Race Report: 4th Annual Run with the Kenyans 8k!

So I have had the best intentions of writing a blog post per week, including a post about injury and another about what it means to compete as a mid-to-back of the pack runner, but sadly those posts still are suspended in the liminal space.

Anyway, since my somewhat ego-stifling performance at the Shiprock Half Marathon, I’ve been on an anti training plan. This has looked like running when I feel like it, for however long I feel like it, and at whatever pace I feel like running- usually without a Garmin. This anti-training period has been wonderful for reminding me of what I love about running: the sheer joy of it, the ability to see things from high up places, the adventure of it all, the companionship–and for minimizing the parts that have felt frustrating since coming back from an injury: the uncertainty, the unpredictability, the difficulty of trying to push past a stuck place.

Based on my anti-training mantra, I decided to sign up for my first 8k race this weekend “just for fun.” There were other reasons: The 4th Annual Run with the Kenyans for Global Health 8k is a race that supports a cause that I believe in (improving the quality of and access to preventive and primary health care for Kenyan children) and the race is organized by a friend in the running community. Also, it’s an out and back course with legit elite Kenyan runners participating in the run, so it’s actually like, for a millisecond or two, you get to run *with* elite Kenyans.

Elite Kenyan runners at the start. If you look really hard you can see my shoe in the back of the picture. Just kidding, you can't.

Elite Kenyan runners at the start. If you look really hard you can see my shoe in the back of the picture. Just kidding, you can’t.

Okay, the other thing is that all entrants get a hand-carved giraffe. And if there’s one thing that pretty much everyone needs in life, it’s a hand-carved giraffe. I was pretty excited about mine.

Best race goodie ever.

Best race goodie ever.

So race morning, I skipped breakfast like a anti-training champ, and hopped in the car with my running buddy Allison. We see lots of our running pals at the start of the race, and since I was wearing my Oiselle Long Roga shorts which comfortably fit my iPhone 5, I clearly needed to take lots of pictures to take full advantage of this perk.

If you stand next to a speedster like Arlene, some of their speed might rub off on you. Or so I hoped!

If you stand next to a speedster like Arlene, some of her speed might rub off on you. Or so I hoped!

It had been a windy and ominous sounding night, but the race ended up not being too windy, and the breeze was helpful as it was a rather warm morning. I wasn’t really sure what to do with myself at the start of the race. I wasn’t really nervous because I was running “for fun.” I decided I should try to run at an even-ish pace and maybe speed up at the end, and try for an average pace under 9 min/miles, so basically treat the race like a tempo run. And when I say treat it like a tempo run, that’s hypothetical, because I almost never do tempo runs. Anyway. after a ceremony where we got to hear about how superfast the elites running in the race were, which was pretty neat, we were off and running.

Heel striking like a champ!

Heel striking like a champ!

Mile 1: 8:50. The first mile felt great. I kept noticing that I was inching towards an 8:15 pace and trying to slow down. I felt like I could run superfast forever, but was also aware that this was a delusion. I was running behind a girl wearing a shirt that said, “I need my space,” which I found pretty hilarious.

Mile 2: 8:49 The second mile was also pretty easy, I was just bopping to my music and smiling at people and feeling happy to be alive and running.

Mile 3: 8:44 During this mile, I started seeing the elite Kenyan runners as well as all of the fleet-footed front of the pack runners as they turned around on the out-and-back course. The first three elites that I saw all had the same, faraway and focused look in their eyes. It was if they were completely attuned to an internal world and their eyes weren’t really noticing much else. However, I grinned at each one like a dork and gave them a thumbs up just in case. Once I turned around, I got to do my share of high five-ing and smiling at all the runners I passed. The mile went by pretty quickly.

Mile 4: 8:50 At right about 3.4 miles, I decided that this had been great and all, but I was tired and hot and totally over running. The “I need my space” girl was still in sight, so I focused on keeping her close (don’t worry, I honored her need for a personal space bubble) and thinking happy thoughts about coffee and safari animals. I was filled with an inexplicable urge to walk.

Final .97: 8:36 (8:49 pace) I’m not going to lie. I took a leisurely walk break to get a drink of water at the beginning of this mile. My legs were all, “meh,” and my head was all, “meh,” and I was aware that since I didn’t have a race plan, whatever I was doing was actually my race plan. I passed the “I need my space” girl.  I did start running again, at a decent pace, but I was totally over the running feeling. I was ready for the drinking coffee feeling, or walking slowly while breathing in full gulps of air feeling. Which must be why, a mere half mile before the finish line, I stopped for a walk break. Then the “I need my space girl” passed me again. And then a dude ran by me and said encouraging things, but the subtext was “Are you serious? Freaking run already!” and so I started running again. Then I passed the guy who had said the encouraging things, and said some encouraging things back, and then we ran a few steps together, turned the corner, and Encouraging Guy is all, “LET’S SPRINT THIS IN! C’MON!” And so that’s what we did. He out-kicked my butt.

Encouraging Guy wins the race! But really, aren't we all winners?  Sad truth: no.

Encouraging Guy wins the race! But really, aren’t we all winners?
Sad truth: no.

Overall time: 43:48 (average pace: 8:48).

Must stop the Garmin or it didn't happen.

Must stop the Garmin or it didn’t happen.

I actually was 3rd in my age group of 30-39 and as such, got a hand-carved zebra as an award. Amazing!

Getting my zebra award on the red carpet.

Getting my zebra award on the red carpet.

Lesson learned: Next time, don’t stop and walk DURING THE LAST MILE OF A RACE so you can be a cheetah, not a zebra. The 2nd place woman finished less than a minute ahead of me.

Sometimes you are the predator, sometime you are the prey.

Sometimes you are the predator, sometime you are the prey.

After the race, there was a totally delectable feast of Kenyan food, accompanied by music and dancing. The whole event had a really unique feeling. I will be definitely be running it again next year!

What I learned from this race:

It was a nice change of pace to go into this race with no real expectations for myself. Even though I am far from fast, I am very competitive by nature, especially with myself. Once I started making improvements in my running, I started to get so competitive that I think I was psyching myself out for every race. I could have run faster today, but the point was to enjoy the race, which for the most part I did. I did a 8.5 mile hilly training run the day before this run, so I feel pretty good about keeping a sub-9 pace for 5 miles. I was just happy to be out there racing in my Oiselle jersey with a healthy body and an open mind.

So about that walk break 4 minutes from finishing the race…this seems to be a recurrent theme in my races this year. I realized that this is pointing to one major shortcoming in my training: a lack of tempo runs. I generally enjoy speedwork and can consistently hit my paces for 400s through mile repeats, but I can do it because I know I have that little breather in between efforts. What I haven’t practiced much is maintaining an effort over an extended period without the physical or mental equivalent of a walk break, and I think that’s showing up in my races. As much as tempo runs intimidate me, I think I need to commit to incorporating them into my weekly training if I want to see more consistency in the second half of my longer races this fall.

Overall, the 4th Annual Run with the Kenyans 8k was a great experience, and I look forward to doing it again next year and hope that I can run fast enough to win the CHEETAH!