Reflections on the Triple Crown and, well, my entire running career

Note: This started off as a race report/review but I got sidetracked. If all you’re interested in is how I did at PJ10, click here.

Wow. Another Triple Crown already over. It’s amazing how fast it goes by. Remarkably, I think this is the first year I’ve done all three races since my first time in 2007.

Finishing my first Triple Crown at age 22, in 2007.

Why has it been 8 years since I completed the series? Good question — first, I didn’t realize it had been that long. Timehop got me this morning with a photo of myself finishing my very first Papa John’s 10 Miler EIGHT YEARS AGO. Holy molé. I had never even run 10 miles before.

In 2008, 2009 and 2010 I bypassed the Triple Crown in lieu of spring marathon training. In 2008 and 2009, I was Boston-bound, which tends to just be a couple weeks after the PJ10. In 2010, I ran the Shamrock Virginia Beach Marathon, which is an early spring race that actually fell the same day as the middle leg of the Triple Crown that year.

In 2011 and 2012, I was dealing with multiple injuries and only finished two of the races both years. First I dropped out of the 10 miler — I ran a decent 5k but a bad 10k that year. I remember getting to the hills of Iroquois Park and deciding my hamstring wasn’t going to survive that drama. I also remember jogging slowly back to the start in cold, rainy weather. Yuck. The next year, same hamstring issues, dropped out of the 10k at mile 2. And I was in terrible shape for the other two races.

Carmel Marathon was on my schedule in mid-April 2013. Last year I skipped the Triple Crown because I was mounting my comeback but I wasn’t ready that early. After having not broken 20 minutes in a 5k since Anthem in 2011, I opened my 2014 racing campaign with a 19:44 last April.

By now you’re thinking, okay, Tracy, thanks for the history but so what?

I ran the 10 miler in within my goal range, which was admittedly a wide range. I wasn’t super-happy with the results. I wasn’t happy at all about my 10k performance. But then I looked back and realized 1) it’s only the second time I’ve actually made it through a fairly tough combination of three races each two weeks apart and 2) I PR’d in two of the three distances. And, for that matter, 3) I will have been a runner for 9 years next month.

It has been an interesting journey. I started running in 2006 because I was, quite frankly, “skinny fat.” I couldn’t make it up to the third floor for college classes without being out of breath. I had barely exercised at all since quitting high school sports after my junior year. I had run track two seasons in high school and I found the couch-to-5k program on CoolRunning.com. I found a race close to my house and off I went. The next spring, I completed my first Triple Crown and my first half-marathon — both big accomplishments for someone who had not yet been running an entire year. But I am not known for doing anything halfway. I finished off 2007 with a second half marathon and a Boston-qualifying marathon. I was 22. Twenty-two!!! I finished as the 29th female, something I’m not sure I even realized until now when I checked those results. Again, holy molé.

So I may have been disappointed in this year’s Triple Crown. But I’m not certain I should be. Maybe I need to take it a little easier on myself. Do I still think I can PR in the marathon this spring? Not sure. But I might as well try.

Okay, now the actual race report…

Papa John’s 10 Miler

I figured this race would make for a nice marathon trial run for everything — breakfast, outfit, warmup, nutrition, pacing. After approaching the 10k a little too casually two weeks ago, I wanted to get my routine nailed down. I actually got up pretty early and had breakfast — hot tea and half an Ezekiel English muffin with light cream cheese  — while sitting in an Epsom salt bath. I think Epsom salts are more popular with older people than with runners, but I think they are awesome, and I think they help. The salts are supposed to reduce muscle soreness and tension, and the warm water helps loosen up my muscles. I did about 5 minutes of foam rolling before I headed out. Since first breakfast was 2 hours before the race, I had an energy bar on my way to the race. I parked close to some port-o-johns in the stadium parking lot, which were far enough away that they weren’t heavily-trafficked. My plan for the day was to get in 16 total, with 3-4 miles warmup. I ran a little more than a mile, came back, foam rolled and ditched warmup gear, and got in 2 more miles before the start. Probably could have focused more on my stretches from physical therapy, but I did do some strides and some stretching before the gun went off.

 I figured this race would make for a nice marathon trial run for everything — breakfast, outfit, warmup, nutrition, pacing. After approaching the 10k a little too casually two weeks ago, I wanted to get my routine nailed down. I actually got up pretty early and had breakfast — hot tea and half an Ezekiel English muffin with light cream cheese  — while sitting in an Epsom salt bath. I think Epsom salts are more popular with older people than with runners, but I think they are awesome, and I think they help. The salts are supposed to reduce muscle soreness and tension, and the warm water helps loosen up my muscles. I did about 5 minutes of foam rolling before I headed out. Since first breakfast was 2 hours before the race, I had an energy bar on my way to the race. I parked close to some port-o-johns in the stadium parking lot, which were far enough away that they weren’t heavily-trafficked. My plan for the day was to get in 16 total, with 3-4 miles warmup. I ran a little more than a mile, came back, foam rolled and ditched warmup gear, and got in 2 more miles before the start. Probably could have focused more on my stretches from physical therapy, but I did do some strides and some stretching before the gun went off.

My goal time for this race was uncertain. Anything between 65-70 would be okay, I decided. The McMillan Calculator put me at 65, but that is a perfect course, perfect day projection. It doesn’t account for the thrashing you get from Iroquois Park, or the extra mileage on the day. I had initially planned the spring season to include PJ10 as a goal marathon pace day, which would’ve been 70:30. At some point, though, I started to speed that goal time up. First, our New Balance Louisville women’s team had won the first two races and needed me to pull through on this one if we were to win the series (results not up yet for that, fingers crossed!). Second, it’s hard to not race a race. Especially one like this, where you’ve got all the other local speedies checking you out. The pressure!

But, I also knew 65 minutes on that course after my 10k debacle wasn’t probably in the cards. Nor did I want to try it out and blow up in Iroquois Park, and then have to struggle back. No thanks.

So I was determined to start off in the 6:40s, and ran the first few miles with a NBLou teammate. First 3: 6:42, 6:42, 6:43. After that, you’re in the hills. Really, you start a gradual incline at around 2.5 and you can expect nothing easy until after the 6 mile mark. Second 3: 6:56, 6:55, 6:47 — hills, hills, hills. But okay. I made it a point to stop obsessing over my watch and just get into a groove. That worked for my half marathon big PR in November and I need to get out of my head.

Coming out of the park is both a relief but also a bummer — you know you’ve still got 4 miles to go and they are mostly down Southern Parkway. I didn’t think there was as much crowd support as there used to be — even though I didn’t want one, I missed the people who used to come out with orange slices.

I chatted with someone I knew from my days working at Ken Combs Running Store for most of those last 4 miles. Andy was using PJ as a tempo run before heading to Boston, and that gave me something else to think about. Of course, at mile 9 you hit the overpass that goes on for twice as long as it seems like it should, and you realize the trick about the finish line: you’re a mile away but because they use the Cardinal Stadium PA, you can hear the finish from there. Heck, from the top of the overpass you can practically see it. But you still have to come down the overpass, down Floyd Street, around the parking lot, into the stadium, then around most of the fooball field. Sneaky.

My kick wasn’t great, plus it was on the football turf which doesn’t have a lot of pop. Last 4: 6:41, 7:04,6:58, 6:54. I had the course about a tenth long, which seemed pretty consistent. Considering all the turns and tangents in Iroquois Park, plus the trees there, no surprise. Watch time was only a second off official time — 68:51 for 17th female.

Lessons learned from this Triple Crown: relax. Don’t beat yourself up and don’t obsess over wondering if one bad race means your whole marathon season was a bust. (But was it? If anyone knew the answer to that question, it would save me some anxiety over the next three weeks.) Perspective helps. Even after a bad race it is good to reflect on how far you’ve come.

And while I have reflected on my race performances, looking at those data also reminds me to be grateful for all the other things running has meant to me over the past nine years. Sure, I’ve run pretty fast and it turns out I’m not too bad at it. That’s cool. But I also figured out who I was and what I wanted to do with my life while running, and because of running. And I am forever grateful for the friends I met and have shared many miles with — not to mention my husband. So even when I don’t run as fast as I want, I still have a network of amazing people who will high-five me anyway. And you guys are worth more than a PR any day.

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