This weekend I ran my first official 15K race, and my first race in Texas. In fact, it was my first time running outdoors in Texas. The weather has been pretty rainy and dreary and even icy since I got here a little over 3 weeks ago, so I’ve been working out at the gym, mainly on the treadmill.
Before I get into the race, I want to talk about Packet Pickup. FRESH15 is pretty much, besides the Tyler Rose Marathon in October, the biggest road race in east Texas. Dallas has its own road race scene, I’m not too sure what’s going on in Houston, and I’m assuming some stuff happens in College Station and Austin, but as far as where I am, which is… oh, east Texas, it truly is its own animal… FRESH15 appears to be the big spring race for the region unless you drive 2 hours out to Dallas.
So I wasn’t sure what to expect from race organizers. But boy, am I impressed. Not just for an ETX race, but for a race in general. Packet pickup alone included this half-zip long-sleeve jacket:
Not to mention a whole bag of groceries! Oatmeal, breakfast bars, cereal, a box of pasta, and a roll of paper towels in this great little reusable tote bag:
So I was already happy with my money’s worth. Registration was only $45 for the 15K, and I knew I was getting a medal at the end on top of the groceries and the jacket.
Going into the race I was a bit nervous. The longest run I got in before this race was a 10K on the treadmill, the longest run I’ve done since the Rock ‘n’ Roll New Orleans Half Marathon in January. Since the longest run I’d done before NOLA was 7 miles, I was feeling pretty fine about finishing up training for FRESH with a 10K. Then I remembered.
NOLA was an entirely flat course.
FRESH15 looked like this:
Add to that the fact that my hips had felt tweaky since my last training run, a little over 3 miles, the previous Tuesday, and by race morning I was feeling pretty nervous. I went through my normal pre-race night ritual — carbing up on pasta, laying out my clothes and gear, and going to bed early.
Turns out east Texas hasn’t caught on to the whole Team Sparkle craze. I saw a few Sparkle Skirt designs, but none of the sequin-y Team Sparkle sisterhood I’m so used to seeing at DC, Disney, and beyond races. I got a lot of compliments though, and a few skeptical looks. I’d like to say I blew the skeptics out of the water, but I was definitely on the struggle bus for a lot of this race.
The race started just a mile from my apartment, so I woke up early enough to have a bagel with peanut butter and a banana and get dressed. My car needed defrosting, but I wasn’t worried about time. It’s true that this race has attracted a lot of attention in east Texas, but Tyler, though it’s the biggest town between Dallas and Houston, still is not a huge town, and there’s plenty of parking all up and down the main road that the start line was at. The only reason I drove to the race was because the roads were obviously not closed down yet to allow people to get to the start line from further out of town, and there are no sidewalks leading there. (Hence, another reason I haven’t run outside yet.) I found parking surprisingly easily even though I was cutting it close to the start time for the Elite Runner Introduction (we actually had Kenyans come to east Texas to compete in this race!).
It was chilly out that morning as the sun was still rising, so I sought warmth inside the Fresh by Brookshire’s grocery store, which is the ETX version of Whole Foods. Everyone seemed to know everybody, and it was the first time I felt truly homesick, kind of standing around staying warm. Luckily, I ran into a familiar face — a fellow runner I’d met at a young professional’s networking night, named Abbie, who was there to cheer runners on as she nurses a marathon training injury. (Yes, we bonded over the fact that we both got injured on our 18 mile long runs during marathon training.) I hung with Abbie and her fiance until it was almost time to start, and found the 1:40 pace group to line up with.
My 10-miler PR is 1:41, but I’m definitely not as in good shape as I was when I ran that race, so I figured I’d aim for a high 10’s-low 11 minute pace and come in around 1:40 for a 9.3 mile race. As we started off, the pace definitely felt comfortable and I even skipped my first walk break interval to keep with the group because I was feeling good.
By mile 2 I could ditch my sweatshirt, as the temps had climbed to the high 40’s, and I tied it around my waist. We passed my apartment at about 1.25 miles in, and I actually considered leaving my sweatshirt in my leasing office for safekeeping! Talk about local. We wound around through all the neighborhoods surrounding my apartment complex, and some light hills had me waking up my legs and feeling good. Light hills I like. I like the rolling.
Steep hills I don’t like.
Past the 5K I was still feeling good, and especially enjoyed the water stop just before mile 4. It was right outside my grocery store (the less expensive and open 24-hours grocery store, not Fresh), and it’s at an intersection to the main drag in Tyler, South Broadway. A LOT of spectators were at this point, including some little kids who were handing out high-fives as I walked past nursing my Gatorade. (I’d decided not to carry water on this run and just rely on the aid stations every 2 miles.) Especially fun was this one really charismatic family that was dancing and cheering, not just the little kids but the parents and the teenagers too. They saw me walking past/through the aid station on my scheduled walk break and really stepped up the dancing for me, which got me smiling and laughing.
I kick started running again after the mile 4 marker and felt great all the way down South Broadway and back into the neighborhoods.
Getting off South Broadway we hit a nice downhill that felt good. But passing the 5 mile marker began a tough incline. I was really struggling, reminding myself my mantra of “walking hills doesn’t help you run them,” shuffling along, when a tiny girl came up next to me, pushing through and past me. That was exactly what I needed – a reminder that I wasn’t the only one this hill was tough for, this girl just had the right idea – the faster you run it, the faster you get it over with. I picked up the pace again and cresting the long incline I could see the 6 mile marker in the distance.
At this point, with all the hills I hadn’t been training for lately, I was really starting to get tired and could feel it in my lower back. I decided to switch from 10:1 intervals to 8:2, and that was fine for the next mile. There were still some bears of hills, ups and downs, but I had Beyonce’s “Ring the Alarm” telling me You can’t stay, you got to go when I’d look up an incline and sigh. I just kept trying to keep one foot in front of the other but by mile 7 I was beat.
The final 2 miles were really rough. As you can see from the elevation chart above, they really left no relief in this race until the very final .1 mile. Locals call the very last hill “Heartbreak Hill,” and I’m not sure that all of them know about Boston’s Heartbreak Hill. Worse than that final “Heartbreak Hill” was the hill at mile 7.5. I just. Couldn’t. Do it. I started doing 1:1 intervals and trying to keep my core tight and aligned, but my legs felt like lead to try and pick up after each other over such a steep incline over so long a distance. I saw the 1:45 pacers pass me and tried to keep up for a little bit, but finally just said ‘fuck it.’ I picked a landmark in the distance that I was allowing myself to walk until and then said to myself I’d start running from there because it looked flat after that. And I vowed to myself to run outside on hills from now on.
Finally I crested that last damn hill, pushing past the last of the 5K’ers, who had started a half hour after us. These were the last of that group, as it was now over an hour into their event, and I reminded myself that I had chosen the 15K because I knew I could do it, and if I was going to pick the 15K, I might as well not wimp out about it. I picked up the speed at the crest of Heartbreak Hill and used the last .1-.2 miles that they gave us a downhill on to save a few seconds from my time, coming in JUST under 1:46.
My official time was 1:45:53. Definitely not my strongest showing, but with the crazy start to the year that 2015 has been, and the lack of opportunity to run outside that moving to an unfamiliar, rainy place has provided, I’m not beating myself up about it.
FRESH15K continued to impress me with the spinning medal, free finisher’s pint glass, and abundance of ice cold water bottles and bananas, but I was really sold when I saw they were offering free massages. I sat in the grass to collect my bearings and guzzle my water for a moment, then promptly lined up for a glorious massage. My lower back is still really where it’s clear that my core is not as strong as it needs to be, and I yet again reminded myself to make core strength training a priority. I had tried to do a home workout from YouTube earlier in the week and was SERIOUSLY on the struggle bus during it, it was comical actually. But practice makes stronger, so I’m going to try and do it at least twice a week if not more.
The rest of Saturday was fabulous. The sun was out and it climbed up to the high 60’s, low 70’s, so I took the opportunity to drive about a half hour east to Gladewater, TX, where a glorious piece of heaven exists in the form of a Daffodil Farm.
Of course by Sunday it was pouring rain again and I spent the day on my couch watching movies and reading, but as you can see Saturday was a pretty stellar day, even with the strugglebus last 5K of the FRESH15.
So my first Texas race is in the bag! Next up is Rock n Roll Dallas Half Marathon which promises to be a shitshow because I have a work event til late the night before, and then the Austin 10/20 at the end of the month! After that work takes over, I briefly return to running with the Country Music Half Marathon at the end of April, and then who knows what the hell I’ll have money and time off for ever again.
How was your weekend? Did you race? Run? Rest? Frolic through a field of flowers? All of the above?