I was aware of two 5Ks taking place locally on Saturday morning, and thought about doing one or the other. I wasn't sure how well I could race, though, after a busy week and quite a bit of up-and-down on the Monument. I decided to make a game-day decision, and had a very fun, relaxing night with some neighborhood runner friends. I hadn't intended to stay late or go costumed, but somehow I found myself throwing together a last-minute Maude Lebowski costume from The Big Lebowski.
I'm a huge Coen Brothers fan, it's one of my favorite movies they've done, and I'd wanted to do the "Gutterballs/Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)" scene's Maude viking costume for years. I didn't think about racing the next day, and didn't put pressure on myself to decide the night before. It wound up being a fairly late night, but I went home and slept like a log afterward.
Getting up around 7:15am, I was still totally undecided, dorking around for a few minutes on Facebook while drinking my coffee. There, I read that my friend Suzanne from up the road in Rifle would be coming down to run along with her new baby daughter (her first race). Besides thinking it would be good to do some racing speed work, I wanted to visit with them a bit. I finally decided what the hey, I should go and try out racing without a watch. I'd run the Holy Family School's 5K two years prior, and it was a well-organized, smaller race. We'd finally crossed over into our late fall/early winter crisp-cold weather in the past week or so, and it feels so good for racing.
I drove over just in time to register ($10 option if I didn't want a tee-shirt, since they were out of mediums-yay!), warm up briefly, and visit with Suzanne, her baby girl, and some of her fellow teachers/colleagues I'd met at other races. It felt strange to not have a Garmin, but it was sort of exciting to be winging it without having the option for even an occasional pace check, or glance down at my mile splits. A few people were costumed, but for the most part, the costumed/recreational running kids were waiting for the fun run after the 5K. Lining up just prior to 9am, we heard a runners prayer/blessing from one of the school's priests. I'm not Catholic, but the message about being able to come together in celebration of running and health really resonated regardless of one's faith or non-faith. I was standing in a sea of 10- to 12-year-old boys, and near a couple of the usual suspects at races in Grand Junction. A minute later, the start was announced and off we went.
Right away, many of the little boys shot out to the front of the pack, along with a few of the local men. Coming out of the school lot and onto the main road, I was running first woman but knew there were several fiercely competitive local ladies who were probably right behind me, and just starting to fire their engines. We turned into a residential neighborhood, ironically called "Paradise Hills"-they didn't feel like paradise at 5K pace, but I did at least feel like I was getting that "good burn" in the lungs and legs. This felt like a pace I could maintain and maybe pick up today.
My first need to pick up came pretty early. One of the ladies I've raced several times locally was soon right next to me, and beginning to pull ahead. I focused on shortening my stride and increasing my turnover, and managed to slide back ahead coming out of the neighborhood, but knew I'd have to keep it here and try to pick up even more speed. The whole time, it felt really bizarre to have no clue regarding my pace, but it actually felt a little freeing in a 5K. I've had issues with "second mile sag" at some 5K's, and this was just forcing me to be unaware of where I was on the course and just keep pushing. Somewhere near the end of this first mile, another familiar runner made her move past me and into the women's lead. I worked to increase my turnover as much as I possibly could. She was pulling away, but I felt like I was doing a good job of keeping up my pace, and picking it up a little here and there.
I passed one or two of the men in what must have been early second mile, and found myself still smack in the middle of a sea of boys. I couldn't believe they were still holding this pace; often, the younger kids go out like a shot and then fade. These guys were running strong, with about four ahead of me and two right behind. There seemed to be this almost comical "Dangit, I'm still running with these little guys," and "Dangit, why is our MOM still pacing with us?" energy that had us all hurtling through that second mile. I knew as well that the woman running third was really strong, and that I had to pick it up as much as possible now.
Making an uphill turn into the last mile, I was still with the boys, and trying to disconnect from the fact that I was, in fact, running uphill and hurting. I brought my gaze to about five feet in front of me and tried to run within that space. The gap between the first woman and I had widened, but it seemed like it wasn't quite as wide as it's been at other races. I wasn't sure how close the third woman was but just assumed it was CLOSE.
Soon, we were cresting the hill and could see the school ahead. Two of the boys in front of me started pulling away hard. I kicked it into the highest gear I could find, and started easing past the third boy who had been with them. It was obvious he was hitting a tough spot mentally and starting to let up a great deal. I didn't say that awful "almost there" that nobody wants to hear at this point in a race, but managed a "c'mon!" Crossing the street and turning the corner toward the finish at the school, I was still running second woman. I ran toward the finish full-out, and could hear feet closing in. Flying toward the finish chute, that boy who was starting to sag two minutes ago came through like a lightning bolt, crossing about a second ahead. I came in right behind him, and as I walked through the chute, the third woman came through, less than ten seconds back. We did the out-of-breath high fives, feeling that runner's high that I swear only comes after you've fully spent yourself.
I checked the table where the bottoms of bibs were being lined up by age group, and really couldn't quite believe my eyes-21:32, my best 5K in about two years, and I think probably 3rd best of all time if my recollection is right. All on a day when I wasn't tan, rested, and ready for 5K action. It was an age group win, and felt good after my Other Half cluster-run. The 5K in general has not been a consistent strong suit of mine, so to run with consistency at two of them in a row makes me think I ought to do more of the no watch/no watching the watch short distance racing.
The next day, I had a planned long run with Sandra, and this was to be our last prior to the Rim Rock Marathon. Yes, we'll do 15 or so next weekend, but this was kind of the big one before the taper. It was decided, since we've done a bunch of stuff on the first 5 miles of the course (with steadily climbing, curving road) that we would run the rest of the course, starting from Cold Shivers Point on the Monument, and running to the finish area at the James Robb State Park in Fruita. This was a roughly 21 mile route, and required some car logistics that took a bit of time in the morning, leaving my car in Fruita and riding up to Cold Shivers. It is the "flat" section of the course, but there's really nothing flat about it with some rolling upward for several miles before finally hitting the fun, fast descent off the Monument and onto Highway 340.
This would be another watch-free run, and a test run of sorts. I am pretty sure this will be my first watchless marathon ever, so this would be entirely on feel. I didn't feel much fatigue from the day before, and in fact, was kind of excited at the prospect of running really long on the race course. I was practicing with a different hydration strategy as well. I've mostly used the aid stations on marathon courses for the past two years, choosing to carry nothing. I don't like holding stuff while running, so what I was practicing with today was a waist pack spun around with the bottles/bottleholders in front. I thought this would annoy the heck out of me, but this set-up felt surprisingly good. I won't decide until right before the race, but think this system will be used to avoid slowdowns for fluids at the aid stations.
Chatting away for much of the run, Sandra and I were oblivious to our time and distance, but the pace felt good-kind of in that long run sweet spot with a gradual increase in pace coming down the Monument. We passed another runner going the other way whom we did not know. He knew what we were doing, though, and yelled out "See you in two weeks!" Though we mostly stayed where we should-against the traffic-there were a few blind curves where it just was safer to move into the other lane, especially with the very limited car traffic early on a Sunday.
Of course, on one of these shifts, the next vehicle to 'round a corner heading east was a park police vehicle. He blinked his lights at us and slowed to a stop. Crap, we're going to get a ticket. "Training for the marathon?" he asked. "Yes sir, getting in our long run," we answered. I thought he was going to read us the riot act for being on the wrong side of the road, but he just reminded us that we needed to run in the correct place. We agreed and did let him know we'd been doing that most of the way, but shifting over on some of these scary blind curves. He was very cool and understood we weren't just going out of our way to be rogue runners, smiled, and waved us on. Phew-no citation today. I know they can't have us flagrantly flying in the face of the law, but I think the various agencies on this route are good about accommodating runners, and not coming down too hard on us for shifting a bit on that road when we can't see around a blind curve.
Getting off the Monument, we had our last two mile stretch down to the park in Fruita. I was kind of stoked to know that we were already 19 miles in. The time had flown by and I felt tired now but there was no struggle to the run. I couldn't have hoped for a better weekend of running. When we hit the park, it was time to enjoy some tangerines, water, and coconut water. It had warmed up, and the sun was glistening on the water near the finish. Checking our approximate start and finish times, we were pleased to have dialed in on a near perfect long run training pace.
Once we'd refueled, it was time to drive back up to Sandra's car, and stop off for her small bag or "aid station" tucked behind a wall and bush at one of the scenic overlooks. When we pulled up, we discovered someone had taken her bag. It hadn't been greatly concealed, but that's just not something people tend to do up there-especially for a bag that just had water, gatorade, and an old race shirt. LAME. Sandra wasn't that upset, though, and said "next time I'll hide it better!"
Now, I'm starting to geek out a bit about race day. I'm a little tired today on my day off, but generally feel pretty good. My S-Caps are ordered; I think I have a plan for what I'm wearing that day. I'm going to continue to run on the Monument until race day, but just taper off on the overall distance. I was feeling a slight lack of confidence about how my conditioning was for race day, so the weekend's good running came at a perfect time. Or, maybe it was just dressing up like a viking and playing competitive Halloween puzzle assembly or having balloon blowing and popping races that did it. Yes...this is what competitive runner types do for fun. Either way...the FUN was there, and it made the run that much better.