• Michelle Howell

Lessons from the road

My Road Mile Debut & 1st official race as a"pro"

As a middle distance runner, this is the time of year I usually spend counting down the days until the races are shorter and involve only left turns.

It takes a certain type of individual to enjoy at the least 3.1 miles of grass, hills, mud, and the like, I am not one of them. I prefer the certainty of the track verses the hap-hazardous footing on an over-soaked Florida golf course with humidity that seems to increase with every step. While racing has never been my favorite part of cross country season, I've come to love the base training component of the seasons with more time spent on longer runs and workouts revolving around tempo pace.

Oddly enough I've actually found myself missing cross country season, not the muddy golf courses or never-ending black toenails from mileage, but racing in general.

To me racing is the best kind of training you could ask for, real opportunities to test your limits with real stakes involved. The more opportunities to practice my craft, the better.

Missing racing, but not missing the mud, I decided to try my luck on the road. This past Sunday I officially made my road mile debut at the Navy Mile. I figured a mile would be nothing compared to a 5k at this time of year and was excited to get a sense of where my fitness was considering my training has been exclusively revolved around just building up mileage with the goal of gradually introducing workouts in mid-October.

It's a learning process

Going into the Navy Mile I was excited and frankly incredibly nervous once I checked into the elite pick up area. I was pleasantly surprised to bump into a long time mentor and all-around incredible athlete, Sonja Friend-Uhl, during my warm up. Being no stranger to the road racing, before the start Sonja's words of wisdom wwere that every road mile is a learning process. Unlike on the track, road races allow for more entries than just the eight lanes and more often than not larger prize purses to more individuals. With the incentive of prize money and availability of bigger entry pools, you never know who or how a race will shape up. As Sonja stated, "Every time I race on the road, I learn something new about myself".

Run your own Race

On paper, I was on the speedier side of the field. With a faster half mile and 400 foot speed than the rest of the field, I pushed off the line with the plan of positioning mymyself in the lead pack and waiting to make one move, ideally with less than a quarter to go. In this game plan I'd be at the advantage with the last stretch to go, all I had to do was hang on through the first half of the race and wait.

In real life my plan changed as soon as we crossed the first quarter mark, blazing in at sub seventy for the first quarter. I knew that was faster than I wanted to be, but easing up would be fore-fitting my positioning in the lead pack and that was not on my agenda. My legs felt fine, as they should of at that point and at the turn around, they still seemed fine as we rounded the turn carrying through at roughly 2:18. Looking back, knowing my current fitness levels were less on the endurance end of the spectrum than the women around me I should have listened to my gut and eased up at the first 400. Racing is about knowing your own strengths and sticking to them, despite what the crowd may be doing. I've always been more of a come from the back racer, but I broke away from my usual routine, and why not? Every time you race it's a chance to learn more about yourself, so I decided not to stick with my race plan and instead stick my nose in it and gut it out with the big girls.

Looks can be deceiving

When racing on an out and back course, it's easy to think that a half mile doesn't look that far away. Turning the corner, my race plane already out the window, my eyes were most definitely playing tricks on me as the finish line looked so close.

To my disappointment my longer distance counterparts seemed to think the same thing, and instead of keeping with the 4:40 pace already in place began to pick up more speed after the round about. A small gap began to form from where I wanted to be and where they were heading.

It's okay to fall short of goals

You never want to be that person who makes a move too soon in a race. You never want to be that person who clearly went out too hard and has nothing left in the tank the final straight away.

I'm not usually that person, a fact that I pride myself in, in knowing my body and how to race well. Yesterday, I hit the wall, hard. It turns out that straying from your race plan and forgetting your own fitness levels isn't the best idea when the field your racing has the queen of the road mile pushing the pace. At 1200, I was still in the mix, albeit slowly realizing I had made a huge mistake. At 300 to go, my usual spot to make a move, my legs had other plans. I felt like a deflated balloon the last 50 meters, my legs barely appeasing my minds shouting commands to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Not being able to kick the last stretch wasn't ideal or the way I pictured my first road mile ending. Would I of liked to be in the top 5? Yes. Was it the end of the world that I didn't? No.

Being able to go out and hang out at PR pace for 1200 meters at this time of year with no real speed endurance training means I'm clearly doing something right. Even though I didn't hit the target I was aiming for, I can still find value in my performance.

I'm excited for what the rest of my season holds and for mo miles to come!

Many thanks to the crew at the Navy Mile for setting up such a great event right here in DC

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