Friday, July 4, 2014

Firecracker 5K: A Summer Rust-buster

This morning I ran my 3rd Firecracker 5K in Reston. I've been registered for this race every year since 2010, but I wasn't able to race it last year or the year before due to injury/illness. So making it to the start line healthy was a great feeling.

For the past year, I've been sleeping really well before races and my anxiety levels have decreased significantly. However, last night, at 1:00am, I awoke to the sound of my doorbell. As yes, kids doing the ding-dong-ditch thing. In the 4+ years that I have lived in my house, this has never happened. And of course it has to happen the night before a race. Needless to say, Greg and I were pretty pissed off, but eventually we fell back to sleep.

My spirits were high as I ate my pre-race breakfast and got ready for the race. I actually didn't even think much about the race until the warm-up, when I started to wonder how the race was going to feel for me.

I haven't raced since my marathon on May 4, and two months is a long time for me to go without racing. I had a few goals for this race:

  • Do not look at the Garmin during the race
  • Stay strong on the hills and try to pass people at the tops of hills
  • Practice the mental strategies I've been working on to stay positive and focused
I actually did not have a time goal. I was interested in seeing where I was fitness-wise, but a time goal wasn't top of mind. I thought I would probably run somewhere between a 7:10-7:20 pace. 

It was about 67 degrees and overcast (not bad for July 4th!). But on the flip side, it was also quite windy and very humid, coming off the tails of thunderstorms that just passed through. I decided I would trust my experience of knowing what 5K effort felt like and just run whatever I had in me.

Mile 1: 7:14
Mile 1, photo by G. Buckheit
The first mile was primarily uphill and very crowded. This race had over 2,000 runners and the course was not very wide. I started close to the front, and I expected that the crowd would thin out after the first mile, but that never happened. During the first mile, I told myself to relax and stay in control. Relax, control. That was my mantra to begin with. My running team's coach was there at the first mile marker taking photos and cheering me on. That helped energize me.

Mile 2: 7:02
I started to really feel the effort during the second mile, so I shifted my focus to just maintaining a constant effort level. Mile 2 was a net downhill, hence the increase in speed. It was nice to get a break from the uphill running, but I knew that the worst of the hills was yet to come during mile 3. I successfully passed a few runners during this mile, but not a ton.

Mile 3: 7:27
This mile is tough. The second half is up a long hill, and there is one curvy hill that's relatively steep. I did slow down a bit on the steep hill, but I refused to let the long, less steep hill take anything from me. As I ran up the final hill, I remembered back to my marathon from two months ago and how I tackled those hills. I broke the hill down into small sections mentally and I got myself into a rhythm. It made the hill seem less daunting and before I knew it, I was at the top. Oh, but then we made a turn and there was another hill leading up to the finish!

Last mile
Last 0.18 Miles (6:37 pace)
As I made the final turn and approach the finish, I gunned it. I was actually quite surprised by how much I had in me! And in fact, this is common for me: a very strong final kick that makes me think I could have started kicking earlier, or that I could have run the whole thing a little faster. Ah well, better than bonking and doing the survival shuffle to the finish line!

This course is always long according to my Garmin. I know all of the arguments against using your Garmin distance as the actual race distance, but I still think this race is slightly long. I made sure to run the tangents and minimize my weaving through the crowd. Greg also ended up with 3.18 miles.

According to my Garmin, my average pace was 7:13, which was on the faster end of my expected range. Given the humidity and the wind, I am pleased with this and I think I ran a smart race. I accomplished all of my goals, except for maybe not passing as many people at the tops of hills as I would have liked. 

My official race time was 22:54, which is my slowest 5K in a few years. But I also haven't run a hot 5K in over two years. 

I ran a much faster time at the Crystal City 5K this past April, but I wasn't at all happy with my effort there so I didn't even bother to write a blog about it. I really like how I am thinking about my race performances in terms of effort and not outcome. 

I placed 9 out of 183 in my age group (top 4.9%)
I placed 53 out of 1212 women (top 4.4%)

It was a large, competitive field and it's hard to believe I placed third in my age group when I ran this race back in 2010. And had a slower time than today!  Also worth noting is that the female 35-39 age group was by far the largest age/gender group at the race. The top 3 women in my age group all finished under 20 minutes, and the top 3 women in the 30-34 age group all finished slower than 20 minutes. I found that really interesting.

Anyway, it was good to be out there racing again and putting out a hard effort. My next race will be a 10K in Reston in about 8 weeks, so I better get used to hills!

Capital Area Runners Post Race


  1. Nice going, lady! Glad to hear that you are running strong and solid. Keep up the good work!

  2. That's a great race time with the heat right now! I'm glad you were able to do it and not sick, and yeah... if it's 3.18 it probably is a slightly long course. It looks like you had fun hanging out with everyone too, congrats on finishing under 23 and in the top 5%!