Saturday, May 14, 2011

USA 25k Champs Recap

25k at 6:00 pace

2 mile warm up
25k in 1:35:05 (6:06 pace) with splits of:
1- 5:45
2 - 6:03
3 - 6:02
4 - 5:58
5 - 6:02
6 - 6:02
7 - 6:02
8 - 6:08 (hill)
9 - 5:56
10 - 6:18 (side stitch)
11 - 6:12
12 - 6:22
13 - 6:20
14 - 6:21
15 - 6:12
.55 - 3:13 (1:35:05)

At the start of this race at 8:20 this morning, I thought I could run a 1:33 25k.

At mile 7 of this race at 9:01 this morning, I thought I could run a 1:33 25k.

At mile 10 of this race at 9:20 this morning, I did not know if I could finish a 25k.

It's funny how quickly a race can unravel so differently than what you expected, kind of like reading the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo for the first time.  I came into this race feeling confident, even executed the first 8 miles of the race flawlessly with two amazing women, yet in the matter of five minutes, that all came crumbling down. 

I got a side stitch.  It sounds lame just saying it.  I'll get to that part later. I'll start at the beginning.

Before the race even started, I found out that my boyfriend, Garrett Bullock, had gotten moved up to the Lexington Legends baseball team.  I felt like this was a sign that good luck was coming my way, and that since Garrett was doing so well in baseball, that it would mean I would have a great race today as well.  It was a sound line of reasoning before the start.

At the start of the race, the dynamic duo of Caitlin and Ruth struck again.  Only 800m into the race, Ruth and I looked around and noticed a couple of women around us.  Ruth announced: "Alright ladies, we're looking to run 6:00 pace, so if you want to work together, let's form a pack."  Two women, one named Ariana Hilborn and the other unknown, said sure.  Ruth lead us through mile 1, took the lead for mile 2, and Ariana took the lead for mile 3.  We continued in this fashion until mile 9, when Ruth and I fell apart.

Ariana is from Phoenix, AZ and knows Susan Loken, one of the women Ruth and I helped to qualify to the Olympic Trials as a masters runner.  Ariana was a great addition to our duo because she was enthusiastic and supportive. We cruised through the first 6 miles of the course, with each of us alternating leads to take the pressure off the rest of us for a couple of miles.  We were right on pace, even a little under pace on the mostly downhill segment, where we traversed through a tree-lined road snaking along the river.  I felt relaxed and in control; my legs felt light and my breathing controlled. 

After I took us through mile 8, it was Ariana's turn to take the reins.  This also happened to be where the first bit of hills came through.  Ariana charged right up them with seemingly no effort, and I followed close behind.  Ruth fell off a bit here and I glanced back to say "Come on Ruth.  Get back up here."  Ruth pushed herself back with us in the pack so that by mile 9, we were all together again.  Soon Ariana began to pull away again, but I could see her look back when she was only 5 meters ahead.  She was checking to see if we were coming for the ride, and encouraged us to catch back up.  That was really sweet of her.

At 9.5, I began to rub my side.  One of the rules of being in the pack is no negative energy.  Ruth asked me if something was wrong.  I debated lying, but decided against it.  I told her "I have a small side stitch." 

I was still lying. 

In the matter of minutes, everything that had seemed easy, now seemed excruciatingly painful.  I had a terrible side stitch, one that was affecting everything else.  My mechanics were off, my back arched, and my shoulders high.  I felt like the only thing that would make it feel better would be to crumble over and bend at my waist.  Since that wasn't an option, I willed myself forward to the 10th mile marker....then the 11th mile marker...the 12th...

After all, I received a hotel room and a travel stipend to run this race, and I wasn't going to take that for granted.  I am grateful for the USATF Athlete Development Program for assisting me at this race and I didn't want to let them down.  I kept telling myself, "Caitlin, you flew all the way out here, so you better finish, damnit!"

I made a conscious decision to avoid eye contact with what I knew was the medical aid station because it would be too tempting to duck into it and call it a day.  I watched as Ruth gained 5 seconds on me, and continued to battle it out with one guy who was my only salvation on the desolate roads after my friends had all gone ahead. 

During these brutal miles from 10-15 I didn't even bother to look at my watch. I knew it would be to disheartening to see my pace crumble, so I decided to run on effort and not let a single woman pass me.  I fought hard to finish, continued to rub my abs every minute in an effort to relieve the pain. 

The left turn onto the bridge to cross the river couldn't have come soon enough.  I had about 1000 meters left and I was struggling to lift my knees high and to drive forward.  Somehow I managed to bring my pace back down to one within 10 seconds of my goal pace, but was painfully aware of how clenched my entire body felt.  Uptight.  Tense.  The finish line came, and I finished just over 1:35.  I didn't even have enough energy to say much to Ruth except for give her a hug as I was escorted to the Elite tent to get a towel and fluids.

I discovered Ariana and found out that she got 10th and ran 1:32:58.  I am so happy for her because this will give her the confidence she needs as she does Grandma's Marathon in just one month.  I hope that we can work together at the Trials. She ran where I think I'm capable of running, but it just was not my day today.

Ruth and I walked back to the hotel, both disappointed with ourselves.  It was reassuring to know that Ruth contemplated dropping out as well, which shows that we both were struggling out there. 

Now that I've had a couple of hours in the car ride from Grand Rapids to Chicago to think about my race experience, I'm grateful for how well I handled the situation.  Right out of college, I would never have dreamed of being invited to National Championship races or receiving hotel rooms to participate in a race with some of the country's best female distance runners.  I wouldn't have imagined that I would have a coach, Mark Hadley, who offers me his coaching services for free.  I also never knew how many amazing women I would meet along the way in this journey.  The number of women I have met across the country continues to grow and I'm sure we'll continue to exchange words of wisdom. 

It also cannot be forgotten that Ruth and I helped four other phenomenal women qualify for the Olympic Trials through out teamwork and dedication to working together.  My running journey, just like everyone elses, has been a roller coaster ride with a lot of ups and downs, and often the disappointments teach me the most about myself. I can apply lessons learned from these races to the next big one, where hopefully I will reap the benefits and have that euphoric race of a lifetime once again.

Although I ended on a less than ideal note here in Grand Rapids, I am glad that my parents were there to experience yet another national caliber race with me and to have their support during the race.  Not many people have that luxury, and my parents have done a good job of making an appearance at races that matter to me.    I also have a boyfriend to be really proud about, and in the grand scheme of things, my life is full and great.

I've included a video that was posted on Runner Space of Ruth and I.


mainers said...

very gutsy performance Caitlin! I know all to well from recent experience how a random side stitch can scupper your original race plans. Way to guts it out and come home 13th in the nation!!

Danielle and Chad Crockford said...

Great job gutting it out. It makes you stronger. I love how you always find women to run with and inspire!

Michelle said...

You go girl. I'm so glad I got to see you. For all of us on the sidelines (at least in spirit I was there), no matter what happens you are miles ahead of us and it is spectacular!

Good job sticking in there and finishing the race, (13th is not too shabby!)
love you

ps. awesome about Garrett's baseball promotion! woo!

Stephen Spada said...

You received the New York City Side Stitch...I sympathize with you!

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