IMG_4183Racing, truly racing, comes at a cost. It’s both physically and mentally taxing. It takes courage, willpower, focus. Your legs work harder, your lungs work harder, your heart works harder. All systems operating at their highest level to carry you from start to finish as quickly as your body possibly can.

Certainly, we’ve all had those races that we described as a “tempo” run — usually, that just means it’s a race we weren’t fit enough — mentally or physically — to commit to.

I’m talking about the real racing. The foggy brain, hands on the knees, dry-heaving kind of racing.

Each spring, the Louisville Triple Crown presents a particularly difficult challenge: suffer like that three times with just two weeks between each race. Do it over increasingly longer distances and over increasingly more difficult terrain. Oh, and do it during marathon training season, if you’re bound for 26.2.

It is hard. Hard enough that I’ve only completed the entire series twice. This year, I signed up for it again (even though I had hoped coach would tell me not to).

The Triple Crown is a 5k, 10k and 10 miler. There’s a weekend “off” in between — unless you’re in marathon training, in which case you’re running long at least on those weekends if not the race weekends too.

At one point, the Anthem 5k was my least favorite of the Triple Crown series. You can run a 5k pretty much any weekend March to October around here, but not many other distances. But … as a seeded runner, I take that back. Now it’s one of my favorites because it’s the only race in the city where you’ll have so many people going that fast who can help tow you along to a great time. The current course is super fast with minimal turns. The long straightaway back to the finish is a little discouraging since you can see the finish for so long, but that’s also nice in a way. You can count the blocks down on your way back in, so there’s no surprise where the finish is.

IMG_3876My goal for this race was to a) run a well-executed race and b) break 19 minutes. Coach had given me some perceived effort cues to check in on myself at different points, but hadn’t given me anything super-specific in regards to pacing. He agreed shooting for around 19 was on-track. So I wanted to not go out too fast, be relaxed until mile 2 and then hold the pace through the finish. I was targeting around 6:05 pace but focusing more on feel than time. I was also wearing my heart rate monitor but not checking it during the race.
The race starts with a really wide straightaway, at least four lanes for several blocks, so plenty of space to get sorted out. I was trailing two friends, both former collegiate runners, and feeling comfortable. It’s so easy to get sucked in to going out way too fast in races like this where there’s so much talent at the front. This race also attracts a lot of youngsters, who inevitably fly through the first half mile then start to fall apart. I went through the first mile in about 6 minutes flat, a little fast but not bad.

My second mile is usually the weakest so I’ve been trying to improve there — staying mentally focused and continuing to push. I went through mile 2 right around 6 minute pace, too. I was still under goal pace and feeling good — loose and in control.

I finished in 18:36, a 25-second personal best and good for 9th female overall. (Note: last year I was 10th in 19:01 — it was a very solid field this year and very fast!)
The race was executed exactly how I wanted and yielded better results than I could’ve imagined. I was just hoping for anything under 19 — I wasn’t going to be picky about it! Even coach was a little surprised. He said he would’ve guessed 18:50 but would’ve said 18:40 wasn’t out of the question. Surprise!

I followed that week with a big mileage week, then we cut down a bit for the Rodes City Run 10k.

I knew I didn’t want to go out too fast because there’s a big hill that starts right after the 1 mile marker. I found a groove and clicked through the first mile right on pace. Mile 2 features the big hill — 95 feet of climb over about .3 of a mile, about 6% grade average. It hurts.

My major concern/goal for the race was to not lose too much speed on this hill but to not go up it so fast that I bombed after. I was strong through halfway and started catching people. With just under a mile to go, I catch another girl who beat me in the 5k, halfway hoping I can help tow her in but also sort of not wanting her too because she’s the much better 5k runner and I didn’t want to get out-kicked!

My official finish time was 39:15 for 14th place. Heck of a field but a new PR by about 13 seconds. Not the big jump like in the 5k, but my 10k was also my strongest PR according to the Purdy Points system. So I had less room to grow, as it were, in the 10k.

Then: the race that wasn’t.

The week following the 10, I hit 68 miles including a speed day and a 22 miler. Then I had another speed day — 3 miles at half-marathon pace — the week of the Papa John’s 10 miler. It was a fine workout, windy and hilly, not particularly noteworthy. But a few hours after I got home, I started having significant pain in my calf. I tried to foam roll it but it felt bruised.

Wednesday morning’s run was bad, but I chalked that up to doing a workout and then another run 12 hours later. But Thursday it was still bad. Very point-specific pain and not the same type of pain I’ve had when my calves/Achilles are just tight (aka, high heel problems).

Early Friday — the day before the 10 miler — I was texting my physical therapist to get an appointment. Diagnosed with a slight strain and maybe a tiny tear. I had dry needling for the first time and absolutely loved it — I would highly recommend it. (Watch for a column coming soon on the topic!) We did some soft tissue work (Graston-type) and applied kinesio tape. I went from there straight to packet pickup in hopes I’d be able to run.

But coach pulled the plug. And that’s what I pay him for. He reminded me that my marathon was three weeks away and the risk wasn’t worth it. “Best case scenario is that you go sub-65. Worst case is you DNF and your season is over.”

With Friday off and very short Saturday, I was feeling much better by Monday. I nailed my workout Tuesday and felt fine for my last 20 miler Saturday.