At some races, everything just clicks and all comes together. This feeling of harmony was with me during my half-marathon, but has been absent from my last two 5Ks. At each race I somehow felt out-of-sorts and just couldn't seem to get myself in the right mindset to run well. The tides seem to have changed with my most recent run in the Jingle Bell 5K.
Leading up to this race, I was anxious for a number of reasons. First, my shins have not been nice to me (nor I to them) making any run painful and frustrating. I actually made the decision a few weeks ago to ditch the training plan I had formulated, even though I was very careful when planning it to not do too much, too fast, too soon. I had also switched to a routine of constantly icing my legs, performing lower-leg exercises and only running in grassy areas. This healing method worked surprisingly well, but I knew I hadn't run more than 3 miles only at a slow pace in the time leading up to the race and my shins tended to seize up when I pushed too hard.
In addition to this physical challenge, a scheduling conflict also developed. In October, I had agreed to attend a retreat with my students that was planned for the week before Thanksgiving. Well, due to some unforeseen (but positive) circumstances, the retreat was moved to the weekend of the race. While I knew I could leave a little early race morning, the bigger concern came from knowing that I would most likely be lacking a good night's sleep and good nutrition. Although I didn't want to sacrifice sleep, I also care deeply about my students and knew that sometimes they just needed time to talk and it would require me to stay up late.
I spent some time thinking about the challenges this race would present me to the point of considering not showing up. However, in having already paid to participate, my checkbook convinced me to do it regardless. I figured that, if nothing else, I could take the race easy and just enjoy myself.
On the Wednesday before the race, my wife picked up my packet and swag, since she drives past the running store that was hosting the pick-up. Getting the race goodies improved my hopes for the run, since I not only got a long-sleeved shirt, but also a collapsible water bottle and it was all inside a reusable thermal bag. It apparently only takes the little things to improve my mood!
I had to pack all my running attire I would need for the race, since I was planning on getting in a short run during the retreat and would be going directly to the race Sunday morning. I got in my last run before the race Friday morning while everyone was still asleep. However, during this easy run, I did feel pretty good considering how little shut-eye I had gotten and my legs weren't doing too poorly (though my Garmin was another story - it had my pace and mileage way off). Maybe the race would have the same prospect!
When the morning of the race rolled around, I was definitely tired, but feeling okay. I got all attired up, said my good-byes and made my way to the Three Rivers Heritage Trail. As has become my custom, I like to use a portion of the trail to warm up before heading to the race, since I tend to feel awkward doing my stretches and dynamic exercises with other people around (introvert problems!). I took my warm-up nice and easy with special attention given to remaining on the grass that bordered the trail. Besides just some tightness, I felt pretty good. However, the true test would come shortly in that the majority of the course was on pavement and I wasn't sure what would happen when I pushed myself to go faster.
The moment of truth arrived as I lined up in the 8 minute pace area while shaking my arms and legs to keep them loose. The buzzer sounded and we were off! Trying my best to practice good form, I got myself into an even rhythm and just kept putting one leg in front of the other. Something amazing happened during the race - my shins didn't hurt! I moved along the course at a great pace constantly driving myself to catch up the next person in front of me. Looking down at my watch at one point, the thought occurred to me: I could actually break 22 minutes. While my legs were tiring, I kept moving and my revelation came true - final time was 21:45! I was exhausted, but also exhilarated in finally returning to the times I had gotten in high school and college.
Even with circumstances surrounding the race not the greatest, I was able to PR and be reminded why I enjoy spending hours on the roads and trails. The results of the Jingle Bell Run have energized me for my next race - the Frigid 5 Miler. I also have my eyes set on a new goal - sub-21:00 a 5K.
You can read my full race review at Bibrave.