Sunday, June 7, 2015

Heights 5k Race Report: "Control What You Can Control"

The athletes I consult with in my practice probably get annoyed with how many times I give them the title statement. But I don't care-because it is one of the most universal truths in sport performance. It's a tenet that we need to regularly practice in order to be successful in sports and in life (and sometimes just make it through the day). Yesterday morning I ran the Heights 5k in one of Houston's classiest and well-preserved neighborhoods that is very runner-friendly. The race itself was an interesting one, to say the least....

I signed up last month knowing what I was getting myself into: the course is fantastic-flat and fast with a slight downhill going out on tree-lined Heights Boulevard. Given the nature of the course and long-running history of the race, it brings out some of the fastest runners in Houston. I also knew it was going to be likely very hot and humid-cue Uncontrollable #1. My main goals were to just get out there in my Oiselle Kit and re-establish some comfort with the race environment and push through some hurt; I think I succeeded on both.

Another thing I think I did well on was not fixate on any outcomes, because I have been having difficulty with the humidity and the fastest I've run in workouts has been tempo pace (which I am developing a good relationship with, but I'll save that for another post!).  This served me very well because if this was a few years ago, I would have had a relative meltdown afterward, and here is why:


I think I did a good job getting fluids in and had my usual bagel with almond butter and sports drink breakfast. For some reason this summer my appetite hasn't been as big as years previous, but I made sure I got some fuel in two hours prior, then some Honey Stinger chews beforehand to stabilize the blood sugars. Then it was a quick gear check and off to the Heights. I had some of the usual pre-race nerves, but they weren't as intense as usual.
Thanks to Oiselle, my uniform game is on point! To the L, you'll see the culprit.

At the race site I met Coach Doug and he was kind enough to run with me for the first mile of my warm up. Silly as it sounds, I really appreciated having him jog alongside me for a bit as we talked shop. Strategy wasn't much of a thing for this one, so I just loosened up in my pre-race two miles. It was a good day too to test out my new pair of Nike Lunaracer flats that I picked up recently.

It was about 20 minutes when the anxiety set in; but it was different. It was more somatic/physical than a head full of doubts and fear (I do this for a living, so I should know what to fill my head with pre-race LOL). One thing that was an aberration-even for me-is how much I was sweating before the race. I am a heavy sweater.

Ok make that I "sweat like a 300 pound offensive lineman who hasn't worked out all summer and did nothing but eat fried chicken and drink grape soda at his first practice". And there is not much I can do about it.

Unfortunately for me, I think nerves exacerbated the 85% humidity sweat-fest well before the race, this had me a little concerned, but I just went with the flow anyway. Grossed out yet??! Anyway I took some quick 4-7-8 breaths to settle my body down and then it was go time.

The start was really fast, but I expected it and simply got on my goal pace of 6:35-just under my current tempo pace that I have been able to hit fairly successfully lately. First mile I was right on the money. Boom-except my legs didn't have much snap in them...ummm.....crap. I was hot before I started afterward and soon after the turnaround I heated up some more. "Just relax, focus down the course...." I told myself and shook it off. I know 5ks are uncomfortable, but this one took the gloves off and smacked me around a bit!

While Houston and its nasty-a$$ humidity were trying to abuse me and my muscular non-runner body self, I felt something happening down around my right ankle.....NO it wasn't an injury, and it started with me feeling something repeatedly hitting my left shin. It was my right shoe coming untied. I worked on staying focused and grinding it out through the sauna-it's good to adapt to little challenges along the way, right? . Then I felt my right shoe start loosening even more and my ankle and heel started sliding out with each foot strike. 

"Great, I feel like death and my shoe is flapping around..." 

At about mile 2.25 I had had enough, I was far from winning the race and that thing was going to fly off, so I made the difficult move and moved off the course to re-position my foot and strap that thing back down. Instead of being upset, I found myself amused by the whole thing as this was definitely a first and its something I couldn't control. Note: if I was in a better position that day or it was closer to the finish, I totally would have taken off with just a left shoe!

Granted I lost anywhere from 20-45 seconds (overheated race brain doesn't tell time very well) I gave it one last push with what I had left. Thankfully, I think I only lost one spot in female positioning even after the shoe incident. I had abandoned any pace plan and was just running with what I had left. I finished in not a personal-worst in a 5k but nothing to brag about 21 and change. Minus the shoe change and the time loss, my average per-mile pacing was in line with my threshold training at a high 6:00 mile average.

I was lightheaded at the finish and downed a bottle of water before cooling down. surprisingly, my legs came back very quickly. In fact, besides not having good turnover in the race (according to Doug but I agree) I don't remember my legs burning at all, it was all lungs that kept my pace governed. I cooled down with Kirsten, another Bayou City Elite runner who was second master in a fast field. It was nice to have a low key "team" feel to this race and I enjoyed meeting her and her company at the start and finish of the race.

Takeaways and Reflections

Besides the shoe incident (_insert Nike joke here_), I did my best with what I had. Maybe it's getting older, but I am slowly changing my mindset as a runner. I care a lot about how I do, but "bad" performances are not defining or indicative of what I can do.

Also, the uncontrollable factors, especially climate, are real. It doesn't mean I'm not a mentally tough athlete. I did some quick research and talked to Doug about how runners with more muscle generate more heat, and also have trouble dissipating it, while I'm not a big girl by any stretch, I have no trouble maintaining muscle mass-basically I'm just a big furnace!. The more I learn from those who know, the less I feel like I'm making excuses. So that means two things for summer racing: slow it down or just don't do it at all. Knowing it's something I can't change is kind of comforting and makes me optimistic for the Fall-Spring season, when my 5k times reflect more accurately where I'm at.

I walked away feeling pretty neutral about the race-I came, I ran, I learned. I ended up 5th in the AG, missing a spot or two with the wardrobe malfunction. Heights is competitive, so finishing up top for 30-34 on a rough day is ok with me.  Being someone notoriously hard on herself, I'm improving in seeing races just for what they are. This one could have sucked a lot more but it didn't.

There are some things I can adjust to and do differently. Coach was able to see my running form and it was confirmed why I was running so flat-my turnover has slowed down considerably and I am landing far on the forefoot. A lot of this may be compensation to a sore hip I've been battling over the past month or so, but time to tune it up again. So re-incorporating drills to re-train the muscles and stepping up the core work is in order. Plyometric training really helped me last year, and I will start a program back up again in upcoming weeks.

Next up is a totally different type of 5k: the Xterra Gator Bait race on 6/21. After this last one, I'm wanting a little payback before probably shutting the summer racing down some and focusing on my #summerofstrength further. I've always felt in control on trails and felt confident with the twists and turns vs. drag-race style racing.

So there are many things that I couldn't influence yesterday, but I walk away motivated to make the best of what I got and my training for this summer.

The Event Itself

It's obvious they have been holding this event for a long time: the race seemed well-organized and had a lot of nice things post-race, including trendy food trucks and coffee and everyone was very friendly. As I mentioned earlier-the course is great, PR-worthy if you have it in you that day. If you are a swag-hound, however, this may not be the race for you-there were no finisher medals or anything, just the pride of pounding the Houston summer street! I will be back again, and it will hurt, but I'm going to drop some next year-with two functional shoes!

Bottom Line

This will be a race I look back on and laugh at from here on. I had a great time and enjoyed the gift of running-everything including the race, the community, the experience of getting stronger by pushing yourself. That's what keeps me in it. Even in community 5ks, we can learn a lot about ourselves, what we're strong in, how to do with/accept what you have as an athlete and how to make the best out of it.

Anyone else race over the weekend? What are some of your best "race-day fails"?

Stay the course.


Elizabeth said...

That's really annoying about your shoe! I think you have an amazing attitude about the whole experience though. And it sounds like you are in really great shape right now!

Sharon said...

I laughed outloud at the 5k's are tough but line. Had same experience during 5 k yesterday when I was a runner for J
&B Tri relay team. You are right as always - slow down. I've accepted it which has been much easier after our talk about "control what you can" :-)
Great report!!