A Need For Speed


Lately it occurs to me that I've been doing a heck of a lot of griping to myself that I didn't have enough running blogs to read -- not enough people are writing about running, dammit! -- and yet have been doing exactly zero writing about running myself. 

When I first started blogging way back in the days of yore (2002, if you're keeping score at home), it was for pretty much the same reason. I'd really started to enjoy reading other people's blogs, but felt very grumpy about how infrequently they updated, leaving poor old me with a big fat goose egg to read. Then somebody suggested that I start blogging myself, just as a sort of karmic payment for all of that other writing I'd been reading for free, and lo, a blogger was born.

So there are two things you should know at the outset of this post, before we go any further. First, I'm actively looking for awesome running blogs to read. Even if you don't read this whole post, I'd love it if you took a second and made some recommendations in the comments. 

The other thing you should know is that this is kind of a long post, with several brief race recaps and the usual sort of celebratory hand-waving that goes along with that sort of thing. My apologies in advance.

So. When did we speak last?

Harwich Half Marathon

The last big goal race I ran was the 7.3-mile race at the Harwich Cranberry Harvest Half Marathon. I'd originally hoped to run it as my first half marathon, but then the fall filled up with all kinds of travel and work stuff, and it became abundantly clear that there would be no time for the kind of training that would require.

Fortunately, I was able to change my registration (I'd already registered for the half months earlier, in one of my usual fits of enthusiasm) from the half to the 7.3 -- or as I was calling it, the "half half." I'd already run my first 10K in June, then trained for and ran the Falmouth Road Race in August, so I was feeling pretty good about the whole 6- to 7-mile distance.

Don't get me wrong, Falmouth had been hard work, and I'd had to do some mental and emotional recovery from that whole experience. It was loads of fun, but definitely the hardest race/course I'd ever run, and I did it on practically no sleep, and started out way too fast, which predictably ended in tears. I mean, not literally. I was crying on the inside. Mostly.

But I reasoned that Harwich would be different because it was in my own back yard. Heck, a good part of the course was on my own beloved bike path, which I run on practically every day!

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I was right. It was great. I ran it on an unbelievably gorgeous, bright fall day, felt great the whole way, and crushed the (relatively modest) time goal I'd set for myself. It definitely helped that it was literally five minutes from my house, on my own home court, as it were, and that I was able to get a decent night's sleep beforehand because of the lack of folderol inherent in a smaller, less high-profile race than Falmouth. And that it was a perfectly crisp day in October, as opposed to an oppressively hot day in August. All of that.

I stuck around at the end to cheer on some friends who were running the half marathon and watch them cross the finish line, and was so inspired by how awesome they looked (as in: strong, not dying, mostly smiling), that I went right home and registered for the next available half marathon in my neighborhood, the Hyannis Half in February.

Yeah, that's right, I'll be running my first 13.1 in February. But we'll talk more about that later.

A Flurry of 5Ks

After a summer and fall of pushing my limits distance-wise into the realm of the 7-miler, I wanted to focus more and more on speed. Now, I know that running long makes you faster, in the long run (ha), but I'd totally let slide any sort of speedwork in all of the excitement of training to run longer for the Falmouth and Harwich races, and I wanted to see what I could do if I focused more on pure speed for a cycle. For me, that meant keeping the weekly long run to a modest 5, 6,  or 7 miles, while making sure I didn't skimp on the weekly intervals, tempo, or fartlek run.

Because I'd really just totally ignored those workouts all summer, and ran however I damn well pleased. And I was pretty sure my speed had suffered because of it.

So there's a whole bunch of late fall 5Ks that I wanted to run again this year, and I decided I'd pick one as my target race and see if I couldn't break into the 30-minute 5K zone at last. I downloaded the Hal Higdon Intermediate 5K training plan, which includes a fair bit of speed work, and got to work. 

Before I knew it, it was time to race the first 5K, the Dennis Police 5K. It was conveniently staged in my very own town, and was about a month before my target 5K, so I was treating it as a check-in to see where I was at.

It was actually a Halloween-y sort of thing where lots of people wore costumes, but I am not really a costume sort of person, so I just wore my customary black. And in fact in this picture, you can see I wasn't alone in ignoring the suggested costumery.

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And without really expecting to, after only about a month of dedicated speed training, I did it! I officially broke through with a sub-30-minute 5K on an officially timed course!

***insert excited hand waving here***

Alas, I then started hearing rumors that there were a LOT of PRs recorded that day, and that some runners suspected that the course might have been short, so they were calling into question all of the times recorded that day. The race director swore that this wasn't true, but it was enough to harsh my vibe, if you know what I mean. Nevertheless, I decided to soldier on with the speed training and hope that I'd be able to replicate the result at the end of November.

The last three 5Ks I had on my calendar were the Chatham Turkey Trot, followed by the Andrea Holden 5K a couple of days later, followed one week later by the Orleans Santa Stampede. I wasn't sure which one would be my actual "target" race at this point, but I figured I'd wait to see where raceday weather, my fitness level, and my mood led me.

The Chatham Turkey Trot, I'd forgotten, wasn't timed, so that meant it really was just a fun run, which was awesome. I ran it last year with friends, and couldn't believe I'd spent so many Thanksgivings without starting the day this way.

Cold, breathless, and astonished at the beauty of the ocean in winter. 

Seriously, the course for this race in Chatham is amazing. I was glad it wasn't timed because I was spending so much time gawping at the scenery -- and you'd think I'd be used to it by now, having grown up here and lived here most of my life.

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Yep, it was cold.

Next up was the Andrea Holden 5K, which holds a special place in my heart for a bunch of reasons. First, because the race is in honor of the daughter of one of my favorite grade school teachers. I'd had Mr. Holden in 4th grade and loved loved loved him, and later when his daughter died (tragically young) my heart ached for him. So I like to run to support the cause.

It's also the race that I first targeted during my previous, unsuccessful attempt at becoming a runner, about eight years ago. I won't go into the details of that, but let's just say that it didn't go well. So returning to the scene of the crime, and running this race as a proud, honest-to-goodness runner, has been important to me these last few years.

And finally, I like to run this race because it's in my hometown, along roads I know extremely well. And that sort of thing really does make a difference in road racing, I've found. These hills are my hills, dammit! The must not mean me any harm!

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No sub-30 race for me this time, which bummed me out a little, especially after the rumors of a short course in the previous race. I started to wonder if maybe the Dennis Police 5K time had in fact been a fluke, since I hadn't had it corroborated by another official, timed race yet. I came VERY close at the Andrea Holden, but nowhere near the time I'd managed a month earlier, and this was on practically the same course (both the Dennis Police and the Andrea Holden are run on mostly the same roads). 

So this past weekend was the Santa Stampede in Orleans, another costume-y race, yes, but one which had given me last year's best 5K time by a LOT. My husband Matt was the DJ again this year for the pre- and post-race festivities, and once again it was to be held in a beautiful neighborhood on Cape Cod, so I had lots and lots of reasons to look forward to it.

And I want to be clear on the costume issue -- I am not anti-costume at ALL. I am just not comfortable wearing costumes myself. I love them on other people, and in general I think costume races are a BLAST. I'm just glad they let me run in them even when I'm just in boring old running clothes.

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Sadly, the weather turned out to be kinda lousy that day -- practically endless rain and wind all day long -- but through some miracle we ended up starting and finishing the race during the one brief window of non-rain all day! And everybody was in great spirits, there was still a really good turnout, and once again -- you guessed it -- amazing scenery.

It was PERFECT. Such fun.

And yes: Vindication. I came in at a very gratifying and personally fulfilling 29:06, making me feel pretty darn secure in considering myself a sub-30 5K-er at last.

***INSERT MUCH HANDWAVING HERE***

Thoughts On Speed

Now. In general, I don't like to talk about absolute times and paces, because it wasn't that long ago (like, only a year or two ago) that I was PUMPED to even be able to FINISH a 5K, THRILLED with whatever time I could post in an officially timed race, and ECSTATIC when I looked down at my Runkeeper tracking for a run and found I'd averaged a 14-minute mile at last. I started running when I weighed upwards of 265 pounds, so improvements in speed and distance have been extremely gradual and hard won, to say the least.

And about 110 pounds later, I'm still what most would consider to be a pretty slow runner. And I've been more than okay with that, because it was getting me where I wanted to go. To races. To a healthier weight. To a general feeling of accomplishment and badassery that I'd never, ever felt before.

And so I always secretly disliked it when other runners would talk about being disappointed with a certain pace for a race, talking about a certain time as if it were inherently bad, and not totally dependent on the runner and their unique circumstances. Most of the time, when they mentioned these allegedly "slow" times, it was one that I could only dream of attaining in my most out-of-breath sprint intervals, if ever.

I hate the idea that there's some universally acknowledged "slow" pace for running. Some people think there is. I don't agree. I honestly don't think there is such a thing as a pace that's empirically "slow" or "fast," just personal bests that get better and better with time.

But. That doesn't mean that I don't take great pleasure in continuing to beat more and more of my own personal bests. Some PRs are based on distance, some are based on speed. One of my favorite types of PR is trying to maintain a streak, and toward that end I'm participating again this year in the Runner's World Holiday Run Streak, because I love love love putting together a streak. Of anything. Consistency is totally my superpower.

And so yeah, I get excited when I continue to run faster. I get mega super hella excited, if you must know. Partly because it's just another PR, and partly because it means that I feel less and less shy about participating in things like group runs and track workouts. Partly because -- let's face it -- getting in a quality workout takes less time now. And partly because running fast just feels really good. Amazingly good. Indescribably good. So good, I wouldn't have believed you if you'd tried telling me about it a couple of years ago.

And me? I like feeling good.

So I hope I don't annoy anyone when I post about crossing empirical speed milestones, maybe because such a time still seems out of reach to you. I know I felt that way for a long, long time, and that's one reason why I've wrestled with blogging more often about this sort of thing at all.

But finally I decided that I'm allowed to be publicly excited about getting faster, just as I was allowed to be publicly excited when I first saw a 14-minute mile, or a 12-minute mile, or an actual 4-mile run, become a commonplace in my running. That is, I don't have to feel like a big fat hypocrite for being annoyed at this sort of thing a year ago, and a participant in it now.

More speed, a longer distance, an unbroken streak here and there -- it's all good, it's all progress, and quite frankly it's all just icing on the proverbial cake.

Because the real end result has been all of those incredible things I mentioned above. A healthier weight. An amazing new community. The unanticipated joy of racing. Badassery galore. 

Here's to badassery, however we might define it. May we never stop chasing it.

Next up: The Runners World Run Streak Challenge, the Cape Cod Athletic Club Grand Prix, and training for my first half marathon. I promise to break up these topics into somewhat more manageable posts. Probably.

Oh! And don't forget to drop some knowledge in the comments about your favorite running blogs. I'm all ears.

Beth Dunn is the Editor-in-Chief on the HubSpot Product team. Subscribe to get updates by email.

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