I was never, never, never going to run a race on Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is for sleep and too much food. However, when I looked at my training plan to justify not running a race on Thanksgiving, I saw that I had a 3 mile tempo run scheduled for Thanksgiving Day. Well, that backfired. So naturally, I felt obligated to sign up for one of the thousands of Thanksgiving 5ks in the area. I chose the Cottonwood Heights Thanksgiving 5k because it was practically next door to Rob’s parents’ house where we were spending Thanksgiving.
Like my last 5k, I wasn’t sure how to set a goal for the race. This time I wasn’t arbitrarily choosing a goal from thin air, but I wasn’t sure how to balance all the different considerations. I did feel like I was in better shape than I was for the 5k I ran a month and a half ago, but this 5k was relatively hilly (I think? 220 feet of climbing), colder, and much more crowded. And I wasn’t sure how I would do “running tangents.” Plus, it was going to be Thanksgiving. I didn’t want to set myself up for disappointment on Thanksgiving. So I decided to start off on pace for a PR but not beat myself up if things didn’t go that way.
A-goal—22:44 (get a PR)
B-goal—Have fun Get in a good, hard tempo run
The day before the race was actually very relaxing. I took a rest day (my legs were already feeling good) and took a half day at work. I spent the afternoon baking pies (pumpkin, cherry, and pecan) for Thanksgiving and then just sat around watching television and drinking water. I went to bed around 9:00pm and woke up feeling rested. I ate two hardboiled eggs and a glass of chocolate milk for breakfast and checked the weather. It was going to be about 25° which is colder than I’ve run in this year but significantly warmer than the 18° that was predicted a few days prior. I fell back on my typical race-planning technique and wrote the splits I should be hitting at various points in the race on my hands. Then I got dressed for my race and noticed a problem. The jacket I wear has little hand caps that you can flip over your fingers to keep them warm. This is kind of necessary for me because I can’t wear gloves when I run. This obviously covered up my well-planned splits. The mile splits were easy enough to remember, but I knew I’d be messing with the little hand flaps a lot during the race to see the other time checkpoints I had determined.
Rob picked me up, and we drove to the Cottonwood Heights Recreation Center where the race was being held. We arrived around 8:05am with plenty of time to dink around and warm up before the 9:00am start time. We saw several great costumes before the race. There was a pilgrim couple, plenty of turkey hats, and one plucked turkey. I took a picture with that one.
I warmed up with a short jog (probably about half a mile) and some dynamic stretches. Ever since running hurdles in high school, leg swings have been a vital part of warming up for me. After that, I did three striders where I got up to nearly full speed. I like to do a little fast running during my warm-up, even for longer races, because I imagine that makes my actual race pace feel slower. Then I lined up where I imagined someone my pace should be. I started chatting with a couple of folks in line. One man said he wished the race had signs reading 18 minutes, 19 minutes, etc. so that people would know where to line up. The three of us ended up having a conversation about cycling versus running. The decision was unanimous—running was worse, but runners are nicer people.
Before I knew it, I heard a countdown. Then the race started, and I trudged toward the timing mats. I did my best to start my watch right as I crossed the mats and then did my best to weave through the folks that started out too close to the line. The guy I had been talking to was right—the race could definitely benefit from some way to notify runners as to where they should line up. The race wasn’t too terribly large, so I was mostly in the clear by the first turn. I’m just used to starting my run after everyone has been spread out by a swim and a bike ride.
I hit my first timing spot at 1:10 when I should have hit it around 1:18. I pulled back just a bit. The pace didn’t feel hard, but it did feel a bit forced. It was cold, and my legs were still a little stiff and chilly, despite my warm-up. As the over-eager folks started to drop back, I settled into my pace. We hit a steep, short downhill that gave me some good momentum. That will be fun on the way back. I crossed the mile mark at 7:14, just a little faster than my prescribed pace of 7:18. I was pleased that I had held back and not gone out too fast, but I was a little worried because my pace still felt forced.
I stayed ahead of the prescribed paces I had set, though (except for the mile markers) I wasn’t sure how exact they were because of tangents. Somewhere during the second mile, a boy in front of me (probably elementary aged) started to struggle. He went out way too fast and was desperately trying to keep up the pace. I finally passed him, only to have him surge back ahead of me about 15 seconds later before fading for good. Poor kid. I felt sorry for him because I knew how he would feel for the rest of the race. My pace still felt tough, and I was worried I had slowed down until I hit the two mile point in 14:24, significantly ahead of my 14:38 goal. I hadn’t noticed that I had sped up, and I thought of the quote by cyclist Greg LeMond—“It doesn’t get any easier, you just get faster.” Or, you know, warm up. At this point, I was pretty confident I would finish under my goal, but that didn’t comfort me all that much because I also knew I still had over a mile left before I could stop running.
A few minutes into the final mile, I went around a turn and then saw it. Oh no. The hill. I had completely forgotten about it. Now, it wasn’t actually a terrible hill. It was steep, but fairly short. But still, it wasn’t what you want to see 2.5 miles into a 5k. So I put my head down, shortened my stride, and powered up the hill, thankful for all the hills I’ve climbed on my long runs recently. And then, it was a long, slightly downhill straightaway to the finish. I picked up the pace and hit the three mile point at 21:22. My first thought was, “Sweet! I’m totally going to hit my goal!” My second was, “Wait a second… if I push it, I think I can break 22.” So I turned on the gas and entered sprint-mode. When I lurched across the finish line, the clock read 22:02, but I knew I had taken a few seconds to cross the timing mats at the start, so I was fairly confident I had broken 22 minutes. (Some kind of sketchy calculations done after the fact said I was running at a 5:18 pace for the last .1 mile.)
I got a cute little medal for beating the turkey (I guess some significant person was dressed as a turkey and running the race), and Rob and I headed back to the recreation center for food and results. I snagged some snacks for later and then waited around for the results. They had ribbons for up to fifth place in each age group, and I suspected I may have won one of those, so we hung out in the increasingly crowded gym until I saw a very official person (wearing a rec center shirt and a turkey hat) carrying some very official papers. I surreptitiously followed him around until he handed said papers to the woman manning the ribbon table, at which point I approached her to find out my official time and placing. My official time was 21:56.9, and (due to it being a slow year) I managed to place first in my age group (one other woman in my age group ran faster, but she placed in the top three and thus wasn’t included). I was the sixth woman overall. I grabbed my ribbon, and Rob and I headed to his parents’ for Thanksgiving preparation.
I can’t imagine myself being more pleased with this race. I feel like it showcases the hard work I’ve done training over the past month. I handled the hills well, didn’t go out too fast, and still had a kick at the end. The course wasn’t particularly easy, and I didn’t feel particularly amazing. I felt good, and the weather conditions were not bad, but this didn’t feel like a fluke. I think it accurately reflects my fitness right now, and that’s exciting to me. There’s one area where I think I can improve. I’m stoked about my negative splits, but a 7:14 first mile and a 6:58 third mile is probably not ideal. I think part of that discrepancy was that the first mile was slightly uphill most of the way, but the greater part was probably that I wasn’t warmed up enough. Apparently a half-hearted jog, a few stretches, and three striders is not an adequate warm-up for a 5k at race effort. I plan to reluctantly warm up more for the next shorter race that I do. I’m not sure how long this period of obvious and fast improvement will last, but I’m really enjoying it while it does.
Final .1—0:35 (5:18 pace)
1st of 81 (age group 25-29)
6th woman of 708