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Race Report: Finish Strong 5K

Saturday, October 19, 2013

It's only a 5K, but it's the first race I entered since doing physical therapy for foot injury. I was excited last evening, but got to bed on time. I woke early, mitigating the effect of the race on weekend chores. I also got to have my normal steel cut oats at breakfast, instead of switching to oatmeal for the faster cooking time.

When I got up, it was 52° on my porch. That's warmer than forecast, and the revised forecast had the temp staying at 50°or above for the relevant time period. I switched out the long sleeve tech shirt I'd planned to wear for a short sleeve tech shirt from the 2012 Corporate Challenge. Went out in my driveway to test the temperature. OK, warm enough. The plan is to wear shorts, and move enough pre-race so that I don't get cold.

Arrived at the race site with plenty of time to spare. Got oriented on the location and amenities, and set out to alternate warm up running and walking to stay warm. By 8:40 it was 53° F and cloudy with a 12 mph wind from the SW. You couldn't ask for better running weather. Chatted a bit with a 64 year old guy doing his 37th 5K of the year. Tagged along for his warmups, which consisted of running a short distance down the race route and walking back a few times. Yes, it is easier to run slow if I'm accompanying someone and talking with him.

There was no starting mat, so for the best time you should crowd to the front. I lined up about 3 rows back, because I wanted to get a clean start on the RunKeeper app. I muffed starting it my last two races, but fresh out of PT I really wanted that pace feedback every minute. The starter graciously announced a 5 second countdown, in line with RunKeeper's 5 second delay. I think I was within a second or two of starting the app at the gun, and I got the iPhone safely into its holster before the running started.

Then came the mental games. I wanted to run fast, but I didn't want to flame out. So I tried to run at a sustainable pace, and resisted the urge to speed up to pass other runners. If I passed them while running the pace I wanted to run, well and good. Yes, I wanted to win the age group. Yes, I planned the race to win the age group. But it was more important to finish in good shape.

Early on, I came up behind a guy with sparse gray hair who might have been in my age group. His form wasn't very good, as he was leaning too far forward and seemed to be working awfully hard on his breathing; but he was ahead of me. I would run up to about 2 paces behind him, then run on his shoulder for a while; then he would pull ahead. By the time we got to the first mile marker, he was comfortably ahead of me. I thought about Freddy van Lierde in the Kona Iron Man Championship, and how he just kept running at a controlled pace and eventually passed everyone in front of him.

Now, I'm no Freddy van Lierde, and a 5K is no marathon; but I thought the same principle might apply here. If that guy was running with bad form, he was likely to back off the pace later on. Sure enough, I ended up passing that guy just before the second mile marker. There was another guy ahead of me by a short distance, but he looked clearly younger than me and ran with better form; by the time we got to the third mile marker I knew I was not going to try to pass him. And I didn't, though I did manage a little bit of a sprint to the finish line.

RunKeeper reported the effort as 3.16 miles in 20:42, for an average pace of 6:33. RunKeeper's mile splits were 6:34, 6:34, 6:32, and a 6:25 pace for the last fraction of a mile with the finish line sprint. Just like the plan, keep a steady pace on a mostly flat course. I must have warmed up well enough, and I controlled Mr. Testosterone adequately during the race. I'm pleased with this.

Astute readers will know that 5K is 3.1 miles, not 3.16. I attribute the difference to GPS location inaccuracy, inaccuracy in starting and stopping the app in time with the race, and running a less than perfect route on the 5K. Of the three, the GPS error is probably the biggest impact.

My official time turned out to be 20:42, for an average pace of 6:41 per mile. This is a personal record for me at the 5K distance, beating my prior best time of 20:52. And I finished in better shape than any of my previous 5K races. I did get a bit of a sore right calf, but it feels like training soreness. It will be better in a day or two, but it also pretty much makes the decision to take tomorrow as a non-running day. Yes, 5K is shorter than my normal weekend run; but I might have added another mile in off and on warmups, and the 5K was faster than a normal weekend run. Close enough for managing the running, I don't need to run again tomorrow.

It turned out that I did win my age group:

They didn't announce times when handing out age group awards; I had to ask what my official time was. For the vanity comparisons, I had to wait for official results to be posted to the internet.

I finished 15th out of 196 finishers. The oldest guy ahead of me was 50, next oldest ahead of me was 39. It's an ego boost to see that my time would have been good enough for 2nd in the age group 20 years younger than mine. Of course, 20 years ago I wasn't a runner at all.

I had a lot of fun, I won a $25 gift certificate from a sporting goods store I never would have heard of if they hadn't been a race sponsor, and I'm basking in the glow of success. But I need to remind myself that the biggest success is not winning a gift certificate, or getting a medal, or finishing ahead of younger guys. The biggest success is, I will be able to go out on Tuesday and have a normal 4+ mile lunch run.

Goal number one is, don't get injured. I achieved goal number one, which allows me to enjoy achieving lesser goals like winning the age group and achieving a PR.
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