Saturday, September 24, 2011

To DNF or Not To DNF?: Paper Mill Run 5k Recap

This race was originally supposed to take place two Saturday ago, but was postponed because Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee had downed numerous trees and wreaked all sorts of havoc on the trail. Two weeks ago, I was ready, I was prepared, I felt like I could really give it my all. This morning? Not so much.

First let's review my goals. You can read my goal post from two weeks ago here, but to review quickly they were:
  1. Set a new PR
  2. Finish with a 8:00 pace or less
  3. Finish with a 7:45 pace or less
  4. Place in my age group
I'll give you a hint: I only hit two of them, and one of them is not the one you would think!

There are so many things that made this race a disaster:
  • Raging humidity? Check!
  • Surprisingly (and not the good kind) hilly course? Check!
  • No speed work for two weeks? Check!
  • Still recovering from a great performance in my half marathon 6 days ago? Check!
All of this came to equal the worst race I've had in a long, long time. 

This morning when I woke up I knew that I was not in a racing mood. I took it really easy all week precisely because I had just come off of a big race on Sunday. On top of that, I hadn't done mile repeats in more than two weeks and I knew I was not going to have an easy time getting comfortable with a 7-something pace again. Usually it takes me 1-2 sessions of mile repeats to do so. I figured at the very least, however, that I would just use this race as my speed work for the week and tried to stop caring about how I actually performed. Knowing me however, that wasn't going to happen.

This race was only projected to be about 200-ish people, but after it was postponed they lost more than half of the runners. I'm pretty sure the field this morning was less than a hundred runners. Maybe more like 80-90. 

Just as the Run for the Hill of It in July, I again ran this race with my friend Julia and her husband Steve. Steve has been on the injury bench for the last few weeks after pulling his achilles tendon, but has slowly started running again. He offered to pace me for this race since 7:45 is "slow" for him (HA HA HA). Before the race started we ran the first half mile of it and back so I could get a sense of the terrain. It's been awhile since I've been on Forbidden Drive and I forgot how hilly it was! Other times I've run there it has been during my long runs, which are super slow. As we returned to the start line I knew the next 20-some minutes of my life were going to suck!

Mike and I before the race

We lined up at the start line right near the front. Then the horn blew and we were off!

Here we go!
Everyone immediately shot out onto the trail. I looked at my watch and saw 6:55 flashing. WAYYY too fast! Not manageable at all! A quarter mile in I started settling into a more comfortable 7:30-ish pace, sticking right behind Steve according to plan. The field of runners had spread out pretty quickly and I was sure that many of the people who were at the start line with me were long gone ahead by then. Pretty soon Steve and I passed the place where we had turned around during our warm up run. That's where things got uncomfortable. The hills seemed never ending. I was huffing and puffing. Steve was getting further and further ahead of me.

About a quarter mile from the turn around I passed a race volunteer who was blocking a road to make sure runners didn't turn down it by accident. At the same time as I passed her another runner passed in the opposite direction. I heard her say to the runner "You're only the second woman I've seen!" "Great," I thought, "no way I'm finishing at the head of the pack. There's too many people ahead of me by now and I'll never catch them."

When I got to the turn around my watch said 12:18. Steve and I had set a pacing goal to finish between 24:00 and 24:30 so I was still on track, but I could feel myself slipping. On the way back I just completely fell apart. This was probably most disappointing of all, since the way back was net downhill and I really could have ridden some of those to my advantage. By this time Steve was long gone and in the span of the 1.55 miles back I considered taking the DNF (Did Not Finish) at least 5 different times. In my mind, if I wasn't going to perform where I wanted to, why bother finishing? Some races are just about finishing (like, say my first marathon this fall) and some races are about speed. This was one of those races.

Steve, of course, stayed right on track, finishing right within the parameters we had set (if not slightly under them).

Steve finishing strong!
I ended up toughing out, and I even sprinted the last 100 feet, which was surprising to me since I didn't think I had the energy left.

Taken immediately after finishing:

FML. I hate 5ks. I hate going fast. I can't wait to be a slow ultra runner.
Final Stats: 3.1 miles, 25:49, 8:19 pace

After a quick cool down stretch and some venting to Mike I got to capture Julia finishing:

She had similar feelings regarding the insane humidity and unforgiving terrain:

So, looking back at my goals:

  1. Set a new PR? Yes, actually, but there was no chance in hell I wasn't. My previous 5k in Ferbuary was my first race ever and I finished in 29 minutes. The only way a PR wouldn't have happened is if I died of a heart attack halfway through.
  2. Finish with an 8:00 pace or less? NOPE!
  3. Finish with a 7:45 pace or less? SEE ABOVE!
I said I hit two out of four of my goals though. So, that's only leaves:

     4. Place in my age group? YES!

Remember when I said there was a race volunteer saying to a passing runner that she was only the second female she has seen? Well that runner was me! I was so oblivious that I had assumed she was talking to the other runner going in the other direction (who was a man, which I didn't even realize). I ended up finishing as second place female and first in my age group!

Awards! Yay!

So I guess this race was half super disappointing and half super cool. Placing felt really awesome, but at the same time it felt like I was cheating. I just happened to run a race with very few runners and even fewer female runners. 28 men finished before me. I know traditionally men finish faster than women anyways, but 28 people was a third of the field! And people with 8-something paces do not usually place at races. People with 7-something paces don't even place at many races. I lucked out and ran a race with few "elite" type runners. A win for normal folk I guess.

In July I finished a 5 mile race with an average 8:20 pace, so that might explain my disappointment at running two miles less and only a second per mile faster. At least I can walk away from this race knowing exactly why I did badly and what I can do differently next time to do better (ie. speed work and not run a serious race 6 days before).

I'm already thinking about running another one in November... to be continued!


  1. Congrats on the PR and placing!! Very awesome accomplishment!

  2. I liked your account of the race. I was trying to find info on this race for 2012 and yours is about all I saw describing it. Thanks.


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