Sunday, June 10, 2012

Sneaking a 5K in under the Radar

That is, to the extent that I'm on anyone's radar to begin with...

Yesterday, I ran a stealth race. Well, for you it was stealth because I didn't post it on my race schedule. For a few weeks, I had tucked in the back of my head the idea of running the National Press Club 5K, but I didn't want to do it unless the weather forecast called for unseasonably low temperatures. I decided it was time to upgrade the race bag I wanted some idea of how fast I was going into the summer, so if the weather cooperated, I'd register for the race. 
Right - the 2006 version of the race swag. Left - the 2012 version.
There was no way I was going to run in the 10K on the other side of town that featured a couple of miles on an elevated expressway that reflected sun like crazy. Speedy runners minimize the amount of time that they're exposed to the elements. The middle to back-of-the-pack people like me roast when the elements include unshaded stretches. At least, that's what I've learned about myself. Plus, I knew that the NPC 5K would be more laid back than the 10K. Very attractive.

Sure enough, weather reports showed that Saturday morning would be cool, so on Friday afternoon, I went over to the National Press Club, registered, and picked up an almost-diabolical race bib. 
Of course, when I stepped outside yesterday, it felt like tepid bath water: 68˚F and 65% relative humidity says NOAA. And my legs felt tired. I jogged a little over 3/4 a mile to the race start. My legs still felt tired. I did some dynamic stretching. Still tired. A paramedic came over to me and asked me about the race course and distance (you'd think the race organizers would have done this, no?). The legs still felt tired. I did exactly two strides up and down a city block. Meh. The legs felt okay. 

If last week was any indication, one of my biggest challenges — other than diligence in training — has been determining where to line up at the starting line. I'm not speedy. I'm also not run/walking, either, unless something has gone horribly wrong (see: 2009 Army 10-Miler). I needed to ditch my modus operendi of lining up behind someone carrying an absurd amount of water for the distance or wearing too many clothes for the weather because this strategy wreaks havoc for the first mile. Havoc ≠ good. So instead, I lined up next to someone who said to her neighbor, "How long is this going to take?" I moved to my left. I wound up behind someone who I then overheard saying to a friend, "Everyone behind me looks faster than me." I moved forward.

That was a good choice. There were just under 500 runners in the race, but I was never alone. I tried to be fancy with my Garmin, which messed some things up, and I also forgot to hit stop at the end of the race. All I can say with certainty is that the first mile was okay. Mile 2 was also okay. I saw an 18:xx when I passed the only mile marker that I saw on the course at mile 2. Mile 3 hurt. Somewhere in the last mile, a woman in a light blue shirt passed me and started to put a small distance between us. That was before the incline.

This course is devious in that the last .1 mile starts with a hill that's noticeable to tired legs. I trudged on. I reeled in the woman in the light blue shirt. Sure, two women passed on my right, chatting away, as I did this. Then I rounded the corner to the finish and passed the woman in the light blue shirt and a few other runners. Definitely, this is what I'm most proud of from yesterday.

The last time I ran this course, I was strong — rather than steady — on the uphill, and got passed in the final stretch. I returned the favor yesterday, holding steady on the uphill and then surging (maybe only relatively?) into the finish.

My finish time was just under a minute off (above) my 5K PR. There's a lot of work to do if I want to go sub 2 hours in Richmond in November. But for yesterday, I finished 6th in my age group. Gotta love the small races providing ego boosts!

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