Monday, August 26, 2013

Focus pocus

I am happy to report that on Saturday, I survived my first 5k road race since April 2012. I was a bit surprised and frightened when I realized I hadn't raced a short race in 18 months. For that reason, I decided I wouldn't get hung up on a time goal, but I would instead practice my racing and 5k hurting skills.

The night before the race, a friend who was also racing asked what I was trying for. I think she was expecting a time goal from me. Instead, she got this:

"My goal is to not let my monkey brain get in the way of my body. This race is not about time for me, it's about focus. But if I focus, I'll probably have a good time. Sound circular? It is:)

I read a great quote the other day: focus on actions to do rather than outcomes desired. The outcomes arrive out of actions. 

So my action is to focus on staying strong each mile and see what outcome I get. Even if I don't run fast, I'll be happy if I stay focused and strong."

I love the quote about focusing on actions. It is really beautiful but takes some self discipline to execute. I also decided that I was going to try to run the first mile in control and not look at my watch at all during the race. So, I would be running only by effort and (hopefully) racing.

I executed my race plan well. I went out completely under control for the first mile. At around 1000 meters into the race, I heard someone breathing hard coming up from behind and realized it was a younger girl. I was in the lead at that point after having passed a number of overzealous girls close to the start. When I heard her breathing, I thought, "she's breathing way too hard. She can't possibly hold that pace. Let her pass."And I did. Except that she did hold that pace and put about 30 seconds on me by the final mile. I only really started to gain on her in the final mile, but not nearly enough to make it a close battle. Nice job, by the way, Emi. She told me after the race that she reads my blog:)

Instead of sticking with her, I stayed at what felt like a challenging, but controlled pace for the entire race. And, guess what? It was a comfortably hard 6:02 pace. I won't lie and say I wasn't disappointed with my time, because I was. However, I had executed my plan well, so I couldn't be too unhappy.

What I realized after the race is that I do very few workouts in the 5k pace range. I do almost everything in the 5:55-6:20 pace range, and I am very comfortable there. I don't have recent experience with the discomfort of a faster race and therefore, my brain will not naturally take me there. The girl who passed me in the first mile was at the appropriate effort level for a 5k. I was not, but I couldn't see that. Of course, this 5k was a race within a workout and I went out after jogging a few miles post race to tackle another 3 miles at goal marathon pace (GMP) for a total of just under 15 miles for the morning. I ran that GMP chunk in 6:12 and felt absolutely wonderful. 

Instead of making me feel like a slow loser, this experience motivated me to get better and more comfortable in the faster pace ranges. The idea is that, if I can get a bit more experience now with the faster paces, then my 6:00-6:10 pace will feel that much easier. So, I am running a speed workout tomorrow in place of a 3 x 2 mile workout and will be racing another 5k, cross country race on Saturday inside a long run. I am really trying to get my brain in the racing mode, you know, talking shit with my masters competitors and stuff like that. Lots of poking and finger pointing. All in good fun.     

I think it's really easy for us to become obsessed with the times on our watches for workouts and races. This focus on the outcome rather than actions can make us miss a lot of the important lessons that our training and racing experience has to offer.

I find it helpful to write down a few lessons I learn from each race. Lucky for all of you fantastic followers out there, I do this in my blog! I highly recommend that you practice this yourself in your training log, an email to your coach or on the back of a Picky Bar wrapper--wherever you feel the urge to document such things. Sometimes, I like to do this right after a race and then let it sit for a bit and try again later after reflecting personally or talking it out with others. It's amazing how much wiser I become with the passage of time and the input from others.    


  1. I ran my last 10K with a piece of tape covering my pace just so I would focus on effort, not time. I didn't get the negative split I wanted, but I did end up with a 4 minute PR! I focused on being in control for the first 4 miles and then letting it all out in the last 2. I agree with you that it's important to train at different effort levels -- I think that's the best way to get a good outcome, regardless of actual finishing time.

  2. Way to go Emi!

    Good actions and good outcome Jaymee. I love the 'run by feel' method - if you're experienced it usually works well. Young kiddies who run by feel though, usually start at a sprint and go as hard as they can all race! Good point about your body not being used to the feel of a fast 5k. Agree that if you can do more running at that sort of pace (or a little faster) the slower paces you do the majority of your training at will feel easier.