The last weekend in October, I ran my third Hot Chocolate 15k in as many years. The first one I ran because my husband said he was going to run. It was a race I had always wanted to attempt (they have really nice hoodies in the swag bag) but had always been scared off by the cold. I had been hit by a car while riding my bike to work a month before the marathon that year and still managed to run in (and finish) the marathon in 4:07. (Surprising myself no less than anyone else.) I shouldn't have signed up for that first Hot Chocolate, but did it, and managed to get a 1:15:27 time because I was trying to catch up to Dean the entire time. We finished together and I was happy, if in pain.
The following year, we ran again. (The girls hoodies had blue on them that year. Blue is my favorite color and the girl swag never gets blue!) It wasn't as cold, but still I put a lot of pressure on myself to do well. I had something to strive for. I ended up running it in 1:12:07 that year.
This year I was on my own. The date of the race had been changed from the first weekend of November to the last weekend of October. Dean always does Rocky Horror in Peoria that weekend. For the first time, I was running this race on my own, no cheering supporters (normally Dean's parents) and no running partner. Remembering how stressed I had been during the Soldier Field 10 Mile this year, I decided to try not to pressure myself. Don't worry about a PR this time, I thought.
I ran late, the train was late and I got a nice warm up sprint to the gear check (another thing I'd never had to do before) from the train. Somehow I managed to make it into my corral with ten minutes to spare. I had been stressed out up until then (I hate being late) but kind of accepted that since I didn't get to make my normal pre-race pit stop, I would most likely have to stop at some point during the run and I should just forget about time and enjoy myself. I was meeting friends for brunch afterward and decided just to enjoy the day.
It was tough! Everyone started off gung ho and ready to go, sprinting like crazy. Hard to hang back and just let the crowds pass, but that's what I did. Eventually I caught and passed many of them, which was satisfying. There were a few people I saw frequently during the race, as always, and it was difficult to try not to get competitive when they would pass, but I managed. At every check point I would think see the time and think, "Oh, I'm probably not doing so bad, this is actually a respectable pace, that's good!" But I managed not to push myself.
By the time I got to mile 8, I was pretty pleased. I decided that although I probably wouldn't beat my previous times, I had achieved a completely different goal. I had just let myself trust my training, run at a comfortable speed and enjoyed the race itself.
Imagine my surprise when I ended up running 1:10:32. Five minutes off of my first Hot Chocolate and two minutes off of the previous year. The best part was that it was EASY!
I realize that there could be several things that led to the faster time, including the incredibly comfortable running temperature this year. Of course I was very happy with my time, but I was even more pleased that I was able to just relax and enjoy the run. I also now know that I don't necessarily need to be running WITH someone to run well. (There was a part of me that felt I wouldn't have sufficient motivation to push myself without Dean to catch up to.) Although it is more fun to run with friends and supporters in the crowd, it's nice to know that I don't NEED it to have a fun, successful run.
I'm not sure how many more Hot Chocolates I will run. I do enjoy training for them, but I'm aware that we won't always have the beautiful weather we did this year. I hope that I can carry this feeling through future races though and enjoy the time on the course whether I'm beating my own record or not. Something to continue to strive for!