The Pacific Association races are hard to explain to people. No one knows about them and they’re insanely stupid painfully fast.
The Pacific Association is just the regional section that covers California, etc, of the USA Track and Field national governing body. But, it’s also shorthand for their sanctioned series and races that are stupid hard. “Doing the PA race this weekend?” “Are you kidding? I can’t deal with that shit.” Because, to be an official PA race you have to offer some money — typically small, like $1000 total over three races — and you have to have points for teams. So, it tends to draw athletes who are trying to make money running or who are doing the running bum thing or who are fast enough that regular races aren’t quite exciting, but not quite fast enough to make it on the international circuit or some who actually are making it on the international circuit (ie. at a world or Olympic level) but they live in Northern California so they come out to these races. Also, there are a lot of fast people in Northern California.
Basically, it’s skinny, stupid fast girls and some Olympians.
One time, I convinced my aunt and my best friend from high school to do the PA race in Marin when they were here for our wedding by telling them it was “just like a local 5K.” Which, I suppose, technically was true. It was 5K and it was local. But, we ended up coming in like fourth to last and I probably should have warned them more about what they were getting into.
Right now is cross-country season, so yesterday I did the Golden Gate Park cross-country race. It’s actually the exact same course that the cross-country championship is on in November, which I’ve randomly done like four times, so I more or less knew what I was getting into.
I’m also practicing looking like a stupid fast skinny runner girl by wearing tiny spandex shorts for races. My logic is that if I wear tiny spandex shorts maybe people will assume I’m fast and then they will become discouraged and stop trying to drop me as hard. In Steve’s bike races they always work extra hard to drop the guy who doesn’t have shaved legs. So, my logic is not as shitty as you thought at first. But, I’m not 100% sure it worked.
The race pretty much went like this: I ran 6:15 miles for the first two miles and thought I was going to die. I still got passed. Then, I ran like 6:40s for the second two miles + change and also still got passed, but managed to pass a couple people who were running slower than 6:40 miles.
The course is two loops that are, in theory, each two miles. But, if all the GPS watches that were beeping at the mile markers are any indication it’s more like 4.2 miles total. It starts on a long open downhill field and then a long, wide-ish downhill trail for about a half-mile. People go hard. You tell yourself you’re not going to go too hard, but you sort of have to, because after that it turns sharply into single-track and you start running through bushes and over logs and in sand. My mantra for the first mile was: “Oh, fuck, I am not prepared for this.” Because, well, I wasn’t. Physically, mentally, or emotionally. It was painful, really painful and I felt like I was full-on sprinting, except, you know, for FOUR MILES.
My mantra for the second mile was: “I’m not going to make it through a second lap.” In the second mile, I sort of lost contact with the girl from my team who I’d been running with. She got a couple steps ahead of me and I never quite re-connected.
The second lap wasn’t quite as bad, but that may just be because I slowed down. Evidently, you have to keep running hard the whole time. I started to work my way back up to the girl from my team, was almost right on her shoulder, and then she pulled away again. A couple of girls from other teams passed me and I would go with them and then lose them and then they passed her and she’d go with them and then lose them. My mantra for the second lap (miles 2-3.5) was more or less: “Well, really, what’s the point?”
You can see I’m working on the whole positive thinking thing.
But, really, when you’re 30-something out of 140-something women and there’s not a whole ton riding on this race, it’s hard to care much if you run 27:00 or 27:20. And, when it’s cross-country, it’s hard to get too worked up about pace. I mean, you DID just jump over a log. So, I had one of my existential race crises, but in the scheme of those, it wasn’t my worst.
The last half-mile I tried to stay with a woman who passed me, tried to pick it up and fight the last hill and descent, but she got a few steps on me and I figured, everyone sprints the last quarter-mile, of course she’ll sprint, you won’t be able to catch her. But, I did. I pulled her back in the last 50m. And I ran a 27:23.
I thought I had run a 27:08 or so back in November, so I was eh about my time yesterday. But, it turns out I ran a 28:08 in November, which was still a minute faster than I ran it in November 2011 (when I fell in the mud twice and then opted to ‘jog’ it in). And, it’s like minutes and minutes faster than when Justin and I randomly did this race during school back in 2005. So, improvement?
It was also a good race-seal breaker to remember that running fast is painful and to keep it together when it does hurt (which I mean, really, I did much better than I used to). And, I must have run hard because the rest of the day my stomach had that painful empty feeling that no matter how much I ate wouldn’t go away. Usually, that only happens with longer races.