The shorter the race, the faster you run, and the higher your pain threshold needs to be.
I had a run test scheduled for today and I've discovered that these little gems are best done as part of a race. Running your heart out for 20 minutes while trying to catch the people in front of you is way more fun than running hard for 20 minutes on a treadmill set at a 1% incline. Mid week I figured I'd better pick out a race - I wasn't worried, 5Ks are a dime a dozen, right? Surely I'd be able to find one in the DC area no problem. I searched RunWashington.com, Active.com and didn't have any luck finding a 5K close by. Then Allison told me about the 6K she was running on Saturday up in Wheaton, MD - the Shootin Starr 6K put on by the Montgomery County Road Runners Club. The website billed it as a low key race - race day registration only, $10 for non-club members, and an 8am start. Perfect!
The main point of doing this race was to gauge my fitness level and get an idea of my HR zones for the coming year. I decided that I'd simply turn the Garmin off after the prescribed 20 minute run (which I would use to get my HR max and average) and finish the race, using the race clock to get my final time. I arrived at the race site around 7:30am, registered, paid, and picked up my bib within 5 minutes. We're having a warm spell this weekend so I had a short sleeve shirt, armwarmers, and capris on and was perfectly fine. I ran into Allison while I was doing my warmup and finished doing a light job with her and one of her CAR teammates. I didn't have super high expectations for myself at the race. I consider myself more of a triathlete than a runner and there are alot of runners out there who can RUN. FAST. And there's no swimming or biking beforehand to wear out your legs and give you any excuses as to why you aren't running faster.
The run course was two loops, mainly on a paved trail and sidewalks, with a little lollipop stick in the middle. Mainly downhill and flat for the first half of the loop and some uphills on the back half. Rinse and repeat. I lined up towards the front and started running hard right from the beginning. The first quarter mile was a little sketchy, as it was crowded and everyone was trying to squeeze on a sidewalk as we raced down a hill before turning into the woods on a paved trail. At that point, things spread out a bit and I felt like I was able to get into a rhythm. I felt like I was working hard, but not hard enough to be earning the 6:42 showing as my average pace on my Garmin. Definitely still on a slight downhill. We hit a small incline as we went out to do the lollipop stick part of the course. At the turnaround I was able to see that I was in the top-10 girls overall but the gap between me and the girls in front of me kept growing, not shrinking. As I made the turnaround, I saw there was another girl a few paces behind me and I ran the rest of the race convinced that she was hot on my heels (turns out by the end she wasn't, but the fear of getting passed is always great motivation to not let up). I saw Allison and she looked strong and then the course made a right hand turn up a hill. During the first loop it felt like the hill wasn't going to end. Then we turned left and continued going up for another block or two before hitting a downhill. At this point, I was a little worried that I had gone out too fast, gotten a little too carried away. I blocked out of my mind the fact that I was going to need to run the whole course, minus the lollipop portion, once more. We looped by the finish line, with the timer reading a 14:xx as I passed by. Back down the hill, into the woods, much less crowded now. And wouldn't you know it, my legs and lungs were alot more tired this time around. There was never serious thought about giving up, but a little glimmer of an idea - once my Garmin hit 20 minutes, turn it off and just walk, your work is done - entered my mind before getting promptly kicked out. I'd turn the Garmin off so I didn't screw up the data by having it record longer than necessary, but obviously I'd keep running to the finish. I hit 20 minutes at mile 2.90, happily pressed the STOP button, and kept on running. I was breathing really hard at this point and I could tell my run form had started to go to heck as I trucked uphill. At this point I was nowhere near catching any of the girls ahead of me and I was just running hard with the notion that there was a fast girl right behind me, ready to chase me down and pass me when I least expected it. I tried to push it hard on the downhill and then up the final uphill before going across the line in 25:31, which comes out to an average pace of 6:52. I'm really happy with my finish time; I ended up being the 8th girl overall and 2nd in my age group. They had chocolate chip muffins and peanut M&Ms at the finish, all of which I devoured before 9am. While I don't love the lung-burning, quad-zapping, heart-pounding-out-of-your-chest types of races while I am actually out there doing them (I prefer the longer races where you pace yourself a little slower so you don't explode in the middle of the course), I do like how I feel afterwards. Sore, tired, and done well before breakfast is over.