It felt so good to race again Saturday morning with team Total Fitness at the Best Damn Race in Safety Harbor. This is one of those races that hits high marks in many areas – overall community and team participation is high, it is very well run and there is a positive energy that permeates the entire area. For me it was a great morning to wear a few different hats – friend and cheer squad, coach, and racer. Today I’ll share my experience from a fantastic Saturday morning in Safety Harbor.
Since my last important race in early November, I backed off my training through year-end to give my body a break, recharge my mind, and work on a foot injury. With clearance from the doctors to go all-in on my training plan I set out on December 30 to begin my build for my first two big races of the year in May. Along the way I’m competing in several races to test progress, get faster, and compete. The first one on the list was the Best Damn Race Saturday morning.
I chose to race both the 10k and 5k for two reasons. I need more practice racing the 10k distance for my big race events and running two races back-to-back on the same morning is great experience for running on tired legs as the final run in a duathlon or triathlon feels very similar. My plan for this morning was to run the 10k (first of the two races) all out and then run the 5k all out but knowing my pace could not match my typical 5k solo race pace but more like my pace in the final run of a duathlon or triathlon.
The alarm went off early Saturday morning, I loaded up my gear, and headed on my long one mile journey to Safety Harbor. Ok, this is one race where I’m super lucky as it’s in my backyard basically in the beautiful town of Safety Harbor overlooking Tampa Bay. I did drive however as I wanted a station to hold my change of clothes before each race and a spot for my cooler. It also served as a place to sit out the rain as at 5:30 AM it was raining pretty steady so I hung out till 6:00 AM when I then met Coach Celia Dubey to set up our team tent and flags near the finish line.
We met, had a battle of motivational music songs and our team began to arrive. Gail also added her songs to the mix. I am biased of course….mine were the best….ha! Don’t tell Celia…she is even competitive about music…love it! We used the tent to shield the light rain. Then it was picture time and we warmed up. The rain tapered off and it was really ideal conditions to run. I changed my socks before each race and completely changed before the 2nd race. This helped significantly not feeling wet or cold. Hate that wet sock feel…
The 10k race was up first. It was interesting going into this race as I was in a part of my training where I didn’t have a clear idea what I was cable of running on this morning. I had to shut down all running for a couple weeks in December to nurse the foot injury but with the successful build up in training for five weeks since December 30 I felt pretty good for where I should be at this point. My goal was a pace that was just slower than the pace I had done at the same race last year when I had a bit more training in my legs going into the race. If I could hit this target I would be happy and regardless of my time it would be a benchmark of where I am and illustrate the gap I still need to close by May.
I had a decent warm-up with my quads feeling not fully tapered (loose) for a race but I’ve learned to know that is ok for these races. For me I can tell how my taper plan for a race went by how my quads felt on race morning. It’s a tough balance as they really are never feeling 100% loose and tapered going into a race except for the big events. You can’t sacrifice the training in the weeks of building so you are always not running at 100%. That along with little annoying tweaks of muscles and joints we all feel…learn to deal with it mentally and physically and it’s all good. Once the start gun or horn goes off that is all out the window anyway…
The horn went off and we headed north along the bay. My first mile plan went well. I couldn’t tell how my legs felt yet but after one mile my breathing was great and I came in four seconds faster than I targeted. I would then settle in on mile two and I still didn’t have a feel yet for how my legs were going to respond later in the 6 mile plus effort but I was still breathing well and felt good. I ended my mile two target pace faster than my plan as well. Here I had to make a decision.
Over the years I have specialized in running 5ks as my big triathlon events were sprints ending in 5ks so that’s what I raced almost all the time. I have the mentality and experience of running 5ks so I was cognizant of potentially blowing up as I had to maintain a pace for 6.2 miles versus 3.1. That seems easy on paper but when you are in race conditions a lot of things are going through your head. I had a very specific plan going in but in every race you adjust to something that is happening including internal and external factors.
I consciously made the decision at this point that I would continue on with the pacing that felt appropriate (slightly faster) and if I blew up late in the race it would be another learning but I didn’t want to hold back if I was feeling good enough to press a bit. I finished mile three ahead of target pace again and I was still feeling in full control of my body (legs, form and breathing). At this point I felt strong in the sense I didn’t feel my legs were anywhere near giving way so I continued on with the press pace.
Mile four was just slightly above my target race pace goal but just slightly and at this point of the course we encountered some rolling hills. This only added to my confidence as my legs still felt strong, breathing was in control, and I only had two miles left. I have been working on a few things to help deep in races so I was also feeling good about pulling from those experiences to take me home.
Mile five was back under my target pace and although I was now hurting by giving that effort deep into the race I was mentally all in as this just motivated me more. I progressively kicked into a final gear in that final mile and it really hurt by the end. Coming up to our team tent before our final turn was so motivating. They were cheering loud and I just turned it on to the finish. Some days we simply don’t have another gear to go into but on this day I had it. It felt so good to be in that amount of discomfort but getting faster. I ran mile six 17 seconds faster than my race pace goal and the final .2 miles 60 seconds faster (pace).
I came through the finish and in my usual form felt like I was going to throw up so I veered to the side. I didn’t and walked off… Who do I see as I’m leaving the area….it’s Dan who I’m coaching and getting set to run his 5k. I went up to him all sweaty and wet and got a hug. I was super pumped with my mental effort more than anything and the icing on the cake was finishing with a personal record just over a minute faster than I ran last year at the same race.
This will be in a future blog in the interest of length but this was a perfect example of flexing from your plan during a race. My body in an overall plan perspective had no business running faster than I ran it last year but on this day several things came together and I adjusted within the race to allow it to unfold.
Now it was transition time. Dan and I warmed up together and I completely changed for the start of the 5k race. We showed up to the start line and I got to chat with Dylan (love this picture shared below…says so many things), our teammate, who is 14 years old and one of the fastest runners in Tampa Bay. He is an amazing young man who I get to run with often (from behind) and team up with at the St. Anthony’s Triathlon as relay partners…can’t wait for that again this year. Then it was game face on for all of us and the horn went off.
This mile one was much different than the first mile of the 10k. I knew it was going to hurt and that aspect did not disappoint. After one mile I was slower than what I targeted for the first mile pace but was close. I did think to myself however that this race may not go as well as planned even knowing it would not be my typical 5k race. With that said you just have to keep pressing on and give yourself a chance for mile three.
Mile two went as expected. Discomfort really set in, especially in the quads, and breathing dramatically became more difficult and that too was as expected as during a short 5k race the heart rate will jump and just stick there till the end. At the end of mile two I was just over my target pace for that mile so I just missed both mile targets but I was close enough to keep my target goal pace within reach.
Something happened at the 2.25 mile mark which was the point in which we made a u-turn to head back to the finish line on Bayshore Boulevard. At this point my quads were done but I was still holding a good pace and even though my breathing was stressed I knew I only had three laps around a track remaining and that visualization helps me so much in races. I again wanted to test how my focus running well late in races would do here. I saw a few gentlemen within reach and I simply thought, “keep chugging, keep chugging, keep chugging,” to give myself a chance to run them down at the finish if within reach.
It felt pretty good that I even had that thought then as again, in some races at that point I simply know I don’t have another gear to go into and just attempt to maintain. As I drew closer the adrenaline just continued to rise and I was going after them. Again as I approached our team tent the cheering just elevated me to that final gear and I passed the two gentlemen as I made the final turn with about a hundred meters left. At that point I went into a sprint and if they beat me they beat me but it wasn’t going to be because I didn’t lay it all out.
I finished ahead of them and with that final push I made up for both the first two miles of overage in pace and beat my overall time from last year’s race by five seconds. The time was almost irrelevant. I was so happy with how I attacked the race and the final mile, that made my morning. As I composed myself at the finish line it was then time to flip the hat back to coach time.
Dan came in right behind me and then more and more of our team came through. Michael and Dylan had finished already….they placed 1st and 4th overall with Dylan winning his age group.
Dan who had been sick for a few weeks coming into the race fought like heck and set a personal record of his own, also beating his time from last year’s race by 38 seconds. I am so proud of this guy and I can’t wait to see what happens at Gasparilla as he has a big goal he is attacking at that race.
What makes this experience so satisfying is the team, community and friends. We all got up early on a rainy Saturday morning and ventured out to Safety Harbor. We shared some laughs, those not racing were cheering team members on like crazy, and we celebrated after with fist pumps, hugs and cheers.
I am a very lucky person to be surrounded by such amazing people. Come join this community and if not participating on a team we’d love to have you come check us out as it will…
– Add Health to Your Life