After much lamentation, I signed up for this year’s turkey trot, Cardinal Track Club’s Gallop & Gorge 8K, on the last day of online registration. I asked Mark to advise whether running this race was a smart play after 3 weeks of 78-80 miles per week and last week’s particularly heavy week of long runs and workouts, and we eventually settled on ‘yes’. Having done this race the past two years, it’s a good measure of relative fitness at this time in the year, plenty early given what I’m actually training for. The first year I ran this (2017), I ran a 36:13.34; the second year (2018), I ran a 35:54.61; and this year (2019), I surprised myself and ran nearly 2.5 minutes faster, finishing in 33:32.34.
The festivities began on Wednesday, when we went to pick up my packet at Fleet Feet and ran a pre-race shakeout of the course loop, as is tradition. As is also tradition, we bickered back and forth for the first ~3 miles, arguing about how fast I am capable of running (Mark thinks faster than is realistic, always; I sell myself short, always.) Starting at mi 3 of the course loop, I did a 1-minute pickup each mile to get my legs moving. The first one, uphill, felt tough and unmanageable for much longer than a minute (avg’d ~7:00/mile pace); the second, also uphill, felt better and more manageable (avg’d ~6:45/mile pace); the third, on a flat/slightly downhill stretch, felt great (avg’d ~6:18/mile pace) – I started feeling considerably better as the run went on, which built some confidence going into the race.
Morning of, we got out the door around 7:15 and drove over to Carrboro – it’s always so pleasant making this drive because it’s the one time of year I experience driving down 15-501 and Franklin St with NO traffic. We jogged around for 1.5 miles as a warmup, wherein I decided it was warm enough to switch to the singlet, and then I lined up at the start around 7:58.
Short, fast races make me nervous because I don’t train fast (because…I’m smart!) and because I’ve been so focused on building endurance that I haven’t even approached a ‘short’ race pace in months, even in a workout. Most of my workouts have been geared towards MP running, and my few threshold miles before the 40-miler were ~6:56/mile repeats, so considerably slower than I was supposedly going to be attempting here. All that to say, I felt a little nervous at the line, worrying that I wouldn’t live up to the expectations I knew Mark had for me and that I had for myself. I took a few deep breaths and felt myself calm down just as the countdown began. A few minutes after 8, we were off!
I saw plenty of women in front of me so I knew I didn’t go out too fast. A quick check of my watch showed that I was running ~6:40 pace, which seemed hopefully reasonable. Many months ago, I’d averaged 6:40/mile for a 5K, so barring my dead tired legs holding me back, I should be more fit now than I was then. I worked to lock into the pace as we began winding through the quaint Carrboro streets. Some women I recognized (and have always thought to be unattainably faster than me) were nearby as I passed the mile 1 marker in ~6:42.
Being so early still, the effort felt…hard, but the beginning of mile 2 brings with it a nice downhill stretch before a considerable stretch of mild uphill running. I tried to take advantage of the downhill and to be tough when we began to climb – I slowed by ~2 sec for mile 2, clocking a 6:44.
Mile 3 is always the toughest for me in this race – it’s the middle mile, when you’d otherwise be finishing up in a 5K, and all uphill. I felt my worst of the race during this mile, as reflected by Mark saying “you glared at me” to describe me seeing him during this stretch. I’m pretty confident I didn’t have enough energy to glare, but I’ll concede the point. Mile 3 was a 6:46.
Mile 4 felt much more manageable – I felt myself loosen up and settle in a bit, having made it over the 5K hump. I could feel the higher mileage in my legs in that I felt better and better as the race went on, a departure from the dramatic crater I’ve experienced previously in these shorter distances. I picked off one woman in front of me and saw a few others up ahead. I crossed the mile 4 marker, clocking a 6:44 mile.
For the last mile, I had some targets up ahead to race and wanted to push as hard as I could. I felt like I might throw up for much of this mile but set the worry about that aside and pushed anyway. The thoughts went something like this: “Oh shit, you might throw up if you run any harder.” *Runs harder anyway* “Maybe you should slow up this hill so you don’t vomit on this guy nearby.” *Pushes up the hill anyway*. It was an interesting threshold to cross for me, where I cared more about racing well than whatever else was going on with my body – this may be the first time I’ve managed that with such success. I passed two additional women during this stretch before the finish. As I turned back onto the street with the finish line in sight, I noticed one woman pretty far ahead of me that I could possibly still catch. I said, “You can’t catch her, she’s running hard and already so far ahead”, as I kicked it in to try anyway. I caught her maybe 20 feet before the finish line, clocking a 6:33 last mile and crossing the line in 33:32. To that woman: I’m sorry for bumping into you – I felt like a jerk, but I really did not mean to. I’m just not coordinated at any speed, and especially at high speed.
I doubled over and let the ‘am I gonna puke’ feeling pass and then quickly found Mark, who looked…elated. We checked the results and realized I finished 12th female – I only realized well after leaving that I was also 2nd in my age group. I ran a ~2.5-minute PR and finished 90th overall, a huge improvement from the past two years ~160th place finish.
We quickly got out of Carrboro and jogged another ~4.5 miles around Durham as an extended cool down, bringing yesterday to an 11-mile day. The best part about yesterday was that all the running was done before noon, so we had all day to cook and eat all the Thanksgiving foods and desserts!
Overall, I’m feeling very encouraged that I’ve had good recent races at a range of distances (8K to 40-mile). I’m seeing the benefits of increased overall mileage and running easy most of the time in that I’m getting faster and building endurance without any really specific workouts or plans. I’m loving training at higher mileage and excited for these last few weeks before Nutcracker!