So close, and yet so far. Literally. That would describe my first near-podium experience at the Padres Stand For Hope 5k on a rainy, hail-infested Saturday. The forecast called for near freezing temperatures and the possibility of snow at the 500-foot level. No matter, as I had a 1.75 hour run to fit in, with the final 20 minutes being in zone 3. Though Coach Gerardo gave me the green light to run as hard as I could if I felt up for it. That's keeping in mind that I haven't run faster than a 7:30 mile in several months.
Normally, I wouldn't even bother with a 5k at this point in my Ironman training. But my coach is allowing me to ramp up the speed work now as several of my teammates are training for sprint or Olympic-distance race. This is as good as time as any for me to get that work in too before focusing on long-distance training the final few months.
Further, several co-workers at my company decided to run the race for charity and asked if I'd be interested in joining. I thought it would be good to run with my friends and cheer them on, and it was truly the best part of the race. Seeing the looks of accomplishment (and exhaustion) on my friends' faces reminded me of my first 5k and my first few races. I was truly happy for them.
Their successes ultimately were the highlight of the day. The race itself was a disaster. Total logistical nightmare. When I arrived at 6:30 a.m. to sign up early and begin my pre-race 1:20:00 run, volunteer crews were still trying to determine where to set up check-in and registration tents. When it was my turn to register, the volunteers couldn't find bibs. Now I don't want to sound like a race snob by any stretch. I know most of these folks are volunteering for a great cause and have never participated in a race-like environment. It just reminded me how grateful we should be for well-run races, where everything seemingly happens like clock-work yet there's a HUGE operation going on behind the scenes.
Not at this race though.
The starting gun blasted nearly an hour after it was supposed to. I had already run 7.3 miles and was getting cold from waiting in the starting area for nearly 15 minutes after my warm-up run. Once the run started, I had to quickly decide if I was going to push it or stick to a tempo-run finish. As soon as I saw my Griffith Park running buddy and co-worker John dart ahead of me, I had my answer.
No way. I'm not going to lose today. It's in my nature. No matter how painful the race may be, no matter if I'm unprepared to go that hard, I'm not going to lose without putting in my best effort. I'm incapable.
Now I'm really glad I didn't sign up for Oceanside 70.3 recently.
I've attached my Garmin workout to show the progression of my run (though I forgot to click to "Other" instead of "cycling.") You can see I had the best three running miles probably since the Nautica Malibu Triathlon last September: 7:07, 6:34, 6:13.
What propelled me? Honestly, all I could think of was "PODIUM." I kept repeating it in my head the whole time. I knew that with poor weather -- it started hailing during the first mile of the race -- and with it being a slightly less competitive crowd than what I'm used to, I had a real chance to experience a top-five or better finish. Every time my heart felt like it was going to give out, I reprimanded myself..."KEEP GOING! PODIUM."
I started passing people. John fell back. My pace quickened. I kept trying to focus on form, but eventually I stopped thinking about that and focused on running as hard and fast as I could. I'm convinced that if I had committed to the race even sooner - like right after the starting gun and not in the first quarter-mile, that perhaps I could have broken 20 minutes. That is my ultimate goal.
Well, I crossed the finish line at 20:29 by my watch, the same exact time and pace (6:36) I had at Desert Triathlon last year around the same time. After staying around to congratulate my teammates and co-workers after they crossed the finish line, I went with John to see the posted results.
SECOND PLACE in age group!
I did it!!!!
FINALLY, a podium! I was elated. Even though it was a smaller race, I tasted my own sense of real victory for the first time. I called Steph immediately, and of course she was bummed because she wasn't there to witness it -- I made her stay home because of the weather and this not being an A-race by any stretch.
A while later, John and I went to collect our medals. That's when my elation turned to dejection.
Apparently, two other runners in my age group didn't have time chips but told race organizers they had run sub-20:00 times. And for whatever reason, the race organizer gave them the second and third-place medals.
I had finished in fourth.
It was like the Breath of Life triathlon last June when I qualified for Nationals only to watch it fall away from a silly drafting penalty.
Can I catch a break?
Since this wasn't a huge deal to me and it's really about charity, I shrugged my shoulders, grumbled under my breath, and drove home. As I have a day to think about it more, I realize how much I have to feel grateful for. I'm no longer injured, quite clearly. My training is paying off again, quite clearly. I equaled my 5k PR in my first real speed training of the year, and proved again to myself that if I work hard enough, I can run pretty fast.
It's not a medal, but it's close.
I'll take my near-podium experience and savor it just a bit.
114 days and counting.