Saturday I set a new 5k PR at the Houston Heights 5k race. As we are now in the time of year when Houston is murderously hot and humid, I had intended to be done with races until late Fall. However, our Norwegian intern, Anders, who is a much more accomplished runner than I am, pointed out that this would be our last chance to run in the same race before he headed back home - how could I pass up such an opportunity?
My previous 5k PR for a certified course was 20:58, set back in February. In theory I should have been in better shape now, but it would also be much hotter/more humid now so I didn't know exactly what kind of performance to expect. With race-time temperatures expected in the 80s, online calculators were predicting that I would run up to a minute slower than my cool weather potential. Plus, now I'm a married man and I'm sure that sets me back a few minutes too! :-P
I disregarded the weather for my race plan, though, and set a strategy to set a new PR. The course would be very straight and flat so there was no need to worry about adjusting for turns or hills. As usual my intention was to start and finish very strong with a fast, consistent pace in between:
KM 1: 4:04 (Big burst at the start then settling into my pace after 200m)
KM 2: 4:17
KM 3: 4:17
KM 4: 4:17
KM 5: 4:00 (4:17 pace for 650m, cover the next 260m in 60s - 3:51 pace, and sprint the final 90m in 15s - 2:47 pace)
Race goal: 20:55
The morning of the race was definitely pretty sticky. I didn't allow as much time between my big breakfast and the race as I usually do, so my GI was grumbling a bit as I warmed up. My stomach settled down right before the start, though, so all was well. I found Anders, we wished each other luck, and then we were off.
The first km went very well. Heights Blvd is a wide, straight street and there was plenty of room for runners to spread out after the starting line. I had a good start (~3:30 pace) and then eased back, finishing this km in 3:58 with an average heart rate of 166. Heading into the next km I was 6 seconds ahead of my goal and my heart rate was 174 - right on target.
The second km was consistent and felt strong. I finished it in 4:13 with an average heart rate of . . . 174 - my heart rate had stayed steady as well. I was now 10 seconds ahead of my goal and feeling very good.
The third km worried me a bit as it included a 180-degree turn (as we turned around and headed right back up Heights Blvd). I finished it in 4:12 but my heart rate had now begun to climb, averaging 178 throughout the km. 60% through the race I was 15s ahead of my goal with a 180 heart rate and straight, flat road ahead.
The 4th km was once again consistent (My heart rate stayed at 180.) but I struggled to stick to my pace, finishing in 4:18. A woman in green who had been just ahead of me (and who had a coach biking alongside her) began to extend her lead. Still, I was 14s ahead of my goal so I would set a new PR barring any disastrous meltdown.
The next 650m were again a struggle and I completed them at 4:20 pace. My average heart rate for that leg was 183 and my current heart rate was 185. Still, I was 12s ahead of my goal as I kicked it up for my penultimate push.
My pace was good during this push, 3:44, but something unexpected happened before I completed the 260m. Anders, who of course had finished several minutes prior, had come back along the course and was encouraging me on. I was 13s ahead of my goal, my heart rate was now 189 and, with 120m left, I began my final sprint.
I could see the woman in green way up ahead of me and, urged on by Anders, I committed to beating her. I passed several guys along the way but, for whatever reason, she was my focus - my nemesis! I blew by her maybe 5m before the finish line and it felt great! I had completed the final 120m in 23s (2:55 pace) for a final time of 20:44.9, 10s below my goal and a new PR by 13s! Perhaps most interestingly, my hear rate soared to 197 - the highest I have ever recorded - during the sprint.
I cooled down, found Anders, and together we jogged back along the course to find Katie and run her in. By this point it was getting very muggy and we were incredibly thankful for all the tree shade along Heights Blvd. Some others from our office had come out to support us so we all met up - but we runners kept our sweaty distance!
Anders finished 2nd overall with a 16:06 time - very impressive. My 20:45 was 69th of 1,022 runners (93rd percentile), 60th of 495 male runners (88th percentile), and 8th of 71 males 30-34 (89th percentile). It was a good race with decent competition, plenty of room, a nice course, and effective organization - I'll hope to run it again next year.
Also, to make this run more meaningful, I ran it in honor of GIVEWATTS. Some family members sponsored me and I managed to collect enough donations for three watts of clean renewable power to be installed at a school in East Africa. Over 10 years those three watts will create approximately $2,250 of value there, so this aspect of the race was much more impactful than my PR!