Saturday, July 4, 2015

Firecracker 5K: Fired up for a downpour

This morning, I ran my 4th Firecracker 5K in the Reston Town Center. I've registered for this race every year since it started in 2010, but I've only been able to race 4 of them.

2010-- 23:21 (3rd place AG)
2011-- 22:41
2012-- (mono - ran it very easy because I thought I was recovering)
2013-- Injured
2014-- 22:54

There are three holiday races that I like to run every year as part of a tradition. It's a fun way to celebrate a holiday with Greg, and it's also nice to compare year-over-year performance. This Firecracker 5K, the Turkey Trot 5K, and the Ringing In Hope 10K on New Year's eve are the three that I always run, provided that I am not injured.

This is the first time I've ever trained specifically for a 5K. Usually my training revolves around marathons and half marathons. I might spend 4-5 weeks dedicated to shorter stuff, but usually no longer than that. You'll see my progression of results across multiple races at the bottom of this post.

Relatively low mileage, no tempo runs, lots of interval work

Before the Race
I went into this race pretty relaxed. I've been doing short races regularly so it's not like putting all my "eggs" in one basket. I know that some races will go really well, and others won't. That's just the nature of the sport. All signs, however, pointed to this race going well. I was well rested, my recent workouts had been strong, and I had no lingering soreness anywhere.

Greg (who has just begun the long journey back into running after breaking his ankle in March) once
End of mile 1
again came with me to the race to cheer me on and take photos. We arrived at the race, and walked around for a little while until it was time to start my warm up.

I warmed up for about 12 minutes (cut short due to an unexpected bathroom trip) and felt decent. It was 69 degrees with 100% humidity and very light rain. For a summer race with an 8:00am start, we could have been dealing with much hotter conditions, so I consider this good weather for the time of year.

My goal was a course PR, but I also would have loved to break 22:00. I knew that breaking 22:00 on a hilly course in 69-degree humid weather would be HUGE, but I felt like it was within my reach. My fastest 5K in warm weather (above 60 degrees) was a 22:24 back in 2012 before I got mono.

As I approached the start, I saw quite a few of my friends from Capital Area Runners. A lot of people come out for this race, and there were nearly 2,000 total finishers. It's always a competitive field-- except for that first year when I won an age group award!

Mile 1: 6:57
Having run this race multiple times in the past, I knew that the first and last miles were uphill, and the middle mile was downhill. I decided to just run by feel, making sure I didn't blow all my energy on that first mile. Everything felt pretty good, and the first mile went by quickly. I was pleased to see a 6:57, knowing that my second mile would almost certainly be faster.

Mile 2: 6:45
The sky opened up and it suddenly started to rain very heavily. I had brought a hat to keep the water off of my face, but I left it with Greg because it wasn't raining at the start line. It was challenging to focus on pushing hard when water kept getting in my eyes. This resulted in my looking down, which I know isn't ideal, but it was the only way I could see without wiping my eyes constantly.

Gunning for the finish
Mile 3: 7:10
Now it was time to really work hard and remember all the training I had done. I glanced down at my Garmin at the beginning of the mile and saw an average 6:53 pace for the first two miles. That's a faster pace than my all-time PR of 21:29! I knew that if I just pushed really hard I'd be able to break 22:00. I felt stronger than I ever have at the end of this race, but that last hill was so long! I increased my effort substantially, but my pace still dropped.

Last 0.16: 7:10 pace
I kind of don't trust my Garmin here. I had a really fast finishing kick, which felt like 6:20 or something. But, there were a lot of tall building around and with only 0.16 of a mile, there wasn't a lot of time for the Garmin to self-correct. I bolted for the finish line and was so happy to be done!

I watched some of my friends come in, found Greg and chatted with my friends for a bit. It was pouring heavily so I cooled down and didn't even stay for the awards. I was pretty sure I didn't win an age group award, simply because it was such a large competitive field.

Garmin time and pace: 22:03, 3.16 miles, 6:58 pace
Official time: 22:05
Placing: 5 out of 133 in my age group (35-39), which puts me in the top 3.75%!

Lately, the official time hasn't been matching up with when I start and stop my watch. I know I hit the button exactly when I cross the start, and almost immediately after I finish. But for my past 3 races, the official time has been a few seconds slower than my Garmin time.

Focusing on shorter, faster workouts has definitely resulted in faster times. Comparing this race to the Fair Oaks Ambulance Chase 5K that I ran on May 23 in much cooler, less humid weather, I see huge gains. My Garmin pace and official time were extremely close, and yet today's race was 13 degrees hotter, in a downpour with 100% humidity.

Comparing this race to Angel Kisses from May 10, the weather was similar (although it didn't rain at Angel Kisses) and the course was similar. Yet I ran 34 seconds faster today, shaving off over 10 seconds per mile!

Race, Date
Garmin Dist.
 Garmin Pace
 Official Time 
 BEST Kids, 4/18
 62, sunny, low humidity
 Angel Kisses, 5/10 
 69, overcast, very humid
 Fair Oaks, 5/23
 56, sunny, low humidity 
 Firecracker, 7/4
 69, heavy rain, humid

While I didn't get my desired sub-22:00 officially, my pace was the equivalent of that, and I set a course PR by 36 seconds, and a "warm weather PR" by 19 seconds. Now it just needs to cool down so I can start crushing those "overall" PRs!

Running isn't always flattering. . .