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Fall is for 5Ks

Posted Nov 09 2013 12:00am
Now that we’re into November, it’s time to make the most of the remaining 40+ degree days before we settle under what will be a thick blanket of snow, slush and ice.  Any day now  As much as I can, I’m running and riding outside.  I’ve been enjoying some leisurely mountain bike rides with friends and some easy runs on the path.

It’s also the perfect time of the year, too, to do a little racing.  Finally, the time of the year where the temperature is right for running fast.   Fast, at this point, is all relative since I haven’t done much of anything structured or specific since early September.  I’ve done just enough “exercising” to keep my jeans fitting and keep me from embarrassing myself should I jump into a race.

While some people head straight to the cyclocross scene, I head to the local running races.  What this all means is that I’m giving you a 5K race report.  Ridiculous, isn’t it?  Fear not, I won’t dispense this in 5 parts.  Though if I did, it would look like this:

PreRace Part I, Chapter 3, Lines 8 – 12:

The day before the race, Jennifer Harrison came over to do some podcasting.  She brought me an opened box of chocolate covered coconut bon-bons.  She tells me they’re delicious, point proven as she had already eaten all but 5 in the box.  She wasn’t sure if I would be eating chocolate the day before a 5K.  I assured her that because it is November and I haven’t run under an 8 minute mile in months, that’s even MORE the reason to eat chocolate the day before a race.  Somehow I mustered up the personal strength to eat all 5 bon-bons before she pulled out of the driveway.

That about sums up my pre-race experience. 

I decided to do a race about 5 minutes from my house.  I’ve done the course before and know it’s not exactly a fast course – and when you’re feeling slow, doing a slow course gives you all sorts of excuses to explain away how slowly you ran.  Every sports psychologist knows that excuses make you feel better about yourself - especially after you’ve spent the last 8 weeks chocolate-loading. 

A lot like carbo-loading except tastes a ton better.

I actually talked one of my athletes into doing the race.  Note to any coached athlete: it’s best not to tell your coach I don’t like _______ because it immediately gives us coaches the brilliant idea that you need to do more ________.  When Jen A. told me she didn’t like racing 5ks, I said perfect, you can come out to the ‘burbs and race a 5K with me this weekend. 

You should see what I do when people tell me they hate swimming.   It involves a snorkel, a band and many, many press ups.

I met her there in the morning, spent some time chatting until it was time to warm up.  It was a brisk morning in the upper 30s but after 20 minutes I was warmed up and ready to go.  At the start line, I saw Deb.  I know she’s a good runner herself (at 46 she is still winning 5Ks, what an inspiration!) but she warned me that the young girl in front of me was fast.  I’ve been here before – at the front of the line surrounded by people (FINALLY) of my size but about 30 years younger than my age.  And sometimes these kids are fast. 

What this means is that I’ve been beaten by MANY of them. 

The gun went off and right on cue the young girl took off.  My plan was – well, it was a 5K so I didn’t have too much of a plan other than to ease into the race for about…30 seconds.  I kept my eye on her form and breathing and realized that within 800 meters I was reeling her in until I made the pass.  I finished up the next half mile, strong, to complete the pass.

We hit mile one at a pace a few minutes quicker than I’ve been running since – oh, mid-AUGUST - and sure enough, I took a quick glance as we turned a corner and there was no one behind me.  Right on cue, the cost of dropping a fast mile after weeks of running easy came to me in the form of a churning stomach.  Ouch!  I eased up to a pace I knew I could sustain while also thinking about that uphill last mile.  Honestly it had been so long since I felt “pain” in a workout, I got a little scared and backed off! 

It also didn’t help that the lead biker “escorting” me was practically spinning his pedals backwards. 

OH COME ON!  I’m not going THAT slow!

The next mile was about 20 seconds slower (ow) and the next mile was a little slower than that (BIG OW) but I did what was necessary to hold on to first place, get a little interview for a local paper and a gift card.   My time wasn’t fast for me.  But surprisingly  after weeks of the nontraining training plan and chocolate loading, I ran the same exact time I did in a race in March when I was much fitter, lighter and actually "training."

Exercise physiologists can riddle me that mystery.  

A few minutes later, Jen crossed the line with a new 5K PR and an age group win.  THATTA GIRL! Not bad for someone who doesn’t like 5Ks!

The next day, when my mom saw the picture in the paper she said it looks like you’re crying and then Chris, from over her shoulder said, you should always wear sunglasses when you race so people don’t see you like that.  A few days later, my father-in-law texted me: I have a picture of you here and it looks like you’re in a lot of pain.

My biggest fans, everybody.

Now I’ll wrap up my 5K race report with a mile by mile comparison of elevation gain, wind speed, stride rate and - nevermind, I’ll just say that after the race I headed straight to Starbucks and for an uncharacteristically indulgent coffee froo-froo drink: I ordered a gingerbread latte. 

Best recovery food ever.

(and it almost cost me as much as the race entry fee)

Now completely switching gears from little to big ring: I just finished the book Resilience by Michael Neenan (H. Wurtele referenced this book in her Kona race report and sparked my interest).  So what is resilience?  Resilience doesn’t have to just be about bouncing back from major catastrophe.  In the author’s words, resilience is being a flexible thinker (rather than having a fixed viewpoint) allowing for adaptation to challenging and changing circumstances.  

If you’re going to be a successful athlete (or parent or business person), you have to be resilient.  Racing (and training) is challenging and always changing.  Being able to adapt to if not just tolerate those conditions is a necessary factor for success.  In fact, racing is really just an exercise in tolerance – how long can you tolerate the pain, adverse conditions, voices in your head.  Not surprisingly, Neenan talks about high frustration tolerance being a necessary component of resilience.

What is high frustration tolerance?  
  • An ability to endure in times of distress without continually complaining about how difficult the struggle is or falling into self-pity every time a new setback is encountered. 
  • Discomfort is expected and embraced in order to suffer less in the future.
  • Seeking to develop resilience by getting out of your comfort zone; accepting that change is painful and difficult.
  • Understanding that achieving a goal is far less important than what the struggle to achieve it has revealed about you in uncovering strengths you didn’t think you had or seeing yourself in new and sometimes surprising ways.
  • Looking for the fun and joy of challenges and difficult things that are in your best interest. 
Right now is a good time to spend time building your frustration tolerance.  It will make you a better racer.  Especially in a world where we have so many choices to make things easier so we can avoid frustration.  Too windy out?  Ride your trainer.  Too cold?  Run on the treadmill.  Interval too tight?  Pull it.  Trust me, I’m guilty of all of that and it requires a lot of self-discipline, honesty and even sternness to get myself to not make the easy choice but make the right choice for what I want to achieve. 

On race day, when it’s windy, they won’t take the race inside.  You’ve got to learn to deal with things you don’t like or things that make you uncomfortable.  You’ve got to build your frustration tolerance.  Right now each of us has an idea of how to build a better ability to tolerate things we don’t like or things that aren’t easy or things that make us uncomfortable.  You hate running 5Ks?  Go run a few this fall.  You hate taking time off?  You probably should take a few days of rest.  You are scared of going to masters?  Go, and ask the coach for help with your fly (!).

Do the things that challenge your current comfort zone, do the things that scare you and make you feel very (physically and psychologically) uncomfortable.  In fact, do the thing that you tend to avoid doing (whether at home, work or in sports) and learn to manage the frustration you feel with yourself and the task - because that’s where learning takes place.

And so, yes, Jen is doing another 5K in a few weeks.  In fact, she asked for it!  To get to a new place, you’ve first got to open yourself up to the possibility, be brave enough to go there and then more often than not – you like what you're learning about yourself!

As for myself, I’m racing another 5K this weekend.  Why?  Because I really don’t like racing 5Ks.  I don’t like the burning in my stomach, I don’t like that I tend to settle for an easier pace because it feels better, I don’t like that I get scared of blowing up, I don’t like when someone is breathing hard on my left shoulder but I know I can’t back down.  All of that frustrates me until I cross the finish line and think to myself I NEVER WANT TO DO THAT AGAIN!  All of that is FRUSTRATING!

Which is exactly why I’m doing it.  


But this time, I’m definitely wearing sunglasses!
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