Huzzah! Everyone made it through the Hot Dash. As I write this, I'm sitting on my couch taking inventory of my aches and pains...my back is pretty sore, my legs are achey (though better than they would have been, because I used a foam roller on them yesterday) and I have a blister on my left big toe that's pretty whiney. But I am filled with pride and happiness, because I can report that I beat Dan handily at the Hot Dash, finishing with a total per-mile time of just under nine minutes per mile. My splits ranged from 8:45-8:59, which is very strong for me and also very consistent (consistency is not always my strong point) so I am quite happy. This was also the first race I've finished where I didn't walk at all, so that was a cool accomplishment.
As I ran, I was thinking about some of the strategies and tricks I've developed to get through long runs. In case some of those ideas could be useful to you, lovely readers, today I'm sharing the recap from the Hot Dash along with some of the running strategies that work for me. Let us begin.
I woke up pretty nervous about this race--I usually get some butterflies before a race starts, but Dan upped the ante on this one by talking all of his "I'm not going to let you beat me" trash. I like to eat some carbs for breakfast on race day, so I had a small bowl of oatmeal with a banana and a spoonful of cashew butter mixed in, and two hard-boiled eggs. There were a few inches of snow on the ground and it was thirty degrees the morning of the race (after being in the fifties for several weeks). Dan hopefully asked if the race was canceled. It was not.
We headed over to Northeast for the race (which runs along the river, crosses over between miles 7 and 8, and then crosses back over the Stone Arch bridge and finishes along the cobblestone river walk). Dan asked how fast I was planning to run, and I told him I was hoping to keep it about 9:30 per mile, so we lined up behind that pacing sign. I started my "run run run" playlist, we took a selfie, and the race started.
The beginning of a race is always tough because it's so crowded, and it's hard to find a spot to run and the right pace with all those people and all that excitement. We settled in and finished the first mile at 8:59, which is a quick-ish pace for me but not a bad place to start. Plus, I really wanted to show Dan what I'm made of, so I decided to hold on to a strong pace as long as I could.
The second mile was also pretty uneventful--we passed the 9:30 pacer and kept up an 8:59 pace. Between miles 2 and 4 I started to panic a little bit--I've learned that my running struggle is much more mental than physical. My mind starts to worry before my body does, so I have to find ways to calm myself. In this case, it was still very early in a fairly long run, and my thoughts started reeling ("this is too fast," "this race is too long," "what if I can't finish," "what if I have to walk and tons of people pass me," "I'm getting tired, it's too early to be tired"). Trick #1: When my mind is freaking out about my body's ability to continue running, I give myself permission to run as slowly as I need to. I tell myself that it's alright, I can run a twelve-minute mile if I need to do that, but that I'll continue running at whatever pace I can sustain. I've noticed that when I do this, even if I think that I slow down after making that decision, I usually keep running at exactly the same pace (because my body was fine to begin with, it was my mind that thought I couldn't do it). By giving myself permission to slow down, I take away the panic.
Trick #2: I'm pretty sure every runner on the planet does this, but I always break my long runs up into chunks mentally, so I'm not thinking about the whole ten miles at a time (this is like that old saying about how you eat an elephant...one bite at a time. Don't eat elephants though, ok?) How I think of the segments of the race varies during the race--at the beginning of the Hot Dash I thought, "Ok, you're going to run three 5ks and then you'll just have a mile to go." I told myself that at least the first 5k would be fast, and that I could reevaluate my pace at the three-mile mark if I needed to. As I kept running, I started thinking about four-mile chunks instead. On my nine-mile training run I met up with my friend Jenny after about four miles, so I told myself that I would get to four miles running quickly and then I'd see how it went. At four miles, I told myself to just do one more and then I would be halfway. At five miles, I told myself to just get to six and then I would only have four left (four is a common training run distance for me, two out and two back, so once I got to six I started thinking of the last four like a training run--just run to eight and then that's like the turnaround in your weekday run, and you only have two left). At five I also told myself to keep the pace strong until 6, so at least I'd have a great 10k time even if I couldn't maintain that speed all the way through ten miles. It's all mind games.
Speaking of mind games, I really realized on this run that I use walking as a mental reward, but that I don't actually need to do it physically. I walk at least a little bit on almost every run that I do--I tell myself that if I run to five miles I can walk, or four miles, or six miles, and then I walk for a minute or two before I continue running. I have nothing against walking during runs, and my theory about exercise is that if you're moving forward in any way, you're doing your job. But I've realized that these little chunks of walking are more for my mind than they are for my body (unless I'm walking to work out a side cramp*. That's crucial, and physically necessary). Yesterday I ran an entire 9 miles at more than 30 seconds per mile under my training pace, with no walking breaks, and I was fine. It was hard, and I was tired, and I'm sore today, but it was fine. I could do it with no problems. That's pretty cool, and it tells me my body is capable of more than I thought it was.
*Trick #3: you can get rid of a side cramp, or stop one from getting worse, by making sure you're exhaling really deeply (blow out forcefully on your exhale before you start to breath in again). In swimming, the coaches would tell us to make sure to "blow out all your bubbles" on your exhale before you took another breath, and that's still the image I use when I'm running today. If you start to feel a pain developing, take deep inhales and blow out, hard, for a few rounds of breath.
Also, it's important to note, I am pretty motivated by competition. A huge reason I performed well yesterday is because Dan lit a fire under my ass, so thanks to him for doing that (even though it was annoying). This is another lesson I need to take forward--fighting for PRs and goal times will keep me running faster. And, while Dan did take an L, he also deserves some kudos because he stayed with me for almost six miles, at a pace that was much faster than his training runs (and six miles was the longest he ran prior to race day). Even after stepping off the course to take some phone calls and answer a few emails, he popped back on and finished with an overall pace around 10:00 per mile, which is great. Waaaaay faster than he ran it last year.
At the finish line, I met a friend of mine who also ran (but she is a gazelle who runs under eight-minute miles, so she had been finished for a while) and wondered where Dan was...he tapped me on the shoulder to let me know he was "out" just before six miles and I saw him walk off the course, so I thought he had decided not to finish and I expected to see him at the finish line when I got there. He wasn't there, and wasn't answering his phone, so I was starting to get a little nervous until I heard his name called as he crossed the finish line (ah! Bravo, my dear. Way to get back on that horse.) We grabbed our bananas and Old Dutch potato chips (never, in the history of ever, has a potato chip tasted so good) and headed back to our car, freezing our tails off. The weather was not terrible for the run itself, but after we stopped running (and were sweaty) it was SO. COLD. Cold enough that I got home and took a hot shower and my lips were still purple when I was toweling off. Oh, Minnesota. You silly goose.
Now I'm on to thinking about the half marathon we're running in four weeks (yes, Dan is also signed up for the half. See previous post re: his incredible willingness to sign up for stuff.) One of my resolutions for 2016 is to finish a half marathon in under two hours--I didn't think that would happen on this run, and was thinking I'd make that a goal for a later-season half. But, after yesterday, I feel like I need to put the pressure on for these last weeks of training and swing for the fences on this one. Stay tuned.