Cigna 5K Race Recap

Last year, when I was pregnant and relatively naïve about motherhood, I made lots of grand claims (both publicly and privately) about running and training post-pregnancy. It’s my first time doing this whole parenting thing after all, and so I had no frame of reference – no real idea of what life would be like on the other side. I only knew how old LBC felt about training. And Old LBC was pretty passionate about it.

I got a lot of “just you wait” comments in those days. And while I listened to them and knew they were coming from a place of good intentions, I didn’t fully understand. I figured life would be different and my priorities would shift, but I couldn’t imagine a life without wanting to train. Or one where I didn’t care if I wasn’t in great shape or my body was mushy.

Well, turns out a lot of those commenters were right – almost. Life is different, my priorities are different, and for what seemed like a long time, I wasn’t sure I would ever have the desire or energy to actually train again. Competitive LBC seemed to be gone. I felt content with just going out a few times a week for a few slow miles. Not necessarily because I was so incredibly busy (although there were times I felt like I was struggling to keep my head above water). I just didn’t want to do it. And to be perfectly honest – getting back in shape kind of sucks. It’s humbling and at times demoralizing. Part of the fun (for me) is feeling like I’m fast and light and fit and strong. Slogging along for a couple of miles just to say that I completed a run doesn’t do it for me.

I would be lying if I said I didn’t stress about this change in perspective a little bit. But for the most part, I tried to take a step back and let things work themselves out. Tried to give myself patience and time to get back at it again. And you know what? It worked. Slowly, as the months have gone by, I’ve felt that fire burning again. Just a flicker at first. But over the past several months it has grown and grown until it has become a strong flame, pushing me to get up in the dark to pound out miles before work. The training is different, the intensity is less, but it’s coming back. Turns out Competitive LBC never really went away. She was just dormant for a little while.

Which is how I found myself, on a warm evening in the middle of August, after limited training and absolutely no speed work, with a shiny new 5K PR. Don’t ask me how it happened. Even after 2 weeks of reflection, I still couldn’t tell you.

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I signed up for the Cigna 5K with a team from work. Every year we enter a team in the corporate race. I missed out last year because of the pregnancy (running a hot August 5K after work hours away from home was just not appealing), so I felt a little extra pressure to run this year. I somehow roped Evan into the race with me by claiming that we could just run “easy” together. I’m pretty sure he knew I was lying right from the start, but to his credit he agreed – despite the fact that the 5K was only 2 days before 100on100.

I had butterflies in my stomach all day long. I felt like I was back in school, waiting for a cross country meet. I couldn’t focus, didn’t know what to eat, and had absolutely no idea how I was going to run a fast 5K after sitting at my desk all day.

Fortunately for us, it was cooler than normal that evening, with temperatures in the mid-70s. We got to Manchester in just enough time to use the porta-potties, drop Amelia off with my friend and her son who were there to support her husband, do a quick (5 minutes – not enough!!) warm up, and fight our way into the crowds on the line. With over 5,600 participants, this was (by far) the largest 5K I have ever run. We were in the first wave (sub-23:00) and I knew the lead pack would go out fast. So my only goal was to go out strong and hold on.

Before we started I made Evan promise that he wouldn’t hold back for me. Don’t get me wrong – I wanted more than anything to beat him. But I didn’t want him to make it easy. And I had no plans to wait for him if he fell behind (just being honest – he wouldn’t want me to either!).

The gun went off and everyone surged. I took off quickly, weaving in and out of the crowds. I told myself not to waste so much energy going around people but it was nearly impossible. After what felt like forever, Evan and I settled into a pace side by side. I looked down at my watch and felt a wave of disappointment when I saw the pace: 6:30/mile. Normally at the beginning of a 5K, I am hopped up on adrenaline and go out way too fast. But I was already struggling. 6:30 felt harder than I wanted it to be and I panicked. I needed to get out of my own head.

So I changed my strategy. All that mattered from that point on was perceived effort. I wasn’t allowed to look at my watch except for at the mile markers (there were timing clocks at every mile). I just focused on staying with Evan and keeping an even pace. “Lock it in!” I told myself, repeating it so many times that it became my motto for the race – the words I went back to over and over when I started to struggle.

Mile 1 – 6:19

Turns out the first mile was all uphill (hence the struggle). We turned a corner in the 2nd mile and went down a very welcome hill. Spectators were out cheering and spraying us with hoses. I ran alongside a woman with a hose and got hammered with water right in my face. It was amazing! A temporary break from focusing on the pain — before Evan suddenly started to pull ahead just a little bit. I tried not to let him get far or become discouraged. I still had time. I still had energy. I could catch him eventually.

Normally mile 2 of a 5K seems to drag on forever – the adrenaline from the first mile has worn off and the final mile still feels so far away. I don’t know if it was the slight downhill or the fact that I was sort of chasing Evan, but the mile went by so quickly. I looked down at my watch at the mile marker: 6:18. Nearly identical split to my first mile. Keep it locked in, I thought.

The final mile brought us along the back of the warehouses in Manchester and I knew there would be a hill to the finish. The same one that destroyed me during MCM two years ago. Evan seemed to find a second wind and started pulling further away. My head yelled at my legs to go with him, but my heart wasn’t in it. If I had taken a moment to think about how fast I was running or how close I would be to my old PR, maybe I would have found the motivation. Or maybe I would’ve crumbled under the pressure…who knows. For the first time in maybe ever, I didn’t do any math during a race. I had absolutely no idea what my projected finish time would be until I saw the clock at the line. It was kind of freeing.

After what seemed like an eternity, we finally turned a corner and there it was – the hill I had been dreading for the past mile. I put my head down, lifted my knees and tried to drive my way up. People seemed to be passing me left and right but I only had eyes for one competitor – my husband. Evan may have the leg speed, but I knew I was faster than him on hills. I made it my mission to catch him.

And I did. For a few brief seconds I even pulled ahead. I could see the finish line (still looking so far away) and I tried to sprint with every ounce of energy left in my legs. Unfortunately for me, Evan could see it too. And he was determined not to be out-kicked by his wife in the final sprint. He took off, and I helplessly watched as his back got further and further away.

At that moment I finally looked up at the clock. I was in shock – I saw the 19:xx, watched the seconds ticking closer and closer to my PR and thought maybe, just maybe I could squeak out a few seconds. It was the motivation I needed. I gave one final push, focused on the other backs in front of me (including one female who I had been chasing the entire race), and somehow found another gear. I crossed the finish line absolutely spent but victorious: 19:36, a 10 second PR.

Evan beat me by 3 whole seconds (a PR for him as well!). Which seems like nothing when I type it out. But at the end of a hard 5K, 3 seconds can be an eternity.

Am I happy with that PR? Absolutely! I had no idea what to expect going into the race and would’ve been happy if I had managed to pull off a 20:xx 5K. I pushed hard and ran an even effort. I still can’t believe my splits when I look at them – by far the most consistent 5K I’ve ever run. The PR was just icing on the cake.

I’m happy, excited, and feeling confident…but I’m not satisfied. And really – what kind of runner would I be if I was? I find myself thinking, if I could run that time under those circumstances, just imagine what I can do with X training?? The plight of the runner is to be endlessly unsatisfied, I think. Because the thing is, even if my run was a fluke, even if it was the result of everything magically coming together to give me a time faster than what I could really train to run, I still have that hope. That fire that burns. The will to see how much faster I can go, how much harder I can push. It’s the thing that keeps us running. The thing that makes our runner’s hearts beat.

Competitive LBC is back. She isn’t the same as before, but she’s in there. And that’s enough for now.

Garmin results: 6:19, 6:20, 6:19, last 0.1 – 6:14 pace (19:38)

Official results: 19:36 (6:19), 3rd in AG and 15th female

Seeing as the winning time was 14:38 and the first female ran a 16:36, I am super excited about those stats. And our female corporate team came in 10th overall. An awesome evening at the races!

 



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