Well that was certainly different.
After running back to back marathons Run for Dom took on the Congress Avenue Mile as our next race. Having never run anything shorter than a 5K – which in fact I have run exactly twice since 2005 – the mile was something of a mystery to me. The biggest challenge that I would be facing for this event would not be my fitness level, health or mental strength. It would simply be my inexperience.
Having no experience with training, preparation, race strategy we were certainly at a disadvantage on Saturday. I didn’t even know what to order for dinner on Friday night. Do I need Carbohydrates for a 1-mile race? Protein? Should I just load up on Twizzler? Who’s to say? As I was laying out my race gear on Friday night I affixed my D-Tag (timing chip) to my brand new – never worn – Brooks T6 racers, I simply chuckled to myself. What the heck am I even doing ….
But with great confidence, false bravado really, I woke up, geared up and drove down to the TX State Capitol. Scene of my first mile race at age 42.
I found a great place to park right next to the Capitol Building, found some soft grass and stretched leisurely as I ate my protein bar and sipped on a grape Gatorade. I put on my “heavy” 12.4 ounce Asics Gel Nimbus 11 trainers and ran some very light strides to shake loose. My legs felt really refreshed from a light mileage week and appeared to have a lot of “juice” in them. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad I thought to myself as I went back to the truck to change into my new racing flats.
Immediately after I pulled on my new shoes I felt different. It was like wearing a pair of slippers instead of running shoes. At only 5.1 ounces both shoes put together weigh almost 1/3 less than a single training shoe. I pulled on my Marathon Maniacs singlet – just to intimidate any of the sprinters in the crowd – and walked up to the starting area.
The mood at the Capitol was markedly different from any marathon I had ever been to. Smiles all around, lots of runners laughing and joking, just a few “serious” guys here and there getting ready to race – but the vibe was very “Austin” if you know what I mean. Everyone was just happy to be there and do their own thing – whatever that is. One of my favorite things about our city.
I chatted with a few veteran runners, spoke about how the very narrow exit leaving the Capitol driveway less than 1/10 of a mile onto the course would be a bit “dicey” if you couldn’t find some open road and I took full advantage of my “smallness” to sneak within 15 runners of the starting line.
Being a “newbie” to the mile I was looking for someone to pace me over the first 1/4 mile. Running with the “Masters” men, which is a kind way of saying “over-40″ without saying it, I felt like I belonged, but I needed some help pace me over that first 400 meters. I wanted to make sure I neither went out way too fast which would cause me to blow up before we reached the Congress Avenue Bridge or that I went out too slowly and ran out of real estate before I could recover and hit my goal time.
I was thinking something around 5:40 would be respectable, 1/4 mile splits of 1:20, 1:30, 1:30, 1:20 would get me there. I heard a runner talking about running an :80 second first quarter with another who wanted to cover their first quarter in :75. Those were my guys.
The horn sounded and like a flash off we went – I stuck close to my guys and navigated the tricky exit out of the Capitol onto Congress Avenue where we had more than four full lanes of traffic to race in. I fell into a quick pace, churned the legs and let my new Brooks T6 racers do their thing. I could hardly feel my feet touch the pavement over the first 1/4 mile. As I hit the first mark I glanced down at my watch and had run the first quarter in 1:19. Perfect.
This was going to be the tricky part where I would fall back into a “comfortable cruising pace” – fast, but not too fast, as I would want to leave something left to kick over the final 200 meters. It was at this point where my inexperience got me.
I dialed back the pace slightly and ran a 1:24 second quarter-mile. :06 faster than what my pre-race plan was calling for but I didn’t know how fast I was going until I glanced at my watch. I did not have my usual “internal calibration” to lean on as I simply did not have enough experience running that pace to know how it “felt”.
The other problem was I had no idea if that was even the pace I “should” be running. Too fast? Too slow? I guess we would find out.
I realized I was going a bit faster than I had planned, so I let up ever so slightly on the gas and let my “pacer” move ahead of me by another few runner lengths. I was still keeping contact with him and felt like I could catch him on the bridge if I could kick at the end. The next thing I knew it happened.
I caught myself daydreaming. It only lasted about :10 seconds, but as a long-distance runner who frequently allows their mind to drift from topic to topic on a training run, my body started relaxing and I caught myself slowing. Irritated at myself for losing my focus I picked up my pace a bit and would end up running my third quarter-mile in 1:26.
I looked up ahead and could see the marker for 300 meters to go. I had planned on starting my push at that point of the race and noticed that even at the steady pace I was holding, I was gaining quickly on the runner that I had been using to pace me. We hit the 300 meter marker in stride and I felt like I had quite a bit left in the tank. At 200 Meters I went into my kick and gobbled up 100 Meters in what seemed like the blink of an eye.
I was breathing in and out on stride at this point but was still not experiencing a real “burn” from my legs. I went full throttle over the final 100 meters and closed strong passing 3 more runners at the finish. My final quarter-mile split was 1:15 – Overall time 5:24.
As I caught my breath in the finishing area it was a strange feeling. Was I really done racing in less than 6 minutes? What do I do now? I chatted up a couple of runners, grabbed some grapes, a cookie and my finishers medal and then saw my wife Dawn and our friends Sarah and Tedd.
I felt proud of my time, but almost immediately started thinking that I had sold myself a little bit short in preparing my pre-race plan. With no way to really “know” what kind of pace I was capable of holding I know it was wise to err on the side of caution. That said, I immediately knew that each of those two middle quarters could have been run at least :05 seconds or so faster. Similar to the way that I felt after my first marathon I thought to myself, “I can do better”.
As for my new shoes – absolutely loved them. They were certainly lightweight but also very comfortable. No soreness in my feet, ankles, knees, hips – in fact I felt great after the race. I still think I will keep them on the shelf only for races 10K and less, but after their baptism by fire I give them two big thumbs up.
The Congress Avenue Mile was a great event and a whole lot of fun. I don’t think that I’m going to be going out and looking for any track shoes anytime soon, but I am going to take my speed work a little more seriously between now and the Holland, TX 5K in June. I’ve got an age group title to defend up in Holland and maybe even a new PR to set at the 5K distance.
As for Saturday – it’s always a great day when you run a PR and since this was my first ever timed mile, I pretty much had that goal locked up by the time I got out of the truck and made my way to the starting line. 5:24 – I’ll take it.
That time was good for 14oth overall, 15th in our Division. For our first ever attempt at the distance, not too shabby.
But look out next year all you Masters runners … I figure chasing my daughter around for 9 months or so by then, I should be able to shave at least :10 off that time.