This post is the second of three that detail my running of a 5k last weekend.
I got off to a nice pace (I thought!) with the balls of my feet lightly springing me forward and level of exertion in a good range. When I looked down at my Garmin, though, it said I was on a 3:30 / km pace! Yikes, way too fast! Because I didn’t trust the GPS as much when surrounded by all those tall hospitals in the Houston Medical Center, I didn’t let up too much at first.
After more than a minute, though, I decided to pull back a bit. I was frustrated with myself for falling prey to the classic “rookie” mistake: firing out of the starting gate too quickly, spurred on by adrenaline and the paces of the other, much faster runners who start at the front of the pack. I just hoped that it wouldn’t kill my ability to keep up the pace later on in the race. Still, I was pretty optimistic; I had made this mistake in every one of my competitive races to date and it had yet to really hold me back. Plus, I was well rested and nourished, so I tried to adjust to the right pace and keep on trucking.
I finished the first km in 4:01 (WAY ahead of pace) but my heart rate was only at 166 BPM, almost exactly where I would have expected it to have been if running my pace, so I was optimistic that I had gained 21 seconds without it costing me much. If I could just stick to my plan for the rest of the race, I would kill my previous PR.
I finished my second km in 4:13 (Still significantly under pace) and my heart rate was doing just fine at 173 BPM. Just as had happened during my 10k PR run at last year’s Capitol 10k in Austin, it began dawning on me that, 30 seconds ahead of my 21:40 race plan as I was, I could actually break 21:00 (my 5k goal for 2011). I adjusted my race plan in stride; I would now need to run my final three km at a 4:19 pace and get the most I could get out of my final kick. I was feeling good, though, and this all seemed very possible. By this point I was feeling very overdressed, so I rolled up the sleeves of my long-sleeve mock and pressed on.
I finished my third km in 4:19 and my heart rate was just 176 BPM – excellent, keep on going! Toward the end of the fourth km was a 180-degree turn. Last year I slowed down and hugged the turn tight to ensure that I ran the shortest distance possible. The slow down felt good but the subsequent speed up was hard. This year instead I decided to swing out wide and keep up my momentum / pace. I’m not sure what the best practice is in this situation, but I think it helped me.
I finished my fourth km in 4:20 and my heart rate was still down at 177 BPM – I knew I had plenty of gas left for my final km. By this point in the race we were all very spread out and, after I passed a few runners on that slingshot turn, there really wasn’t anyone around me. There was someone about 30m ahead of me. From what I could tell, he was significantly younger and lighter than I was, so I became fixated on him as my must-beat target. This was just the motivation I needed to push me through this last km. Slowly I gained ground on him, but I made sure not to press too hard. If I could just close to 10m or less, I was sure I could leave him in my dust on the final kick.
As we approached the final turn, I pulled up even with this temporary arch nemesis of mine and my watch informed me that we were at 4.75 km. I had made it here in 3:11 – a 4:16 pace – and my heart rate was 180 BPM. My total race time at this point was 20:04 so I could beat 21:00 if I could just execute my 55 second 250m final kick. My nemesis, unfortunately, was all gassed out and offered no competition after I passed him, so I had to look inward for the motivation on this final stretch.
I pushed forward with what felt like everything I had. Looking at the data now, it appears that I temporarily sustained a 3:05 pace but that this gradually slowed down to about 3:30. As I came into the last 50m, though, I could see the clock ticking away at 20:54, which helped me find that extra gear and fly into an all out sprint (~2:30 pace, according to the Garmin). One of the advantages of being the only runner around is that the crowd around the finish line has no one else to cheer for, so you know they’re cheering for you. As I gritted down for this final sprint, the crowd reacted positively and the cheers grew louder, which really helped.
The final 250m took me 54 seconds (average heart rate: 183 BPM). Interestingly, my heart rate had been climbing to 186 during the first 200m but then, when I went into the full sprint, it dropped to 180, only increasing again once I slowed down after the finish line. I suspect this has something to do with the transition from the lactic acid energy system to the ATP-PC energy system, but I’m not sure exactly why / how.
My official race time was 20:58 – a new PR and under my 2011 5k goal. I finished #48 of 961 runners (95th percentile), #39 of 447 men (91st percentile), and #2 of 49 in my age group – men 30-34 (96th percentile). After the race there was a great after party. Lots of good music, natural food, sports drinks, and, of course, beer! After official race times were posted, they stopped the music to give out awards. Since they gave awards to the top three finishers in each age group, I won an award for the first time!!! What a thrill! It must have been a pretty weak / sparse competitive field, but I’ll take it!