Beginning my 2017 racing calendar with a 5k wasn’t what I had envisioned, but as we all know, life seems to make decisions on our behalf at times. A horrible bout with flu/sinusitis/colitis made me have to reluctantly bow out of the first PA race, a 10 miler, as well as my favorite SJ race, the 408k, and I felt like my body had taken a good week+ to gain back any semblance of strength that those stupid poorly-timed illnesses had taken from me. I generally have very few expectations going into a 5k in general, but going into the Reach for a Star 5k up in Brisbane, the second PA race of the year (and the first one I’ve done), I had even fewer.
I don’t think that 5ks warrant the waxing philosophic that marathons do (at least at this point, anyway), but I’ll at least mention here a little bit about my 5k history. In a phrase, there isn’t much of one. I’ve done many 5ks over the years, but they’ve always been as part of marathon training and never as an end goal in and of itself. Similarly, they’ve always been a bit sporadically placed in my season, and more often than not, they’re lighter on the official side (lacking in USATF certification) and heavier on the super fun side (and typically, not that competitive). One “type” of race isn’t inherently better than the other, but I do think there’s value in racing against significantly faster fields (even though it’s intimidating as hell) just so you can give yourself the opportunity to see what mental/speed/endurance deposits you can draw from your bank — something that’s harder to do in less-competitive races. My 5k PR, 20:31, was from a 2012 Chicago race, and any subsequent attempts at 5ks I’ve posted have generally followed the predictable formula of go out stupidly hard + try to hang on = oops, too bad, death march it in and never do this again. Gladly give me many opportunities to run a fast-for-me marathon over a fast-for-me 5k, for the discomfort and pain in the former is far more pleasurable than that in the latter.
The RFAS Brisbane course is quite flat and a little bizarre. It has the USATF certification, but had I known that the course consisted basically of running through office parking lots, including some OABs in said parking lots, with a few little bursts on a not-wide trail (adjacent to parking lots), I would have been dubious. I had heard that it was fast and a great team race — no doubt evidenced by the throngs of other teams there Sunday morning (in addition to general community members who were there to help support the race’s charitable connection to a local school district) — so if nothing else, I figured that the race could hopefully give me some decent “official” feedback and give me a fun morning with my team.
People like to propagate this idea that running is for solitary introverts, but all you have to do is go to a race (RFAS was a perfect example of this) and see that it’s really quite the opposite. Sure, we all get into our own heads when we run — I think it’s a pretty necessary thing to do — but by and large, much of the gratitude I have for this sport extends less to the opportunities I have to get into my own head and more to the connections this sport has afforded me to make with other people, folks with whom I would share very little otherwise. Outweighing all our relative differences — in our running capabilities or otherwise — is our shared sense of purpose that you get when you’re on a team. I so deeply admire and respect my teammates, many whom can easily run me under the table any day of the week, but despite my initial hesitations of oh man I really hope I’m not slow as hell this morning I hope I don’t let these guys down, I knew that my team would help buoy whatever I could produce. There’s something to be said for running for your own purposes, no doubt, but I think there’s something more profound in running as part of a team and trying to perform in a way that shows that the total doesn’t really equal the sum of its parts. Deep, I know.
At any rate, thanks to a pretty race weather-perfect morning, a flat course, a fairly indescribable team atmosphere, and a field that was super deep with talent, my first PA race — and a 5k at that — went way better than I could have imagined. That aforementioned going out too hard and slowly dying formula miraculously didn’t manifest like usual, and honestly, I felt like I was playing a giant game of tag, focusing on chasing my teammates and friends in front of me — Claire and Sam were the closest to me, with Impala friend Robin within close reach. I felt like if I slowed down at all, I’d be trampled, a la Lion King, by everyone coming up behind me. The super-twisty course wound through some office parking lots, picked up a fairly narrow trail (more narrow than the Chicago LFT or about as narrow as the GRT here in SJ, for those of you playing along at home), did an OAB in some more parking lots, and ultimately finished where we began in (you guessed it) more parking lots. It was about as low-key a race as I’ve ever done, with very little fanfare, and honestly, it was refreshing. If you want a fast, no-frills 5k, this is for you; if you want something with more entertainment value (and probably a bigger price tag), I’d pass.
This was among the most evenly-paced 5ks I’ve run, definitely the one wherein I’ve felt the strongest from start to finish, and hey, I will never complain about breaking a 5 year-old 5k PR by nearly 40 seconds and going sub-20 “officially” for the first time (19:55). I had the added luxury of finishing within paces of my teammates Claire and Sam, clutching the same PR time as Robin (finishing a couple steps behind her), and yet again, getting smoked by Verity at the end, just as she did me at the ‘14 Oakland Marathon (replete with lots of sweaty hugs at the end, both in Oakland and at RFAS). It was a good day. The racing endorphins were kickin, and my soul was happy from being surrounded by good people. Again: it was a good day.
For expecting nothing, I sure got a lot out of this race experience. I’m excited to see how the rest of this spring will go before I get thick into SF training, and I left the race feeling totally energized (if not also tired — eff off, DST!) and stoked for the next.