Race Recap: 2016 Willow 4 miler + Winning my First Race!

Years and years ago when I lived in Texas, I won a couple of trail races. My husband and I did a 10 mile in Waco and half marathon trail race around Dallas and I was the overall female winner of both. But since moving back east, I haven’t really won any races – even some of the small, local ones, despite my being fitter and faster than I was back then.

I’ve also never flat out won a race before (overall male and female). Until this past 4th of July.

But let me be completely honest here. It was a small race. Super duper small. Like <50 runners, small. I knew I had a good chance of being the overall female winner but winning the race, outright, was a nice surprise.

We learned about this race from my sister-in-law. She mentioned the kids 1k race and I then saw that there was also a 4 mile race.

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Initially, I planned on doing a long run on Friday or Saturday and then racing/running as hard as I could on tired legs on Monday. But, running in the days leading up to the race was a bust – Friday was a very late afternoon run so I didn’t start Saturday’s run until later in the day. I felt like garbage from the moment I woke up and then long run only lasted 1.5 miles (I called my husband to come get me b/c I didn’t even feel like I wanted to run back to the house). I decided to make Sunday a forced rest day. I felt a bit under the weather and didn’t see the need or have the desire to push myself. A. I’m on vacation. B. I’m not training for anything at the moment. So sleep, family time and wine won out over a long run.

Running consistently while on vacation is tough, especially at the lake in Alaska. There’s no bedtimes – the kids often stay up until they are ready to pass out – which is usually around 11pm-midnight (or later). Our nights are filled with snacking and endless wine (no complaints, here!). The mornings are usually lazy – filled with coffee, breakfast, games, reading. It’s hard to motivate myself to set an alarm on vacation – especially when that’s all I’ve really done for the last 9 months! And then once we are all awake, it’s even harder to head out for a run and be away from the boys when there was loads of activities we could do together.

We stayed out late Sunday night celebrating the 4th of July a day early with fireworks and a late-night campfire at my in-law’s cabin with loads of lake friends. I woke up Monday and didn’t feel great – but felt better than I had in the preceding days.

I had no real pace goals for this race. The speedwork I had done since Boston was sporadic, at best – and I knew the further removed from that cycle I got, the slower I was becoming. I also knew the course would be hilly. My one major goal, however, was to not go out too fast. I made the mistake during the Memorial Day 4 miler and the last 2 miles were pure torture.

The race started and almost immediately, I was in the lead, although there was a high school boy right behind me for most of the first 2 miles.

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I can’t say I ever felt good or relaxed or in control during the race. I didn’t start too fast – but I never got comfortable.

The first mile was along the Parks highway. We had the wind at our back. The first mile ticked – 6:30. Over 10 seconds slower than the Memorial Day 4 miler’s opening mile.

The second mile started with a turn off the Parks Highway and we were greeted with a long, gradual uphill for most of the next mile. I was utterly shocked to see the 2nd mile beep at 6:31. Whoa. Perfectly consistent. (Note: mile 2 for Memorial Day 4 miler was 6:36 – 17 seconds slower than the first mile).

We made another turn and started on a road with lots of curves and some rolling hills. This is when my mind started to get away from me. The “oh my gosh, how am I going to keep this pace up for another 2 miles?” thoughts began.

I started repeating “It’s just 4 miles. It’s just 4 miles.”

Mile 3: 6:43. A bit slower than mile 4 but there was more elevation gain in this mile than mile 2.

Mile 4: 7:12. Slower – but a portion was on trails – so a victory in my books :)

The thing with short races is that it’s going to hurt. It’s going to be so incredibly painful because you are running so close to your threshold. I think that’s why I often shy away from shorter races. Standing at the starting line of a short races scares the crap out of me because I know what I’m going to put my body and mind through.

But it’s these types of runs that make you feel like you can conquer the world. You feel so tired, so out of breath. The lactic acid is creeping in and you question your ability to continue moving. Yet, you do. You focus on getting to a distance marker. Maybe it’s the next mile. Maybe it’s the next turn or up the next hill. Or maybe it’s as simple as one foot in front of the other.

You want to stop and rest and let your body recover. But your mind fights back and won’t let you quit. This trumps your finish time, pace or place. THIS is what constitutes a successful race.

There’s an almost happiness during this painful period knowing you are in so much pain yet you refuse to quit.

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It was an awesome experience to cross the “finish line” first – with my little guys, husband, mother-in-law, sister-in-law and nieces cheering me on.

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The finish time was 30 seconds slower than the Memorial Day 4 miler, but it was a tougher course and a much more consistent, well executed race.

We spent the rest of the day enjoying the 4th of July on the lake – pontoon parade, more fireworks and late-night smores!

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    4 thoughts on “Race Recap: 2016 Willow 4 miler + Winning my First Race!

    1. Congratulations! Recaps of tough runs are my favorite posts.
      The voices in my head can really be @$$holes at times and it’s really inspirational to hear from someone who focuses through everything and gets it done and is honest about it.
      Nice work indeed.