Sunday, February 13, 2011

Valentine's 5K: An Epic Race Wire-to-Wire, and a New PR!

Every so often, I end up running a race that reminds me exactly why all this training is worth it.  With the right competition, conditions, and course, this race became an epic battle.  The race, a local 5K put on by the Annapolis Striders, took place down in Millersville in a local park.  I had never run the race before, and had not done a Striders event since the 2009 Annapolis 10 Miler.

I knew there would be about 500 people, that the race would be well organized, and that the weather would be good (high 30s with minimal wind).  I had become rather used to knowing courses ahead of time now that I frequently re-run races I have done in the past.  However, since I had never even heard of Millersville, MD before this race I knew I'd be running blind; another variable to throw into the mix.

I actually warmed up on the last 0.75 miles of the course so I would have some idea of what was going on.  Right before the start, I took my spot in front and picked out two people that I knew would make it a race.  One dude is a rival who has had my number lately, the other guy, I had never seen before.  As soon as the gun went off, I got a great jump off the line and darted ahead with a group of probably about 10 runners in tow.  It only took about 0.25 miles for the true leaders to differentiate themselves from the rest of the group.

Including me, there were three of us.  The other two runners were the people I picked out at the start-line.  It seems I'm getting really good at sizing people up, or just knowing who they are already!  Of course, none of us had run the race before and had no idea where we were going, but there were enough course marshals and signs to mark the way.  I had decided ahead of time to stay on whoever was leading (unless they were running sub-16) from the get go, rather than fall behind and run from the back as I have been doing.

We hit mile 1 in 5:20.  The whole time leading up to the first mile, the pace felt slower than what I'd usually expect from a 5K.  However, I was relieved to finally actually go out in 5:20 since that is always what I think my first mile should be.  For once, I felt somewhat in control of the pace.  I always hate leading early, so I let the other runners lead.  The guy I didn't know (who is also named Dan) led most of the first mile.

After hitting a sharp turnaround, and passing by the rest of the pack, we turned off onto another path.  The three of us had really separated ourselves from the rest of the runners.  It was clear we were going to be the top-3.  It was just a matter of sorting out the positions.  Over most of the second mile, my rival led.  He also pushed the pace a bit.  I made sure to throw down some surges to remind the other guys that I wasn't going anywhere.  I never went ahead, I either stayed right behind the other guys or even with them.  I also tried to avoid staying in third.  Second was really my comfort zone.

We hit mile 2 in about 5:29.  There were some rolling hills over the second mile, and yet we were still essentially right on pace.  I felt better than I ever had after the second mile of a 5K.  The pace was still extremely painful to hold, but once again, I felt in control.  I had no thoughts of fading.  Of course, being neck and neck with two other runners, there was no way I was backing down anyway!

I noticed my rival take a couple of peaks at his watch after we passed mile 2.  When I start looking at my watch between mile markers, it usually means I'm tired.  Assuming the same thing from him, I decided it was time to take the lead and try and win the race.  I knew I probably didn't have much of a chance winning an all out sprint at the end with my marathon legs, so the race had to be decided before mile 3.

I started pushing the pace more, though in reality, I was really just holding onto my current pace.  The effort required to maintain was skyrocketing and I knew I wasn't going to last much longer.  I just kept telling myself "less than 5 minutes of running left."  Of course, those 5 minutes at the end of a 5K are pure agony.

We eventually hit the section I had warmed up on, so I knew we were close.  I sensed that one of the runners had faded back and that only one other remained.  I had no idea if he was shoulder-to-shoulder or a step behind me.  I could hear heavy breathing and footsteps, so I knew he was close.  As we approached the 3 mile marker I pushed harder and harder trying to shake this last guy.  I had no idea if he was my rival or the other Dan, but it really didn't matter!

Once we were within 30 seconds of the 3 mile marker, I realized I wasn't going to be able to shake him off.  My instinct started telling me he was going to try and make a move real soon, probably right at the 3 mile mark.  That's probably what I would have done in the same situation!  A voice in my head was screaming, "watch for the pass!"  I knew I would have to respond immediately by kicking it up a gear.  0.1 miles goes by real quick.  To make matters worse, I knew there was a sharp 90 degree turn with about 0.05 miles to go, so any momentum I'd have from picking it up would have to be regained after that turn.  With my crappy acceleration, that was going to be a problem.

Almost right on queue, I heard him go by me right after we hit the 3 mile mark in about 5:27.  A few friends watching said that we were actually side by side coming up on the 3 mile marker.  During the race, I had thought he went around me, and was shocked at how someone could have the energy to do that.  However, running alongside made a lot more sense.  Regardless, I had just a momentarily delayed response, just the slightest of a pause before I threw it into the highest gear I had.

As we turned the onto the final straight, I lost 1 second worth of ground.  After cursing out loud and trying even harder to go faster, my leg speed topped out and at best, I was only able to keep myself from falling further behind.  I crossed the line 2nd, 1 second behind the winner, but with a 2 second PR and a very evenly paced effort to boot.

Although this seems like a lot of thought going on, in reality, all of this happened over about 29 seconds and my thought process during the race was rather quick (and probably more illogical!).  That's how long it took me to cover the last 0.1 miles.  Most of this is from my analysis of how I remember the end of the race.

There was absolutely no way I could be disappointed with the outcome.  Someone has to lose the race, and it turned out to be me.  I got outkicked real badly at the end.  Since I almost never do 400 meter repeats during marathon training, I don't really give myself a chance to develop my own kick!  I know that the 3 of us left it all out there and ran one hell of a race.  That is all I can ask of myself.

I'll take my 16:45 and 1 second loss.  Now, next time I race that same dude in a 5K, I'll be waiting for just that move.  Next time, I'll have to bury him (and any other runners) before the 3 mile mark.  I need to break people before they have a chance to blow by me!  I have no problem mentioning this on the internet either.  Even if you know it's coming, the only way to counter a late gamble on the pace is to match it.  You either run faster or you don't whether or not you know it's coming!


  1. Enjoyed reading your race report! Again, I felt like I was at the race watching you run. Congratulations on another fine race! Keep on running!

  2. I saw the results online yesterday, I was wondering how the actual race went. That sounds awesome and super exciting. I'm sure everyone at the finish was thrilled with a sprint for the win. A 5k PR in the midst of marathon training? Awesome dude!

  3. Wow congrats on a new PR Dan! That's pretty awesome. I ran this course two or three years ago and remember it being a pretty well organized race.