Running Vs. Racing

Hi friends!  This week I’m taking a brief break from telling you about my marathon training, and instead talking about running versus racing, and what that looks like for me.  For a very long time I went to races, hoped to run just a little bit faster than the time before, and typically was successful at this endeavor.  Due to these frequent successes, I felt like I was becoming faster and becoming a more competitive runner at races.  While it is true that I was getting faster and faster, what I didn’t realize is that I had never REALLY raced.

In my head, if I was at a race, trying for a time, I was racing.  My goal time was always a hair or two faster than the time before, and I was almost always able to hit my goal and feel pretty good during and after the race.  This habit came to a stop in the spring of 2014 when I was getting ready for a half.  My previous PR for a half marathon was 2:24, and I was hoping to run a 2:15.  I shared my goal with Bruce, our fantastic coach, who immediately chided me and told me I should be running a sub 2-hour half.  I was sure he was wrong.  I am not that fast.  I am firmly mid/back of the pack and I just trudge along.  He kept disagreeing with me until I agreed to attempt to run with the 1:50 race pacers and see what happens.

That was the day I learned the difference between running and racing, and realized that at every other race I had just been running (albeit slightly faster each time).  I realized that racing isn’t supposed to be comfortable, and that it is about really pushing.  I did indeed get a sub 2 hour half that day, but I haven’t really pushed myself like that since then.

That is, until this last Thursday.  Now that I find myself marathon training again, I realize that I’m not sure where I am in the sense of speed.  I hadn’t really “raced” a 5k in a very long time, and because knowing your 5k pace is a good benchmark to know for speed work, I felt like I should try it out.

Every year I participate in the Trot to End Hunger – a Thanksgiving morning 5k downtown that benefits So Others Might Eat.

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Ready to go

It is a huge event, with lots of families and groups in attendance to start off their Thanksgiving morning with a little exercise and a way to give back to the community.  Thankfully the race organizers understand the difference between runners there to race and families there to walk and set up pace corrals based on mile pace, broken down in one minute intervals. In an effort to run at the pace that is right for me, without being concerned about exactly what that pace is, I ran without garmin.  This is always slightly nerve-wracking for me. What if I’m going too slow?  What if I go out too fast??  What if I desperately want to slow down, but what I don’t know is I am only a quarter of a mile from done???  Despite my concerns, I knew that the best way for me to run my most sincere pace would be to run it without knowing what that pace was.  So off I went.

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Not a small race….

I love this course.  I’ve done it a million times.  Straight down Pennsylvania Ave, turn right in front of the Capitol, turn right on the other side of the Mall til the turn around and then run it back.  I will be the first to admit that Pennsylvania Ave never seems so long as it does on the way back, but it’s a flat, smooth course that goes by fast.

I took off on race morning, running at what I refer to as an uncomfortable pace.  Too fast for me to talk or really feel very good, but maintainable.  I’ve learned that this is what racing feels like.  That feeling of “I might get sick, but not yet.”  The first mile felt fairly awful.  I had forgotten that when I was in much better shape I would always do a warm up mile or so before a race, and now I remember why.  That first mile just feels like my legs are made up of concrete bricks.  Every attempt at lifting a foot to move forward seems to take ten times as much effort as it should, and it is incredibly demoralizing to start a race feeling so awful!!  By the time I hit the one mile mark I was nice and warmed up (and on my way to too warm), but I will certainly go back to taking a warm up trot before I race!!

I had worn a jacket that morning, but I ended up wrapping it around my waist before the race even started.  I am a person who likes it hot.  It is hard for it to be too hot for me to want to be outside, and humidity doesn’t bother me in the least.  I utterly hate the cold.  Having said that, I own a lot of very wonderful, vey warm and cozy running gear.  When I run in the cold, however, I tend to warm up a LOT and FAST!  Before I even hit the two mile mark I was far too warm in my long sleeve top, and ended up running the second half of the race in my tights and a sports bra.  It was probably not a pretty sight for the spectators (or my fellow runners!!), but it was certainly more comfortable than sweating under layers!

As I made the turn back onto Pennsylvania Avenue I felt myself wanting to slow down.  I felt the familiar vague nausea of pushing myself hard, and the slight light headedness of needing to get some more oxygen into my body.  I probably did slow down a bit at this point, but as I was running without garmin we will never really know.  Finally I got close enough to the finish to see the clock at the finish.  My heart sunk.  I was sure the clock was reading 28:45, which is slower than I run 3 miles on a treadmill at the gym when I’m doing an easy run.  I was disheartened for a second, until I got closer and my eyes focused better – the clock had said 23, not 28!!!

My official race time was 23:54, which is only 15 seconds off my PR that had been set on an all downhill course just a month before Marine Corps last year.  I’m feeling good, convinced that my running streak is helping me to pick up some speed, and feeling ready to keep on training for Austin.  Two days later, my quads are still growling at me, so I may not be “racing” again for a few months, but I’m quite happy to know I haven’t lost nearly as much speed as I thought I had (which I never would have believed had I not decided to push it).

Next week I will be running the Blue & Grey Half Marathon in Fredericksburg.  It’s a new to me race and I’m going to see if I can’t get my second under 2 hour half marathon.  I’ll let you know how it goes!

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2 Responses to Running Vs. Racing

  1. Amy says:

    I really appreciated this post. While I don’t look at my Garmin after the first mile of a race, I still feel like I’m holding back and not really racing. I’m now anxious to try to race rather than “just run” my next race – which might be the Blue & Gray too, since I live in Fredericksburg and absolutely love this race. Good luck and maybe I’ll see you out there!

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