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Race Report – Chile Pepper 2019

So yeah… Chile Pepper didn’t go as planned.

For those of you who haven’t been following along on with the Training Vlog the big picture goal for the near future is to really dial in the training to nail a fast 5k. The reasoning behind this is that I’m getting just old enough that if I want to nail my lifetime 5k PR, and have it be fast enough to approach my potential lifetime PR, I need to get on it. Once we cap it out, we’ll stretch it to the 10k, and so on until we’re back up in the 13.1/26.2/ultra range with the idea that the faster training will result in faster times for the longer races down the road. It’s not the way I normally train, or train others, but I wanted to play around with it while I had the chance.

So the plan for this fall was to race the Open 5k at the Chile Pepper Festival in Fayetteville, Arkansas. It’s a super fast course with a big enough field to pull me along to a fast time. So we dove into the faster stuff this summer, working on the leg turnover and top speed while slowly building the total weekly volume back up after suffering from the calf spasm last winter before Boston. And then a couple of weeks before Chile Pepper I was notified that the Open 5k was being cut to make room for more collegiate runners. The University of Arkansas is the host for the meet, and they are hosting NCAA Regionals this year, so everyone who could came to get a preview of the course. The good news was we were able to get into the 8k collegiate race, which was closer in duration to the 5k we’d been training for than the Open 10k. And it had the potential to have a much better field to pull me along to a good time as well!

Crossing the mile marker, confirming that I was right on pace despite the field being so far ahead.

Fast forward to the race, and we had a couple of snags. First, I broke the golden rule: I did something new before the race. Getting to Fayetteville is a 6-plus hour drive for us, so we ended up getting dinner on the road. We ended up swinging through Burger King to try the Impossible Whopper, which tasted like a fast food burger, but apparently has some ridiculously crazy amount of salt in it. The high influx of salt coupled with not getting enough water while in the car that long translated to being really dehydrated by the next morning. I simply couldn’t get enough water in me to flush that much sodium, or even balance it out a bit. I also don’t think I got enough water in me before the race either.

Once we got to the course, we determined it was going to be an awesome day for the spectators. Clear skies, not super hot, just a tad bit of a breeze. It was just warm enough and humid enough that my dehydrated body was having a hard time keeping itself cool. Unfortunately, it was cool enough that it felt good compared to the conditions we’ve had in Louisiana all summer, but it was still above that critical threshold where I could run at a high effort level for a sustained period of time without my core temperature going through the roof. And that I think was the real linchpin in the whole machine this weekend. My core temperature got too high without me realizing it because it was so much cooler than home.

The last nail in the coffin was that I just wasn’t in the right head space on race day. So much so that I even noticed that I was not focused while I was warming up. And when you couple that with being in the fast heat (the leaders went through the mile mark at around 4:30 pace), there just wasn’t anything for me to latch onto to execute well.

The first two miles of the race seemed like they were going according to plan, staying at 5:25-5:30 pace and letting the young speedsters do their thing. I was reeling folks in pretty consistently starting at a little before the mile mark. But then according to the Strava data my heart rate spiked over 190 bpm a little after the two mile mark, despite running at a pace that isn’t even close to that effort level for me on a normal day. There just wasn’t any pep in the legs and it felt like I was trying to pump molasses instead of blood. My body didn’t hurt. It just wouldn’t go. When the pace dropped to 5:45-5:50-ish without the body feeling any better, I knew that something was up. Don’t get me wrong, I was still passing folks (including folks that I personally know are much faster than me), but I could tell that I wasn’t going to be able to execute the race I wanted and I mentally unplugged at the 5k mark. I walked off the course.

Now don’t get me wrong. I HATE not finishing a race. But I’m pretty sure that even if I had loped through those last 2 miles I would have felt the same because I wasn’t able to actually run the way I wanted to run. I am pretty sure that if I had been physiologically fine (i.e. not dehydrated and overheated), I could have continued reeling folks in. If I had been mentally focused that day I probably could have pushed through and finished, albeit with a crummier time than I know I’m capable of. I have a feeling that being in the fast heat probably didn’t do me any favors, as there were 13 people behind me at 1 mile, and everyone I was passing was in worse condition than I was. While you’d think this would be a bit of a confidence boost, what I was looking for was someone to latch onto so I could just hang on until we got to the finish line. Ironically, the pace I was running probably would have put me somewhere in the middle of the field of the second heat (i.e. the slower teams), which probably would have given me a target to hang onto. But the unattached runners were in the fast heat because there was more room there.

I know I’m fit. I ran a quick 4 miles when I got home on Sunday. Did a fast 10 mile run on Monday after the storms rolled through that was 15-45 seconds faster per mile than any other long run since before Boston this spring and it felt easy. I ran a set of pretty easy mile repeats on Wednesday at about the pace that I ran at the race and it felt like a breeze. So I know the fitness is there. I made mistakes on Saturday and didn’t execute well.

The good news is that we learn the most from the bad races. I definitely want to go back next year and get another crack at the collegiate field if I can. We re-learned the all important lesson of night-before nutrition. We got an honest evaluation of our mental state with racing at the moment, which is probably the biggest gain from the weekend. We’ve got to get mentally tougher. I also want to start doing the same race day prep for these shorter races that I normally do with the longer ones. Multiple tiered goals. Working on having an inner voice to coach me along instead of relying on my friends, family, and the crowd. Identifying why I am racing a race, and write it down, thinking about it as I’m getting warmed up and while I’m racing. These are all things that I constantly coach my athletes to do, and I failed to do them with this race. I always tell people it’s okay to make a mistake as long as you learn from it. Next time I’ll be prepared.

A big shout out to the photographers at Chile Pepper by the way. Those folks always manage to get amazing shots of every single runner!

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