Suck it up and run, bitch!
I made contact with Kris just as we hit the 3mi mark (20:24 - that third mile is tough), and started questioning whether I had the fight in me today to take her in a sprint. I was exploring dark corners of my pain cave I haven't been to in years, and I really wanted to lie down and breathe. But we hit the pavement, and I found some fight, went for it - kicking at the end of a race is somewhat transcendental for me, it takes a massive amount of energy to overcome the first barrier of deciding I'm going to do it, but then, once I do, I haven't been beaten in a full kick, yet. It's this realization that all you have to do is go faster than the other person, and that's purely mental. Booyah. But holy moly was that a painful last 100m, I thought I might actually die if I didn't start breathing soon.
In the end, I finished in 20:59, a new PR, and compared to last August, when I was just 3 seconds slower, a much harder effort (avg HR was 183 this time, and 179 last August). But I ended up as the 3rd woman, and 16th overall, so that's pretty cool, though less exciting than beating Peter (who did set an age-class record, so he was happy even though he lost the bet). Hopefully I don't have to do another one of these for at least a week or two, when the memory of the pain fades. Racing is tough. But it's quite encouraging to see this speed at the beginning of the summer; clearly, I'm fitter than I thought. Woo! Now to just stay un-broken...
Map and HR graph.