Race Review(s): The Belmar 5 Mile and Steelman Open Water Swim

A little over a week after I strained my right calf, I was supposed to run the Belmar 5 Mile. Even though I was feeling better, I was disappointed because I wanted run as hard as I could at that race, but I wasn’t sure what I could do. The race was on a Saturday (a few weeks ago, I’m a little behind!), and I got late entry into the Steelman Open Water Swim for Sunday. The plan was to swim in the morning and bike in the afternoon. So, in light of my recent injury, I resolved to run as hard as I could at Belmar and back off if necessary and to use Sunday as a fun day to recover and hang out with my friends.

The Belmar 5 Miler

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Belmar 5 Mile, July 12, 2014

It was an early morning to make sure I got to Belmar in time for the 8:30 am start. My husband and I were planning to spend the day at the beach and then go to a concert in Philadelphia that evening, so we had a long day ahead of us. The drive was easy and uneventful and we got to Belmar with plenty of time to spare. Entry to the race gets you a cotton t-shirt, plastic beer mug, and a tote bag. I lined up at the start with my friend, Mark. The race had somewhat of a delayed start – it was supposed to start at 8:30, but it started at 8:40. The temperatures were already soaring and the sun was blazing hot.

It certainly was not my prettiest race, and I knew that as soon as the gun went off. From the start, my legs felt heavy and tired, and I just felt off. I wasn’t overly concerned about my legs: I was still a few weeks off of my marathon PR, and I was still recovering from my calf strain. The first mile felt like a false flat as we cruised along the beach down Ocean Avenue, and I held on to a much faster pace than I should have even considered on that day. I was barely back to running a week, and I told myself I would try to average something in the 6:30 range. My first mile was a 6:11, which is 10 seconds per mile faster than my 5K pace. What an idiot.

I slowed down a little and hit the first of two “lakes” (more like large ponds) that you run around and finished the second mile in 6:26, but at that point the heat was really starting to get to me. We headed back down Ocean Avenue towards the second lake, but I was feeling the effect of going out too fast on unprepared legs. Mile 3 flew by as a 6:36, and it didn’t feel any easier as my watch told me mile four was a 6:41. At this point, I was the 7th female.

In the last mile, a few things happened. My calf didn’t hurt, but I felt a little tightness so I decided to slow down just a little. It loosened up, and another girl started to gain on me. I could see the finish line about a half mile away, so I kicked it into high gear and forgot about the tightness in my calf. I felt great, but she picked up the pace with me. I picked it up a little more and started to feel a little nauseous from the heat, my poor meal choice the night before (steamed clams and waffles with ice cream at a church picnic, smart move), and being unprepared to sustain that pace on that day. About 30 yards from the finish, I couldn’t hold it in. I stopped and threw up – TWICE – before I could finish the race. Ew! The girl chasing me down easily passed me, as well as one other girl that I didn’t realize was close by. I was still happy with my time – 33:07 and a PR – and my final mile was still a 6:49 – even with the puking incident. Looking at my splits, I did the furthest thing from a negative split, which is how I usually prefer to run races! At least I can cross “running until I puke” off my bucket list now.

Until the lovely puking incident, I was probably on pace for more like a 32:40-ish based on the finish time of the girl ahead of me. I’d like to run a 5 miler a little faster than that at some point. I was shooting for anything between 32-33 because it would be a PR and it seemed reasonable considering the weeks leading up to the race. I still finished around the time I was hoping for and was happy about that. Had I not puked, I would have taken second in my age group – but I didn’t. I just didn’t have it that day and came to the event unprepared. All things considering, I was pretty stoked that I could run a PR sustain that pace anyway. I ran a good race and now know what kind of work I need to do to prepare for my fall marathons.

Steelman Open Water Swim

While I really enjoy swimming and realize how beneficial it can be as a cross training tool, I know I’m not a fast swimmer. I don’t go to the pool and do intervals or timed swims or whatever it is that you do to get faster. Sometimes I get in the pool and feel like swimming all day long, but most days I’m good with 45-ish minutes of easy swimming. For the open water swim, my plan was to swim as hard as I could and use the race to prepare me for the upcoming Steelman Triathlon, which takes place on the same lake in a few weeks. Oh yeah, and it was a perfect excuse to hang out with my friends, get a cool backpack (the swag item they give away for the race), and go out for breakfast. I was out late the night before and ran the Belmar 5 the day before, so I wasn’t exactly feeling fresh. As a matter of fact, when I rolled out of bed at 5am that morning, I felt anything but fresh.

Much to my surprise, I truly enjoyed participating in a “swimming” race. Usually, it’s hard to enjoy the swim portion of a race because it’s a warm up for a bike and a run and my mind is focused on what I have to do next. I didn’t swim very fast – 1.5 miles in 50:13 – but I had a blast. The race went off in four waves, and I was the last wave. I got nowhere near placing in my age group (I’d have to cut like 10 minutes or something off for that) and came in last among my group of friends (Emily, Sarah, and Jon). They kicked ass, with their times ranging from something like 42-46 minutes. I’d sign up for another open water swim in a heartbeat. It’s so much more fun than swimming in a pool!

This might sound a little arrogant (which I hate), but it was a good weekend for my ego. I’d been getting used to placing at races and feeling good every time I ran, and I felt anything but great at the Belmar 5 Mile. At the open water swim, I had to chance of winning anything and didn’t go into it with that mindset. It reminds me of why I started all of this in the first place and made me relax a lot as I started ramping up my mileage again. I’ve been enjoying running easy miles and building up my base again. It was a great way to kick off my fall marathon training.

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