Am I saying this because I'm just coming off of a marathon training cycle and I'm not used to running hard and fast? Maybe. I think that today's race gave me a new perspective on the 5K distance. I'm not discouraged by this perspective, but I think I have a bigger challenge ahead of me than I previously believed if I ever want to run under 20 minutes. Today marks the 1-year anniversary of my official fastest 5K time: 20:17. I've run about 7 5Ks since then and have not been able to go any faster. Granted, I have spent most of that time training for marathons, but at some point I really want to breakthrough this plateau.
Meanwhile, I haven't even raced a 10K in over a year. My fastest 10K and fastest 5K paces are only about 10 seconds apart, so I feel like I have much more opportunity in the 5K. But then. . . it's always harder than I expect.
This morning I raced the Semper Fi 5K in Washington DC. This is my third time running this race. As I said above, I ran my fastest ever time on this course exactly one year ago. The two big differences between today's race and last year's race are the fact that I haven't been training for the 5K distance (last year I had 6 solid weeks behind me), and the weather. It was about 10 degrees warmer this year than last. But still, I was hopeful that I would set a PR. I thought sub-20 was probably a stretch with the heat and humidity, but I really thought I could squeak under 20:17 based on how fast my track workouts were during marathon training.
Before the race
This race did not have race-day packet pickup like it has in years past, so luckily my friend Allison was able to get the bibs for Greg and me. Greg and I met up with Allison and Cheryl, pinned on our bibs, and warmed up to the start line. The race started at 8:30 which annoyed me slightly. If you aren't offering race day bib pickup, then can't you start at 7:30? I guess the race organizers wanted to offer the option of using metro as transportation.
We warmed up for just over two miles and returned to the start line at 7:20. We lined up, in the corral and starting chatting among ourselves. I noticed that it looked like the race was getting ready to start, even though it wasn't even 8:25 yet. And suddenly. . . HONK! The horn went off, catching everyone off guard and the race started five minutes early.
Thankfully, we were lined up and ready, but I can't say the same for some of the other runners who were still finishing their warm ups. Starting a race late is annoying, but starting a race early can really screw things up for people who are finishing their last-minute preparations.
Still in shock by the early start, I realized I was thankful for even 5 minutes of slightly cooler weather. It was 70 degrees and humid, with partly cloudy skies. I went out at a pace of 6:25 and it felt really good. I thought to myself, this feels really comfortable and I will definitely be able to run this pace the whole time! I could tell that Greg was right behind me and I thought it would be great if we could stick together for the whole race.
Initially, there were two women ahead of me, but I passed one of them about 3/4 of the way through the first mile. I was now in second place. But then, a woman came up from behind and passed me as we approached the mile 1 marker. I assume she must have been one of the people who missed the start of the race and had to work her way up in the pack. I was once again the third female. My 1-mile split was 6:25.
Shortly after the mile marker, I felt myself slowing down, even though I was keeping the effort level
steady. And then I got a cramp in my chest. It was uncomfortable but I was able to still run through it. The race suddenly became very difficult. I pushed harder in order to try and maintain my pace but it was not happening. I was getting slower and slower but pushing harder and harder.
Greg was a few feet ahead of me at the turnaround point, and then he widened the gap even farther as we made our way back toward the finish line. I kept reminding myself that it was supposed to hurt and that hurt = happy, but it wasn't helping. I wanted to stop so badly. And I momentarily told myself I would never run another 5K again. I didn't think there was any way I would make it to the finish line. It took every ounce of mental strength I had to not stop and walk. And yes, this was still during mile 2! My split was 6:42.
I tried to rally for the final mile, as that was part of my original race strategy. I wanted the final mile to be my fastest as it has been in years past. The best way to describe mile 3 is torture. I was in so much pain and even though I knew I wasn't going to PR, I told myself I had to "practice" the feeling of pain so that when my PR day arrived, I would be able to take full advantage of it.
I think success in the 5K is largely dependent on how much pain tolerance you have. I can be moderately uncomfortable for a long time in a half or full marathon. But I struggle to allow myself to feel so much pain, even for a short period of time. I decided I would salvage the race by practicing the act of continuing to give, give, give even when I felt like I had nothing to give. I logged a 6:47 split for the final mile. This was followed by a 6:25 paced run to the finish line.
After the Race
I felt like I needed to collapse after I crossed the finish. I found a nearby tree to lean on. And then it took 2-3 minutes to be able to talk to Greg, who had finished in 20:18. Thankfully, I was able to see Allison and Cheryl finish although instead of cheering I just waved my arms.
That was a MASSIVE amount of effort and quite torturous. And it got me a time of 20:40. Sigh. I have to admit I'm little bit discouraged but in a positive way. I have even more respect for the 5K distance so when I do finally break 20, it will feel like more of an accomplishment. I think that going sub-20 this summer will be a long shot, although not entirely impossible.
I'm pleased that I had so much "fight" in me this morning, as compared to the Crystal City 5K I ran in early April. During that race the last mile was into a headwind and uphill and I just didn't have the motivation to fight for it.
|Me, Allison, and Cheryl|
After the race, we got our awards and did a cool down jog back to the car, followed by brunch.
To sum up the key takeaways:
- Sub-20 or even setting a PR will be more difficult than I expected; I have a lot of work to do
- This race was excellent practice for pushing through the pain and suffering
- I have this experience to channel when I run future races
- I had fun! I got to hang out with Allison, Cheryl, and of course Greg
- It's not a warm-weather PR but it's a warm-and-humid PR!
Two more weeks of training and then I'll put myself through this whole ordeal again!