Saturday, December 18, 2021

Christmas Caper 5K: Chill but not too chilly

This morning I ran the Christmas Caper 5K in Washington DC. This was a low-key race with no chip timing and about 80 participants. This race has an accompanying 10K, which I ran last year, setting a PR. (This was the PR I just beat in my Turkey Trot). 

Because this race is so low key and I consider myself to be in the "off season," I wasn't overly excited about this race. It wasn't like the Turkey Trot where it was a tradition with hundreds of runners, a big awards ceremony, lots of SWAG, etc. So it was kind of hard to get super jazzed up about it. I was running it because I enjoy racing and I wanted to do a checkup on my 5K fitness.

Before the Race
I woke up naturally at 4:00am, having slept solidly throughout the night and having had gone to sleep at 8:45.  I had an English muffin with Almond butter, and about 1/3 a serving of the Maurten Drink Mix. I got dressed into my race attire, went to the bathroom about 5 times and then we were off. 

We left the house a little later than planned due to my having to go to the bathroom so much, but I wasn't too worried about it. It was a 30-minute drive into the city which was stress-free and traffic-free. I immediately needed to go to the bathroom again as soon as I got out of the car. The bathrooms that we typically use for this race were closed (they are located inside of a golf shop), and we were directed to other bathrooms that were also closed. 

This definitely worried me because I know I really needed to go one more time. I ran to get my bib and then headed back to the golf shop. Thankfully they let me in this time, knowing that the other bathrooms were locked. Once that was out of the way, I pinned on my bib and had a Maurten gel. It might have been overkill to have the English muffin, the drink mix, and the gel, but it worked well for the 10K. 

I only had 20 minutes left to warm up so I jogged around and did some strides for a total of 1.5 miles. 

Strategy and Goals
The weather was seasonably warm for mid-December: 52 degrees, overcast, with a light wind. If it had been sunny it would have bordered on too warm for me, but because it was overcast, it ended up being fine. I give it a 9/10 on my weather scale. Combined with a pancake flat course, these were PR conditions for sure.

I thought a PR would be possible based on my recent 10K time, so I decided I would go for it if I was feeling good. But I also felt like I might lack the motivation to push as hard as I did at the 10K because I wasn't as excited about the race. And with the small amount of participants, it felt more like a time trial than a race.

Another benchmark was my 5K from the November 2020 Cranberry Crawl, where I ran a time of 20:20 on the exact same course. I was hoping to beat that time, or at the very least, run the year again in 20:21. 

Mile 1, waving to Greg
Mile 1
The race started and it wasn't long before I settled into a groove. Two women had bolted out way ahead ofme and maintained a strong lead, so I was in third place. 

It was hard early-- like starting 3 minutes in. I reminded myself that I wanted it to hurt-- hurt was good. It was supposed to be hard and my job was to push even when it was really hard. I saw Greg early in this mile; he was taking photos. I noticed I was running a pace of 6:30 and it felt really hard. I was hoping to be closer to 6:25, but no matter how hard I worked, it wasn't happening. So I ran a 6:31 first mile. 

Mile 2
This course is an out-and-back so it was mentally nice to turn around and be heading towards the start/finish. I noticed some wind resistance here but I don't think it impacted me that much. I felt like I was giving 100% and I really wanted to get my pace down, but the Garmin was steady at 6:30, and my split was 6:30.

Mile 3:
Could I make this mile my fastest? As the mile started I felt like I was really running out of steam. I glanced down at my watch and it read 6:45. Yikes. I would have to push super hard to get that back down. So I pushed and pushed and pushed. I passed two people during this mile; both men. I passed one of them at around 2.8, but he came flying back by me at the very end and I couldn't out-kick him. Mile 3 ended up being 6:35.

The Finish
According to my Garmin, I ran the final 0.14 at a pace of 5:57 with a finishing time of 20:26. Good enough for third place female. (The first place overall finisher was a woman in a time of 17:xx).

A solid effort! I was proud of how I handled that final mile, which had started to go south, but then I rallied. I re-united with Greg, caught my breath and then did a 10-minute cool down. No vomiting!  Greg and I then drove to a coffee house in Vienna where we had breakfast (I guess I had two breakfasts!).

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways
I think I executed this race well, and the reason I wasn't able to run what my 10K predicted was because I haven't been doing many 5K- specific workouts. I have done a few of them, but not enough to be able to move into that higher gear for an entire 5K. My 10K pace from 3 weeks ago was 6:35, and my average pace today was 6:30. So I think it's a matter of getting my legs more used to moving quickly and tapping into that VO2 Max.

Interestingly, when I compare this race to the Cranberry Crawl from 2020, my splits were nearly identical, but in a different order: 6:29, 6:35, 6:30 last year. 6:31, 6:30, 6:35 this year. So this year, my middle mile was my fastest, and last year, my middle mile was my slowest. 

Note: My overall time was 6 seconds slower this year, with my Garmin reading 3.14 vs. 3.13. And I think when looking at something so minute there is definitely a margin of error, or maybe I ran a wider tangent. But it's close enough that I consider it to be pretty much the same result - I am not sweating it!

This brings up an interesting point about the carbon fiber plate shoes. I am still on the fence if I think they provide any advantage in the 5K distance. Last year I ran in regular racing shoes (adidas Adios 4), and this year I wore the carbon fiber plate version (adidas Adios Pro). Just looking at the data, it seems like the carbon fiber plate shoe provided no benefit. . . unless we think I was in better shape in November 2020 and would have been faster had I worn the Pro back then. 

That's the fun thing about running, you can never perform a true apples-to-apples test. So the jury is still out regarding my opinion of carbon fiber plate shoes in the 5K. 

In any event, I'd love to get to a point where I am consistently running my 5Ks closer to a pace of 6:20 rather than 6:30. I have many, many 5Ks that hit right around 6:30 average.

I'm running a 5K on New Year's day, but that's a hilly course and the weather is obviously TBD. All things being equal, I should run a slower time on New Year's day-- but now I have this experience under my belt so that will definitely help no matter what the day brings!


  1. Geez Zebra sometimes you way to over-critical of yourself! Last pic on post is awesome and some really sweet form! Do not look at the watch to see what the "so-called real time pace" is. Just run the race as you feel. Your not going to beat some woman can post 17-something 5k, which explains why the 1st two bolted out way in front and you recognize you #3. Be interested to know if both those two ladies finished 1-2? Yes....if you want to run 6:20 average pace have to train specifically to run 5ks....and not just test races in training towards other longer endurance races like half and full marathons. To me you seem to love the "speed" aspects of racing in that 5-10k race distance, and you likely can run faster in those races, have to target your training with emphasis on those race distances, and not the longer half and full marathon races. In that shift in training you work all the fast-twitch and the convertible slow-twitch muscle fibers keyed in on 5k race distance. Just commit a cycle of training entirely to 5k race distance and not a race imbedded in a longer term marathon race you want to do. Shift the training focus to 5k will achieve your goal! I wish I had your speed and drive and "moxie."

  2. And in Mile 1 you smiling and waving at Greg. You lost time there...LOL! You have to run 5k short-endurance never look or use watch except to lap mile splits at markers and stop across line!

  3. I have definitely felt a difference with carbon fiber plated shoes and surprised you find it hard to notice a difference. Does the carbon plated shoes give you a sense of comfort that don't make you give the same effort like a grizzly bear is chasing you. In a 5K or 4 mile race that's the way I treat it after 1.5 to 2 miles.

    If you're satisfied that's all that matters. I know when I reach a point I feel I can't do better or reached a point I can't find a new milestone to push too (aka for me maybe the half marathon distance now), I'm not sure how motivated I will be to push harder in a half marathon going forward. But it's all about how you feel about it and what you were trying to get out of it.

    I just say if you're ok with what you did that's good enough! You know what you want to work towards, so see what you can do. You have my support! Keep at it and I hope you can get your 5KS to 6:20 but hey, think about this, 6:25 pace is 1 personal best 19:56 so maybe start with that if you find a flat 5K.

    One thing you are absolutely AMAZING at is pacing!! I wish I had your gift of pacing properly!!