Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Evolution of the 5k

The 5k distance is perhaps one of the most well loved and also hated distance to run. As a newer runner 3.1 miles is a challenging distance, but one that you can dip your toes into the race scene to see what it's all about without much commitment. More seasoned runners either embrace this distance or avoid it all-together because to them, the 5k distance means nausea and sore legs for days. The distance that used to be a fun way to get some miles in with a group turns into an all out balls-to-the-wall competition and it's tough. Really tough.

This weekend I graduated to the second group of people, but it was not without some trepidation. When I signed up for the Shamrock 5k two years ago it was my very first race and since then it's been a tradition to run each year. The crowds are a bit overwhelming but if you harness the energy of the 35,000 people, you can have a pretty awesome race experience. Last year I ran the race with Kim, Anise, and Cliff (as support to Kim and Anise) and had a blast. Though we had some timing difficulties (bottleneck at end) we came in somewhere in the 36 minute range and Kim kicked some serious butt on a previous time. I left that race feeling strong and feeling pretty confident that after my knee injury in September 2011 that I was slowly making my way back to running. So this year when I signed up back in November I initially planned to treat the race like a recovery run. I hadn't figured out my Big Sur training schedule yet, but I knew it'd be the day after a long run and I just wasn't speedy.

As months past and I realized I would be running this race alone this year I started to think about 5k's differently. All the time I've been putting into running speedy intervals at the track had really been paying off and I knew I was capable of gutting it out for 3.1 miles. I decided to race this one (against my previous time, I'm no Kara Goucher!) and went into the race with no expectations except to just run and enjoy it. But I was going to run fast!

My previous best time was the Crawfish Crawl back in August 2011. These are my race stats from then:

I knew the odds were in my favor to beat that time because I'm much faster now. I should mention that I only count races as personal records. I realize that other people may count training runs, but I have a few reasons why I do this:

1) It's in print/an official record on a race results website. Something about this makes it more exciting, even though I do have a Garmin file, I like the official results!

2) Everyone is held to the same standards and we're all running the same course. The race distance is 3.1 miles but unless you're a pro at running tangents usually our watches record a little longer and this skews pace. I could go out in my neighborhood and run until my GPS said 3.1 miles and call that a PR. If you're the type that does that, I am genuinely supportive and happy for you. Some people just don't do races. I get it! BUT GPS is not the ultimate end all be all and even though our courses may measure long (and in some cases WAY TOO LONG - I'm looking at you Holiday Half!) in a race there are hundreds or thousands of people who are running the course and for some reason (for me) that makes it feel official.

3) Races usually have after parties with people celebrating. Food and booze! A group of people to share in your victory or even just commiserate with your disappointment is almost always better than that dorky "whoop whoop!" on your own. Side note: I have major love for the dorky "whoop whoop!" so I'm not judging!

With all that being said, in training, I've run 3 consecutive miles at a 9:20 or better pace without stopping. My point being, I've been running faster than my previous best time for a few months now but haven't run a race. The last 5k I ran alone was Race for the Roses last April and my time was right around 30:50. At the time that was really tough! If you haven't been following my training it really wasn't until the end of May 2012 that I started running more than 6 times a month so back in April I really wasn't running much at all.

Fast forward to this Sunday and *BAM* I killed it! I ran about 1.5 miles downtown to the starting line as a warm-up, lined up, then we were off! I've been learning that the warm up is really essential. I would have never warmed up before because the thought of 3 miles was enough on its own but track has taught me differently. I made a short playlist that morning with music that I knew would keep me going and though I know what was on the list, I only remember hearing parts of the songs. My head was very much in 'the zone' and once I cleared a good portion of the crowd I was able to really focus on grooving and just running. Though I turned off all my watch alerts, I'll admit I did look down around the mile markers to see the first two miles splits come up. That last mile had a (smaller) hill and when the second mile hit at 8:11, I knew that I had the energy to speed it up for the end. After the crux of the hill I sped down, passed quite a ton of people, and into the finishing chute. What a rush! The one thing I have always been able to do is finish fast, and at a 6:40 pace, I sure did just that!

My official time was 25:25 and pace for 3.1 miles = 8:11/mile. Course hit a tad long, as usual, and when I pulled up the summary on my watch I saw a 7:59 average and was pretty darn excited. Funny how when I uploaded it online it said 8/min. Overall, doesn't matter, I'm just super excited that I set a PR by 4 minutes and 33 seconds. On a 5k! That's so cool! I'll get my 11 seconds/mile back soon. ;)

If you notice, my HR has come down a lot!

I wish I had more exciting pictures than the Garmin splits, but when you run alone, on a huge crowded course where they don't take photos, there isn't much out there!

The 5k distance used to be the distance that I'd run on the weekend to keep my training on track. It was the distance I'd run with Anise or a friend who was interested in running. It was a comfortable yet challenging distance for where my training was at. After Sunday, it's clear that this race distance has evolved into a different realm. I feel like a formidable opponent (oh yeah, I know, I know, run for yourself but who doesn't love a little friendly competition) to some of my more seasoned racing friends and it's a pretty sweet feeling.

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