Sunday I raced in my last 5k of the year, the Fiesta Bowl 5k in Scottsdale, Arizona. I had been nursing a hip flexor injury for ~6 weeks so I hadn't been running much and was a bit out of shape - but of course that wouldn't stop me from going all out in this race! My muscles were also a little sore from mountain trail running and yoga (neither of which I had done in a long, long time) but, again, that was hardly an excuse not to shoot for a PR!
Sunday morning was cold and wet with temperatures around 38F. While it felt cold before the race, I knew I would be dying of stifling heat minutes into the run if I bundled up. Fortunately Katie's father was there cheering us on and was able to hold onto warmup clothes that we took off shortly before start time. Katie and her sister, Kelly, were both running the race too and both of our moms walked it. Kelly's boyfriend, Mike, a much more accomplished endurance athlete than I, ran the race with me even though he could have zoomed ahead - it's always fun to have a buddy!
For this race I experimented with a new race plan. Instead of thinking of the race in terms of five kms, but running the first one faster (due to fast start) and the last one faster (due to fast finish), I divided the race into an initial fast half km, four hopefully consistent base pace kms, and then a fast half km (fast 400m followed by really fast 100m sprint to the finish).
With a previous PR of 20:45, I put together a race plan that would have me coming in at 20:40, using 4:13/km as my base pace.
First 500m: 1:53 (a 3:47 pace out of the gate, gradually slowing to base pace)
Four kms at 4:13 each (The course was pretty flat.)
400m: 1:36 (picking it up to 4:00/km pace)
100m: 20s (kicking it at 3:22/km pace)
In my PR 5k I had been shooting for a base pace of 4:17 but I actually spent most of the race at or below 4:13 until I faded a bit toward the end. Therefore my selection of 4:13 as my base pace was in hopes that I could keep that pace up now. The first and last 500m targets were based on my consistently hitting those numbers in previous races.
Mike and I secured a spot near the front of the pack and - all of a sudden - we were off! We had a nice wide street on which to spread out so I was able run comfortably without hurdling laggards. I hit 500m in 1:54 with an average heart rate of 159 BPM. One second off of pace was fine and my heart rate was in a good place.
We completed the next km in 4:12, right back in line with where I wanted to be. My heart rate averaged 174, which was also just about right. In the second km it was clear that I wasn't going to be able to sustain that pace as we finished in 4:18. My average heart rate had only increased to 175, though.
In the third km we hit some obstacles: a sharp turn, some uphill trail, and lots of muddy puddles to be carefully avoided in my Vibrams. By themselves they didn't seem like much but together they definitely slowed me down. I finished the third km in 4:29 (Yikes!) with an average heart rate of 176. I was 22 seconds off of pace and I could seriously feel the soreness in my quads. Mike looked over and asked, "How are we doing on pace?" My response: "Bad." You know I'm struggling when I use poor grammar!
The fourth km was more of the same: finished in 4:32 with an average heart rate of 176. At least now it was time to pick it up a bit - and pick it up we did! We finished the next 400m in 1:40 (a 4:10/km pace) and average heart rate of 179. As we rounded the last turn, it was a straight away to the finish line. Mike said, "Let's go" and we kicked it hard. There were two runners ahead of us and I just wasn't sure if we were going to be able to catch up to them. Having Mike there was extra motivational, though - we passed one runner and then, just before the finish line, the other one. The final 100m took 16s (2:40/km pace!) with average heart rate of 189 and a max heart rate of 196 (~my max possible heart rate)!
The final race time was 21:21, 41 seconds slower than my target. I was the 45th runner to finish (96th percentile), the 34th male (87th percentile), and 5th male age 30-34 (80th percentile). It was my worst race all year in terms of both time and finish placement. Race conditions were pretty good including cool weather and a running buddy for extra motivation - so what happened?
Well, my heart rate was generally lower than in previous races despite my running more slowly. A few possibilities:
1. This may just have been due to the cold (The warmer it is, the higher my heart rate at the same pace.)
2. My muscle soreness was preventing me from turning over my legs quickly enough to warrant a higher heart rate
3. After several weeks of not running much, my body simply wasn't attuned to increasing heart rate that much
4. I didn't have enough glycogen stored in my muscles
I'm not really sure about any of those but they're my best guesses so far. I'll look forward to my next 5k in February, where I will hope to make a stronger showing.
Enough about me, though; the best part of the race was that we had a whole team of family there! Katie's dad was steward of the clothes and official photographer. Mike and I and Katie and Kelly all ran while our moms walked. Several years ago my mom suffered a major injury that severely impaired her walking. This was probably the first time she has walked 5 continuous kms since then so I was very excited to see her near the finish. I jogged back a little ways to find her and was surprised to find that she wasn't walking - she was really moving along, cane and all! I walked in with her a bit and then, as she rounded the final turn, I could see that she had the eye of the tiger! She really picked it up and hustled through the finish line, passing one of her competitors! Way to go, Mom! I've always been proud of her professional accomplishments, but when she finished that race I may have been beaming even more brightly than I ever have before!
It was a good race, well organized and well run. After some post-race nutrition we packed it up and hopped on our flight back to Houston. Full and exhausted - what an appropriate finish to an already excellent weekend!