I have never started a race without a healthy dose of optimism. This was true as ever at the Lilac Bloomsday Run yesterday. I had my first experience racing the challenging 12 kilometer course last year. I finished with a time of 47:32 and thought immediately after crossing the final timing mat, “I can do better,” (as any runner does) and vowed to return the next year.

The Bloomsday course is a tricky one. From the starting point in downtown Spokane, you run west out of the city, plunge into a valley 1.5 miles in, run up a long gradual hill until you’re back at the elevation you started at the halfway mark. Then you drop down into another valley, cross a bridge over Spokane River, then up and up the infamous Doomsday Hill which brings you to starting elevation again, this time over just three quarters of a mile. From there it is 2.5 mostly flat miles to the finish.

Last year, knowing that the dreaded Doomsday Hill was coming, I start the race fairly conservatively and saved a little something for the climb. It paid off as I felt good on the hill and even passed a few people along the way.  The final 2.5 miles, however, felt like dreck. It was as if I were running slow motion through sand. My legs were so tired from the hills and I just could not kick it in at the end.

Going into the race this year, my plan was to start the race more aggressively and drop a few more seconds on the downhills while I actually had fresh legs and momentum. I remembered wishing I had stuck with some faster women at the start the year before, as 7.5 miles really wasn’t too far relative to the longer distances I usually race. I felt I had approached it more similarly to a half marathon than a “10K + some.”

I stuck to my plan and my first three miles were each about 5 seconds faster than the year before. My 4th mile was a tad slower, but overall my goal of sub-47:00 was well within reach. I didn’t exactly bound up Doomsday Hill as I had done the year before, clocking in at 3:10 vs. the previous year’s 2:54 (they place timing mats at the bottom and top), but even so, I passed through the five mile mark ten seconds under goal pace. However, while I anticipated feeling terrible in the next couple of miles, I wasn’t prepared for just how terrible. Well after the hill I was still gasping for breath. I tried to stay light on my feet and get my legs to turnover, but they simply wouldn’t.

If there was ever a point where I lost the race, it was the sixth mile. I was aiming for an overall pace of 6:17 per mile, which I had managed so far while feeling pretty good. Then I ran that particular mile in 6:52, despite it being mostly flat as a pancake. Ouch. My reasoning was, just get past Doomsday Hill and you’re home free! I couldn’t have been more wrong. The sixth mile was by far the hardest part of the race. If I had been competing against my past self, 2016 me would have passed 2017 me at that point with a 6:31 mile. Slower than I would have liked, but still it would have made my goal salvageable! All that work to bank some time (which I now can’t believe I thought was a good idea) was out the window and I was worse for the wear.

One of my goals for this race was to be mentally tough and to push through the really nasty parts and make myself run fast anyway. I’m generally so quick to just accept discomfort as a sign that I’m running beyond my abilities, so I back off- but that’s exactly what my brain wants me to think. Pretty nifty survival mechanism, but not great for racing! I’m still wondering if only I were better at overriding that pain signal, could I have run better than a 6:52?

I felt so unbelievably dejected by how hard I was working for the numbers steadily creeping upward on my watch. How cruel running can be! I told myself all kinds of things through that last mile, anything to pick it up just a little bit. Pain is temporary. Less than ten minutes to go- what a short amount of time! What did you even drive all the way out to Spokane for, if not to try? See that church? Just get to the church and around the corner then you’re home free!

My next mile, which I didn’t even see at the time, was 6:26. Not enough to balance out the last mile, but an improvement. From there I had just half a mile to go. I sped by the church, rounded the final corner, then began the very welcomed descent to the finish line. From a distance I could see the clock at 47:01, 47:02, 47:03. I was so tired and felt compelled to close my eyes as I do when I’m fatigued, but I really made myself focus on that clock because I would have been so upset if I missed beating my previous best of 47:32. The clock was literally flipping from 47:30 to 47:31 as I crossed the timing mat! The agony! The suspense! In the end, my chip time read a comfortable 47:26. A six second improvement from last year!

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The Lilac Bloomsday Run, as it was last year, was a great challenge and humbling experience. On paper, I looked at my 47:00 goal and thought, of course that’s within reach! I badly want to qualify for the 2020 US Olympic Trials Marathon within the next few years which will take a marathon effort at around the same pace of 6:17/mile. Surely I should be able to run at least 12K at that pace. And then I couldn’t! That’s a tough pill to swallow.

On the positive side, I ran a personal best. It was only by six seconds, but still. I did something with my body that it’s never done before. World record for one Liz Anjos running a 12K! And more significantly, it’s the first race I’ve improved on since last year. My Shamrock 15K time last year was 59:55; this year it was 61:07. My Corvallis Half Marathon time last year was 1:24:54, this year it was 1:27:12. Bloomsday last year 47:32, this year 47:26. It took some time following an injury earlier in the year, but I’m finally starting to feel up to snuff.

I’m a long way from where I want to be, but I hope with consistency and small improvements over time, that next breakthrough will come. My next goal race is Grandma’s Marathon on June 17th and I’m just entering the meatiest part of training. You can follow my progress on Strava. ‘Til next time!

4 thoughts

  1. Congrats! Way to hang on and still improve your time! Mentally knowing what to anticipate in a course is SO helpful. And I agree starting conservatively works better for me too than creating a time deficit and hoping I can hold on to it. It’s still interesting to experiment tho with pace because like you said each course and distance is different and might have a better outcome trying a new strategy. I am in awe of your speed. Good luck with your 2020 marathon goal!

    I also wanted to share what’s helped me with hills. From your post, it sounds like you have no trouble keeping a great pace going up the hills. It sounds like building some more strength/stamina to keep going and recover after the hills would help. What’s helped me build that is a long run with a lot of rolling hills, doing tempo/sprints on a loop that has hills so I have to maintain my speed after running up them (whereas doing hill repeats you usually stop at the top of the hill and get a break), and doing squats/lunges/plyo movement to build quad strength. For example, I did a 10-mile run with a 1200-feet total elevation gain to prepare for the 800-feet total elevation gain in the Shamrock Half and lifted at least 2x a week. I was really happy how well that race went – I still hurt and had my struggle moments, but was able to keep my overall pace well under my goal and not hurt as early in the race. Hope that helps with ur next hilly race!

    1. Thanks Jenny! Yes I definitely need to work on better recovery after the hills! That’s great to hear the hilly speed work translated to a good run for you at Shamrock! One of my favorite workouts, which I haven’t done in a while but would have helped a lot for Bloomsday, is hill + 400 repeats! You stride 30ish seconds up a hill going straight into a fast, flat 400 at the top. I might need to add it back into my repertoire before the next Bloomsday!

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