Crash and Burn

This past weekend I had a 5k race on my schedule. Not one of my typical “train through this” or “use it as part  of a workout”, but a real, live 5k to see where my speed was.

And let me  tell you, I was ready! Jerry and I tapered  for it and I was so mentally prepared for it.  Jerry’s recent email resonated in my head: “It’s not that you don’t have speed – it’s that you think 5:30s are fast”. So true. It’s all about how you think about things – self-limiting thoughts and pacing.  I (and you?!?) are probably guilty of holding yourself back on workouts in fear of dying.  What does dying mean, anyway? I had moved past that fear and was ready to believe I could accomplish great things & run a PR in the meantime.

This is a little tricky of a situation for an athlete: if you go out in a race too hard, you WILL die and it’ll cost you more seconds than you could have ever gained in the first segment. So how to balance that with setting yourself up for something fast?

You have to set yourself up for something fast in order to run something fast.  There’s no other way.

So, I was confident in my 17:10-17:20 fitness stepping to the line.  I was EXCITED to race and excited to notch a new PR.

Except it was 75 degrees out already, maybe hotter since the heat tends to radiate off of the track.  I’m already not a good heat runner and had only one day to try to acclimate.  It’s been about 30 degrees, maybe 40 all spring until now.  Crazy.  The previous day it warmed to 70 and I tried an easy taper-run and had to stop twice because I felt funny, overheated, and my chest felt heavy. Hmm…

But, if you don’t try, you’ll never achieve. You just think 5:30s are fast, I told myself. So I decided that I’d rather try and die than be conservative (because, what’s the point of that now? I have  this one shot, one opportunity… enter Eminem :))

First 200 I tucked into 3rd place with a 40 split  at the 200.  I am good at being conservative (i.e. not feeling the need to lead even though my goal time was 30 seconds faster than the lead woman’s seed time), if nothing else.  I slowly worked my way to the lead, but noticed that my 82.5 goal laps were taking a LOT more effort than they should have.  Not in that “this is too fast” type of feeling, but in an awkward feeling.  Hard  to describe.

First mile in 5:30.  Perfect.

That awkard feeling quickly turned into an “oh crap” feeling.  My legs lost any sort of momentum.  I couldn’t get them to turn over. My face felt SO hot. I tripped over the metal railing once and worried that I might not be able to run straight the last couple of laps.  I had no control over my legs.  I wanted  to stop so bad.  I wonder what I looked  like. This is just embarassing…

I finished in 18:18, a minute slower than what I know I’m capable of.  πŸ™

On the one hand, I’m bummed that I don’t have concrete evidence of where I’m at fitness-wise.  I think I’m in shape for a 17:10-20, but don’t really know.  My training cycles are set up for  a long 3-4 months of training with little feedback (which I am totally cool with!), but when you have an opportunity for a tapered race, it’s nice to see what that “number is”.

The reason I know it was probably a heat related finish time was because I tried to run the Alumni mile shortly afterwards, where I can usually back-up with a 5:20 or so, and finished in a 5:57. I felt so sick to my stomach afterwards.  During the race my quads wouldn’t even fire right.

What I felt like.

So – what is there to be learned?  Not much, I’d say other than it’s really hard to acclimate to the heat quickly, no matter how tapered you are or how much you hydrate during the day.  Daniels’ formula has some calculators that help estimate the effect of temperature and wind on performance, but it’s all about what you’re used to – jumping from 35 to 75 degrees will harm you much more than a jump from 60 to 75 (obviously).

Would I have changed my strategy?  Actually, NO. I had to set myself up for a big PR to at least see.  Would I suggest my athletes do the same?  Actually, YES.  If I would have run safely, what would I have gained?  Think about that for your next race…  it might be worth it to see what you could do, without fear of a crash and burn.  You might be surprised at the result…  as long as you’re okay with the chance of a crash and burn finish like this.

Question: What are your goals for your next race? Conservative?Aggressive? Experiences with racing either way?

Now – it’s just about “forgetting” this race result. I have to believe that I am fit and strong.  The mind is a powerful thing… but doubts are even more powerful…


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  1. The bright side of this race is that you DIDN'T give up! It would have been easy to just throw in the towel. My race goal at this point is to get my shorter race times closer to what they should be compared to my marathon time. I REALLY need to get my 5k under 20min. Right now it's 20:09, ugh. Only problem, I live in FL and it's already 72ish degrees and 85% humidity by 6am. Sigh. The pace calculator comes in handy for this, but I'd rather hit the actual pace, like you said. Happy Weekend!

  2. Thanks, Heather!!! I'm in the same spot as you (minus the heat/humidity problem) – needing to work on my shorter speed. Do you have a fall marathon lined up? Are you working with a coach? I'd recommend a good 6-8 week cycle of progressive speed (if you aren't already mid-cycle). It's what I'm doing now… so Fargo likely won't be as quick as I haven't done as much tempo and MP, but it'll hopefully set me up well for Chicago (fingers crossed).

    Gross humidity. Want to take a training vacation to MN? πŸ™‚

  3. I don't have a fall marathon lined up, for a couple of reasons. I don't have a coach either. Progressive speed is definitely what I need, as I tend to prefer the tempos and MP longer speed workouts over intervals and repeats. I love that you are looking long term with your training… that's something I've just recently started doing and I think it will be better in the long run- no pun intended, haha.

    A training vacay? Not going to lie, that sounds pretty awesome!

  4. I check in on your blog when I have a moment (3 kids keep me busy!) but I had to comment on this post because I had a very similar experience with my last half marathon. Everything was the same – the temp jumped up to 70 when I was used to running in 40s…I went out hard hoping for a great pr and it just wasn't in the cards for me that day, hit a wall big time and have never experienced that in a half! Major dehydration to boot – I agree, it is frustrating when you are hoping the race will give you some feedback on training, but also good to know that had conditions been more "friendly", you probably would have pulled that sweet PR. Good luck at your marathon!!

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