The third Saturday in June arrived and for the fourth year in a row that meant that it was time for the 43 mile ride up to Holland, TX for the 38th running of the Holland Cornfest 5K.
It would be my final title defense in the Male 40-44 year old age group in Holland having won the event each of the last 3 years. Wins are nice, and the Cornfest Trophy is one of the coolest I’ve seen in my years of racing – but I go back each year because the small town of Holland, TX – population 1,121 puts on a great festival race.
In keeping with tradition, my friend Neil picked me up at 6:00 a.m. for the ride up to Holland so I could ride back home with Dawn and Landry after the parade. I woke up, got in the shower to warm up the muscles and had my bagel and a banana.
I drank a grape Gatorade, chased it with a bottle of water and it was time to go. Race temperature was going to be over 80 degrees at the 8:00 a.m. gun. A steamy start to our double-race weekend.
We arrived to packet pick-up, I grabbed my number 16 bib and ran a quick 2-mile warm-up after talking with my friends Erin and Dan who like me would be competing in the Lake Pflugerville Triathlon less than 24 hours later. It’s comforting to know that I was not the only lunatic doing both events this year, but we were basically the whole minority.
As I changed into my race shoes after wrapping up my easy 2-miler in 17:32, I started to lock in on my strategy. I wanted to run a race almost identical to the 2011 5k. Start out with an opening 1/2 mile in the 2:53-2:55 range, then lock in to 6:00 min./mile effort and hold the needle right there until the final 1/4 mile and try to push to the finish.
The Holland course features 225 feet of climbing over 3.1 miles as well as a cone turnaround at the half-way point that requires you to come virtually to a stop robbing you of your cadence and momentum. It is not a “fast” course, but it is one that if you run it with a sound plan, you can run a solid time.
Without having run a 5k race since the Lights of Love 5k last December, an incredibly long time between short races for me, I was a bit nervous about finding my pace. I ran a few strides after changing into my race flats and then ducked into the starting area.
One of the best parts of running a small local event is the quick start. The race director walked in front of the chute, told us we would go one the whistle and quickly counted it down. “Ready, Set, Go!” – and we were off.
We got out extremely clean and were leading the runners up the hill on Main Street. I throttled back a bit and a few High School and College age runners slid past on my left. I was running in 8th position and tucked in behind a crowd of four.
My legs felt strong and my cadence easy. I decided not to adjust over the first 1/2 mile and just run to the beep on my watch. I would see where we were at that point and adjust effort accordingly if we were either ahead or behind of the 2:53 mark.
At the beep I glanced down at my watch and saw the first split – 2:52. Perfect.
I stayed even knowing that the initial rush of adrenaline carried me to a sub 3:00 opening half mile. No reason to back off on the effort, my body was going to slow down as we approached the first long uphill climb on its own.
We reached the first mile marker with a second 1/2 mile in 2:59, an opening mile of 5:51.
The second mile begins on an upslope, rewards you with short recovery downhill for about 1/10 of a mile, then the arching left turn up to the top of the course just prior to cone turnaround. After making the cone turn, it is back uphill to the end of the mile.
It is the slowest part of the course, pushing it too aggressively here is not a smart move, it is just a matter of how much time you are going to give back to the clock. Not having raced at 5k pace recently hurt me here. I found myself let my mind wander for a moment and realized I needed to snap out of it. The race would be over before I knew it and I needed to keep my foot down on the accelerator.
My third half mile came in at 3:13 which was a bit slower than I hoped, followed by 3:00 flat closing mile 2. At the 1 mile to go sign I slid to the left of one runner and the fixed my eyes on the back of a runner in front of him. I would chip away at him and take him on the last uphill section.
Having a runner up ahead to chase helped me keep my cadence and I clocked a 5th half mile in 3:03. I made my way up to 6th place and was running :20 seconds or so out of 5th place. I was running out of real estate, but knew that if I focused on catching the runner in front of me, there was very little chance of anyone catching me from behind.
We crested the final hill at the High School, made the right turn onto the home stretch and turned in an identical 1/2 mile in 3:03. All that was left was a kick to the finish.
I closed hard to the line dropping down to 5:23 pace finishing just :03 seconds behind the 5th place high school runner.
18:56 – 1st Place Age Group, 6th overall. Just :05 seconds off of my time from one year ago on the same course, which was a great outcome as we have not raced a short distance event like this one in almost half a year.
In fact, the difference between our last two races in Holland really came down to our closing kick.
1/2 mile 1: 2011 2:53 2012 2:52
1/2 mile 2: 2011 3:01 2012 2:59
1/2 mile 3: 2011 3:13 2012 3:13
1/2 mile 4: 2011. 2:58 2012 3:00
1/2 mile 5: 2011 3:04 2012 3:03
1/2 mile 6: 2011 3:01 2012 3:03
Final Kick: 2011 :41 2012 :47
The course tracked slightly longer this year which added a bit to my final kick, but the splits were so close throughout the race, I am going to call this one basically a dead-heat with last year.
So now it is time to focus on rehydrating, refueling and trying to get that eye of the tiger back for tomorrow morning’s race. It is tough to peak on back to back days so if things do not go perfectly tomorrow I am going to try to cut myself a little slack.
It is Father’s Day after all.