- a race t-shirt, with sizes for men and women! Who doesn't love race t-shirts?!
- a ferry ride to and from the race from either Long Wharf in Boston or Marina Bay in Quincy.
- entry to the hilliest, most surprisingly challenging 5K I've done in this area. In about a month I will start saying, "it's hilly, but it's not that bad..." I'm lying, but only because my brain knows I need to believe this so I will sign up the next year. I'll sign up the next year because it's SO MUCH fun!
- post race food. Runners love free food! The first two years it was catered by Pit Stop BBQ, which was fantastic. This year it was by b.good. I was not sure what to expect, but they had burgers, chicken and veggie burgers with pasta and potato salad and grilled corn on the side. I really like their food. Everything is always really fresh and healthy. Even their burgers are lean.
- even more than free food, runners love FREE BEER! Harpoon was the sponsor the first two years and Sam Adams was this year. They gave everyone 4 free beer tickets, which is very generous! 1 or 2 tickets is pretty standard. Also (ssssssh!), maybe...I heard...if you ask really nicely if you can have more beer after you have run out of tickets they will say, "what kind would you like?"
- entertainment! The first two years there was a DJ and that was fun, BUT this year they somehow got Rubix Kube, an awesome 80s cover band to play. Saying they are a band is a bit of an understatement. It's a show with crazy 80s outfits, dancing and awesome personalities.
Did I mention the amazing view and sunset thrown in for free? Beyond all of that, the money went to help fund camp stays for city kids. I can't say the food, beer or entertainment will be the same next year, but I can say they have listened to runners and made improvements every year. Last year they ran out of beer at 8:30 and there was a stampede for the ferries at 9pm. This year they joked about it at the start line and promised it wouldn't happen again. Ha!
Before I get into how I prep for and approach a race, just remember that everyone is different. You need to find what works for you. There is one exception. Don't do anything different on race day! NOTHING! I'm serious. Practice eating your pre-race meal and/or snack ahead of time. That includes what you eat and when you eat it. Don't wear new clothes. Don't even wear clothes you have worked out in, but haven't actually run in. Warm up the same and stretch the same.
To be totally honest, I signed up for this race in May and then forgot about it. I was already seeing my trainer twice a week and running anyway. We were doing sprints and incline workouts so I knew I'd be prepared, even without a specific plan. I was also a little distracted by the excitement of my brother's wedding coming up and for the half marathon. This really isn't the best plan and I was really lucky that what I was already doing worked out well.
The day before the race I make sure I'm not doing too much and I'm careful about what I eat. My stomach is pretty sensitive, especially when I get nervous, so I try and stick with fairly bland food. I had chicken, potatoes and broccoli for dinner. If it's a morning race, I don't have any alcohol since I get dehydrated easily. I've learned that if I am even a teeny bit dehydrated, I get tremendously bad stomach cramps. It's not even a side stitch. It feels more like a hot poker to the gut. Since this was a 6:45pm start, I had one glass of wine with dinner and made sure I drank a lot of water that night.
If I run the day before, I take it easy. The "hay is in the barn" as many runners say. This is not the day for a hard workout. I like to get out there and run just to keep things loose and to be able to stretch my legs when they're really warm at the end (I also stretch after I warm up but before the bulk of my real runs). It also helps me mentally. I'm not really sure why, but I start to get anxious the day before. It's kind of silly since I know I can finish the race and I'm also not in a position to win anything.
The day of the race, I eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on white bread about 3 hours (no less than 2 1/2) before the race and drink a lot of water up until the last hour. I can't handle food much closer and I also have to eat low fiber food. No wheat bread on race day! I may have a small snack about an hour before, but I didn't need it this time. I actually like energy gels for this snack. There is no need for a gel during a short race like a 5K, but they work well for me before hand. It's a simple carb that's easy to digest and easy to burn (make sure you have some water with them!). Like I said before, you have to find what works for you. I'll do pretty much anything to avoid a stomach ache.
We were scheduled for the first ferry, which was at 5:30. We live fairly close, but we still left an hour to get out of the house, get to the subway, take the train and then walk down to the wharf. Keep in mind that I am really getting nervous now and will make The Husband double check everything and then juuuuust as we are almost out the door, I will decide I have to pee just one more time. We got there almost a 1/2 hour early, but we could take our time and not stress about missing the boat. Read: I wouldn't take out my anxiety on The Husband by snapping at him. They actually let us board and leave early, so we got to the camp by 5:45 and had an hour to warm up, stretch, check our bag and use the restrooms. One note on restrooms: if you are wondering if you should go again, just go. What's the worst that can happen? You don't need to go? Someone might notice you were just hanging out in there for a minute? On the flip side you can end up running with a full bladder. Or WORSE. The lines were so long before my first half marathon in 2009 that I used the porta-potty and then immediately got back in line to wait again. At the very least it kept me busy so I didn't flip out. Was that too much bathroom talk for you? No? Good. We get a little obsessed with bodily functions in the hour or so before the gun goes off, so you should get used to it!
I found my place at the start line. I felt like I did every other time. Nervous and praying for a breakthrough. The best way to describe this feeling is that it's like diving into the water from a height juuuust a little too high for your comfort level. You know it's safe, you know you can do it and you KNOW it will be fun, but you're a little frozen. Then, you start to lean forward. You try not to think, but you know the only way to do it is to just jump without thinking about it. That second between the lean and the jump is what it feels like. That's the only way I can describe it. It's anticipation and excitement and fear all at the same time. It's the feeling that something absolutely amazing can happen, but the fear that you will waste it. The only hint I had that I would have a breakthrough was something my trainer said before the crazy speed interval workout I did last week when I set the mph lower than we both knew I could handle. "What are you saving it for?"
I was hoping to run under an 11 minute mile (normally it would be sub 10 but this course is a beast), but I know from experience that if I start that far back, I tend to to not push it like I should. I started between the 9 and 10 minute milers knowing that it wouldn't be too fast for me to keep up long enough for it to thin out and for me to evaluate my pace. In the last week or so I had learned that I can really run much faster for much longer, and can deal with more discomfort, than I really had even considered. When I say discomfort I mean the lungs burning, tired legs kind. Please don't run through an injury! I had some muscular aches from an earlier workout that week and knew I'd be fine, but if it was joint or bone pain, or more severe, I'd reconsider. I also forgot my watch, which is funny, because friends have been telling me to stop using it for a while. I haven't been able to push myself while wearing a watch because even if I feel fine running faster, my brain screams YOU DON'T RUN THIS FAST!!! YOU MUST WALK NOW!!!
I'm glad I knew the course and could make a plan. The first mile has 3 steep hills, the third of which is quite long. I knew if I could make it over that last hill without a stomach cramp I could speed up later. I also knew that my #1 biggest enemy is my own negative mental chatter. I've tried replacing it with positive affirmations, power words, ANYTHING and failed. This time I tried just counting my footsteps until I was out of the danger zone. It was perfect. I think it worked for me because it took a decent amount of concentration to run and count that fast. Also, counting is continuous, so there was no chance for the mean monologue to start up again. I came up over the third hill and felt just barely on the safe side of no stomach cramps. Just a little further was mile 1 and the water table. The mile clock said 12 minutes, which I knew was good because it took about a minute for me to get to the line. That put me at about 11 minutes and I knew I had a lot left in me. I also had to re-tie my sneakers. I'm seriously a little crazy about this. They were too loose and I was losing support, but it doesn't take much to make them too tight either. I had relaced 3 or 4 time before the start and had a feeling I wouldn't be happy. I ended up with them a little tighter than I'd like, but it was less annoying than the sliding feeling of before. Off I went! Mile two is out and back. You run a slight downhill and then a gradual uphill for half a mile, and then turn around and run back down and back up. Part of the way back up is mile 2. I felt okay but really tired. I walked for about 10 seconds at the water stop to drink and get my head together and then started running again. I haven't managed to be able to run and drink without getting stomach cramps. If it's cold out, I may even just skip water in the 5K altogether. At this point I was really happy there was only about a mile left! I was now 21 minutes and change in, so I covered mile 2 in about 10:30. Mile 3 was tough. I forgot that the uphill extended further than I remembered and I was dragging. I just started counting again and moving my legs as fast as I could. I wasn't worried about cramps at this point because I knew I had less than 10 minutes to deal with it. Of course I got one immediately! I ran as fast as I could for the last 10th of a mile and saw the clock somewhere around 34 when I finished. My trainer and I both wanted a sub 34 and I was pretty sure when I got my official time from the timing tag it would be. I was already so happy because I accomplished a couple of things. I did not allow negative chatter. I chose to push myself and be uncomfortable to reach a goal. I guessed I beat my best on that course by about 5 minutes and was only short of my PR by about a minute. That PR was on an absolutely flat dirt road and it was cold out (I'm much better in the cold). I ended the race feeling like I couldn't have done more. THAT has NEVER happened!
My official time was 33:38 and a 10:50 pace.
My previous best time on that course was 38:39. I improved by 5:01!
My actual 5K PR is 32:30 under perfect race conditions. The extra minute it took me is fine with me! From the conversations I overheard that night, it seemed in line with how many other people did.
The biggest thing I win is the experience. My trainer has set an attainable, but rather challenging time goal for my half marathon. I now have a much better idea of my ability and the effects of my workouts. Does that mean I always want to workout? No. I almost named this blog Couch Barnacle. Am I taking my sweet time writing this entry because I have a tempo run next on my to do list? Probably...
Check out the link to the race above and the camp. There were many campers at the race that night and you could hear them screaming before the boat even docked. They do this every year. They line up along the dock and high-five and thank every runner that gets off the boat. That's 1200 thank yous and these kids MEAN them! They line up along the course to cheer us on and by cheer, I mean sing, dance, scream, chase you, yell encouragement...they're awesome and so appreciative of us being there. I also appreciate the sponsors and how generous they are. I can't wait for next year!