The Art of Knowing When to Kick

Waiting for the race to start. Why are Andrew and Nicole so adorable and have normal-sized faces, and I have a giant face? *Sigh*
Waiting for the race to start. Why are Andrew and Nicole so adorable and have normal-sized faces, and I have a giant face? *Sigh*

I ran the Holyoke St. Patrick’s Road Race on Saturday with two of my most favorite people, Nicole and Andrew. It was our second time running it, but this year was much different from last year. For one thing, this year it was 35 degrees, cloudy, and kind of windy out, while last year was sunny and at least 60 degrees (I don’t remember the exact weather, but I do remember being perfectly comfortable in short sleeves and knickers).

Last year, the three of us also ran the whole race together; this year we agreed to run our own race and meet up again at the finish. This difference led to a string of other differences, all of which are number-based (yes, I’m kind of a nerd). If this sort of thing bores you, feel free to skip ahead.

Mmm, numbers!
Mmm, numbers!

As you can see, I finished nearly thirteen minutes faster this time around! I’m not usually one to toot my own horn–and I would typically describe myself as whatever the complete opposite of “being your own biggest fan” is–but I was (almost) elated when I received my text message from RaceWire letting me know my official time. I say “almost” because, to be completely honest, I was actually kind of pissed about not being 19 seconds faster. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.

Thanks to my almost-daily runs at lunch time with some great people at work, my running has obviously improved. I knew it was happening (I had started to notice back in December), but I would have never guessed that my race pace could improve by more than two minutes in just one year!

You’ll also notice that even though the total number of race participants dropped a bit (by 228 runners, to be exact), my overall place among them made a remarkable leap as I came in ahead of an extra 3,208 runners this year! And in my age group, there were 50 fewer women and I managed to finish ahead of 903 more of them than I did last year. Whoa!

Also, last year we ran pretty much the whole race with a guy carrying a tuba sousaphone. It was awesome. He was nowhere to be found this year, which was not awesome.


Despite so many differences, though, one thing remained painfully similar: I kicked way too early. The way the course is laid out, you turn a corner at mile 6, and the finish line is right there. Not knowing any better, Andrew and I started to sprint as hard as we could once we made that turn last year and raced each other for the finish. (He beat me by 5.3 seconds.) It seemed like a good idea, until I realized that the last 0.2 miles are actually on an uphill. It’s not a huge uphill–as you can see in the elevation profile below–but it’s enough of one that I should have remembered (especially since we discussed it as we were walking to packet pick-up!) to wait a few seconds before letting loose this year…

X = where I kicked
Y = where I should have kicked / where I fell apart

…because even though it’s barely a hill, it’s one that you really feel when you’re a not-that-good runner suddenly pushing a 6 minute pace. As soon as I started my sprint this year, I remembered how awful it felt last year (and I’m sure I didn’t come anywhere close to a 6 minute pace then) and regretted it, but I thought maybe I could make it work. I couldn’t, and by the middle of the hill my pace fell about 30 seconds.  Whomp.

I know what the problem is: I don’t race enough or incorporate enough speed work–ok, ok, I don’t incorporate any speed work–into my regular routine to know exactly how hard/how long I can push myself at the end of a run. It really is an art, and one I’d like to master. So I guess that’s something I should probably start working on.

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