This weekend brought an appropriately bizarre end to the training cycle from hell. I mean-what would you expect after ice skating, injuries and all that but a 5K race that was half a mile short, and the most incredible long run I've run since hitting the roads three years ago?
I started the weekend by contemplating a 5K being put on in support of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. It had little to no publicity and I only knew about it because there had been a small mention in the online edition of the local newspaper. It said "at the track," and I wondered if this meant endless loops around the new track (only high school in town to now have its own track) at the school in the middle of town, or if it meant we started and ended there. I headed down after a few cups of coffee, reserving the right to literally turn around and head home if I didn't like the course.
Upon arrival half an hour before the start, there was a lmost nobody at this thing. I finally got out of my car and decided I'd suck it up and run. I mean, geez-I've done almost no speed work this time around. It turned out that the course was a track lap, then two blocks down the street to a local park for four laps around, then two blocks back up the street for almost two laps around the track again. There were maybe three dozen runners there by the start and it was clearly one of those gigs where the race was put on by non-runners/race directors. Our race numbers were written on our hands in Sharpies, and there was one division-male/female combined. I chatted with the few familar faces I knew, including our local 50-something awesome ultra-running lady, who was wearing her sweatshirt from the Leadville Trail 100, personalized with her name and finish time from one of her multiple finishes. We lined up a little after 8:30, and took off in this funky little race.
I was immediately side-by-side with this high school kid. Heading down to the park, we both looked for the flags that were supposed to be clearly marking the course, and we just did not spot them right away. We asked the course volunteer where to go and she had no clue whatsoever. A few seconds later, we both spotted the first flag on a tree and headed that way. Thus began four laps through the park. The kid in front of me lengthened his lead slightly but was not that far off. I just kept him in my sights and paced so that if I had it in me, I might be able to challenge at the finish. It was not a blistering pace, and I wasn't using this for much more than speed work, but I vowed I'd be competitive if possible. The kid cut the course (accidentally, I truly believe) on the third lap-I'd hollered out at him when he missed a flag late in the first loop, and he did double back for it at that point. I think he was so focused on his Dad hollering splits and coaching at each loop that he wasn't focusing much on anything else.
As we came around the fourth time, I checked my Garmin. This course seemed too short...WAY too short, and I don't mean by normal GPS margin of error. We got back to the track with me still tailing the high schooler at barely 2.25 miles. We finished our nearly two laps and I slapped the Garmin off at 2.58 miles. I wasn't even three tenths of a mile off after the Rim Rock Marathon, and that was a mountainous route where GPS likes to measure peak-to-peak, measuring short in almost all circumstances. Though I didn't want to be an ingrate, I wanted them to know it was off. After all, people aren't going to come back and race a 2.6 mile 5K. The course director's answer was essentially that he'd been put in charge a week ago and measured it by Google Earth.
The father of the kid who won was rather defensive toward me when he heard me speak up about the short course, and told me there was no way it was off any more than a tenth of a mile. I let it go, but sorry, I didn't run a 19:30 5K on a 7:30 per mile pace. It was still a great workout over the grass in the park, and I got a ridiculous prize package for second place, considering that we just don't get stuff at races here. I was sandwiched between two high school boys in the top three, and though none of the high school or adult top dogs were there, hey-you can only race who shows up so I'll take what I got. I did have another woman at the race come up afterward and ask in hushed tones-"hey, did that seem really short to you?" and heard another man running in saying the same thing-so I'm hoping they fix things next year if this race happens again.
After that, I headed out for a night of comedy by Josh Blue, winner of Last Comic Standing a few years ago. This was a much welcome night of relaxation with my husband, who recently got a very unconventional and much welcomed job offer for the next six months, allowing him to return to full time hours while maintaining a leave of absence from his current job during their down time. HUGE stress reliver-I can't state it enough. Anyway-Josh was a childhood friend of one of my local running buddies, and he was actually staying at her home with his wife and son that night. She scored us a table up front to watch the show (woohoo...living large in our little city). He and his opening act were both hilarious-I'm not easily entertained by comedians but I had tears rolling at several points during the show last night. Funniest part of the night was when my non-cursing, totally clean language friend yelled/heckled "WE LOVE YOU, SCREECH!" and he hollered back something I can't really re-print here for general audiences. It got a HUGE laugh...even she was giggling. Maybe that unleashing of stress paved the way for the unlikely long run of awesomeness earlier today.
I headed out knowing I'd be tired. Weird race, and then I tacked on an easy recovery run to up the mileage a bit Saturday afternoon. I fully expected that I'd have tired, kind of sluggish legs this morning. Things did start off like that, but my pace was good. I had none of the "oh, geez....20 miles to knock out." After about five miles, the temperatures were slowly rising. It was cool and sunny-just dreamy running weather. I had the lead out of the legs now, and just kept up with a slow build on my pace. I was at my BQ pace (a little slower than my goal pace for Boston) at almost 18 miles in, and passed a guy on a skateboard, smiling, with his dalmatian trotting along by his side. This just made me think of my dog Dots, gone almost two years ago, and I was smiling from ear to ear as his dog playfully bounded down the trail. I am not a huge believer in signs, but if that was not one, I don't know what is. The dog's owner grinned back at me grinning at his dog and it just gave me what I needed to finish strong.
Because of how I'd mapped out my route, I actually wound up doing 21 miles-so not a bad day at all. It was the best pace I'd ever run on a 20+ miler, and most certainly the best long run of the winter. I didn't ask or hope for such a confidence building run today, so it was definitely a pleasant surprise. Now, there's nothing left to do but taper and obsess over the minutiae of last minute race details. My apologies in advance-but we're a mere three weeks from a funny little pipe dream I once had to run Boston. It's going to be an exciting few weeks.