2013 has been the strangest year of racing I have ever had since starting to train, run and race back in 2006. For the last few years, 2009-2012 I have been able to put together a race calendar, train hard, make it to the starting line of just about all of the races I had circled on the calendar and on the race days that mattered most, race relatively well.
But at a time when I was at my absolute best, December 2012 things started to unravel very quickly. After consecutive PR’s at the 5K and Half-Marathon distance I suffered an injury at the Shiner Half and ended up missing the Houston Marathon. After clawing my way back, regaining all of my fitness the same injury flared again and I missed Big Cottonwood this September. In between I had trained in fits and starts, hopped in a few races when I could, but never this year have I felt like I was really “ready” to do anything special.
Not even an outside chance at a PR, never did I even give myself a chance by running an opening mile at PR pace, full well knowing that I did not have the fitness or the volume to pull it off.
But there is still a huge benefit in racing, even when you are not at the top of your game. It is good to put yourself in the race environment to gather as much experience as possible. That way, the next time you are in a position to make something happen – you know that it is not your first rodeo. You can just lock into your routine, run your warm-up, stay relaxed and do your thing.
The other major benefit is the workout itself. Nothing can mimic race-pace better than racing. Even if it is a handful of seconds slower than your talent level when you are completely fit. There is something about pinning on that bib and running in a crowd.
Lastly, there is the process of putting together your pre-race plan and sticking to it …. or not. Straying from your plan and making a big mistake that you pay for is also valuable. It reinforces the need to plan the work and work the plan on race day. Going off half-cocked like a maniac over the opening mile is not sound strategy no matter what the situation. But executing mile after mile, especially when you are fatigued and struggling pays major benefits when you are chasing down that PR on another race day.
So Thursday morning this past week I decided to sign-up last minute for the IBM Uptown Classic 5K. I was not in shape to run the 10K race and come anywhere close to my PR of 37:30 from a couple of years ago. But I did feel like I was capable of running a reasonably strong 5K and I would gain even more confidence in my return from injury if I could come through unscathed. Win-Win.
While I was not going to set any records at IBM or come close to my 18:02 PR set last December, I did want to treat my race routine somewhat seriously. Take it easy on Saturday, eat right, get my rest and go through my morning rituals as per usual. I took a hard look in the mirror and estimated that if I ran the race I wanted to, I could possibly run 6:00 pace (18:40).
What I really wanted to test however was if I could run an even race. Stay as strong through the last 1/2 mile of the race as the opening 1/2 mile. Not fall off and struggle to the finish. So on race morning I set my GPS watch to record 1/2 mile splits and would hope to run as close to 2:58-3:00 per 1/2 mile as possible. Kick hard at the end with whatever we had left and see if we could maybe sneak in at 18:39.
Pre-Race: Sticking to our routine I woke up 1 hour before it was time to drive over to IBM, got in the shower to loosen things up and went with a Bagel and Gatorade for breakfast. I tipped the scale at 135.5 on race morning. 1 lb. heavier than my “A Race” 5K weight of 134.5. Since I didn’t run on Saturday and was very hydrated, we were just about perfect.
I could not go with my Brooks T7 Race Flats as I have a slight toe nail bruise on my right big toe. The toe nail is raised just a centimeter or two, but it is just enough to bang into the toe box on my flats. I would have to run in my Adidas Adios 1/2 marathon shoe. It would cost me about 1 second per mile in weight – but the last thing I needed was another nagging injury to deal with at this point. I would go with the heavier flats.
I drove over to the race site, got a spot in the lot and trotted over to the Rogue Running Tent to meet up with the training group. It had been awhile since I saw everyone including coach, so it was nice to see the gang.
I ran my warm-up alone, did a few strides and kept to myself. I ducked into the start area – said hello to Greg, David and some of the usual suspects. I thought one more time about running an opening 6 minute mile and nothing much faster.
National Anthem, Runners to your mark …. Horn!
Mile 1: I started just a hair further back in the chute than I normally would, perhaps 20-25 runners in front of me and quickly found some open space on the right-center of the road leading up to the first right turn on the course. I didn’t look at my watch, just spun out free and easy. Cool weather had arrived in Austin with very little in the way of breeze. My single was barely moving in the wind and I felt like I was right where I needed to be. At the beep I glanced down at my watch at the first 1/2 mile – 2:58.
We were running a slight uphill stretch over the next 1.2 mile – 25 feet +/- of incline, so I dialed back ever so slightly on pace. We made the turn across Burnet Road onto the Domain Property and hit the 1 mile mark. My second 1/2 mile came in at 3:02.
I had run 6:00 flat for the first mile of the race. spot on perfect.
Mile 2: Mile 2 is almost completely flat on this course for the first 1/2 mile, then a nice long, very gradual descending second 1/2 mile. I wanted to stay even, not drop off on the effort which is where most 5K races come off the rail. The first mile is never an issue and the last one, even though it hurts quite a bit, does not allow you to give in as you are so close to the finish. It is that middle mile where it is very easy to take the foot off the gas ever so slightly. Imperceptively really, just enough to back off the pain that is starting – but on the watch it translates to :03-:05 seconds of slowing. Time you never get back in a short race like the 5K.
Our 3rd 1/2 mile split came in at 2:59, followed by a slightly faster 1/2 mile heading down the gentle decline in 2:57.
The second mile was 5:56 on the fastest part of the course. There was going to be some climbing at the end of the race, it was time to start fighting a little.
Mile 3: I had been running to this point with the first overall female in the 5K race. A young runner named Lauren who just moved to Austin from California and joined my running group. She was running extremely even and she stayed right off of my right shoulder. My mind started to wander a bit to who was in front of us and if there were any male runners up there who were running the 5K and not the 10K. It was the first time I found myself getting distracted, thinking about where I was with respect to the field and not running a 3:00 min. flat 1/2 mile split.
I chastised myself for letting my mind wander and snapped back to it. My watch beeped with the 5th 1/2 mile coming in at 2:53 with a 37 foot decrease in elevation. We would have to make that back up over the next 1/2 mile – so I focused on even stride and effort to come as close to a final 3:00 flat as possible.
As we made the turn back into the shopping district and the road started to climb ahead I noticed the breeze that was blowing as a bit of a headwind as it was much louder going in this direction. Not more than a 1-2 second shift, but with only 1/2 mile to go – any change like that feels pretty cruel.
I heard my watch beep a bit before the 3-mile sign, meaning that I did not run perfect tangents on the course with all the new turns this year or the course measured just a touch long. I glanced down and saw the first split I was unhappy with: 3:04.
Put together however, I had run another solid mile – 5:57. Nothing left to do but kick.
Finish: I heard Greg behind me who was running the 10K yelling at me that I had run 6:00 flat – kick to the end! As I approached the chute the female announcer said, “And we have our first 5K runner approaching the finish line!” – I slowed up ever so slightly as I crossed over the finish line – I’m really not sure why – and glanced at the clock ticking over 18:40.
6:00, 5:56, 5:57.
We were able to hold off Lauren by 5 seconds and win 1st overall at the IBM Uptown Classic on a picture perfect Fall day for racing in Austin. It is always nice to walk away with an Age Group Win or a spot on the podium, but I was honestly more happy with my effort than how it compared to anyone else on Sunday. That is usually the case, but it is especially true when you are able to execute a race plan so close to goal.
Yes, I’ve been faster. A lot faster actually.
That’s o.k., 2012 was a year when all I did was set personal bests. Running and racing was coming very easy to me.
2013 has been a much different story. We have been tested quite a bit and have had to scratch and claw for everything that we have gotten this year. 2014 is not too far away. Just another event or two on our calendar for this year. Definitely not enough time to get back to full strength and challenge any of our best times. But we can continue to improve. Continue to run with great focus and gain valuable fitness and experience.
I placed the Overall Award up on the shelf on Sunday afternoon where all of our medals and awards from previous races reside. It was one of the more unexpected additions to the collections for sure. I’m not really sure how I feel about it yet as I know that there were a lot of runners out there today who if they chose to race the 5K instead of the 10K they would have handed me my keister. But you can only run the race your a capable of running and you can only race those competitors who happen to be there that day.
On Sunday I was fortunate enough to cross the finish line first. But really, I was lucky to be able to be out there at all.
I’ll take it.