As I alluded to in my previous post, I had a simple goal with whatever 5k race I was going to sign up for - to set a baseline for where my fitness is. It didn't matter so much to me about which race I signed up for, so long as it was not insanely hilly. Afterall, how can you baseline something if it isn't something somewhat repeatable? So I ended up signing up for the race that 1) Was closest to home; and 2) Was cheapest. Oh yea, and it didn't hurt that a 10 am start would allow me to actually have a peaceful morning of sleeping in, rather than the usual rush and go chaos of race morning. So with that, I selected the Nat Bresler Memorial 5k. The race benefits Habitat for Humanity, which is something we've donated used items to, so I had an extra reason to choose that race over the other one I was considering.
So race morning came about and temperatures were ok, but far from perfect - 70F and 85% humidity. After doing a short 2 mile warm up, I was pretty much drenched in sweat, so I knew the humidity might cause a little extra dehydration. I continued to sip water until about 10 minutes before the gun to ensure I was hydrated, but not with a sloshy stomach. I also threw down a 2x caffeine ClifShot right around that 10 minutes till race start timeframe, figuring it would kick in just about halfway into the race, when I'd need it most. And then we finally lined up...only nobody else really wanted to stand on that front line. Now mind you, this was a pretty small race of about 150 or so people, so its not like I expected a whole crew of speedsters out there. I knew I'd be among the front runners. And I can think of plenty of reasons why I don't consider myself in tip-top shape, but nevertheless, I stood on that front line ready to make myself hurt. Racing is all about finding out what you are capable of AT. THAT. POINT. IN. TIME. And for me, where my fitness is, is the determining factor in my next phase of training. In order to set new goals and pace guidelines, you have to find out where you are today. Not where you want to be in 2-3 months or where you were last year. Your fitness is what it is and that is what you have to work with. And that is exactly what I set to find out. So I stood on the front line, and prepared to run hard from the gun to the finish to see what I'd have in me today.
Now, before I get into the play by play of the race, I'd like to take the opportunity to make another plea to race organizers - PLEASE POST YOUR COURSE ON YOUR WEBSITE! Since this was a first year race, I knew I was taking a chance with some logistical issues. However, nobody (even when we were standing mere seconds away from the start of the race, could explain the exact course. And with a race location like George Mason University, which hosts everything from 5ks to 10ks on what seems like a weekly basis around this time of year, there were lots of markings on the ground for various races. So unless the course was clearly marked with loud course marshals (which it was not), we'd have to make quick decisions on the fly and hope we were right. Oh yea, and handing out full bottles of water without the tops screwed off is probably not a good idea either. Next year, let's get some cups, umkay????
At the sound of the gun, I took off with another runner I recognized from tons of other races in the area. Having raced some smaller races with him in the past, I knew he was a fair bit faster than me, so I let him take the lead from the start and figured I'd follow closely so long as I stayed within my capabilities. After a very sharp uphill for the first .1 of the race, we settled into a gently sloping downhill for the next 1/2 mile or so clicking along at about 5:40/pace. I knew this was a touch fast, but since we were on a downhill, I just went with it, knowing we'd likely have some uphill to contend with, so it would even out eventually. Shortly after, the road turned uphill as expected and I started getting to work trying to maintain effort. I was closing the early gap on the leader and eventually pulled up to his side, where he told me to take the lead. I wasn't feeling very confident at that point, because we were working fairly hard to continue up this hill and I knew it would continue for a while. I also didn't know the rest of the course, so I didn't want to blow up so soon, so I just settled in off his shoulder and told him I wasn't feeling all that great either. I knew the pace was slipping back, but we ticked through Mile 1 closely together in 5:50.
Still climbing for another 1/2 mile or so, we finally crested the hill very out of breath, with the humidity finally starting to take its toll. He started to slowly pull away as we started a gentle downhill back toward the start, holding a 2-3s lead, as we were directed off for a small loop, but up another short, steep hill. As we climbed the hill, I pulled back even with him and we turned onto a sidewalk trail for the next 1/4 mile or so. We crossed the Mile 2 mark in about 6:10, having slowed largely due to the uphill nature of the course, but still pushing just as hard.
Shortly after starting on the sidewalk trail, I pulled ahead slightly and he told me to go for it. This time, I continued to build my effort, as I knew if I could hold things together for another mile, I'd be golden. So we both pressed along, finally looping back onto the course while some of the other runners were still making their way through the first loop. As I entered the intersecting street to get back onto the course, a girl with her headphones on, completely oblivious to the 2 of us, moved right into my path. I literally yelled "Hey" and took a giant leap in the air to avoid hitting her, but once again proving my point that headphones and races are not a good mix. They should have at least had a race marshal to monitor the intersection to make people aware that faster runners would be looping back onto the course. In any event, I came through, pushing sub-6 pace on the downhill, still holding a lead that may have been extended by a few seconds. As I approached the same rotary where they made us turn for the loop I had just completed, I asked the race marshal which way to the finish, since nobody was directing me. She pointed to go around the rotary in the same direction as the runners still going for the loop I just completed. In my head, I was thinking that we'd round the rotary and head back down the steep hill we went up at the start to the finish. Unfortunately, I was nearly halfway around the rotary, when she realized she sent me the wrong way! The guy behind me was just coming through the rotary the correct way, where he yelled at me to get back on course and win the race. While he didn't let up, he make me earn my win (I averaged 5:16/mile pace over the last .1), and I passed him back into the lead as we came upon the last few yards to the finish line, where I crossed 1st! He quickly followed 2s after. Once across the finish line, I thanked him for his courtesy in doing the right thing. He told me he just wanted to get his sub-19 time (a goal of mine too), and that I should have won it anyways if they didn't send me off course.
While I was so focused in that last mile on holding my lead, I didn't even look at my watch to try and figure out what time I was close to. At that point, I knew I had run it pretty darn hard and if I could win and come close to/beat my PR (19:05), I'd be ecstatic. Well not only did I win, but I PR'd in a major way, finishing in 18:38! When I crossed the finish line, I didn't know what to be more happy about - winning a race outright or taking 30s off my 5k PR without really training for a 5k.
I stuck around for the awards, where I got a pretty unique medal - a hard hat (see picture above)! Since the race was to benefit Habitat for Humanity, all the age group awards were hammers. Pretty cool idea if you ask me! I also got some Starbucks coffee and a $25 Starbucks giftcard. Not too shabby!