Who: Just me, with moral support from Drew
Benefited: Back on My Feet… possibly a few other groups that I don’t remember
Time: 33:10 (course PR!)
I ran the Christmas 2 Give 5K back in 2013 (read my recap here), and was totally taken by surprise at the intensity of the “moderately challenging” hills described on the website. I found it very challenging, had to walk most of the course, and ate a big slice of humble pie after scoring PR after PR after PR in the months prior. Regardless, it was fun to run in a new state, and the views of LA were fantastic:
As my injury-laden 2015 was coming to a close, I knew I’d be visiting the in-laws in California for Christmas again, and my mind turned toward those killer hills at Elysian Park. At the start of November I set this race as a goal to motivate me to get back running and doing my PR exercises, but – given my terrible luck with DNSing races this year – I was hesitant to register in advance, just in case.
By the time we arrived in LA and were met with hyped-up nieces and nephews and seemingly non-stop plans for our time there, I threw worries about my dodgy metatarsal to the wind and signed up… the race was a good excuse to get the heck out of the house and have some much-needed running-to-clear-my-head time, injuries be damned!
The morning dawned bright and early (and smoggy), and we drove the near-empty freeways up to the park. Bib pickup was mostly easy; I had pre-registered too late to be in the system, but they took my word for it (and didn’t even look at the confirmation email I brought up on my phone), and had me fill out another registration form, without having to pay again. I got my bib and my shirt, then wandered off to warm up.
It was chilly enough for my legs to be super goosebumpy, but I knew once I started running it would be the *perfect* temperature… low- to mid-50s at gun time.
I was keeping an eye on my metatarsal as I warmed up, but I should have been paying more attention to my formerly dodgy knee… as I was running in place and chatting with Drew, I got a sudden shooting pain in my right knee. It was painful enough that I couldn’t put weight on it for a few minutes, which was not a good sign! I was determined to do this race though – I couldn’t face another DNS, and I wanted the medal at the end! – so I resigned myself to take it easy and walk if needed.
I positioned myself at the back of the pack and started the race nice and easy… for a few seconds anyway.
I hadn’t accounted for the walkers, so I gently maneuvered my way through and around them, and then found myself cruising along comfortably. However, the beginning of the race is mostly downhill, so I was cruising comfortably at a pace between 8:30 and 9:30. Oops. Not exactly taking it easy, but it felt amazing. My knee had stopped hurting, my foot felt fine, and it felt good to run, so I just went with it! I couldn’t stop smiling like a goofball.
I kept thinking how different the race felt from 2013. Maybe it was because I knew about the hills I’d be facing this time, whereas last time they were a surprise, but the race felt so much easier this time around. In 2013 I had to stop and walk halfway up the first hill, but this time I ate those frikkin’ hills for breakfast! I didn’t have to take a walk break until somewhere around the Mile 2 marker, when the course becomes a series of switchbacks climbing up a ravine:
Before that part though, I was all smiles. Here I was, dodgy foot, dodgy knee, hadn’t been running or training, like, at all (in 2013 I had been running quite a bit leading up to the race), and yet I was steaming up these hills like no one’s business. Was it all the hills I was scaling in my MiniYeti challenge? Was it the tiny bit of strength training I’d done with my PR exercises (compared to the absolute zero strength training happening in 2013)? I don’t know, but it was awesome.
One thing I enjoy about this race (and Christmas in LA in general) is how bundled up nearly everyone is. Apart from me and a few high school/college cross-country runners, everyone else was in sweatshirts, hats, tights, etc. My favorite was the third guy from the left in the picture below… I heard him before the race telling someone “Today is the perfect day to bust out my man-tights!” as he pulled up a gaiter around his face. Dude, it was like 55. It’s all what you’re used to, I guess. Gotta love LA.
After that second big hill, which totally killed my mood in 2013, the course hits a few more big downhills which added to my giddy momentum. But I knew what was coming… the climb up the ravine. I gave it the ol’ college try, and made it farther than I did last time, but my quads were dead after scaling all the previous hills without stopping. Plus, the course shrinks down at the start of the climb, making it impossible to pass people without shoving them into the brush, and I got stuck for a bit behind two guys who were walking. I took it as a welcome break, and then when the path widened again I passed them and tried running. I run-walked the rest of the switchbacks.
After the switchbacks, the course takes a sharp turn straight up a steep hill that ends at the paved area where the start/finish line is. In 2013, Drew snapped a picture of me crawling up that hill (it may have been posed, but it accurately reflected how I felt!). This time, I stuck out my tongue and sagged my shoulders, but I was still upright! I walked up the hill, took a few swigs of Drew’s water bottle, and walked the rest of the flattop to catch my breath.
At the other side of the flattop was a nice steep downhill, and I knew I was about a half-mile from the finish. I ran the downhill, letting the momentum give me some speed, then struggled as the course flattened again. I knew that if I could only keep going I’d beat my time from 2013, something I didn’t think I’d be able to do with all my injuries and lack of training, and that’s what kept me pushing.
The last little hill took everything I had in my tank, so it was all I could do to make it the last few yards to the finish. I set my sights on the young girl ahead of me, just trying to keep up with her. I didn’t have anything left for my traditional sprint to the finish, but the “32:–” on the finish clock lifted my spirits enough for an arm pump:
I was also pumped to wear my “Runners Republic” shirt Drew got me for my birthday… only fitting to christen it in California!
I totally had a runner’s high at the end of this race. I’m always competitive with myself when it comes to finishing times, but I didn’t expect to beat 2013’s time so soundly, especially after my knee niggle right before the race. I also didn’t expect to feel so fantastic for the first 2 miles! When I saw the finish line clock at 32-something I was so pumped – outlier PR aside, my fastest 5K time is 32:43, so I was utterly stoked to be getting so close to that time, given my lack of fitness and the course’s monster hills.
My official time ended up being 33:10, which, while still amazing considering everything, totally bummed me out. The race was chip timed, so since the clock read 32-something when I crossed, I figured it would be a few seconds in my favor, having crossed the start line several seconds after the gun. Oh well. I feel better about the result now, but when I first saw it, it harshed my runner’s high pretty severely. What can you do?
Anyway, as I donned my medal and basked in the glory of conquered hills, my knee started hurting again. Kind of a lot. I hobbled around the various tents by the finish line, searching for ice or a medical tent or something, but to no avail. I had to make do with a cold protein shake, which actually worked pretty well:
I’m happy to say that, after proper icing sessions later that day and the next, my knee now feels fine. My dodgy metatarsal hasn’t been any more dodgy than usual, and I picked up no other niggles, despite charging around that race at a mental-for-me pace. Huzzah! I’d say this race is one goal that was met emphatically 🙂