With three kids in the house (including a 3 month old baby), I don't get to race very often, but I try to make the most of the experience when I do. I had known for awhile that since we would have family visiting this weekend who could help out with the kids, it would be a good time to plan for a 5K. I've been running well lately, so I was excited to see what I had in me in a race situation. I chose this race for purely practical reasons, mainly because it was located close to home. It's new this year, and I had no idea what the course would be like or how big a field it would have, but beggars can't be choosers - I had a chance to race, and I was going to take it.
I arrived at the race to find a fairly small crowd - for a number of reasons this is what I expected ($30 is pretty pricey for a 5K, but it was for a good cause). I scanned the crowd quickly as I usually do to see who would be competing, but aside from a lean teenager in a flashy pair of Nike flats, I didn't see anyone who looked like a ringer. The local big guns seemed to be absent, and I began to think that maybe I'd have a chance to place, and at the very least win my age group (the kid looked fast, so I didn't really consider an outright win). After a brief warmup jog, I saw a guy show up at the last minute who I know from previous races is a lot faster than me (more on him later - we'll call him the pro) - at that point I resigned myself to the age group idea or maybe a top five finish.
At the starting line I was standing next to a trio who were discussing places to buy new shoes (naturally, my ears perked up at this!). I politely offered a suggestion of a place that has a varied selection, including Vibrams (which to me at least indicates open-mindedness), at which point one of them commented on my "stylish" shoes (I was wearing my Brooks Mach 12 XC flats - see picture below - they worked out great!). She asked if I liked them, and I explained their racing virtues as a lightweight, low heeled shoe. One of them offered that her favorite were Asics because they have "gel in the heel." I chose not to launch into a tirade about marketing gimmicks :)
To be honest, I was feeling stiff and sluggish at the starting line. I didn't sleep well last night, and three days off running had left me a bit tight. I also tend to get pre-race anxiety really bad when I don't race a lot, and my adrenaline was flowing in excess, raising my heart rate way higher than it should have been at the start.
When the signal to start was given, I took off quickly, and it didn't take long before I got comfortable and found myself alone in front with the kid and the coach of our local tech college's cross country team. After about a half mile I was alone in the lead and not quite sure what to do with myself - I had never been in that position before. I think I slowed up a bit around the one mile marker since pacing was difficult out front, and somewhere shortly after that the coach caught up with me. I looked at him and said something along the lines of "I've never been a frontrunner before, I don't know what to do!" He laughed and replied " Just keep running faster than everyone else." Sound advice, I'd say. I learned today that being the frontrunner is really hard, and I gained a lot from the experience - it's challenging to push when you're not chasing anyone. If you have any advice on how to handle this, I'd love to hear it (though I suspect this won't be a frequent occurrence for me!).
For the next half mile or so I ran with the coach, and he alerted me that we had some sizable hills coming our way (it was a very tough course - elevation profile is below, and it was hot and humid). The kid had fallen off at this point, and wouldn't be seen again until the finish (I think he was seventh). At the turnaround of the out and back, I headed back downhill, realizing that I had a big climb back up to the main road ahead of me. I was now alone in the lead once again. The thought that I might win this thing began to cross my mind, but I was scared of that hill.
The hill turned out to be as bad as I expected, and it pretty much did me in. My pace rose above 7:00/mile (see pace/elevation graph below), and at the top I knew I was in trouble. I looked over my shoulder and saw the pro gaining ground - he's a strong finisher, and as I said before I knew that he is usually way ahead of me in most races. Sure enough, he managed to close the gap, and at about mile 2.6 or so I relinquished the lead and fell back into second place. I did manage to gain some ground back on the pro in the final quarter mile, and wound up finishing only a few seconds behind him - a result that I was thrilled with.
I crossed the finish line in 19:45 (unofficial at this point), which is just under a minute slower than my PR, but in the heat and on the hills, I was more than content with the time. The fact that I finished so close to the pro was evidence enough that this was a tough course and that I had run a good race. The coach wound up coming in third, and I wound up running a cool down with him and another local runner. We had an awesome chat about all kinds of things - turns out he is also a science prof, and he invited me to come help out at a running clinic later this summer (very excited about this, and hope it works out!). I also got a positive review of the Clarence DeMar Marathon from an accomplished local female runner - this may be my choice for the Fall. We accepted our awards, and I am now the proud owner of my first ever second place medal! Granted it was a small race and most of the top locals weren't there (it's all about who shows up on a given day when it comes to small races), but I'll celebrate a podium finish any time I can sneak one in!
Despite all of the positive things that came out of this race, I can't help but be just a tad disappointed that I didn't hold on to the lead and bring home the win. When I was leaving the house for the race, my son asked me, as he always does, if I was going to win today. My usual response is to laugh and say I'll try my best, and that's all that matters. I met up with the family in town afterwards, and I desperately wanted to tell my boy that I did win. However, after I told him I came in second, he proudly told everyone who would listen that his dad "Just finished second in a 5K!" I was a little embarrassed, but to be honest that just might have been the best part of the day.
Isn't this a great sport!
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