Two weeks ago after a solid effort at the IBM Uptown Classic 5K I started to feel like I was getting close. I wasn’t all the way back to where I was before our bout with Achilles/ankle issues, but I was starting to resemble that runner. I had lost that tentative feeling every time I dropped my hips a bit and tried to push pace down towards 6:00 flat.
My stride was feeling very even and when I tried to lengthen things out just a bit, the snap had returned to my turnover. I still don’t have the volume that I typically do at this time of year, which is holding me back from jumping into the Run for the Water 10-miler next weekend, but I feel like with a few more weeks of quality workouts with the group I can build out my long runs back to 15-16 miles and be half-marathon ready by Christmas.
I had mentally circled the Thanksgiving Day Thundercloud Turkey Trot as my next “A” race – trying to go for my 5-mile PR of 30:50, but there was another 5-miler in October that seemed to line up really well for us. The Cedar Park 5-miler which was celebrating the 18th running of the event.
When I was building speed back in 2010 and making the fastest and largest gains in my performance I was racing hard and racing frequently. There is just no substitute for that kind of intensity and effort when you are trying to force adaptation. As the weather forecast came out for Sunday’s race about 5 days in advance showing cool temperatures, I decided to jump in and see just how far away we were from our previous effort at the 5-mile. A distance that is not very common here in Austin. Only a handful of opportunities each year locally to tee it up.
I treated this past week as an “A” race week. 10 miles on Monday with an afternoon Swim, Tuesday – complete rest. Wednesday a short but intense speed session of 300 meter repeats with 100 meter recoveries in the 5:40-5:45 range. A Thursday 30 mile bike and swim followed by an off day on Friday and just a 2-mile shakeout on Saturday.
A lot of short, intense workouts, with plenty of rest and very little volume that would leave my legs feeling fatigued. On Sunday morning for the first time since December of 2012. I would show up on race morning looking to go low and with any luck, have a chance to take down an 11-month old PR in the 5-mile. My first legitimate PR attempt in 2013.
On Saturday morning I drove the course to measure the inclines along the route which features gentle climbing up to the turnaround point, with that same gentle decline on the way back home. A course that set-up for negative split miles, where going out under control would produce the fastest overall time, as opposed to running out fast to start and hanging on to the end. I thought that I needed to be very disciplined early, so that when the course tilted in my favor late in the race, I could actually do something about it.
6:20, 6:15, 6:10, 6:05, 6:00 would produce a time equal to our 30:50 PR.
If I could hang tough through mile 4, perhaps I would have enough left to kick over the final 400 and eek out a new PR. That was the plan as I played those splits over in my head as I dozed off to sleep on Saturday night. It was the first race in a long time that I had planned out each mile along the course. A formula that had served me very well in the past. All I would have to do on the course is go out and execute.
Pre-Race: We stuck to the program with a 6:00 a.m. alarm clock, shave and a shower to loosen up the muscles. A bagel and Gatorade breakfast and after changing into our race gear I left the house at 7:15 a.m. to get to the race site. I parked, retrieved my timing chip from the timing tent (ankle strap) and went back to the car to get ready.
I decided on a slow 2-mile warm-up to get the muscles ready to go on a very chilly, but beautiful 45 degree morning. I ran the first mile of the course, measuring the incline of the opening mile, spun around and trotted back to the start. 2 miles, 14:50. Everything to this point was perfect. I changed into my New Balance Race flats, took off my sweats and headed over to the start area to run a few strides. With approximately 375 runners in the event, I was able to get in my last few reps, and then duck into the start area about 10-12 runners from the front. A lot of the usual suspects in attendance. Looked like if I ran well, I would have a shot at a top-10 finish – but all I was really hunting was that 30:49. Placement was irrelevant.
The announcer counted us down, “Runners to your Mark – Go!”
Mile 1: We ran uphill leaving the shopping center and turned left onto Buttercup Creek Road. We would run the first 1.25 miles on a gradual incline until we would make a right turn onto Nelson Ranch. The race course was coned off into the bike-lane, which was enough room for 2-3 runners to run next to each other. This would not be an issue later in the race, but for the first mile we were running 4-5 to a group and it was congested. I glanced down at my watch repeatedly over this mile, making sure that I never dipped below 6:20. The pace felt relaxed and at a few moments I felt myself wanting to increase my stride.
The first 1/2 mile was spot on in 3:10. Finally I was locked in and ticking things off smoothly. I was running somewhere around 10th or 11th place and had found a group to run with. I tried to disassociate a bit and not focus on the incline, just stay smooth and tall – no faster, no slower. At the mile 1 marker I glanced down at my watch. The course measurement was exact. Opening mile – 6:20. Perfect.
Mile 2: As mile 2 started the course again started to climb just a bit. About 50 feet over this section of the course. No big climbs, just a gentle slope that you can barely see. A “False-Flat” as runners call it. The kind of slope that tricks you into thinking you are running your goal pace effort, but you are actually working just a bit harder than usual to hit that mark. At the end of the race, those :05-:07 seconds that you pushed for imperceptibly cost you twice as many when you go to your kick.
I was hoping to run this mile at 6:15, but at the halfway mark I was right around 6:18-6:19. I felt myself get slightly discouraged. I decided to stay even through the end of the mile and see if I could wake things up a bit over mile number 3. At the mile 2 marker the watch beeped at me – 6:16. I was :01 behind after 2 miles.
Mile 3: I decided to stick to the plan and press just slightly to drop pace down to 6:10. I had a good group to work with and we took turns leading the pack. Nobody was going much faster than 6:10-6:11 at any point, but it was nice to share that responsibility. I kept monitoring my watch every 400 meters or so, this would be the last mile that I would look at my watch as when we hit the 2-mile to go mark I would just run as hard as I could to close it out.
We hit the 180 degree turnaround that required us to come to a near-stop at 2.5 miles. The slow-down cost us about :05 seconds. I pressed just a bit to get back on pace and locked in the harder effort. The course was finally tilting ever so slightly in our favor and I was able to make up those :05 seconds without expending too much precious energy. We hit the mile 3 marker with a 3rd mile in 6:08. We were :01 seconds ahead of goal after 18:45 of racing.
Mile 4: At the start of mile 4 I moved to the front of our small pack. I would use the footfalls behind me to keep me honest and from this point on I was going to run my race. If somebody was able to drop me, good for them, but I felt like I had run a very smart opening 3 miles. Now it was just a matter of seeing how much we had left.
I snuck a glance down at my watch at some point over the mile and saw my pace below 6:00 flat. I thought about dialing things back ever so slightly to load up for the final mile, but it was time to run by feel at this point of the race. If 6:00 effort was producing sub 6:00 results, I chalked it up to the slight decline and went with it.
At the beep I looked down and saw a 5:56 mile. Time to go.
Mile 5: The final mile would roll up and down ever so slightly for the first 7/10 of a mile before a nice 3/10 of a mile descent to the finish line. I decided to press ever so slightly on the accelerator to keep the pace under 6:00 flat and then start to empty the tank at the start of the downhill.
We were comfortably locked in at 5:55 pace at the start of the descent, and I could see the right-hand turn ahead that would lead to the finishing chute. The pace was starting to hurt quite a bit, but I could tell that I was holding strong, not losing any speed as I struggled to keep my form in place.
We made the final turn and kicked to the finish.
Final mile – 5:45.
30:25 official time, 1st place Age Group, 7th place overall.
Post-Race: Dawn and Landry decided to skip the race on Sunday and grab some extra sleep (I don’t blame them) – so I had some time to myself waiting around for the awards ceremony to begin. I replayed the race over in my mind a couple of times and tried to find a time where I executed my pre-race plan as well from start to finish. IBM Uptown in 2011 perhaps? Possibly the first 20 miles of the NYC Marathon. But never had I closed a race so strong before.
It was the first time in 2013 that I exited an event completely satisfied in the result. Not a single thing I would change about my race on Sunday and with a :25 second PR in our pocket, we finally are off the shneid in 2013.
Man, this sport never gets old. Now it is time to stop feeling sorry for myself and see how strong we can close out the rest of the year. We have 2 months and two events left to go. Perhaps we may have a shot at our 5K PR at Lights of Love in December. With 6 weeks to get ready – I’m starting to like our chances.