Photo credit: SF Track & Field Club
TL;DR - I was having a GREAT race until pretty much right at mile 2 when something in my calf felt like it just popped and I nearly fell over due to the ice pick-like stab of pain that went screaming through my gastrocnemius. It was an instant race ender, which is super disappointing, but there's also some pretty amazing silver lining.
THE LONGER VERSION:
I'd been excited about this race for a couple of months now. I've wanted to dip my toe back into the world of track racing for a while now, but the timing has never worked out -- I've either always been injured, recovering, traveling, or aiming for some other big race that conflicted with the Bay Area track meets I knew about. This was finally the year!
But, I was also kind of nervous, because a) my last 5K was 1.5 years ago, b) even when I ran track I didn't run the 5K, and c) that was TWENTY YEARS AGO!
I'd stayed in generally okay aerobic shape post-CIM, then spent about 5-6 weeks doing some 5K-specific training to try to layer on a little speed. This race wasn't high stakes, obviously, but I've run 5Ks when I'm in decent shape so rarely that I really wanted to take advantage of running on a track (as flat and fast as it gets, really) and see what I could do.
My training had been going pretty well, actually. That is, up until this last Tuesday, my last speed workout before the race. It was only a few miles, 2 warm up, 3 x 1200m @ LT pace (~7:13), 2 cool down. Because it was so short, it didn't feel worth it to drive to the track, so instead I just jogged the 1.25 miles to my gym, ran another easy .75 miles on the treadmill, did the intervals, then reversed the process.
On the jog there, I noticed a faint tightness in my right calf, the sort of little niggle that happens from time to time, but I didn't really think anything of it. Then during the intervals it got a little worse but not bad enough that I had to alter my stride, so I finished them. By the time I was finishing my jog home, I was a little concerned because whatever it was felt like it was getting worse, so I skipped my Wednesday easy three miles.
It felt fine on Thursday, so I went ahead and did my three miles, but then felt the same dull ache poking its little head up again. On Friday I had a two mile shakeout run, but whatever it was, I wanted to give it a chance to settle down, so I skipped the shakeout & crossed my fingers that whatever it was would behave itself for at least one more day.
Getting to the venue Saturday morning was easy. SF State is maybe 15 minutes from my house, parking was easy, it was a short walk to the stadium, and getting checked in was easy. Because I am paranoid I always arrive at races stupidly early, and at 7:30am (the 5K was at 9:00am) I was only the 2nd athlete to arrive, I think. Everyone was super friendly and helpful, and the logistics couldn't have been easier.
I spent the next half hour chilling in the stands, then checked into the event with the Clerk of the Course and got my hip number at around 8:00. (You're supposed to do it at least 45 minutes before your event.) Something about racing on a track made me feel like this was a bit more *serious* than most 5Ks I've run, so I felt like instead of jogging a mile, doing a minute or so of dynamic stretches & calling it good, I should actually, like, warm up for real. So I jogged three easy miles, went through all my pre-speed work drills, and even did the strides I'm supposed to do before speed work
but never do because I hate strides. Through all this I could feel a faint tightness in my calf that wasn't quite normal, but it wasn't that bad and I had no trouble jogging at all. So far, so good
Also, man, right around that third easy mile, the nerves just throttled me. I was excited and feeling good, but I was also sort of terrified. (I don't know of what, really.) I was jogging easy 9:30 miles but my heart rate was in the 170s, & since I didn't seem to be able to do anything about it, I just tried to convince myself that pre-race adrenaline was a good thing.
A few minutes before the start, I ended up chatting briefly with another of the women in the 5K, part of a team that drove from Sacramento! She was running the 5K in the morning and then the 1600m at 1:30pm which I found super impressive. (I mean. I know how track meets work. But I've certainly never attempted to race anything longer than a mile twice in the same day because that sounds HORRIBLE.)
There were only about a dozen of us running total, so the Clerk decided we would just all race together in one heat. There was some nervous laughter and joking as he gave last minute instructions (waterfall start, yield the inside lanes to passers, and someone would be giving us our laps each time we past the finish). One dude asked, "Wait, how many laps, now?" and we all laughed.
It was funny how many track-related memories that haven't occurred to me in years kept surfacing--hip numbers, step to the line, one step back, back to the line & wait for the gun--and how quickly I fell back into the rhythm. My heart was pounding as I waited for the gun and I just kept telling myself, Don't go out too fast, don't go out too fast, don't go out too fast!
Trying to remember the last time I wore a hip number.
Though, of course I did, because I always do. But I also got it back under control pretty quickly--I think I took the first 200m at 6:00 pace, but by the time I completed the first lap I'd settled right around 6:50. (I'd decided that my strategy would be to run the first mile around 6:50, and if that felt like not death, try to speed up from there.)
The woman I'd been chatting with was definitely much faster than me--she never lapped me but definitely had a very comfortable lead from the very beginning & continued to stretch it out. There were three very fast men who led the group from the very beginning by quite a wide margin, all the way to a couple of older men and women who took the entire race at a steady jog; the rest of us were kind of spread out in between.
I hit my first mile in 6:52, which felt like work but not death, and I knew I should definitely speed up. From there I tried to ratchet down to around 6:40, which felt just barely sustainable, but again, not like death. In the past mile 2 has been my weakness in 5Ks ("OMG this is SO HARD and there is SO MUCH LEFT"), so one of my goals was not to be a coward as I closed in on the last mile.
And I really felt like I accomplished that! Yes, the pace felt hard, but still like sustaining it was mostly a matter of will and keeping my foot on the accelerator, not physical ability. I was still feeling pretty good when mile 2 ticked off in 6:41, and for the first time, I let myself think, "Hey, maybe that 2012 PR [20:44, ~6:40 pace] isn't as immutably set in stone as it's always felt! MAYBE I COULD ACTUALLY PR TODAY!" No, mile 2 had not felt easy, but I felt kind of like I did at the end of CIM this past December--"Can we keep this pace up?" "Yes!" "Then time to go faster!" Yes, it would suck, but I really felt like physically and mentally I had at least a sub-6:40 left.
And it was literally in the seconds after my 2nd mile ticked off as I was having all these thoughts that something in my right calf seized up and/or imploded and suddenly I was nearly stumbling off the track. No big deal, run it off, I thought, but just a few steps later it was 100% clear that I was done running for the day. I stepped off the track and could not put any weight on the ball of my right foot without excruciating pain.
Of course everyone was like, "Are you okay??" "You got this, keep going!" etc., and I just sort of laughed and shook my head, because there was so clearly no question of running even another step. Even walking (well, limping, actually) back to the bleachers was kind of a slog.
I hung out to watch the rest of the race (there wasn't much of it left by the time I got back to the bleachers); the group of fast dudes finished around 17 minutes and the woman I'd been chatting with before the race won in 19 & change, and everybody cheered super hard for the last few folks to come in in the ~25 range.
I was probably at my worst between the end of the race & getting home & showering, and mostly I would characterize it as disappointment, sure, but mostly just being pissed off because I felt like I was having such a great race and I'd been looking forward to this for weeks and in my head worst case scenario was "Well, maybe I won't be as fast as I'd like, but if nothing else, I'll a nice three mile workout and finish my first track 5K!" Ha ha, nope. I was also kind of pissed off at myself because maybe I should have stopped running at the first twinge of discomfort on Tuesday and started rolling out my calf, or at least not have run those three miles on Thursday, and maybe then things would have been different.
But of course at this is point that's all just useless speculation.
Still, I'm generally a pretty positive person, and so while I was still disappointed and felt a bit robbed by the calf drama, part of me could not stop silently shouting to the heavens, "BUT DID YOU SEE THOSE FIRST TWO SPLITS, THO??????"
I mentioned in my earlier post that I've only ever run one 5K when I was in anything even remotely like good shape, when I ran 20:44 five years ago. But that race feels so remote now and with all the weirdness about the course and forgetting to stop my watch that part of me had kind of started to feel like it wasn't real, like it didn't really happen, and sometimes I'd get the jerk brain going, "Silly girl. Like you could ever run that time. Are you crazy? We all know you're a 21:30 5K-er and that's just how it'll always be." And then, "Plus you were five years younger then, so good luck ever even *approaching* that time again (if you even ran it legitimately then, which of course, you didn't)."
Now, I'm not saying I definitely would have PR'd on Saturday, because a third of a race left to go is A LOT and you never know what will happen. But, personally, I'm satisfied that if I'd been able to finish, I most likely would have come very very close. It wasn't impossible.
So, the way I see it, this just means I need to get my calf healed up and then find another 5K to run in the near future.
COX STADIUM WE ARE TOTALLY HAVING A RE-MATCH.
Pride Meet is hosted each year by the San Francisco Track and Field Club, which has as its mission to dignify and promote gay and lesbian athletes and to be inclusive of all ages, all genders, all races, and all abilities. The meet is USATF sanctioned.
Location: Cox Stadium, SF State University (though it has been hosted at various Bay Area venues in the past, I believe)
Date: June or July (Saturday, June 17 this year)
Price: I think registration for the meet was $50, but that covers as many events as you want to do. I only signed up for the 5K because I couldn't imagine I'd be good for much else after that.
Deadline / Sellout Factor: You can register online up until I think the day before the meet, but there's on-site registration as well.
Parking: Sadly parking on the SF State campus is enforced 24/7 so you have to pay, BUT there is a giant parking garage pretty much right by the stadium that's $7 for all day.
Staging: All you really need to be able to find is the check-in tent where you get your bib, which was right at the entrance to the track and impossible to miss. It was super easy & the volunteers were all really friendly and helpful. You're also supposed to check in with the Clerk of the Course ~45 minutes before your even to get seeded & get your hip number, which was another small tent right at the finish line, so that was easy as well.
I mean. It's a track. We started at the waterfall line near the 200m start, with the finish in the usual track finish spot. So you really can't ask for anything flatter or faster.
- Again, track meet, so the only schwag is if you happen to place. The medals were pretty cool looking, though. More reasons to take another swing at it next year!
Photo credit: SF Track & Field Club
Other than the crappy calf strain/pull/whatever, I had a great experience and TOTALLY plan on giving this race another try next year!