“Cause I love how it feels when I break the chains…”
2019 Frostbite 15k
1:11:01 (7:37 min/mile) 14/64 AG 99/853 Overall
January 23, 2019 – For the second year in a row, the Frostbite 15k was my first race of the year. I’d also done the race in 2016, and had bettered my 2016 time (1:13:37) by 41 seconds in 2018 (1:12:56). Basically, four seconds per mile (7:54 to 7:50), which doesn’t sound like a whole lot in hindsight. Still, getting faster AND older at the same time isn’t the easiest thing in the world to do any more, so I was really just glad to still be headed in the right direction.
This time around I’d asked coach Karen to give me a stretch goal that I might have a chance of obtaining…but which may also be a little out of reach. She gets a little giddy when I ask her to do that sometimes, and I liken it to asking a fox to count your chickens. I think Karen hears, “stretch goal that may also cause a spectacular meltdown,” because she came back at me with 1:10:00. By my math, that equated to a 7:30 pace, which was twenty seconds per mile faster than my official pace last year. I didn’t think that was possible, particularly on a course with some hills.
I also wondered if Karen’s Canadian roots had taken over and caused some sort of metric to standard units conversion error, but she stood by her suggestion. Over the past few years I’ve learned that you generally only race up to your own expectations, and that sometimes you’ve just gotta take your brain out of the equation and see what your body can do. Thus, I was willing to give it a go, but in the back of my mind I was wondering if this wasn’t just payback for making one too many Canadian jokes.
After a few days, however, Karen backed me down to a 7:40 pace. I’m not sure if the Molson Ices wore off (I’ll pay for that one later!) or if my naysaying got the best of her, but I was happy to have a more realistic goal. The plan changed again though since I’d forgotten to tell my bike coach Erin to taper me into the race. Sometimes we taper and sometimes we don’t – depending upon the race – and I don’t think Erin was naturally inclined to taper me into a running race in January since there are bigger goals in mind for 2019. All she does is train national champions (not me), so I should probably do as she says. Thus, I had 3 bike workouts in the four days leading up to the race, including a 2 hour and 8 minute “jello” legs session on Saturday. Erin’s words, not mine.
In years past, I may have complained and/or tapered myself by cutting the workouts since I want to treat every race as an “A” race, even if that really isn’t part of the bigger plan. This time though, I decided to do the workouts as written and go ahead and run the race on tired legs to see what I could do. I have to run on tired legs in triathlons anyways, so it would be good training for the upcoming tri season. Ultimately, Karen and I figured that if I could match last year’s pace without a taper, then we could consider that a victory.
The weather forecast for the race had been dreadful the week before. Originally, there was supposed to be a ton of rain, but thankfully it was looking like the rain would clear out before the start time. The updated forecast was 56 degrees with a lot of wind, but at least we’d be dry. After Saturday’s workouts, Training Peaks had my fatigue at the highest level it had been since my last triathlon in September. I texted Karen that my legs were feeling pretty smoked, and I took a salt bath Saturday afternoon after biking and running to try to recover.
I got a decent night’s sleep Saturday night and woke up around 6:30 a.m. on Sunday morning. After some oatmeal and coffee, I took another salt bath before getting dressed and then did some foam rolling. My quads were sore, but in a way, it was nice not to have any expectations. The race started at 9 a.m., and I left home around 7:25 a.m. to head downtown. On the way there I got to thinking – what if I just went with Karen’s 7:40/mile plan to see how long I could hold on? If I blew up at mile 6, would it really matter? I wasn’t expecting much, so I decided to just throw caution the wind and see what happened. Totally not in character for me.
I got to the race site around 8:10 a.m. and then checked in and got my bib. I ran into a bunch of my (past and current) ProK teammates, including Candace Broaddus, Allen Baugh, Meredith Reid, Jim Rosen and Jill Blankenburg. Allen, Meredith, Jim and Jill were volunteering, and Candace was running. I found Leigh Anne’s pharmacy school classmates, Meg and Rachel, and Meg and I bellyached a bit about UVa losing to Duke in basketball. There was also (my doctor/friend) Tressa Breindel and the Kona man himself, Danny Royce, so it was a gathering of all sorts. After a short warm up run, I gathered in the starting corral with the other runners and waited for the start.
Miles 1-3 (7:33)(7:43)(7:45)
The first mile features a nice downhill immediately after the starting line and then flattens out, and I decided that I’d take advantage of the topography instead of easing into the race like I’d done in years past. I had inadvertently over-seeded myself in the starting corral a tad since I had been chatting with Danny and Tressa, and I had some folks running by me initially. As we headed east, the running was easy since the wind was at our backs, but I really didn’t realize it at the time since I couldn’t feel it. I tried to stay near the center of the road to run the tangents through the curves, and I kept noticing that my GPS was showing a 7:30 pace. I kept trying to slow down, but the first mile was coming really easy. The adrenaline at the start and having the wind at your back certainly helps. At the end of mile 1 I saw 7:33 on my Garmin and I immediately thought, “What the hell am I doing?” I didn’t even go sub 7:46 in 2018 until mile 6 – and my fastest full mile was a 7:41! I bested that right out of the gates…this could get ugly fast!
The second mile was back towards the west and the wind was whipping into my face. I quickly figured out why the first mile had been so easy, and I tried to tuck in behind a couple of the other runners. There was a girl in black shorts ahead of me, and she was running slightly faster than I wanted. I got behind her to try to avoid the wind and stayed there for the rest of the mile She wasn’t quite large enough to completely shield me from the wind, but it was something at least. The early race adrenaline had worn off by that point, but I was still feeling okay and managed a 7:43 mile even with the headwind. Nevertheless, I was still expecting trouble down the road when the hills commenced.
And commence they did. Right around the 2-mile marker the course started going uphill, and my quads were burning immediately. I dialed it back a bit, but I knew that the easy part of the course was behind me. I was able to keep the pace up relatively well, and I made sure to cruise on the downhill portions to try to even things out. Mile 3 finished in 7:45, but I was trending slower with every mile and wondered if that trajectory would continue.
Miles 4-6 (7:42)(7:46)(7:38)
The hills got worse in the 4th mile, with a pretty long slog uphill just before turning into Byrd Park. There was a slight downhill into the park towards the first water station, and I saw Jill filming the runners as I passed through. I gave her a thumbs up, but apparently, she didn’t see me. I was feeling OK, and was glad to be on a relatively flat portion of the course in the park. I actually took a cup of water as i passed through the water station since I was feeling dehydrated, but I probably got less than an ounce in my mouth since I didn’t want to slow down.
The 5th mile took me east between the lakes in Byrd Park, and the wind was initially at my back. I then turned to the north for a bit, and then to the west. As soon as I turned west there was a false flat which was directly into the wind. This was the first time that I began to feel bad (and a little dizzy), and when I looked down at my GPS I noticed that my pace was degrading. The wind and the uphill section were weighing on me, but I kept telling myself that I was on the back-half of the course so I was more than halfway home. I found a good song on my Ipod for good measure and trudged on, but I was thinking that the end might be near.
Thankfully, mile 6 was a slight downhill with an assist from the wind for most of it. I was able to pick up my pace a bit, and I came across Rachel running in the opposite direction just before the mile 6 marker. I was telling myself that I was about 2/3 done, but I knew that there were some hard miles ahead of me. I was still waiting for the bonk, but it hadn’t reared its ugly head quite yet.
Miles 7-9 (7:47)(7:35)(7:27)
Mile 7 was the worst, hands down. It was mostly uphill and the first part was westerly and into the wind. I began to feel like I was on the edge of bonking, and my pace hovered above 8:00/mile for a good bit of it. There was a lot of internal dialogue going on inside my brain at that point, and I was on the precipice of cracking physically and mentally. On one hand I was thinking, “Its been a good ride, but you’ve over-extended yourself and you know it. You can dial it back and no one will care. Pat yourself on the back for your effort so far and lets bring it in easy.” That’s a seductive argument in the moment…seriously.
On the other hand, my GPS was showing a total pace of 7:42/mile, which was only two seconds per mile off Karen’s (realistic) pace of 7:40. The other half of my brain was thinking, “Suck it up buttercup and finish this off at that 7:40 pace. Nobody’s going to throw you a freaking parade for running hard for 6 miles and then quitting. Hit that 7:40 pace just to spite ’em – even if you have to hear Karen say ‘told you so’ again.” I’ve run for a lot of reasons, but honestly, spite may be the best one I’ve found so far. OK, so maybe I was inventing reasons to spite my coaches (y’all know I love you), but spite was what I needed at that particular point in time.
Thankfully, the course turned south around mile 6.44, so the wind wasn’t quite against me at that point. It was still uphill, but manageable. I saw Allen cheerleading shortly thereafter and he gave me a little bit of an emotional boost. The course then turned east and was downhill for a bit, so I was able to recover and to salvage a 7:47 minute mile.
At that point, I had 2.3 miles to go and I really began to believe for the first time that I could hold it together until the end. There were some hilly miles yet to go, but my legs had held together so far. From a cardiovascular standpoint I felt great, with no heavy breathing or side stitches. I just needed my legs to hold up on the hills coming back in through the neighborhood.
Shortly after the mile 7 marker I reached the exit to Byrd Park, which was a little bit of an uphill. I saw Jill at the water stop again and tried to make eye contact, but she was too busy working to see me. After climbing out of the park, there was a long downhill and I tried to let my legs go with gravity in order to make some speed. That felt good, but then there was one of the longest climbs of the day on the other side.
As I headed up the climb, there were three women running together ahead of me. We trudged our way up the hill together and somewhere in the middle a weird feeling came over me. I started feeling euphoric and totally re-invigorated. Yes, I’ve heard of the “runner’s high,” but I’d only felt like this once before, and that was during a slow 13 mile training run in 2014. Certainly never in a race at race pace. Within the span on 30 seconds I began feeling great and accelerated up the hill. The pace on my GPS started going down and I finished mile 8 in 7:35, even though it was full of hills.
The good times kept rolling in mile 9 and I began passing a lot of people, even though the field was pretty well spread out by that point. I saw other people struggling up the hills and somehow that just made me feel better and run faster. I actually started yelling out encouragement to the other runners, even though a couple of miles back in the park I could hardly speak. My mile pace began to dip below 7:30 and it really just wasn’t making a whole lot of sense to me. I should have been dying, but instead, I was getting stronger. It was weird, but I kind of didn’t want the race to end.
Miles 9 – 9.3 (6:46 pace)
After passing the 9 mile marker, there were only 3/10ths of a mile left, which included a long climb up to the finish line – one of the worst hills of the day. There were a few people within 100 yards of me, and I made it a personal goal to pass them all before the finish. I picked off a few on Colorado Avenue and then I took the final left turn to head up to the finish. Two guys were still ahead of me, and I passed one of them mid-way up the hill. Even though I went into full-on sprint mode for the last 100 yards I couldn’t catch the last guy, but I darn near collapsed after crossing the finish line before they handed me my medal. Final time – 1:11:01 – almost two full minutes faster than last year, with a pace of 7:37/mile. As bad as I was hurting, I was thinking, “WTF just happened?”
My euphoria evaporated fairly instantaneously, and I hauled myself over to the grass, sat down and put my head between my legs. I’ve never gotten sick from running before, but this was a close call. I’ve been dizzy and had to sit down a few times after finishing, but never any vomiting. It was touch and go there for a couple of minutes though. I saw Tressa over by the finish line, but by the time I was able to get up and move around, she was off for her cool down run. Yeah, she’d been done for about nine minutes before I finished since she’s a beast.
After getting up, I was able to drink some Gatorade and as soon as I walked back over to the finish line I saw Candace coming through. She’d beaten her time from 2018 by nine minutes, so my measly two minute PR paled in comparison. No sooner had she gotten her finisher’s medal, then Meg finished – with a third place AG award to boot.
We were all pretty sweaty from running, but as soon as we stopped we all began to get cold since the wind was blowing. Thus, we headed back inside the elementary school and snagged a free donut. Sadly, there was no coffee, which is my only gripe about the race. After discussing our respective races, we all parted ways and I snagged some coffee at McDonald’s on the way home.
In hindsight, I really can’t explain this race. I’m serious when I say that my legs were shot on Sunday morning, because my quads were screaming when I walked upstairs to grab the foam roller. Maybe I’ve just been running too conservatively all these years in trying to pace myself to avoid a bonk. I took a devil-may-care attitude this time around and I guess it worked out. Still, the euphoria that came on around mile 7.5 was freaky – in a good way – and I hope I can replicate it again someday.
On my way home I texted Karen my results and I told her that maybe I could’ve run those 7:30 miles that she originally planned if my legs had been fresh. Her response, “Told you so.”