Racing Hard – Because I Know No Other Way


Sunrise over the Potomac River in Alexandria, VA

My plan for the fall was short races – 5K, 10K, and, yeah, why not a 12K, because you don’t get many of those! The 5K and the 10K both went well – no PRs but close enough to make me think I was doing something right. I’m not really back to any proper speedwork, just lengthening the distance and throwing some fartleks in for fun. Truth is, I haven’t been very disciplined in my training the last couple of months, although I have been religious about swimming one a week, strength training, including yoga, and getting on the bike. Running, however, has been more of a “by feel” thing, by which I really mean “do whatever I like.” A couple of weeks ago I was supposed to take my son to a cross-country meet an hour away, and planned to get in whatever mileage I could before his race, but when he woke up with a swollen ankle and had to scratch, I bolted out the door to meet some friends who were exploring some new (to me) trails.

Of course I ended up running further than I planned, and paid for it with super sore legs for the next few days. That was the weekend before the .US National 12K, a race on the USATF Running Circuit featuring a master’s championship, that conveniently takes place in my back yard.  So I went into the race with just one 4 mile run for that week, and told myself I would benefit from the forced rest and extra yoga. I ran this race 2 years ago on a similar “training plan” and went through 5K and 10K in PR times.

Not this time. The pace felt fast from the get-go. I went through the first mile in 6:53 and knew I couldn’t hold that pace for 6.4 more miles. I let myself slow to a 7:00 and tried to hold that as long as I could. The course changed last year, because the elites didn’t like all the turns in the original course. Slowed them down. Of course, I prefer lots of turns as I get bored easily. The course now makes a couple of turns in the opening 2 miles and then heads straight down the George Washington Parkway, turns around at halfway, and heads back the same route. It’s fairly flat except for one roller-coaster hill between miles 1 and 2 (and of course again between miles 6 and 7). The GW Parkway is flat and basically monotonous. There’s nothing to look at but other runners. So I tried my best to focus on them. I was running in the master’s championship and we all had numbers on our backs denoting our gender and age group, so I had F40 for female, 40-45 age group. It’s helpful to know where your competition is, but slightly demoralizing when you’re passed by an M70! (More on that later….)

In the opening mile I was passed by an F50, which didn’t make me too happy. I vowed to keep her in sight and pass her later. But she put quite a bit of distance between us and I wasn’t sure that was going to happen. I didn’t want to push too hard on the early hill though, so I tried to be patient. After turning onto the GW Parkway I realized I was in danger of running on my own, and so I picked up the pace slightly to regain contact with the group in front of me. In front of that group was the F50 runner I wanted to keep an eye on. The group didn’t stay together long and I moved past a few runners as the group stretched out. Before I knew it, I was passing back the F50 with relative ease. I figured she must have slowed as I was holding (barely) my 7:00 pace, although with each mile it was slipping slightly. I made it my goal not to let her pass me back, and pressed the pace to avoid dropping further.

I went through 5K in 21:43 – 6:59 pace. But I was hurting. The GW Parkway is mostly concrete and it just made my legs feel awful. Or maybe I was still hurting from the long trail run the week before. Or it just wasn’t a good day to race. Or I am just completely crap. I actually thought about bailing fairly early on in the race, it was so much effort to run at this pace, but instantly dismissed it because that’s a long walk of shame back to the start, not to mention that I don’t DNF. I reminded myself it was only a 12K, not a marathon. Later on, when it got really hard (because the pain in the early miles is just a tickle compared to how it feels a few miles down the road!) I tried to think about things that hurt more: marathons, half ironmans, labor, that time I broke my ankle…but I gotta be honest, none of it really worked. But at least thinking about something else was a distraction because there was NOTHING to look at.

I liked the old course because there were lots of interesting buildings to look at, and things to anticipate such as King Street. Here, there was just concrete, road markings, water, and other runners. BORING. Seriously, I thought I was gonna die of boredom, it was so relentless. And it was only 7.4 miles! Whenever my pace started to slow, I said “cadence, cadence, cadence” to myself as a reminder to pick up the pace. It definitely helped, but then I’d slow again and have to do it again. I guess the good thing was that there was NOTHING to distract me from my little mantra. Side note: When I talked with my =PR= Team mate Perry, who WON the female master’s championship in a blistering 42:04, she said she really liked the course because she was able to just zone out. So clearly my problem is that I can’t zone out. Well, that and the fact that she spent 10 minutes less on the course than I did…

At least the last mile or so got interesting. An M70 who I’d been running close to decisively passed me, followed shortly by an F60, and so my ego took a nice beating. I hung on to the F60 for as long as I could, and then an F50 passed me and I figured I should probably just run straight to the water rather than making the left turn for the last quarter mile to the finish. I hung onto the F50 as long as I could and started to see the M70 coming back. Either that or I was delirious. Turns out the F60 and F50 both ended up passing the M70, so they were running fast. Whatever, they all beat me.

I finished in 52:50, two minutes slower than my blazing (for me) 50:41 from 2013. Ack. And this race hurt more. I ended up 10th (but not last!) in my age group, 20th of 55 master’s women overall. Eh, I suppose it could be worse.

Looking on the bright side (I am, after all, an optimist), I didn’t give up, I maintained a relatively even pace throughout, ending up with a 7:06 overall pace (I lost some time dragging my sorry self up the final hill), and I learned something new about myself (I think I have ADD ;).

Always an adventure!

If the race comes back to Alexandria next year (Neustar’s 3 year contract with USATF is up, so who knows what will happen, although the race is very popular so I have a feeling it may stay), I may actually train for it. 😉


  1. Oh my gosh, I must have run through the dust of your thought clouds because I was thinking the VERY SAME THINGS. (You can check out my recap here: ) I didn’t realize why they changed the course last year, and didn’t know it might not be back next year. You did well all things considering. And yes, I also had to remind myself that quitting would just take me longer to get back to the car. 😉
    Coco recently posted..Night And Day In New York CityMy Profile

  2. That’s a pretty awesome pace! I have to laugh because I can never run a race easy, either. Last spring I ran a 10 miler and had a woman in my sights, hoping to pass her bc I thought she was in my AG. Only to find out she was 60! If I can run like that in my 60s, I will be very happy.
    Wendy@Taking the Long Way Home recently posted..Road therapyMy Profile

  3. Congrats! I love your “cadence, cadence, cadence” mantra and I think I am going to try that one next time I feel like I am slowing down. I also love your attitude about being prepared for the race to hurt, because you know you are going to push hard.
    Elizabeth C. recently posted..Being Bold: The Richmond Half MarathonMy Profile

  4. Sounds like a grueling race and blazing paces! Your time is still not too shabby, perhaps your body needs a little rest? I need to get back into some speedwork and am dreading it.
    Sandra Laflamme recently posted..Holiday Gift Guide for Runners and TriathletesMy Profile

  5. It is interesting how personal preferences can vary so differently from one runner to the next. One person loves the course and another sees it as ultra boring! I would bet you don’t like to run on treadmills;) ! Anyway, your pace was fantastic and way to get it done!

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