The North Face Endurance Challenge Ontario – 5K (Race recap)

On Sunday July 13, I ran The North Face Endurance Challenge in Blue Mountain and crossed the finish line feeling heartbroken and disappointed in my performance. It wasn’t about the time.

After my experience at Bear Mountain in New York, I came into this race with no expectations – or so I thought. The entire week leading up to the race, I didn’t even really think much of it. I knew that it wouldn’t be a “fast” effort, and so I didn’t bother tapering or doing anything differently to prepare for it.

The race

So, yeah. The course elevation for this thing looked like this.

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Contrary to popular belief, this is not a final exam bell curve diagram.

The night before, Mike and I looked at the course map and he advised me to take the uphill hard, the flat even harder, and the downhill nice and slow (because who am I kidding, I suck at descents).

Unlike last time at the last The North Face Challenge at Bear Mountain, I positioned myself at the back of the pack from the start. I knew the field was small, and with the single track trails we encountered last time, I wanted to avoid getting in people’s way as much as possible. Just before the race, Dean Karnazes warned us about the conditions being really bad today due to the previous night’s rainfall, but I didn’t really pay attention. I knew that this was going to be hard even in “ideal” weather, so I just braced myself for a slog.

I started out conservatively. I wasn’t sprinting up the hill, and instead held a slow and steady pace that I thought I could maintain until I hit the top. I was wrong. The uphill was relentless and I thought it was never going to end. Every time we hit what I thought was the top, we’d turn a corner and have to begin climbing again. Everyone around me started walking, and I tried my best to keep jogging up the hill, but eventually gave in myself. That’s when disappointment and self-doubt first reared its ugly head.

After what felt like forever, we hit a very short flat part that snaked around a gorgeous wooded area. I wished I had my camera with me, because this short break was gorgeous. It was really quite beautiful. For the first time, I could look up and enjoy the scenery around me. Scenery like this is what keeps me pulling me back to the trails. Shortly after I started the flat section, I arrived at the water aid station and turned to the right to begin the descent. “BE CAREFUL”, the volunteers called out to us…

Time to face my fears.

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This would be a nice, smooth hill. We didn’t run on this.

Or… not.

When I first saw the makeshift stairs, I breathed a sigh of relief. By comparison, the descents at Bear Mountain were littered with rocks so by comparison, I actually thought the stairs were quite “civilized”. From now on, I’ll remember these as the stairs where trail races go to die. (Actual experienced trail runners would probably call those fun). I gingerly made my way down the stairs, praying for a relatively short descent and trying to jump to the side whenever people came flying down past me. Not going to lie – it wasn’t fun. The only thing I learned during that part of the course is that pretty much everyone is more fearless than I am. HOW these people flew down the stairs is beyond me. I was grabbing onto everything I could find like my life depended on it. (It kind of felt that way).

During this time, frustration and fear built up to the point where I found myself holding back tears. Never once during a road race have I had to hold back tears. Not even when I ran a marathon and could barely move my legs due to an unknown (at the time) stress fracture. This descent broke my spirit. I felt scared, defeated and I wanted OUT.

At one point, a girl saw me struggling and told me that we were almost at the bottom. I knew she was just trying to help, but all I could manage was, “Oh God. I really hate this…” in response. She didn’t know what to say. I knew I was being dramatic, but I didn’t care anymore.

Eventually, I emerged out of the woods and onto the wide, flat trail that led us back to the Start/Finish area. As soon as I hit this part, I felt like screaming, but instead I channeled my frustration by running as hard as I could…. you know, for about 500 meters or so. It was over before I really got to hit my stride. I crossed the finish line with a familiar feeling of annoyance at myself, and extreme disappointment. I finished the race immediately asking what the hell happened out there.

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The only time I’ll ever stand close to the podium is when I’m dragged there by my superstar husband (he came 1st in his age group, 7th overall. NO BIG DEAL).

Post-race thoughts

The interesting thing about the 5K  is that while it’s (mercifully) shorter in distance, this also means that the entire course revolved around one major hill — and that’s it. The course basically consisted of one LONG uphill and downhill…. and hardly anything in between to help a road runner out. I never really had any chance to get into a rhythm and make up for lost time with some flat running. From what I hear though, I don’t think any of the distances really had many flat sections, so maybe it’s just what I need to expect with these endurance runs. Ironically, I always find myself afraid to let my legs go fast on the road. I’m always worried about running out of energy, and I’m always holding myself back. Well, on Sunday, I was desperate to expend some energy by the time I exited the woods. If there’s any positive that I can take from this race, it’s that it ignited a desire to go all out the next time I was running a race on the flat road. At that moment, anyway. ;)

Immediately after the race, I continued to beat myself up on my performance. It had nothing to do with my 52:26 finish time. I gave up so many times, and that’s  real the source of my disappointment. I hate giving up.

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Post-race reflection… and a little bit of sulking. I don’t like feeling like a failure!

But a few hours later, I began to forgive myself. The truth is, I love running out there. It’s completely different from anything I’ve experienced on the roads and it would be such a shame to give up on these types of races all together because it’s “too hard”. That’s just crazy! I love the trails. I love the beauty, the low impact, the fact that they’re always unpredictable and always changing to keep things interesting. I love the fact that I can get lost in my thoughts and feel like I’m in a completely different world even if I’m actually still in the city. I also want to travel the world and explore what different cities have hiding in their forests. But I can’t do that if I’m too scared to run and explore them. I can’t spend the rest of my life shying away from certain trails if they aren’t perfect for me. I can’t always pick the trails to suit me, I have to change my attitude to suit the trails.

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A pretty reminder that I need to come back to Blue Mountain and spend more time here.

And so, by the end of the day, I decided that I’m not ready to throw in the towel on trail races just yet. I’m not ready to admit defeat and stick to running day in and day out on concrete because it’s easier. Instead of once a week, I’m going to increase my frequency of off-road runs. I’m going to ignore this thing called pace and let my body and the trail’s condition dictate how fast and far I run.

I’m going to stop shying away from “uneven” terrain and tiptoeing around scary sections. I’m going to learn how to attack them, and face every fear I have. And at the end of the year, I’m putting myself to the test again to celebrate how far I’ve come. I’m going to run my third Northface Endurance Challenge of 2014 in San Francisco in December. And it’s going to be awesome.

alison

 

Pride & Remembrance 5K Race Recap

On Saturday June 28, I ran the Pride and Remembrance Run for the fourth year in a row. So did Mike, who had to pull out of running the race for the last two years due to various injuries.

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Mike smoking it this year. This guy knows how to run hard in the heat.
All photos taken by the Pace & Mind team.

He ran so well, and I’m proud of him. :)

The Pride & Remembrance 5K has been my favourite race over the last few years for several reasons:

  • It’s the first 5K I ever ran (yay milestones!);
  • … it’s also the ONLY 5K I ever ran each year, and I managed to set a new PB in it for the past three years which led to various feelings of awesomeness; and
  • It’s also my unofficial anniversary with Mike.

Lots of happy memories.

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Now our dates consist of sometimes running together and taking a few couple shots from time to time.

The memories are so happy, in fact, that every year, I block out the fact that the race is always super hot and humid, and I always cross the finish line feeling like I might unload my breakfast all over the confetti littered street.

This year, as race day drew near, I started tossing around time goals in my head and decided that I would try to match or slightly beat last year’s 23:59 time. Since I had already done that in April, I figured I could do it again…

Never mind the fact that I ran a relay leg at a harder effort than I expected to the week before. Never mind the fact that I went for a few grueling trail runs in brand new minimalist shoes that ripped my legs to shreds. Never mind that the week leading up to the race, my legs were starting to feel so stiff that all my runs that week were reduced to paces that I hadn’t seen since I started running back in 2009.

Nope, never mind all that. I went into the race hoping that my legs would magically wake up and I’d be able to squeak in a modest PB. I just decided to ignore the facts and didn’t want to give myself any excuses to not do well.

I was also lucky enough to have one of my Pace & Mind teammates, Nathan, pace me. A few weeks ago, when I mentioned that I kind of, sort of wanted to race this 5K, he offered to run it with me since he was planning to run it for fun. I was thrilled – I credit my last 10K personal best to Mike taking out all the guesswork in my pace and just guiding me from start to finish. Great things happen when I turn off my mind and stop obsessing over pace. But, that morning, I just felt off. I was a bundle of self-doubt and nerves, and annoyingly thirsty.

The race itself was so much fun! I mean, as much fun as you can have when you’re running noticeably slower and feeling tired from the start. We started off conservatively, and slowly picked up the pace. I just focused on following Nathan, and asked myself if I could have picked things up more or gone any faster. The answer was a resounding NO. At least his encouragement and enthusiasm was contagious and I couldn’t help but smile the entire time.

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Nathan pulling me to the finish. I couldn’t have run this race without him.

When I crossed the finish line in 24:22, I was disappointed in myself. I was disappointed that I didn’t have more to bring to the table. I then spent the rest of the day / weekend fearing that I hadn’t made any progress at the 5K distance in over two years. I even sent my coach (who won the race, by the way… no big deal) a panicked email about the fear of standing still and not progressing any further. It was an emotional email to write & send, but Mike convinced me that if there’s anyone I should be sharing my thoughts with, it’s my coach.

And then.

And then, I took a little more time and really thought about things.

As Rejean pointed out, I’m currently in the strength building phase, it can be hard to run fast in the summer, and the training cycle only started three weeks ago.

As Mike reminded me over the weekend, it was hot on race day and history has shown that I don’t run well in the heat. My legs were sore even the morning of the race which means I didn’t go into it with fresh legs.

When I went to see a massage therapist this morning because my legs were still incredibly stiff and sore, he pointed out to me that those two hill trail runs that I did in new minimalist shoes probably worked my legs faster than I could recover. And the fact that I don’t usually take anything for recovery right after hard runs probably doesn’t help things, either.

There’s one more problem.

I still don’t believe I can do it.

Sure, I get lots of encouragement from Mike, my coach, and my teammates. My non-running friends just think I’m crazy and am taking a hobby way too seriously. Maybe I do… But at the end of the day, I’m the one inside my head on race day and my head is always screaming at me to slow down when it starts to hurt during the race until my heart stops threatening to beat out of my chest. I need to start encouraging myself, and stop over-thinking things mid-race. That way of thinking seems to work in my professional life, and to an extent, my personal life… but I think I should approach running with a ‘just do it’ mindset.

I’ve got a lot of work to do. And I’m ready to just do it.

alison

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