Saturday, December 5, 2009

Close, but still a PR

Today is my 41st birthday, and I started my day with - of course - a running-related goal. The local Jingle Bell 5K always falls on this weekend, and it is the only race in which I've ever taken a DNF ("did not finish"). Turned out I was sick on a zero-degree day in 2007, but that's another story. This year, the goal was a new 5K PR of 18:41 (41, get it?) in honor of my age.

For reasons that will surely get more profound treatment in a separate blog entry, I have been under a lot of stress. I'm not eating or sleeping very well, yet I continue to depend upon running to help me stay focused and relatively sane. It's working.

The race starts and finishes at my oldest daughter's school, and brings out close to 500 people to support the Arthritis Foundation. The weather was gray and cold, with snow on the way. I ran the almost-4 miles from my house to the race in long pants and a jacket. Then I registered, changed into my race gear (including my evil-but-unbelievably-light-and-comfortable Nike LunaRacers). My friend Steve's advice rattled around in my head: keep it together in the second mile (which is the toughest mile of the course, with two decent hills). I saw my friend Jim, who said that I looked like I had my "game face" on. I told him that I was mainly coming to terms with exactly how much I was willing suffer on this cold day. I had run a barefoot mile as part of a 7-miler on Thursday, and my calves (but especially the right one) were pretty sore. A good thing in terms of building lower leg strength, but not so great in terms of trying to run as fast and smooth as possible two days later.

I debated about what to wear, but got down to a sleeveless shirt, arm-warmers, headband and gloves. As the start time neared, I ran a quick 1/3 of a mile, with a couple of bursts, and found my way to the starting line. Pre-race nerves coursed through me a bit, as I tried to identify which runners I might want to key off of during the first mile, and which ones to let go.

The gun went off, and I watched the instant pace on my defective Garmin FR405 (it's got ever-worsening condensation on the inside of the glass, making it hard to read; no worries, as a replacement is on its way) carefully to avoid going out too fast. I saw 5:4x and then 5:5x on the display, but I settled down. The race played out as follows:
  • Mile 1: 6:03 - A couple of sharp turns and a slight, longish uphill. I kept sight of the leaders for longer than I expected, but I tried to stay smooth; I was not cold, or hot, or anything; just felt like I was working hard, but not too hard
  • Mile 2: 6:02 - This mile was an unequivocal triumph of race execution for me, and perhaps my best race mile ever. I stayed steady, and then increased my effort on each of the two uphill climbs. The women's leader and I exchanged places, and I dropped several male runners throughout this mile. I was working as hard as I can remember ever doing so in any race while still staying in control. It was amazing to find that balance. My HR topped out at 199 bpm in this mile. As I descended the second hill, I finally pulled ahead of the female leader (a lovely young woman with whom I've done some training runs) and visualized the relatively straight shot to the finish.
  • Mile 3: 6:00 - Pure maintenance mode. I just kept pushing and pushing, thinking about how close it was to being over. I caught up to a couple of guys, and passed my friend Pete with about a half-mile to go. I reminded myself that with about 2200 miles already logged this year, I could certainly hold on for a little bit longer.
  • Final 0.1+ at 5:25/mile pace - I saw the entrance to the school parking lot and ratcheted up my effort. Then, just after I turned right, I heard a loud commotion, which turned out to be my entire family hooting, hollering and cheering for me ("Go Dad!" & "Come on, Ron!"). They'd surprised me by coming to the race on my birthday, and said that I surprised them by finishing so soon (yes, they had me at "hello"). I smiled as best I could, and crossed the finish line, feeling as completely spent as I've been at the end of a race. I could not even manage to push the stop button on my watch for a few seconds.

I went inside to get some warm clothes, talked with my wife and kids, and then did a couple of cool-down miles with Jim and Pete. The 9:00+-minute pace felt great. The results went up, and all the times were off. My "official" time went from 18:52 to 18:50, but I'm calling it 18:46, a 33-second PR from April and a mere 5 seconds short of my goal. Hills, cold, sore calves, stress, etc. might have cost me those few seconds, but I cannot say that I did not run the best race I could have run today.

The only downer for me was that while I had somehow managed to finish 14th overall, I was 7th in my way-too-competitive age group (40-49). So, I hung around to cheer my friends who won awards, and then ran a shorter route home, for a total of about 11.6 miles for the day.

Today's race is a satisfying way to end a very successful running year, while starting off a new "life" year on a good note.

In the meantime, my virtual running buddy "SpiderPig" qualified for Boston at the Memphis Marathon. Congratulations to him. Also, on Sunday, a number of my friends will be running the California International Marathon. Best of luck to them.

Thanks for reading. -ESG


Girl In Motion said...

Wow, amazingly great splits. The fact that you went faster in mile 2 with those hills, then kept it even tighter for mile 3 is something to be SO proud of. I've never negative split a 5K in my life and can't imagine ever doing it. Congratulations, Ron, great Bday present to yourself. Now go get drunk!

screaminzab said...

Great job! What a fantastic way to bring in year #41. Great pacing too. Just so you know, there's still plenty of room for you to get faster.

Stevi N. Honaker said...

What a awesome way to ring in a year older, but not slower, LOL (it sounded funnier in my head). However, you seriously need to take your butt on the road for a 5k or two.
You deserve some dang 1st place AG and overall wins for your times (I have plenty in our area I can recommend, heck you could have gotten second over all this weekend at one). Congrats and good luck with the new venture.

L.A. Runner said...

WTG on the new PR!!!! That is so speedy! About the not-eating-not-sleeping + running-hard-thing: it might be okay right now, but eventually you will crash and burn. Please take care of yourself!

Jim Graham said...

Awesome 2nd mile, Ron!!! (The others, too, of course -- but having run the race, and died on the 2nd mile, I am waaay impressed you put the hammer down like that. I doubt many, if any, others picked it up like that after mile 1.)
It really speaks well to all your mileage, and deep reserves.
I say it's equal to a sub-18:30 on a flatter course and in warmer conditions.

Hope we can run some together this winter.
Jim Graham