Monday, May 23, 2011
"Running Is A Mental Sport-And We're All Headless!" The Mike The Headless Chicken 5K Race Report
Year after year, people come from far and wide to attend the Mike The Headless Chicken Festival in Fruita, Colorado. Yes, Mike is for real, and not some urban legend. He somehow survived his own decapitation in 1945, and then went on to live another 18 months without a head. Really. You can check out Mike's full story here. Nowadays, we have a weekend-long festival to celebrate the awesomeness that was Mike, complete with vendor booths, food, tractor races, live music, and the "Run Like A Chicken With Your Head Cut Off" 5K race. Because that's just how we roll here.
The race course itself is pretty unremarkable, and not anything that one would choose to drive from hours away to run for the beauty of it. It's just 3.1 miles that runs from the Fruita Civic Center along the semi-rural roads surrounding Fruita, eventually meandering back to where the race began. The real draw-let's be honest-is coming home with some Mike The Headless Chicken schwag. For whatever reason, this works for many who come to run the race, from recreational/non-competitive runners and walkers to some of the best runners in the region. This would be my fourth running of the race, and despite fifth and sixth place finishes amongst women over the past two years, I did not make the podium with only 1st and 2nd place overall awards, and in the past, just 1st place in ten year age groups.
I essentially made a game-day decision to run Mike this year. I had not pre-registered and had a mind to run it, but waited until the morning of the race to decide for sure. I'd hosted a slumber party for my middle daughter's ninth birthday but had gotten a decent night of sleep. I had not run any speed work since my ankle injury other than an early morning workout at the city track two days prior, and even that had not been particularly intense. I was going to get to that "run to the verge of puking" zone and put in my best effort, but I knew realistically that I would probably not run as fast today as I'd be able to later in the summer after more speed work and short distance races.
When I showed up, it was kind of a mob scene compared to years past but the line to register moved quickly. After registration, I got in line for a timing chip. Those of you from bigger cities might think "big whoop," but we don't chip time anything here but the Rim Rock Marathon, so this was a nice effort on the part of Fruita Parks and Rec to improve the quality of the race. There was also an official time clock at the finish along with a huge inflatable finish arch.
I visited with my friends Kevin and Nora from Paonia when I spotted them, and Kevin freely admitted that he, too, was there for Mike schwag. Kevin's pretty speedy, though, so I knew he'd be contending for an age group win and high finish overall. We also ran into my neighbor Carl, who has been a little injured but talked himself into a strict set of rules to allow himself to "fun race" today. I didn't feel primed for my best race ever, but I felt a lot better than I did two weeks prior at the Mother's Day mile-not coughing up a lung or feeling post-illness fatigue. I figured I'd just go with it, run hard, and see what happened.
We all lined up a little before 9am, but there was about a fifteen minute delay in the start as names were still being entered into the computer from race-day registration. I got a little antsy and jogged out and back from the starting area a few times, and then we finally got word that it was time to start. Soon we were counted down, and off we went.
As I started running, my breathing felt pretty decent in the relative scheme of 5K breathing. It's a painful pace, but I was able to maintain something in a range where I normally should fall, pace-wise, regardless of course or how fully trained up I am. There were instantly a good seven or eight women ahead of me. While I did not resign myself to backing off any competitive racing, I could see how far ahead some of the girls were already, and knew it would take a combination of getting lucky with age distribution plus the best effort I could muster today to have a shot at age grouping. I tried to stay relaxed while keeping my rate of turnover high during the first mile, which was really pretty flat with the occasional very slight uphill. After about the first half mile and passing one or two runners, I seemed to be kind of running by myself with folks clear up the road ahead of me and nobody really close behind.
Mile 1: 7:08
Going into the second mile I was really starting to feel the effort but focused on good POSE running and returning to the "zero gear" and really keeping my strides short and efficient (but with the same rate of turnover) when the heart rate really felt like it was climbing. I'm not a "kicker" when I race 5K's, and in a very best case scenario, I might run even splits. Getting to the end of mile 2, I had dropped off the initial pace slightly but was holding on and not coming apart at the seams.
Mile 2: 7:18
The last mile ran slightly downhill for a bit, and I tried to keep up my speed as I made the left turn to go slightly uphill until the final turn for the finish. Oy-I was really feeling it now but kept pushing my way along. This was a different course than the year before, and somehow I was thinking we were finishing where we had the past several years even though I'd clearly seen the finish arch at the start. This screwy thinking-on-the-run was actually great when I made the last turn for the finish and realized, "oh....this is five blocks DOWNHILL to the finish!" I didn't know if anyone was behind me, and I wasn't even sure that I'd cracked the top ten women, but that wasn't the point now. I just wanted a good, solid first effort being speedy since spraining the ankle.
Mile 3: 7:29
Last .12 Garmin measured - :44.64, or a 6:26 pace. Final Garmin time of 22:40. This was nowhere near a PR effort but it also wasn't anywhere near a personal worst, and not the slowest I'd ever run in Fruita. Given my down time in March and April, and that I've been just easing back into things, I was okay with knowing I'd pushed with the best I had today.
I knew in my head that I just wasn't going to place when I was that far back from the leading women, and the age groups were 10-year and only went to the first two places. After hanging out for a long time talking with Kevin, Nora, Carl, and Ernie (another guy from the running club), I figured I should probably shove off and head home. Kevin and Nora, though, said "you never know!" with regard to placing. I figured, hey, maybe I'll hang out a few minutes longer for the door prize drawings and watch the awards. Maybe I'd get a door prize.
For starters, as they went through overall and began age group awards, everybody noticed that the announced times were consistently almost a minute faster than what people had actually run, though the finish order seemed to be correct and consistent. I waited near the back of the crowd, while most of the folks who knew they'd age grouped or hit an overall slot were near the front. Well, they got to 30-39 women, and I was truly surprised, much like I was at the 2009 Winter Sun, to hear myself announced for second place in the age group. My age group is usually well-represented at races and I figured that statistically speaking, I'd probably be well out of awards. I'll be the first to say I got a slightly lucky draw there. For that, I won a Mike The Headless Chicken bistro coffee mug. Coffee-themed prizes are winners in my book, and I was stoked to pick up some extra schwag with the Mike logo. I also won a door prize-a manicure- so it was a double-word-score day for sticking around for the awards. When final results went up, I realized I didn't even crack the top-10 women, with a 12th place finish out of 208. Still, you're there to race who shows up that day, and the women who showed up were all over the board in age.
Now I've got that first "racing as speed work" session out of the way, but I really do intend to make an honest crack at more speed work this summer. I also have other goals, in no particular order: stay uninjured/continue strengthening the ankle (okay, I think that is actually the most important goal), drop down 5-7 pounds to my best racing weight, make a dedicated effort toward doing one speed work session of some sort per week, and gradually increase my mileage again with a focus on balancing road and trail miles 50/50. Officially up next on the racing schedule is the Steamworks Half Marathon in Durango in a few weeks, so I'll work at making as much progress as I can toward those goals during that time.