The Virginia is for Lovers 14k is an annual race produced by a local group who always puts on the very best races in my area: J&A Racing. Their races are superb and include the Shamrock Marathon weekend, which typically draws tens of thousands to the area in March. This race happens to be less than a mile from my house, so I’ve run almost the entire course before in different variations.
For this race, I set my goals at the very last minute. I woke up nervous but really excited for my first real running only race in well over a year. It was exciting to have Jon along for racing, not only spectating, and I knew I’d be able to see many friendly faces before, during, and after. It was going to be a great morning of friendship and running.
- A (ideal outcome): Finish time of 1:25, a 9:45 overall pace
- B (great outcome): Finish time of 1:26, a 9:53-9:59 overall pace
- C (everything falls apart, but I still stay composed): Finish time of 1:29, a 10:14 overall pace
Jon and our friends were registered to run the 6k. They did a fantastic job. Jon ran the longest he has gone so far, no walking, and averaged a 10:13 pace. My friend, Leah, took third in her agree group with an 8:12 average. I was happy to see them cross the finish before my race started, and they were able to see me off from the start.
The temperature was fairly cold and in the 30s at 9:00, but the sun was shining and there was very little wind. It was going to be the perfect day to race.
My pacing strategy loosely looked like this:
Mile 1: 10:15
Mile 2: 10:00
Miles 3-5: 9:45-9:50s
Miles 6-8.7: 9:30-9:40 or as fast as I could hang
It was interesting and comforting to actually have a pacing strategy. I am never very organized when it comes to races. I set a general goal and hope I can figure it out while I’m out there. Usually that isn’t very effective, and it has always given me an out for when things would fall apart. It’s the whole fear thing coming back into play.
And the pacing strategy went right out of the window, but I think these high nines have become my new comfortable pace. I really tried to slow down for that first mile, but I fell into a rhythm that felt really good, so I decided to stay with it.
Mile three began after we took a turn into the amphitheater’s parking lot. The weather has been very rainy and gloomy, so the gravel path was covered in mud and patches of ice from the freezing overnight temperatures, and the grass alongside the path was equally muddy. It was tough to maintain a consistent pace, but luckily it wasn’t very long. Shortly afterwards we went through the amphitheater and up and over the middle between the seated section and the lawn. It was a tough mile, and I had to fight to get my pace back down, but it wasn’t impossible. I was glad to find myself on the other side and running through the soccer complex. What was great about all of these miles was that mentally I was focused. I wasn’t worried about what was next or what had happened. I was loving running, which hasn’t happened in a while.
If there was a turning point in all of the race, these two miles were it. At the start of mile five I dropped my pace, which was part of my pacing strategy. That first faster mile felt great, but shortly after my watch hit six miles, my breathing was really short, and my heart rate was pretty high.
I needed to gather myself enough to try to take my Gu and drink water at the stop that was approaching, but I knew it would not happen without walking the water stop so I could breathe slowly enough to eat and drink. Mentally, I started to panic. I still had almost three miles left to run, and I didn’t want to fall apart. I thought back to a picture and a quote my friend Kristy sent me that morning.
The moment you’re ready to quit is usually the moment right before the miracle happens. Don’t give up.
I wasn’t quite in quitting mode yet, but as I ran back through the athletic complex towards the last stretch, I knew if I didn’t compose myself, both mentally and physically, I’d dash any chances of this being a great race. The first half had been incredible. I wasn’t about to let it go.
But I still struggled to get any speed back after the 9:30 miles. I walked briefly to try to mentally reset. I walked through the last water stop, and then I knew I had suck up any whining I was doing. My knees had been happy throughout the entire race, and this was set to be my strongest race and long run ever if I could pull out a great last stretch. I knew that little girl was in there pulling at my cuffs, pleading me to do what was safe in her eyes. I was tired of her always winning.
9:36 (last .87)
I know pain at the end of the race. I know over seven hours of constant movement to cover 70.3 miles. I know the combination of running and hobbling to the finish line in Augusta. I know the mental challenge of long-term, slow focus. What I’ve always been afraid of is short-term, fast pain. Many people tease me when I admit this. When I am honest about how frightened I am to run fast for a 10k or a half-marathon, the default response is, “but you’ve done a half-ironman!” It seems silly in words, but it is a fear. I can go long and slow for seven hours. Short and fast for under two hours? That is terrifying to me, but this race proved to me that I am on my way to conquering that fear. Pulling out a 9:36 for that final stretch demonstrated that despite finding shaky ground both mentally and physically during miles seven and eight, I don’t have to sink the ship. That fearful little girl wanted me to sink the ship. She always does, and I usually listen. Two triathlons were almost disastrous last year because of her, and the brief relief relinquishing brings is nothing compared to the immense sadness and frustration I feel on the other side of the finish line.
Garmin: 8.85 miles, 1:27:40, 9:55 pace, my B goal
Chip: 8.7 miles, 1:27:41, 10:06 pace, between my B and C goal
Looking back at my paces, I am can understand how the story of the race unfolded. The numbers explain it very logically. Immediately following the race, I felt disappointed at those two miles in the tens, and I was shaming myself for walking and feeling like I gave up. But as I immersed myself more in the experience, I realized I didn’t give up. Those miles in the tens were needed to recover from a poor pacing decision and gave me the composure to finish strong and leave everything I had on the course. Those miles in the tens are informing my race strategy for the Shamrock half and the Cherry Blossom Ten Miler.
This was a huge win for me. I proved to myself that fast and short is tough but not terrifying. That I am strong and capable of recovering from tenuous moments in a race. And most importantly that the little girl who keeps trying to hold me back can rest easily now and enjoy the ride.