This was going to hurt. And to be honest, I was kind of looking forward to it. The last few weeks my training for the half marathon at the Derby Festival in Louisville has been going, well, fantastic. So this weekend was the perfect time to crank it up and have some with a speed workout. Because while I’ve been running strong tempo and half marathon race pace workouts, I haven’t really entered the pain cave in some time.
evil coach best running pal, Sue, devised a plan for Sunday’s Shoes for the Shelter 5K which would let me have fun at a local race and use it as a solid speed training run. Only I was running for speed without running for pace. The approach this race was similar to the plan we had for the Polar Bear 5K. I would run intervals based on effort, not pace. Before the race, I did a 10 minute easy warmup with six striders. Then came the actual race. My trusty Ironman Timex watch was set to beep every two minutes. That was my interval. Two minutes hard effort. Two minutes easy effort.
I’ve been wanting to do the Canisius College-sponsored Shoes for the Shelter race for a few years now, but other training commitments and that pesky thing called “work” got in the way. So, I missed the “old” course which was a challenging run through Forest Lawn cemetery. Instead, I got the first go at the “new” course. (Confession time: I rarely pay close attention to the map before the race even though it is my responsibility to know the course. That’s just how I roll.) In my head, the “new” course was flatter because it didn’t go through Forest Lawn with its rolling hills and park-like setting. More on that mistake in judgement later.
My dad came to watch the race, and he usually does, and served two very important functions: He had a water bottle with him so I could take a swig between my warmup and the race start and he held on to my car keys. That qualifies immediately for most outstanding spectator status. And it let me focus on my workout instead of on the dimwitted stuff. And my brain loves to focus on dimwitted stuff.
The race began and I started my watch timer. Strategic error No. 1: I chose to start with a hard interval. What would have been better: Starting with an easy interval, letting myself find running room and settling into the race and then picking up my effort. Live and learn. I felt great to start. The weather was near perfect. Temperatures in the 40s and sunshine. There was a little wind that was quite nippy, and so I wore arm warmers and chose to run with gloves. The gloves were the only thing I regretted, though they came in handy when wiping away errant snot rockets. So there’s that.
The halfway point for the course was near the back of the Albright Knox Art Gallery, where there was a bit of a slope down and then back up. Along with the wind and my slightly-too-hard hard intervals, I was starting to enter the pain cave. Yep. This is what I knew was coming. In fact, this was what I wanted to come. That chance to practice running while feeling as if someone has repeatedly punched you in the gut causing the faint taste of that pre-race shot block to begin to regurgitate in the back of your mouth.
I distracted myself from the pain cave by scanning the volunteers along the side of the road to see if I recognized any of the Canisius student-athletes. In the final mile as the course turned onto Chapin Parkway, they encouraged runners with phrases like “almost there.” Part of me appreciated the sentiment. Part of me wanted to remind them that “almost” only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades and is only appropriate if the finish line is literally around the corner or yards away.
But the true final punch in the gut came when I turned onto Delavan. It was the final kilometer of the race. The home stretch. And as I made the turn and looked up the road I realized this was most definitely not flat. I made a strategic decision to hold my effort at strong and steady for two intervals so that I could kick the final 400 meters. Hello pain cave. I kicked again.
There’s the clock.
There’s the timing mat.
Cross the finish line strong.
There’s Canisius goaltender Tony Capobianco.
Grab knees and try not to puke.
In the final analysis I ran my third fastest 5K time. Ever. Which is pretty cool considering that the result was a byproduct of a workout based solely on effort. My visit to the pain cave was oddly productive and satisfying. And of course made better by the fact that I found pancakes shortly afterward.