On Saturday morning, as I got ready for the Jingle Bell Run 5K, I was a bit ambivalent about how things would go. After all, last week I surprised myself by rocking out a PR and age group award at the Reindeer Ramble which, given that the conditions for running were so lousy, felt like a bit of a fluke. Steve noticed my mood and said, "You know what? Just go out there and run it hard. Push yourself - it'll feel good." I figured, "Why not?"
I picked up my bib and race packet (which included shoelaces with jingle bells on them and a pair of gloves), then saw Sara, Chris, and Hadley - a group of runners who I met after last week's race. It's a great to have people to hang out with at a race, so I was happy to see them. The four of us chatted, compared gear, and so on before the race started. They asked me if I was going to PR two weekends in a row. I said I really didn't think so, since I was so happy with my time the week before. An age group award also seemed unlikely - the group was 30-39, twice as big as usual, and often including some very talented runners. But I said I'd do my best, because you just never know.
The weather was much nicer than the week before - in the 40's, with a bit of wind and a bit of rain, but nothing to freeze my toes like before. The course, however, was more challenging - an out and back with some hills, including a long slow hill just before the 3 mile mark that I knew would be tough.
We lined up at the start, and I did something I don't usually do - I moved up towards the front. It was a small race, and I told myself that I deserved to be up there as much as anyone else did.
And we were off! I blazed through the first mile in under 8:00, which is incredibly fast for me. The crazy thoughts crept in - was it too fast? Would I regret it later? I silenced them by telling myself that I was doing great, was on track for a PR, and was running a great race. I made an effort to relax my shoulders and just keep going.
A few women passed me, but they looked much younger (I later found out they were high school students), so I didn't let it bother me. I waved to the runners headed back, including the woman in the lead who was zooming through the course with a pair of red and white striped knee socks worn over her tights.
I hit the turnaround point feeling the fatigue of my efforts, but reminded myself how little there was left to run. I focused again on relaxing my shoulders, always a problem when I'm tired. I also listened to my iPod and gave encouragement to the runners heading to the turnaround (including my friends from before the race).
The long slow hill towards the end was indeed as tough as I thought it would be. When I run hills, I always tell myself that although they are challenging, they are easier for me than for everyone else and that I can plan on picking some people off along the way. This may not be true, but it keeps me going, and sure enough, I did pass a couple of people along the way.
Once the hill was over, I rounded a corner and sprinted for the finish line as hard as I could, especially when I saw the clock. I passed another runner and finished in a NEW PR of 24:44! I believe this record will stand for longer than the six days the last one did.
I was exhausted, so I walked around a bit, taking care not to stop. I went to my car and grabbed the race t-shirt (very cute long sleeved shirt with Santa on it) so I could change out of my sweaty clothes and not end up shivering like I did the week before. I watched Sara finish, then she and I cheered on Chris and Hadley.
It was a small race, so the food was limited to water, hot chocolate, and bananas, but that was fine with us. We hung out and chatted, waiting for the awards ceremony. Sara was positive I'd come in first in our age group and that she was in third. I wasn't so sure; there was a woman in front of me who might have been in her 30's, and I also didn't think there was anyone our age between me and Sara. Regardless, I was very happy with my time.
Turns out she and I were both right. I was first in our age group, and she was in second behind me. All in all, it was a great way to spend a Saturday morning.