Polar Prowl 5K: race report

So, this post comes along with a higher-than-usual amount of navel-gazing and vanity reflection.  If that kind of thing makes you want to set your eyeballs on fire, this is your warning to click away.

Last January I raced a 10K in Bear Creek Park.  On the scale of all of the things in the universe, it ranked a relatively awful.  My knee hurt, a lot, it had been hurting for a while and I was rotating through shoes and bike fits and physical therapists and general acts of complete desperation.  I slaughtered myself for a 57:11.  My biggest superfan in the world came along and cheered and took pictures and I spent most of the drive home reviewing them in abject horror.  I never even posted a race report about the race, I was so disgusted with myself, the day I had, the state my body was in.  Frustrated that I've spent so much time and energy and certainly money on this sport that I claim to love and I can't even run 9 minute pace for an hour on a random Sunday morning and I end up facing pictures of myself with four ass cheeks and extra boob hanging out all over the damn place.  
For that reason, yes, vanity indeed, that was the day that I decided, enough.  Enough bitching about how unhappy I am about the way I look and feel and sleep and run and move, enough settling for the body and mind and life I have instead of making the hard choices to seek out the one I want.  The next day was a Monday.  After masters, I dragged a giant bag of shoes into the office of yet another physical therapist who swore up and down he could straighten me out.  I limped home from that appointment and read It Starts With Food in one afternoon, I ordered a pair of running shorts that were a full size smaller, and I replaced my bedtime mixing bowl of ice cream with a cup of tea.  And just like that, in one day, everything changed.  

So. This little 5K.  I have always professed a pretty severe hatred for the distance.  Suffering and I are not friends, I have never understood those who revel in the pain of it, I would much rather cruise along at 75% of what I've got for hours and hours than smash the shit out of myself for 25 minutes.  And the things we hate...are probably the things we should be doing more of in life.  A few weeks ago I ran the Santa Stampede 5K down in Littleton.  I had an athlete racing the 10K so I hopped on board, ran my guts out for a 25:02 and called it good.  That same athlete decided to race an early January half marathon (insanity) and when I learned that the race had a 5K option, I invited myself along for the day.  I managed to drag another one of my athletes into the fun and there we go, it was a party.
I kicked off the day by not getting nearly enough sleep (HUNTER) and then forgetting my Garmin and my sunglasses.  We made a quick stop at WalMart for a cheap Timex and some aviators and then rolled down to Bear Creek.  I didn't realize until we turned off the highway that this was the same park that I ran that 10K last January, the one that will go down in my universe as the race that flipped my switch.  But it was.  And I'm only right now a few weeks back into training and eating properly and not drinking like a fish but the contrast between where I am and where I was a year ago, to me inside my own tiny fluff ball universe, is staggering.
The half marathon left and Emma and I headed out to warm up, I realized three steps into it that I had forgotten both of my inhalers so my warm-up was a weird out-and-back-to-drop-bags-to-the-car-back-to-bags-now-strides-bags-again.  I felt okay, certainly not sparkly and fresh but I've learned that it takes me a good 20+ minutes to be loose enough to race a 5K and that was there.  We lined up, the race was pretty small and there was a tiny girl in racing flats hanging out at the front, I asked her what she was planning on running and then made a mental note not to try and hang, settled myself a couple of rows back and off we went.

Racing without the Garmin was pretty brilliant and I think I'd like to keep doing it for shorter races.  I spent the first mile having no idea how fast I was running, so instead I had to focus on effort and form and control (weird).  I counted five women that went out ahead of me, and another one flew by about 20 yards into the race, so there were six up there.  But as that first mile went by, I started to reel them in, and by the time I split the first mile, I was in fourth.  Mile one, a bit friendly terrain: 7:20, mental check: this is either going to go really well or you are so totally fucked.
Mile two had a short up and then a long down and then a steep up and then we turned around a tiny cone in the middle of the trail and headed back.  By the time we hit the turn-around, I had caught another woman and I counted as I headed up to make sure my math was right, I was in third.  But I watched behind me as I headed back and learned that the next woman was less than 10 seconds behind me.  Laughed at the second mile split, which I knew was going to be slow because of all the climbing on the trail, 8:35 (ouch).
There was one more long up at the start of mile three, I tried to keep form under control although race photos reveal there is still so much work to do here, and every step I was running completely fucking terrified of being caught.  My shoe came untied at some point in the second mile and there was no way in hell I was going to stop and tie it.  I remembered the 5K I ran in PA a few years ago, where my brain cruised in instead of chasing the girl that landed me in fourth overall as opposed to third, and how pissed I was at myself after the race for not going for it.  I caught a couple of men in front of me that were walking, the woman in second place was long gone, I was breathing so hard and my bib was flapping and I couldn't tell if someone was right on my shoulder or if I was just hearing my own noisy racing elephant self stampeding towards the finish.  The mile three marker came into view (8:00) and footsteps came flying up behind me, my angry brain yelled NOOOOO inside my head and I tried to find one more gear, the footsteps passed me with less than 10 feet to go to the finish and I choked out I AM SO GLAD YOU ARE A MAN before staggering across the line and to a stop (24:55). 
I am sure, I am completely 100% positive, that I have never hurt like this in a race before, ever.  The only thing I was thinking about during that last mile was what I could do to not get caught, I don't think I've ever understood quite so clearly the motivating power of fear but it was there and pulled the best race out of me that I was going to find on Saturday.  Not the fastest 5K of my life (although I will tip my hat a little to the difficulty of this course) but certainly the best, cleanest, hardest I have ever run this distance.  And with that, strangely enough, comes a desire to do it again.  
I've never been on an overall run podium before, even at tiny races the best I've done is to place in my age group, and no matter how much I want to qualify this with the size of the race and the time of the year (who runs fast in January?), I haven't and I won't, but I'm also not going to spend a lot of time reveling in it.  I worked hard for that place, I wrecked myself and was lucky enough to land on the box, and I spent a few minutes in the car on the way home smiling a little bit and feeling a bit proud, but that was it.  No pancakes no new running shorts no fancy hot tea, the things that I usually use to treat myself with when I'm feeling particularly up or down.  Instead I went home to my puppies, I realized that the weather was nice enough to ride outside for the first time in several months and I enjoyed a peaceful spin on a quiet afternoon.  Reflecting.  Another day, another opportunity to realize that while I always want to be working, changing, looking ahead, I am at peace with myself right now.  Mind and body.  And there is no greater feeling in the world, than that.