This past weekend my mom was out visiting, and we decided to run a 5k at the Cleveland Zoo. I LOVE the zoo, so I thought it would be fun to run through the zoo and then have time after the race to walk around and see the animals and the exhibits. Unfortunately rain put a damper on our plans, but we still had fun!
It's about an hour to get to Cleveland, but the race wasn't until 8:30 so it wasn't *too* early of a morning. =P I had asked a friend if they had been to the Cleveland Zoo to try to get a feel for the how hilly it would be. He told me that it was rolling hills, but nothing to bad, so my mom and I figured it could be a good time...
Yeah, not bad...right when we made the turn onto Wildlife Way, I knew we were in trouble. It was a HUGE downhill to the entrance to the zoo. I was still holding out hope that maybe it just meant the whole zoo was in a valley and we wouldn't have to go up that hill...no such luck...
As icing on the cake, as soon as we parked the car, even before we got out, it started raining. Not pouring or anything, but nice and steady. It was going to be a good day...haha, but seriously, it was!
We picked up our packets and went for a warm up jog around the zoo. That was fun because we ran through some areas that were not on the course. We ended up not hanging around after the race because we were cold and wet (and it was still raining) so seeing pretty much the whole zoo during our warm up was nice. We also got to see the course...the very hilly course...
The first part wasn't too bad, up through Mile 1 - after that, there was a very, VERY steep uphill that was probably a bit more than a quarter mile long. Once we reached the top, the course turned and followed a wooden boardwalk through the monkey enclosures. Just what we wanted to see - wet, slippery wood that had lots of turns. After the warm up we were very confident that it was NOT going to be a fast day, but at least it would be fun!
It seemed to take FOREVER for the start. They did some jazzercise/step aerobics warm up before that took a while. When we finally lined up, I felt ready, but nervous. I don't think it matters how many races I will run or how little I care about my time, I will always be nervous before a race.
I had not done any speed work since...I can't even remember, and hadn't really been "training" so I knew my time wasn't going to be that fast. I've also been getting better at judging how I'm feeling and allowing that to dictate how hard I push races and just the day to day exercise. I was feeling pretty good that day, but I also know that it takes me a while to recover from a hard effort and didn't want to push it too far. I've finally gotten to a point where I'm more or less healthy for me and I want to keep it that way. Even if that means I can't "race" like I used to, it is so nice to not have to worry about stomach pain with every meal or passing out on a regular basis.
So I planned to just start easy and run by feel. I wanted it to feel challenging but not an all out effort. I wanted to run the first bit in such a way that by Mile 3 I was still feeling okay. It worked! Once the race started I was up with a pack of runners just behind the lead group. I felt like the pace was hard but sustainable which was good. It was controlled but working. I had purposefully not worn a watch because I didn't want to be distracted or get anxious about my time, but there were volunteers at each mile marker shouting out the time - NOT GOOD!
I hit the first mile marker at 6:42. My first reaction was to freak out! It was too fast, I hadn't trained, I was going to crash before the finish, my mind started running. But I didn't let myself get into my head. I told myself I was running by feel and if I was feeling 6:42, then I was feeling 6:42 and that was OKAY! It took about half a mile, but by the time I hit the monster hill, I felt like I was back into control of my running and not freaking out over the time.
As much as I'm not a fan of hills in races, I do run them well and I consistently find myself passing people on the hills. On this course it definitely worked in my favor. I passed A LOT of people on the big hill. I took it pretty slow on the wooden boardwalk because I really didn't want to fall. I don't run down hills as well, but I did alright on this one, actually catching 3 people on the downhill. Mile 2 was right at the bottom of the hill, and as I was coming up I could hear the volunteer shouting out the time but couldn't make out what she said. When I got close I shouted "I don't want to know!" and she laughed. It helped me relax, NOT knowing my time at that point, so I could focus on the last mile.
I was still feeling pretty good, so I started to push a bit harder because I knew the hard part was done. There was a solid downhill right before the last mile marker, and I started to catch a boy who was in high school. As I came up next to him, I told him "Don't let me beat you!" He matched my pace for a few steps and then started to pull ahead. I stayed with him for a bit, but we hit the last mile marker and both started to sprint in to the finish. I saw the clocks when we came around the corner and it had just turned to 21:00. The high school boy beat me by a few seconds (yay! I congratulated him after the race), but I still crossed the line 2 seconds ahead of my PR! On a ridiculously hilly course with no speed work, I set a new PR =) =) =)
21:16, 6:52 pace
My mom didn't PR, but she wasn't far off her time either. She finished 2nd in her age group and I was 3rd. Overall, it was a good race. I had a blast running through the zoo and was happy with my results. It has also shown me that I can be stronger than I think by taking care of myself and keeping my priorities straight. Instead of focusing on racing and beating my PRs, my focus is on keeping myself healthy. Thankfully, right now running, biking, and swimming fit into that equation, but it is more about having fun than putting the pressure on myself to perform!