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SLCTC Winter Series 2020

5k, 10k, 15k, two weeks apart in the dead of winter out in the salt flats – somehow the track club finds a way to make this series a local favorite. All three races are on the USATF-Utah Road Racing Circuit and also part of the RRCA Championship events. The course are straight and flat out-and-backs, each just farther down the road than the last.

My third go at this series of races, I had few performance expectations starting with the 5k. I had raced a marathon six days prior that I physically felt recovered from, but mentally I wasn’t quite back. I didn’t know if I should go out really fast and just see at what point I faded and use the data for training purposes, actually try to evenly pace the race, or should I try to race for the podium? I made a last minute decision to race with a friend. The first mile we MIGHT have went out a little fast (I’ll let him decide) at 5:58. At the time, I didn’t know and wasn’t looking at my watch for the duration of the race. I was focused on pushing him. At the turn around we were both running well, and we happened to be pacing the leading females, but we let them go so they could duke it out – that put me in third. Around the 2-mile mark, I saw first and second at split up and second was fading hard. I told my friend we could catch her and we tagged onto another runner to catch up. My friend started to fade a little, but since we were almost home, I left him to overtake second place. Then in the fog I saw the bright yellow jersey of first, who had faded as well and I went for it – caught up with her right at three miles and then sprinted to the finish to make as big of a gap as I could to try and kill a response. I crossed at 18:42 (chip) for the very unexpected win.

Two weeks later for the 10k, I would say I was definitely more mentally prepared to race with a goal time in mind. I expected the competition to be tougher, but my main focus was not on winning. A lot of times I use shorter races in a marathon training cycle for recovery data and to get practice running on fatigued legs. The day before this race I ran a 2 1/2 hour long run on a hillier course than usual. I was not happy with how I felt when race morning came compared to how I usually feel, but I realized that was partially the point – I now had to go back and think about what negatively affected my recovery from the long run. Still, I geared up to race the best I could in the moment and went out at goal pace. This time, I was using half-mile splits on my watch to try and stay focused. Right off the bat, I was the leading lady. It scared me a little, but I reminded myself the podium was not the goal right now. A few miles in we had a bit of headwind, but on an out and back course I figured it would be helpful after the turn around, right? WRONG! The wind picked up and changed directions on us. On the way back we were running into 20 mph gusts and I couldn’t keep up with my goal pace. I kept expecting the second place female to catch me, but I kept pushing to hold on as long as I could. Afterall, she had the same winds to deal with. Mile 5 came and I was still ahead so I pushed a bit harder. I picked another runner in front of me and lasso-ed him to help pull me along. I felt no one behind me for the final push, but I was scared to look – I was going all in anyway. I took the win in 39:09 (chip).

The third and final race of the series, the 15k, was a PR attempt. The distance is long enough and placed “appropriately” in the marathon training cycle that I felt I could give it a shot. In other words, no long run the day before. Of course, that also meant I was a contender for the win as well, especially since I ended up winning the first two. The day before I started to get a little sick, but figured I could shake it before it came of anything. I woke up early race morning and felt worse, but still thought I could PR, even if it wasn’t by as much as I wanted it to be. My legs felt great during the warm up – fresh and energized. My lungs weren’t, but it was what I had to work with. The first few miles of the race went smoothly, but then I started to doubt myself and whether or not I could keep up. My legs still felt great, but my breathing was pretty labored and I felt fatigued. I was leading at the turn around, but not by very much – I tried to keep pushing but relax at the same time. It wasn’t working. A few miles went by and I wondered if I could still take first. Mile 7, just a few miles left. At 7.5, I heard second female behind me. I assessed, and didn’t believe I could keep up the lead. She came up on my shoulder and I made the quick decision to swing behind her. With almost two miles left, I didn’t want to leap frog. I watched her go on ahead and I continued to fade. I tried to push to get my pace back down, but struggled. I accepted defeat. The finish was in sight and it was almost over. The time on the clock confirmed I had missed my goal time range entirely, finishing second in 59:09 (chip).

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Most of my running friends know how I feel about the Nike 4% or next% shoes, but I haven’t really gone into depth on the matter. I’ve heard a lot of different opinions. Ninety-nine percent of people that have worn them say they make a significant difference, and most of those people seem to have embraced the advantage and have chosen to race in them. I want to be clear – I am not against these athletes. I am against the shoes, and what I believe they take away from the sport.  

Some say they are just a placebo effect. I’m not going to say much on that, other than it is an uneducated statement. There was a lot of time and money spent in research and product testing on developing the shoe.

From the information I have gathered, the shoes do two main things: 1) lessen the effect of perceived effort – fatigue and 2) spring you forward, lengthening your stride. The fatigue factor doesn’t bother me. I look at it like a comparison of any other shoe over running barefoot. What upsets me is the spring-like force propelling you forward. I think this takes away from the purity and integrity of the sport. Sure you have to train and work hard for the result you want, but if a shoe can guarantee at least a 4% drop in a finish time, then you don’t have to run as hard to get the time result you want. The “race day magic”, the art of everything lining up perfectly for that new PR, new goal, or not and still enduring, the bad days, the good days, the crazy comebacks, the unrealistic and unexplainable…all of those wonderful aspects of distance running will be gone if we don’t draw the line somewhere – more machine and scientific formulas than grit and the wonder of human performance.

Some say the shoes are just like any other technological advance in the sport, like rubber tracks and spikes on shoes. But that isn’t a fair statement because with those advances there wasn’t a resilient device pushing the athletes forward. They had better traction but still only got out of it what they put in. Their form was not altered. But this part of the discussion also brings up another important fact that impacts professional runners.

When rubber tracks were introduced, every athlete racing had the same advantage. With spikes, every shoe company has them for their athletes to wear. With these Nike shoes, only Nike professionals can get away with wearing them and getting that 4% advantage. I think this is where some claim it is just like doping and drug violations – it creates and uneven playing field. And now we are messing with people’s careers and livelihood. We can’t say that breaking contracts to wear another brand’s shoe is a realistic option for them.

Do I think the IAAF will fix it? No. I have zero faith they will ban them. I think at some point they will have to put a limit on stack height and the amount of plates put in, but at this point I don’t think they will ban these types of shoes. But since the shoes are legal, we have no right to attack the athletes that wear them.

As much as I don’t like Nike, this is not about Nike. Life isn’t fair. Athletes have different body types and backgrounds that give them advantages or disadvantages. I want to say that a shoe company has the right to spend money on developing new and improved shoes and get the right of exclusivity. Hoka has their version of the shoe out, and I feel the same way about them. I’ve been asked by several if or when Adidas comes out with their version if I would use them. I’m still holding out hope that they won’t follow suit, but no, I wouldn’t wear them.

My sole purpose is not to win races or even get a specific time stamped beside my name. Sometimes those are my goals for certain races, but more than anything I want to push myself and I want to feel it. I want to dig deep and give more than I have to offer. I’m going to keep training hard. I’m going to keep racing without the spring-board shoes. You might say I’m giving myself a disadvantage, but I am bound to the belief that the power of the human mind is far greater than any machine man can make.