When it comes to racing I tend to be a creature of habit. 2017 marked my 5th consecutive year of running the Cabot Spring Fling 5k. Three of these years have been within 2-3 weeks of finishing the Little Rock Marathon but it’s just hard to pass up this one since it’s only 30 minutes from our house and it’s on the Arkansas Grand Prix Schedule.
The week leading up to the race was a tough one emotionally. The Arkansas running community lost a runner and the memorial service was scheduled in the same city as the race a few hours later. The day before the race we received difficult news from Arkansas Children’s Hospital about some tests our youngest son had done. Nothing life threatening but not the news we were hoping for.
My friend Jamie was coming in for the memorial service so she stayed at our house Friday night and planned to go the race with our family. It was so nice visiting with her. The kids loved having a house guest and we all rode to the race together in the morning.
Jamie and I jogged a little over 2 miles with some strides and then it was time to head to the start.
Typically I aim for even to negative splits in a race but this being my 5th time to run this race I knew it wasn’t very likely on this course. The third mile has two hills that make it a little challenging. My goal was to stay in the 5:50-5:55 range for the first two and get the third as close to that as possible.
I spent the first half mile navigating through the crowds and settling into the right pace zone. I knew I was first female and in my mind I was headed to race maintenance mode. Then I heard what sounded like a female breathing right behind me. Who was that? I had no idea who the girl was right behind me but she was holding on. Right before the mile 1 marker I saw my sister Tessa and her youngest daughter who were on the sidelines cheering. Tessa lives a few blocks from the race so she always comes out to cheer at this one. I love seeing her and her kids at this one!
We ran through mile 1 at 5:49. Before the 2nd mile marker we started headed back and runners on the other side of the road who were heading into their first mile were cheering. I heard some calling my name and the female’s name behind me. Ahhhhh. How did I miss her?! Now it all made sense. I had not seen her before the race but once I heard it was her I knew she’d give me a run for my money. She’s a recent college track grad (very sweet and talented) and I knew she’d have a good kick at the finish if she was still with me. We went through mile 2 at 5:51 and I was still feeling good heading into the last mile. I knew I was slowing up the first hill and looked down to see a pace much too slow. I thought she might pass me at any second but she didn’t. One of the guys in our pack shouted “Newton Hills” which reminded me of the main race I’m working towards (the Boston Marathon) next month. One more hill to go and then it was smooth sailing from there. For a split second I thought if she passed me now I would probably just give up the fight. Then I snapped back to reality and told myself I could still win this thing. I had to keep pushing and work for it. She was still right behind me but one of the guys in our pack surged ahead. “Stay with Jerry!” I told myself. If I could stay with him I knew I’d have a good shot of winning. We sprinted down the hill onto the track and from there the race was about 300 meters around the track. Track finishes are my absolute favorite. But, knowing she was a college track runner I knew she’d have a strong advantage here. My kick is not what it used to be. Mile 3 beeped at 6:08. The hills had slowed me down but now it was time for some speed. As we sprinted towards the track all I could think of was that I would be so mad at myself if I led the whole race and lost it in the last 30 seconds. It was time for an all out sprint. I knew John was on the track with Ashton watching this all go down. As we headed down the first straightaway some lady standing in the outer track lanes yelled,”Pass her!” I know she was trying to encourage the second place female but it was like fuel to a fire. Suddenly I got this huge surge of energy and actually caught up to Jerry for a couple seconds. We rounded the final turn and I kept going for that finish line. The last 0.14 was at a 4:52 pace. What?!
Official Time- 18:26 (1st OA). Official results can be found here. Out of my five consecutive Spring Fling 5k races this was my fastest time which was very encouraging.
Carli (the female who finished right behind me) said she actually set her road 5k PR and she seemed very happy with the race. I told her how much she pushed me and I know I would not have run as well if she hadn’t been there.
I was able to run back and see my older 3 finish as well. Abi broke 23 minutes for the first time and was thrilled! Rocky finished a little over a minute later and then Anna set her her PR as well.
Since Saturday I’ve had some time to think and reflect on the race and one conclusion I reached was that this race required 100% focus. I could not let my guard down or zone out for even a second. I had to stay positive and keep pushing. It’s easy to start a race focused and positive but once things start to get uncomfortable it can be very tempting to switch to what I call “survival mode.” This is when you are literally running through the motions but your head and heart are not in it. Pace gets off track and the finish line cannot come soon enough. I have found myself in this dark place many times and it’s one of the worst ways to experience a race. I thought I would share a few strategies I’ve learned over the years to help with this.
Tips to Staying Positive and Focused in Your Next Race:
- Set a realistic pace goal and start conservative. This is so important! If you set an unrealistic goal time/ pace at some point it WILL catch up with you and it’s going to hurt. If you’re not sure what a realistic pace is there are some resources out there that can help. A running coach is probably the best resource but if you don’t have a coach I’d recommend checking out McMillan running pace calculator. Here you can enter a recent race time and it will give you an estimate of what your time would be in another race distance.
- Talk to yourself- not out loud because that would be weird and use up some energy but tell yourself that you are still feeling good. When I’m in a race I have certain mileage checkpoints I do this. It’s different for every distance. In a 5k the first time I “check-in” is just after mile 1. I remind myself I’m feeling good and I have this race under control. Around the 2 mile marker I check in again but this is usually the point in a 5k when things could go either way. Don’t listen to the “I’m tired, this is hurting” voice. Of course it’s hard- it’s a 5k. I tell myself 4 more laps and start counting down laps around a track. (I count laps or minutes left at the end of races.) Breaking the remainder of the race into smaller portions makes it much more manageable.
- If someone starts to pass you later in the race DON’T give up. Make them fight for it. Tell yourself they are hurting just as much as you (yes, even if they aren’t). Tell yourself to stick with them for 30 seconds. If you can pick up your pace and stay with them for 30 seconds chances are they will back down. This surge may pull you out of the slump and help you finish strong. If they still pull ahead at least you will know you made them work for it and you maintained a better pace in the progress.
Good luck to everyone racing this weekend! Hopefully some of these tips help you finish strong!