Sunday, April 27, 2008

Pesky Little 5K

Every time I run a 5K, about halfway through, I ask myself why I registered for this race? What am I doing here? Why do I subject myself to such torture? My lungs ache almost the entire way as I struggle for oxygen. At the end I am always gasping for breath, and I have to wait a few minutes to even be able to remove my chip from my shoe.

But then I ask myself when the next one is. 

The 5K is a very frustrating distance for me. My key strength or "sweet spot" in marathoning is the pacing strategy. I always run even splits, with each mile being run at about the same pace. I've also run negative splits, both in full and half marathons. When it comes to the 5K, though, I cannot pace myself. In my marathoner's mind, I think "Only 3.1 miles- I should be able to run this way faster than marathon pace!" So I go out at a pace that feels fast, which I can only maintain for about 1.5 miles, before slowing down.

This morning I ran the GW Parkway Classic 5K. I was not expecting a PR because I am still recovering from the two marathon I ran, just four weeks apart. I've also spent the past six weeks with knee issues, so my training has been at an all-time low. What I was expecting was a sub-24:00 race, and a possible age group award, based on last year's results.

This was a point-to-point race. They bus you to the start and then you run back to where you parked your car. The race has a 10-mile event, which I ran back in 2006. The 5K is the last 5K of the 10 miles. I knew what to expect, but I had forgotten about the major hill in the third mile. Additionally, we were running into a headwind the entire time. It wasn't a significant amount of wind, but any little bit can have an impact in such a short race.

I warmed up for about half a mile at an easy pace, also including some quick sprints to tune up my legs. I lined up near the front of pack and started chatting with the runners. The race started and I began to run at what seemed to be a "comfortably hard" pace. I would have estimated my pace at about 7:45. However, when I passed the first mile, the clock read 7:20, and I was worried that I made my classic pacing mistake: going out too fast.

During mile two, I paid for mile one. I clocked an 8:04, which really, really should not happen for me during a 5K! I have run faster miles in half-marathons! I tried to pick it up for the last mile. I was pushing really hard, but I felt so extremely tired. I wanted to stop and walk so badly! I ran up the steep hill at a snail's pace, and then down again at a much faster pace. Aboout 200 meters from the finish line, two girls who seemed to be in my age group came from behind me and attempted to pass me. Oh no! I wouldn't let them. I started to sprint, giving myself a nice lead over them. With about 100 meters to go, I eased up on my sprint, and they caught up again. We were neck and neck until almos the finish, but ultimately, they finished first.

I looked at the clock, which read 24:00, and my chip time ended up being 23:58. 28 seconds slower than my PR, but not my slowest 5K ever. I wasn't particularly pleased with my time, but I wasn't devastated either. I was mainly mad at myself for my poor pacing, and was wondering how much time I could have shaved off if I ran that first mile just 10 seconds slower.



What frustrates me even more is that I have not made much progress in this distance in the past year an a half. In November 2006, I ran a 23:32. My PR is only two seconds faster, set in June 2007. Considering that I have brought my marathon time down from 4:24 in the Fall of 2006, to 3:51, you would think that my 5K time would come down with it. But nope, it hasn't budged!!!! I know that I am not in as good of shape right now as I was when I ran that Shamrock marathon, but still!

Nevertheless, I was satisfied with my placing. And just one place short of winning 3rd in my age group (the first and second place overall winners were in my age group, removing them from the "age group" competition).

Time: 23:58
Pace: 7:43

6 out of 177 women aged 20-29
65 out of 876 total finishers (male & female)

My knee didn't hurt during the race, but it hurt afterwards. I am going to take the next few days off, and log maybe a total of 15 miles this week. My goal is to let my knee heal so that I can begin training for my next marathon in early June. (BTW, this is a different knee issue than the one I was experiencing pre-London. That was a shoe issue. This new issue is patellar tendonitis.)

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