USATF 15k Champs / Gate River Run

I was talking on the phone with my mom earlier this week and mentioned how I wasn’t going to make it to my great-niece’s birthday party on Sunday, with the race happening this weekend and all.  My mom’s response was that she didn’t even know I was racing.  Let me remind you that, like a true millennial, I talk to my mom approximately 35 times per day.  Apparently racing on the circuit has become so second nature to me that I fail to even tell my mom about it.

The USATF 15K championships were held in Jacksonville, FL this weekend as part of the Gate River Run. One exciting aspect was that I was able to cross a new state off my list.  I have now raced in 21 states, and have gone for a run in 28 states.

Since the race was on Saturday, I left for Jacksonville early Thursday morning.  I’m a big fan of arriving 2 days ahead of time, the earlier the better.  As an added bonus, since I have been going to bed earlier it wasn’t a big deal to go to bed at 10 and wake up at 5:30 AM for my 7:30 AM flight.  PS, I LOVE living 15 minutes from the Indy airport.

I arrived to Jacksonville around noon and was able to finish up some work for the day before taking a nap. My roommate arrived around 3, and at 4 PM we went for a run along Jacksonville’s riverfront.  Afterwards, I attempted to find a grocery store, but quickly found myself in an incredibly sketchy part of downtown and retreated. I ran into the ZAP fitness team, and they invited me to join them for dinner.  I was really apprehensive because they were heading to a Thai restaurant, and I wasn’t so sure how my garlic and soy sensitivities could be accommodated.  However, I was STARVING and not really in a position to be picky about food.

I wound up ordering the only thing on the menu that appeared safe:  Beef pho.  Even though it was a huge gamble, I didn’t have any stomach issues whatsoever, and it turns out that pho is just bone broth with onions and bean sprouts. Major fortuitous win on my part!

After dinner I headed back to the hotel and met my other roommate.  Even though races generally allow you to request roommates, I like to leave it up to chance.  So far, I have had great roommates and made many new friends.

The next morning, my Oiselle teammate, Andie Cozarelli, texted me about finding a grocery store. She also has food sensitivities, and oftentimes it feels like she is one of few people who really “get” what I go through when it comes to fueling.  A lot of the time I feel self-conscious talking about my food sensitivities, especially because I have been increasingly accused of having an eating disorder.  While that is a whole other blog post in itself, I will just say that it is really nice to have someone I can talk to about the challenges I have in regards to finding the proper foods for my body.

We found a Fresh Market about 1.5 miles from the hotel and walked over.  Even though these races definitely have a “business” component, one of my favorite parts is catching up with all of my running friends and meeting new ones. What does a runner with food sensitivities buy when fueling for a 15k race?

-kombucha
-a bag of pre-cooked quinoa
-an 85% dark chocolate bar
-vegetables from the salad bar
-a can of salmon
-Fage Greek yogurt
-Magic Hat #9 beer

What food did I pack?

-4 Lara bars (cherry and peanut butter chocolate chip)
-1 microwaveable forbidden rice bowl
-3 Kashi peanut and hemp crunch bars
-3 oranges
-3 bananas
-3 packets of Justin’s almond or hazelnut butter
-4 packets of apple cinnamon oatmeal
-1 bag of granola
-rice cakes
-2 Perfect Bars
-3 bags of black tea; 3 bags of green tea; 3 bags of peppermint tea

After the grocery store excursion, Andie, my ZAP friends, and their friend Tim and I all went for a run. I was planning 5 miles in the AM and a 3 mile shake out later, but I decided that 3 mi round trip of walking was already kind of a lot so I only did a 5 mile run.  During our shakeout we saw a pack (flock, murder, group, school?) of dolphins.

Then I had breakfast (2 bags of oatmeal with almond butter and a banana) with Andie, and we made plans for work.  I had a 1700 word article entitled Can You Run a Marathon without Training? due that day, and she had some work of her own. After a highly unproductive 1.5 hours of work, we took a break for lunch.  I had a microwaveable bowl of forbidden rice (80 grams of carbs in one serving!!!) with some of the veggies from the salad bar and a can of salmon, as well as an orange and part of my chocolate bar.  Then I finished my article.

Next, I had signed up to go with a bus group to The Sanctuary, which is an after-school program for inner city/underprivileged kids.  This was so much fun.  We formed a circle around the kids and introduced ourselves while talking about the role running has played in our lives.  Paul Chelimo brought his silver medal and allowed the kids to try it on. They clearly loved the experience. One thing that stuck out to me is the importance of representation.  These children were primarily African-American, and during the q&a session they were given the opportunity to choose a runner and ask him or her a question.  With the exception of me (I was asked by a little girl if I thought I could win the race) (I said I stand on every starting line believing that winning is always a possibility), the African-American runners were clearly the ones that these children looked up to.  It really bothers me that people become so upset about the number of African-born US runners.  Besides the fact that many of these people are my friends and I know that they did not simply wake up one day and say, “I am going to become a citizen” and then a week later started waving an American flag, I feel we should be more understanding that greater competition and representation in sport makes us all better.  I’m not going to get upset and complain that a non-US native beat me; I’m going to try and get faster.

Anyway.

After that we had our tech meeting, and then dinner.  The pre-race dinner wasn’t one that I felt comfortable eating – pizza and pasta – so I opted to bring my own food.  While pizza and pasta are two things I love to make at home, they almost always contain garlic, which is one food that I am most highly sensitive towards.  Instead, I brought up my packet of pre-cooked quinoa and the rest of my veggies.  After that meal, I had my “dessert” of Greek yogurt and granola, finished with peppermint tea and a beer.

Before I went to bed, I was texting with Dave.  Leading up to the race I had been feeling pretty nervous.  I’m not typically nervous going into races, but I’ve known for the past few weeks that I am on the verge of a breakthrough.  My workouts have been going better than ever, and I really wanted this race to be the one that showcased my improved fitness.  I told him I had two mantras for the day (both borrowed from oiselle):  Be a gritty bitch (thanks Sally!), and dig deep, get ugly (thanks Heather!).   I went to bed telling myself I was ready for a breakthrough.

I actually slept very well and even woke up a couple times pleasantly surprised I still had hours left of sleep.  I woke up around 5:20 AM without my alarm and ate breakfast:  two packets of oatmeal, a banana, and Justin’s chocolate hazelnut butter. I drank a mug of Jasmine green tea, one of my favorite pre-race drinks.

I sat in the hotel room and got my gear together, debated the merits of compression sleeves or no compression sleeves, put on my makeup, then realized I would be wearing sunglasses so it really didn’t matter if my mascara looked good or not.  We bussed over to the start line at 6:30 AM and still had about an hour before it was time to warm up.  I sat around with Andie, Obsie, Aliphine, and Tim.  Obsie is my good luck charm at races.  Her positive attitude is infectious, and we first became friends at Twin Cities in 2015, where we both hit the Olympic Trials standard after warming up together.

I suppose part of my nerves for this race was the fact that I was trying something a little bit different. I really dislike the feeling of being passed during a race.  I mean, duh. Who doesn’t hate that feeling?  In nearly all of the races I have run in the past 2 years, I have started conservatively and tried to negative split. While I don’t always negative split, I do tend to slow down less than other people.  But, I also tend to never actually be in the race.

My coach and I have been discussing taking a more aggressive approach.  For this race, we decided that I would go out with a group of women that I know are faster than me.  I anticipated the first mile of this race to be ~5:10.  I did something I never do, which is stand directly on the start line instead of 3 – 4 women back.  While this wasn’t exactly my intention, I found myself sharing the lead with Aliphine and Jordan Hasay for the first 2 miles.  I have no idea what our mile split was (I didn’t start my watch for this race), but I do know that we went through 2 miles in 10:41.  So, my strategy kind of worked out in my favor. It wasn’t a crazy fast first couple miles, and if I had simply felt the need to run x distance behind the lead group, I would have probably disadvantaged myself from the get-go. Around 4k the group kicked it up a notch which wasn’t really a move my legs were able to cover.  Instead, I remained steady.  I went through 5k in 16:58, which is an 11 second PR for me. Going into the race, I anticipated the first 5k might be a PR.

After the 5k I started to feel the effects of running a PR and still having 10k to go.  I got passed by a couple girls, which temporarily put me in a mental state of wow. This sucks.  I went through 4 miles right at 22:00, so I realized I was probably going to struggle to hold 5:30 pace.  The toughest miles for me, mentally, were miles 4 – 6.  It was around here that the chase pack passed me, and I began to struggle.  But, when I went through 5 miles I realized that even if I ran 6:00 pace I would hit a 10k PR.  I got a bit of a 2nd wind here and told myself to go for the PR, and if I died after that I could at least say I ran two PRs.

I went through 10k in 34:41, which was a 20 second 10k PR.  My splits were 16:58 and 17:45.

Once I got through 10k, I knew it would be a matter of holding on, not dying on “the green monster,” and then using the downhill for home.

All weekend, “the green monster” had been spectacularly talked up.  I had seen the bridge and foolishy thought my experience at the Pittsburgh Marathon meant the bridge would be a piece of cake for me.  The bridge is 3.8% grade and approximately a mile long.  We were told to expect to slow down ~20 seconds that mile, but most people slowed down MUCH more than this.

The bridge was death. In addition to the hill, we also had a decently strong wind to contend with.  From the top of the bridge there was 1600 m left in the race.

I’m pretty bummed that my chip didn’t register a time at 8.3 miles, because I would LOVE to know what I split that last 1600.  I battled with a couple women here, which pushed me really hard in that last mile. My split for this last 5k was 18:08, but this was definitely the hardest portion of the course.  Overall, my splits were 16:58, 17:45, and 18:08.  Those splits aren’t spectacular, but after looking at the results and analyzing other people’s splits, I actually ran fairly evenly. It’s also good to know that I was able to hang on after running two PRs today.

My overall time was 52:49. I actually split 52:48 for 15k at Houston in 2016, so I can’t claim this as a PR unfortunately.  I’m a little bit surprised because I really expected to be sub-52:00. However, I did hear times were about ~2 minutes slower across the board, so who knows?  I was 18th overall, and 17th out of Americans

I guess I wouldn’t say that this was exactly the breakthrough I was looking for, but there are certainly more positives than negatives.  I proved to myself that I can fearlessly take the race out with the lead pack and that finding myself next to runners like Jordan Hasay or Emily Infeld doesn’t phase me.  I am proud that I did not walk away wondering what if I had started faster?

I do think that I was a little complacent during 8 – 12k.  I have a secret weapon that I have been working on:  breathing.  With a mile to go, I started counting breaths and I noticed I was able to pick up the pace quite a bit.  I think I had a little bit more left than I should have.

Something that bothered me a little bit was that I ran the same pace today as I ran at the 10 miler in October, and also the same pace as my half marathon PR at Houston.  I KNOW I am in better shape than I was at the 10 miler, and I strongly believe I am in better shape than when I ran my half PR. But, I have to remind myself that it is impossible to compare races, especially when I had such a different approach each time, and was in vastly different points of my training.

I’m getting kind of tired of making comparisons.  Maybe it’s the airplane wine that I’m drinking right now, but I want to abolish comparisons between races and days and PRs and etc etc.  I’m a gritty bitch who digs deep and gets ugly, so what’s the point of saying that one race was better than the other?  From here on out I just want to compete hard and be fast.

That’s not too much to ask, right?

Originally published on Going Big, or Going Home

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