On 4/25 I ran the Loop the Lakes 5K in Vernon Hills. It's a small 5K put on by my local park district; it's so close that I sincerely thought about running to the race site and at $25 ($20 if I'd signed up sooner) the price was right. I'd never run it before but it'd been on my radar for a couple years; it just never quite worked out because either we were out of town or booked the past few years, but the benefit of not registering for any races in advance is the ability to wing it - this year there were no plans.
I wasn't totally sure what to expect going into it - I'd run the Egg Shell Shuffle a few weeks earlier and PR'd but I also knew that despite only having a few more weeks under my belt, I'd...remembered?... a lot more fitness than I had at the prior race.
Wait, I worded that weird. What I mean is, I was still getting in the swing of things at the easter race, still trying to find my groove. I haven't regained all the fitness I lost when I was forced into time off, but I'd worked back up to running 5x a week and was feeling much more...normal...when running than I had been then.
But while I'd even done a little bit of speedwork and wanted to PR, I knew this would be a harder course than the fairly flat ones I'd been racing. According to the course map, the race was two identical loops and the last 1/3 of the loop was "hilly". When I talked to Marcia she told me it was irritating but not horrible, which was reassuring but I also knew it was going to add a layer of difficulty. My goal going into the race was just to sub 30 and I thought I might...just might...get a decent PR, too. It was supposed to be cold and rainy, which sounded just perfect to me - I love running in the rain.
Race day rolled around and despite having a nightmare that I'd forgotten to go to the race (does anyone else have race-day nightmares?), the race was tiny so packet pickup was a breeze and the shirt, though not a tech shirt, is actually one of my favourite race shirts. It's that thin soft kind of cotton and a pretty blue. Add this one to the column of "ones I'll definitely wear" - I only wish I'd gotten a smaller size, but it's cute!
Picture not representative of how nice the shirt really is.
I hopped into the bathroom line around 8:45, which should have plenty of time (two real bathrooms - perk of a park district race, you get to use their bathrooms!) - except that one toilet was down. While I got out in time, I ended up having to run to the start line that was much further away than I thought - which wouldn't have been a big deal if the toilets weren't down. As it was, I got there as the gun went off, with no time to recover from my sprint there. Whoops, but we were off! (Sort of - I didn't get a chance to get myself started in front of the walkers and the little kids running, so I had an awful lot of dodge/weave to do at first.)
For the first mile, my goal was to go out a little fast but not ridiculous; since the course was two loops, I knew I'd be repeating the course but also knew from the map that the hard part was going to be in the first part of the second mile and the last part of the third mile, so by Heather logic that meant the first mile was easiest and should be the fastest. I was expecting to come in in the mid-9s, but when 9:11 showed up I decided not to watch my time - I wanted to run hard and not math myself out of a PR. I figured if I ran hard and didn't PR, I couldn't fault myself. I had also forgotten that the bridges in this park were steeper than the ones in the parks I usually run in, so I definitely felt like I was running hard.
The first aid station came in about 1/4 of the way into the second mile - I opted against getting water, I didn't feel like I needed it and was pretty sure it would throw me off my groove, especially with the hill coming.
But the thing was, the hill never came. Some steeper bridges, yes, because the biggest ones hit in the last part of the course (which I realized as I ran over them meant I'd hit them right at the end of the race...fun), but I didn't really notice anything that felt like anything more than going up or down a big bridge. Which isn't too say the course was flat - it wasn't - but I guess having run in Springfield and Highland Park, I was expecting something worse that never came, because right at 1.55 we were back at the start line. Go figure. I passed the second aid station here and opted against water; I was in a painful groove and loathe to disrupt it. Suddenly the second mile was beeping in. Only one more!
At the start of the third mile I knew I was getting tired, but I also knew it was the last mile and I was strong enough to get through it. I had read a blog post recently about getting comfortable with being uncomfortable, and while I was definitely uncomfortable - I was running pretty close to maximum effort - I talked to myself about how I could endure anything for a short time. Around me, people were walking up the bridges, but I ran every single one of those irritating things. There was another aid station (actually the first one, but we hit it again) - the course was really well managed for a 5k, and I recognized the park district staff member who was running it. At the very end of the third mile we ran up that big bridge I'd mentioned earlier - the guy in front of me that I'd been running near almost the whole race walked it, but I was determined to beat that *cough* thing. Third mile beeped in and the finish line was in sight, so I booked it, running hard and chanting "almost there" as I gasped out my breath. (The people I passd who were finishing their first loop must've thought I was bonkers, I don't know if I was talking out loud or not but I suspect I was).
When I crossed the finish line and stopped I was so confused, haha. I had to hand them a tag off my bib but I didn't understand that at first because I'd left my brain about a half mile behind and my stomach was trying to escape my body, but I eventually figured it out and walked out of the finisher chute. I finally remembered to stop my watch and saw 28:50!
My official time ended up being 28:35 (I was late stopping my watch since I'd forgotten about it in the tag confusion) and while my splits don't look pretty, I actually think they're pretty even - miles 2 and 3 were much more challenging than mile 1. I ended up fifth in my age group, and am very happy with how the race went. I'm glad to see I'm getting back up to speed, and while hitting those paces is harder than it was last fall, I don't feel like I lost too much. I still have some fitness to regain, but I'm pretty happy - especially considering this is the most challenging 5k I've ever raced!