Tuesday, September 3, 2013

USATF 20k Champs - The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

So I don't know where the phrase came from, but there's a phrase out there that refers to "the good, the bad, and the ugly." This weekend at the USA Track & Field 20k Championship race in New Haven, CT, I did not have a good  race...that leaves two alternative options, bad and ugly, both fit what unfolded for me.
Anyone living in MN knows that we've been having some pretty nasty weather.  Hot, humid, and generally unbearable to exert oneself in.  I had been tackling training as best as can be expected, but was looking forward to a race out of the state, foolishly thinking the weather conditions couldn't possibly be as bad anywhere else.  Well, I was wrong.  CT wasn't as sunny, but it was 90% humidity and hot enough that being outside wasn't super awesome.  
I arrived in CT on Friday and since the race wasn't until Monday, I had two days of light workouts in the conditions.  The first day went okay, just a 5 mile shake out jog.  The second day (the day before the race) was worrisome.  I did a quick 4x 200m tune-up session, and by the fourth 200m I had to stop due to nausea from heat exposure.  I was absolutely gushing sweat and due to the humidity, none of it was evaporating and I just wasn't getting cool.
Eventually I pulled it together, jogged back to my hotel and made it my mission to rehydrate, get plenty of electrolytes, and even take some extra sodium (to ward off any potential muscle cramping).  The weather was going to be a challenge, but everyone had to deal with it, so I planned to take care of myself and be smart about dealing with the reality of the situation.
The field of competitors was super strong, but looking at it and considering what I'd done at the Half Marathon Championships in June, I went in confident that I could be competitive.  Time goals were out the window, due to weather, instead the goal was to just keep in contact with the leaders and hope I had a shot at a top ten finish in the end.
Warming up I felt okay, but was immediately soaked with sweat.  Race time came and I lined up right next to team USA MN athlete, Meghan Peyton.  She and I had battled two weeks prior at the MDRA 15k with me eventually taking first and her second.  In that race, I let her set the pace during the first half and gradually distanced myself from her over the second half. As soon as I saw her, I figured the same kind of game plan should suit me today.
The gun fires and we're off. Meghan takes the lead from the start and I'm sitting in her pocket thinking, "this is gonna be great!  Just like the 15k, MN girls unite!We roll through the first mile in about 5:16 and I'm thinking, that was a little quick, but I'm okay.  We cruise upon a steep, medium-sized hill that leads to mile 2 and Megan, along with a small lead pack, gap me a bit.  No problemo, I'll just catch them at the top.  Here's where my body decides it's not going to cooperate for the day...let me remind you, this is at MILE TWO!  I crest the hill, another pack moves by me and in my mind, I latch on to them, but my body doesn't get the message.
It's at this point I notice how profusely I'm sweating, how fast my heart is beating, and how utterly dead (I'm mean toasted) my legs feel.  Crap.  This just went from day of wonderous potential to all-hands-on-deck-we're-going-down day!
I get to mile three, longest mile of my life, and I seriously consider dropping out.  I feel like grade-A garbage and there's still 9+ miles to go.  I can't count on my body today, but my mind is still strong.  It coaxes me to continue on and do whatever I can to catch whomever I can despite the devastating realization that today is going to be a huge disappointment. 
I labor through the rest of the run (get it, on Labor Day...come on, people, if I don't laugh about, I'll cry) and stumble across the line in 1:16:31...for a 20k (that's only 12.5 miles).
Photo credit:  New Haven newspaper (hence the screen shot)...This was right before the finish line.

For those keeping score (and because I like to rub salt in my wounds), let's put this race into perspective.  
 1:16:31 for this 20k is:
1) SIX minutes slower than my Dam to Dam 20k in June (same distance)
b) FIVE minutes slower than my half marathon at the end of June (a race that was about a half of a mile LONGER than this run!)
3) THREE minutes slower than my Dam to Dam 20k from June 2012 (before I had a coach and a good training plan)
4) a pace that is :20 per mile slower than my most recent 10 mile training run
Now, I'd love to blame my lackluster (understatement) performance on the humidity, but everyone else seemed able to perform, so it can't be that.  I'd love to blame it on the fact that this wasn't a goal race for me and so my mileage and workouts were still high and intense leading up to the race, but many other runners are gearing up for a fall marathon and didn't taper either.  So, hmmm...that leaves the blame on...ME. 
For whatever reason, I couldn't perform during this race.  There are no words that can describe my level of disappointment and frustration.  BUT...I learned that I can battle on even when the wheels fall off (and trust me, today the wheels were not only off, but on fire, and screeching away from me at warp speed).  It was a tough lesson to learn at such a high-profile race, where I feel like I had a great opportunity to continue to try making a name for myself in the world of USA distance running, but it was a valuable lesson nonetheless.
Photo credit:  New Haven newspaper.  This one is an absolute gem!  I can't believe they published it.  But this is me, one step AFTER the finish line.  Didn't trip, wasn't cramping, just pure exhaustion.  My finish time and place don't reflect what I feel was my best effort, but this pic is proof that I poured everything I had into the race...my "everything" just wasn't what I expected it would be.
Side note:  huge props to Meghan Peyton.  The MN girl took the lead from the start and never looked back, WINNING the dang race!  Fun to see a fellow MN ripping it up.  Job well done, Meghan!
                                         20k Champ Meghan crossing the line

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