It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was…well, you get the idea. Such was my own tale of two races.
We all have ups and downs when it comes to running. One minute we are trudging up the hill, both literally and metaphorically, the next we are sailing down it. But the difference between the best of times and worst of times is often a matter of execution.
Knowing better is one thing. Doing better is another. This summer, I learned that the hard way. With the NYRR Team Championships on August 6, I tried to heed my tale of two races and come out with a personal best.
My own most recent worst of times came during an ill-fated attempt at my 10K personal record at the NYRR New York Mini 10K on June 11. It was an exciting day. I’d been asked to sing the national anthem, but that was also the beginning of my undoing. After hopping off the stage, I was put into the first corral instead of the fourth corral, where I usually start in New York Road Runner races.
I know better than to go out fast. But I was nervous, excited, and running with the “fast” women. I felt like a little kid lining up with the “big girls.” When that gun went off, I shot up Central Park West in a fever. Come mile 1, my split tattled on me; I’d run it a minute faster than I should have. I gulped, and slowed it down.
But the damage had already been done. I was nearly out of breath by the end of mile 2 and had just about sapped all my juice by mile 5. My last two miles were by far my slowest and I petered across the finish. I know better, but I didn’t do better.
But that’s not all. I have a steadfast pre-race routine that has served me well through four marathons and countless PR’s. I eat a toasted English muffin with a touch butter and strawberry jam about 2 hours before I race. But for some reason I thought it would be a good idea to swap my butter for peanut butter. I’ll try some protein, I thought.
Insert groan here. I know so much better than to eat a new food on race morning. I have acid reflux, enough so that I’ve already had two ulcers in my throat. I also know that my reflux is especially bad when I run—I can’t stomach most gels and sports drinks makes me “vurp,” pardon my vulgarity. So what did I think would happen with the peanut butter? Yup, I was burping and vurping every 2-3 minutes, whilst cursing the jiggling contents of my stomach. I know better. But I didn’t do better.
Needless to say, I didn’t PR. Between my far-too-fast first mile and GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease, for you lucky folks not saddled with it), I finished 57 seconds behind my personal best.
I couldn’t help wonder, what if I done it all right? Luckily, I had another race just a few days later on June 15—the NYCRUNS Lousy T-Shirt Race. Having just finished a hard effort, I wasn’t planning to race. But I really wanted to run it for fun; it was the first race NYCRUNS had ever put on, and I’ve been a contributor to NYCRUNS.com for a year.
I vowed not to make the same mistakes. It was a 5K with a 7 pm start. So I carefully watched what I ate all day, avoiding anything that I know triggers my reflux. I didn’t sprint out of the starting line, but hung back a little, using my breath as my indicator of effort. I wasn’t out to PR. I didn’t even wear a watch. So I had no idea of my time until I saw the finishing clock.
And wouldn’t you know it? I didn’t have any reflux issues, I had enough energy left for a nice finishing kick, and I managed to nab a 5K PR. It wasn’t just a matter of knowing better; it was a matter of doing better.
With my next race—the 5 mile NYRR Team Championships on August 6—I hoped to learn from my tale of two races. My 5-mile PR from 2009 was my oldest personal best on the books. I’d failed at one attempt to best it in 2010. This was my next shot. So I ate my usual English muffin with butter and jam, didn’t have any reflux issues, ran a conservative first mile, and my next two splits were just one second apart. I used a mantra to power up Central Park’s notorious Cat Hill in the fourth mile, and I used my breath as my guide. Basically, I executed on all the things that I know work for me and avoided the things that I know don’t. In the end, I beat my 5-mile PR by a minute and a half. I knew better, I did better, and it felt pretty good.
Karla Bruning is an award-winning journalist and running nerd. She has completed four marathons, trains with the New York Harriers and is a member of New York Road Runners. Follow Karla’s “Notes From a Running Nerd” at RunKarlaRun.com, Facebook and Twitter@KBruning.