Time: 5:30 p.m.
This was the most nervous I’ve been for a race in a long, long time. I mean, I’ve sort of stopped getting nervous for 5Ks, and even the last few stair climbs weren’t too terrible on my nerves. But this race? THIS was nerve-wracking.
Mile races are hard. Well, that is if you’re trying to run them fast. It’s not quite the same pressure as an all-out sprint, but compared to longer races, there’s not a lot of room for error. Plus, mile races are rare. So you have to make them count. On top of that, the mile means way more to me compared to longer races.
When I first started to take my fitness seriously a couple years ago, my primary goal was to run a 5-minute mile (5 flat or faster, that is). Obviously, I’m still a long way off. I’m not sure if I’ll ever get there, but I will definitely keep trying.
It was getting boring training to run a fast mile on my own with no races to be able to do it in. That’s why I started running 5Ks. I was always more a sprint-type runner when I was younger, and 5Ks were the shortest distance race I could find. So, to stay motivated, I started training for, and running in them. I never really looked around for 1-mile races, but I should have. Because, as it turned out, they do exist. But there aren’t that many of them. If you have one within a 45-minute driving distance from you, lucky you. If not, you might have to make a day of it.
Last year’s Schlitz Park Miler was the first one I’d ever heard of, even if it was the second year for the race. And I was crazy excited when I found out about it. I registered pretty much immediately. And despite a persisting foot cramp that spanned the two or three days prior to the race that made it hard to even walk, I went on to do pretty well. The morning of the race, I stepped funny on the cramped foot, felt a pop, and then everything was okay again. I finished in 5:52.04. My goal was sub-6. Success!
This year I was worried that, thanks to the neck issues that set my training back, my fitness level wasn’t up to snuff if I wanted to finish sub-6 again.
I checked in with Jack Daniels’ Running Calculator and found that my estimated VO2 during the 21:41 I put up at the Rock N Sole 5K just over a week ago equated to 45.3, which was equivalent to a 6:23 one-mile race.
(I don’t fully understand the math behind the VO2 estimating and equivalency conversions, but I do know that my VO2 at last year’s 20:12 finish at the Rock N Sole 5K was 49.2 — equivalent to a 5:55 one-mile race. So even with the couple days off of working out before last year’s Schlitz, I figured my VO2 wouldn’t really drop off too bad in a span of 10 days. ((I could probably stand to taper more before races, actually.)) Considering I finished 3 seconds faster than the estimate, I figured the 49.6 VO2 at last year’s Schlitz Park Miler was right within the margin of error. This led me to believe the calculator was pretty accurate.)
So, knowing my cardio is on par with a 6:23 race mile, I tried amping up my workouts in the time between this year’s Rock N Sole and Schlitz Park Miler. I didn’t think 10 days would really be enough to help me enough to crack 6 minutes, but I definitely gave it a good effort. Mostly, I just ran more. But I also pulled a couple two-a-days with a longer run in the morning and then a later workout after work. I climbed stairs more often than I do in that span. The new trainer I’ve been working with at my gym put me through a pretty intense speed workout. I felt like I made the most of my workouts and crammed as much as I could in during those 10 days, and I somehow even managed rest days last Friday and this past Monday before the race.
I still wasn’t sure that would be enough to cut it.
Stephanie was positive for me, and believed I could pull it off. And after my speed workout, my trainer tried using some weird logic based on that workout to try to convince me I could pull it off. But I still wasn’t convinced. The only thing that made me feel I *might* do it was that despite my Rock N Sole VO2 equating to a 6:23 one-mile race, I passed the one-mile mark during that 5K at the 6:23 mark. And kept going (even if I did falter later). I felt like if I could hit that time after one mile in a longer race, I could do faster than that in a one-mile race.
The race itself was familiar, which was good. Aside from the start line being moved to a different portion of the neighborhood intersection it was at the previous year, the rest of the route was the same. I knew part of the course looped, and I was fully aware of the dreaded steep hill about 2/3 of the way through the course that lasted a block.
The starting line was a lot more bunched up than last year. Last year they corralled people by sub-5:30, sub-6:30, sub-7:30, and everyone else. This year they didn’t. People weren’t too rough to jockey for position at the line, though, so I got pretty close to the front; however, once the race started, it was pretty rough to find a path to run in because everyone was coming out strong.
After I ditched most of the crowd, I pretty much zoned out and just tried to maintain as a quick pace as I could for as long as I could. I faded a little, but stayed faster than I thought I could until the hill. I don’t know if it was psychological, or a real result of stair training, but last year I passed a guy on the hill and then sped away after it. The hill left him in the dust, and it motivated me. This year I was on the hill with a man and a woman. I made a point to power through and pass them, figuring I’d be okay once I reached the top. But it was the opposite. I burned too much energy with my effort on the hill and actually lost steam when it flattened out. Both people I passed on the hill passed me and I never caught them.
The good thing about going up the hill on this course is that you get to come back down it on a different street. I’ve never understood why people seem to slow down on downhills, but people were doing it here, too. I always speed up. And that’s usually after I can tell others are slowing down. Maybe they’re being cautious for energy’s sake or scared of injuring themselves, but I find it invigorating. I lengthened my strides pretty long and tried to elevate my pace. I know I was moving pretty good at that point. I felt like a horse galloping. Doing that I felt like I was still spending less energy than I had been on the flat portions of the course. And I also caught up to a few people.
But it flattened out again and I started to slow down. There was a woman who I’d been trying to keep up with since before the downhill who had someone in the neighborhood cheering her on, telling her she was the second-place woman and then started running on the sidewalk matching her pace until the downhill. After the downhill, she took off and lost me.
Right before the final stretch, my nose itched and I tried scratching it. I totally missed. It felt like my arm wasn’t even connected to me. Like it was asleep or something. But not asleep at the same time. It felt like my body was in automatic and I tried to pull one part of it out of that. I attempted again and sort of got it, but then worried I’d throw off my whole balance, so I stopped and let my arms swing like they should. I then articulated a question in my mind to myself about if my legs were fine and still moving correctly. I confirmed to myself they were and then reassured myself I was almost done.
When I got to the final stretch, there were a lot of spectators. I was running right by some kid who must’ve known some woman spectator. I couldn’t see the clock at the finish, but I heard the woman yell to him that it was about 5:50 and he needed to hurry to get in under 6 minutes. I thought, “Oh, crap, that means me too!” and then just pushed as hard as I could. I found the clock and saw it tick from 5:52 to 5:53 to 5:54 and then just shifted my focus to the finish line.
I could barely breathe afterward, but I was pretty excited I likely finished sub-6.
Stephanie came over and congratulated me. She threw out a few times, guessing I could’ve finished anywhere between 5:56 and 5:59 from her vantage point, but seemed excited and confident I was sub-6.
That was good enough for me. The previous night I dreamt that I finished in 6:09. Part of me thought would be a reasonable time to finish in, so to beat that felt pretty good, too. Stephanie — who just won the gold at the Badger State Games’ CrossFit competition this past weekend, btw — told me not to put limits on myself. That’s something I struggle with, but I do know I’ve surprised myself a few times, so I think she’s on to something.
In the end, my VO2 for this race came out to 48.9, equivalent to a 20:19 finish in a 5K. But regardless of whether I underperformed at the Rock N Sole 5K, overperformed at the Schlitz Park Miler, or simply got that much better in 10 days, I’m pretty happy with how I finished.
* * * * *
* I really like the Schlitz Park Miler. It’s a small, yet big event. It’s not a huge race, but there’s a lot going on. They have emcees. Tons of people are walking around. There’s a pro bicycle tour race happening before and after it. The scenery’s nice, both in the business area and the surrounding residential neighborhood. It’s cheap to enter. There are cash prizes if you’re fast enough, as well as miscellaneous cash prizes on the hill (if you’re with a crowd on the hill and beat them up it, there’s a dude waving cash for you to grab… I actually might’ve won some cash, but I couldn’t tell. The guy started holding out money right as I was passing by, but wasn’t looking at me, and wasn’t close enough for me to grab it without moving to get it. I think there was another pack behind us the money was intended for.)
* This year there were also food trucks, which also aided the atmosphere. Food trucks are a staple of the summertime at Schlitz Park, but last year there were none set up at the race. So it a very welcome sight considering I worked up an appetite. I had a couple delicious BBQ pork tacos from the Hard Wood Cafe truck and felt quite full afterward. Stephanie was left hungry following some ribs from the truck she chose. Mostly bone, not a lot of meat.
* Next year I’m hoping I can get fast enough to win an age group award. You only get a medal at this race if you place overall or in your age group. I’m pretty used to participation medals, so not coming home with a medal seems weird. Plus I like winning stuff.
* For as good as that race felt, now I have to turn my focus to another one-mile race I’ll be running in Michigan on the Fourth Of July while I’m out there visiting family. It’s a totally flat course with absolutely zero turns, so it’ll be interesting. I don’t know if it’ll be really easy or really hard. Either way, I’ll be continuing to work hard to stay ready.