I don’t race nearly as often as I used to, and these days, when I do race, it’s almost always the long stuff – typically marathons. In fact, if I am registering for a race, about 99% of the time, I will sign-up for the longest distance offered for that day because I figure it’s more bang for my buck (since the longer distances are usually only a few dollars more) and because more often than not, I’m training for some marathon somewhere and I figure that the longer distance race offering jibes better with my training.
Well, as I wrote not long ago, I’m kinda sucking it up a bit and going after some short stuff as part of my marathon training at least for the summer, if not also for the rest of the year. It has been nearly a year since I last ran a 5k – and even then, that was at 9 months/36 weeks pregnant and thus, doesn’t really count – so suffice it to say that it has been years since I last truly raced a 5k. Without looking at Athlinks, I don’t even know when my last 5k race attempt was. Anyway, I registered for SJ’s inaugural Loaves and Fishes Feed the Need 5k so I could get an assessment of how my speed is faring, 8 or so weeks out from SF, and because, like I said, it has been a while since I’ve raced this distance, and if I’m going to do a 3-4 mile tempo run anyway as part of marathon training, why not also stick a bib on and see how the speed plays out in a race environment.
L+F’s inaugural race benefited the same-named non-profit organization that helps Bay Area residents overcome food security issues, so I felt like this was a cause I could gladly get behind. SJ (really, the entire Bay Area) is an extremely expensive place to live – for perspective, a “starter home” here (typically, a townhouse-style condo that’s not much beyond 1,300 sq. foot) will set you back $600k, and the median price for single-family homes here now tops $1 mil. – and as you can imagine, it’s pretty hard for a sizable portion of this population to make rent each month and still get food. Enter L+F and my willingness to support this organization.
In the days leading up to the race, I took things fairly easy and decided not to run long on Saturday so that I could go into the race on pretty fresh legs. Because this was an inaugural race, and a small one at that (about 200 runners between the 10k and 5k, with about 160 of them in the latter), I correctly assumed that there wouldn’t be chip timing and that the race distance would be a dubious 5k. Even still, I was excited to try to run fast and be finished in about 20 minutes, as opposed to the usual 3 hours and 20 minutes-ish.
A 5k warmup on the Guadalupe River Trail, where the race was held, allowed me to run most of the course (by following the directional arrows on the ground), and I soon realized that for a 5k race, there’d be a fair amount of sharp turns and back-and-forth on the GRT. I planned to start right on the line and hopefully have people to chase, who’d be closely following the arrows, and just see what happened. My strategy was fairly non-existent; this was like being tested on something that you know you’ve learned at some point but haven’t really needed to employ in a while… muscle memory at its finest.
There weren’t many other women on the starting line, just a couple dudes and a young boy, and soon enough, we were off. A quick glance at my watch showed a sub-6, so I quickly reeled that in and tried to run comfortably hard, reminding myself that I had 3.1 fast miles to run and that taking a balls-out approach early wouldn’t be in my best interest. I haven’t been a very good 5k racer in the past – my strategy usually amounts to “go out and slowly die” – so I tried my best to employ all the strategies that Pete mentioned to me recently and pace myself accordingly. I soon caught up to the young boy who had sprinted out at a sub-6 pace, and the only people before me were two guys, about a 30-60 seconds ahead, and a woman whom I tucked in behind. It was hard not to try to pass her early – ego, much? – but I stayed right behind her, pressing the pace, and when she joyfully said something like this is great! A 6:45 pace!, I just smiled and remarked yea, good job!, or something along those lines. I hope I didn’t sound too curt; I appreciated her enthusiasm but for once in my life, wasn’t really interested in making conversation mid-race. I passed her around mile 1, with more cheerful support from her, and for the rest of the race, I concentrated on chasing the two guys in front of me. Mile 1: 6:31
5k races start and end so quickly that it’s hard to capture the rest of the race. Again, I was glad that I ran most of the course during my warm-up because there was so much back-and-forth, hairpin-turn action on the GRT and the little side routes off the main path. A happy group of teenage volunteers was handing out water at around 1.5, right at one of the sharp turns that would deliver us back to where we began, but I didn’t grab anything. By now, the leader was out of my sight (or pretty far away), while the second guy/second place was still about 30 seconds or so ahead, still within sight. I was feeling pretty good and strong and was feeling satisfied with my pacing – the usual ohmygod I’m going to die here come some 20-minute-mile feelings that arise with my shitty 5k pacing hadn’t yet surfaced – and thanks to some hairpin turns and the teeniest of undulations (I don’t dare call them hills) on the side routes of the GRT, as well as still probably going out a little too fast, mile 2 came and went fairly uneventfully. Mile 2: 6:40
During the last bit of the race, the second-place guy and then I both ran with another guy for a few minutes, but I couldn’t tell where he had come from. I initially thought that he was one of the fast 10k guys, whose race had started 20 minutes before ours, but since I hadn’t seen him at any other point on the course, I didn’t think that was possible. At any rate, he threw some encouraging c’mon, you got this! Go get ’em! remarks my way, and I left him feeling fairly energized to finish the race strong. My forever-old 5k PR is a 20:31, and I thought that it’d be possible to maaaaybe notch a PR and maaaaaybe maaaaybe break 20 for the first time. I wasn’t really clock-watching during the race, but when I noticed how far off my watch was from the 3 mile marker, I knew that the course would probably be even shorter than I had anticipated. Plus, right after one of our final hairpin turns in our final ~.2 mile, I came thiiiiiiiis close to accidentally clipping the course (making it even shorter!) because I thought I saw arrows on the ground. Mid-run delusion, much? Fortunately, I corrected myself quickly and proceeded on the correct path, made one more hairpin turn, and finished through the old-school finish chute, where a volunteer was waiting to tear my timing tab off the bottom of my bib. Final .93: 6:10 (6:36 pace) = 19:21 for 2.93. 1st F, 1st AG, 3rd OA
After the race, I chatted with the other two guys who had finished 1-2, and I learned the the second place guy belongs to the same South Bay-based pacing group as me and will be pacing the 1:40 group at TSFM, which was pretty cool. We chatted for a while, I tried to recruit him to Wolfpack, he told me about his sub-3 training plans this year, so it made for a nice little morning while we waited to collect our awards, which included gift cards to Athletic Performance, a local running specialty store. I was pleased with how the race went, even though I’m fairly certain it was short – a 19:21 time for a 5k would result in significantly faster splits than I posted – because I got some good feedback with what my speed looks like right now. I think if I extrapolate the time, it’d get me pretty close to my existing 5k PR time, which, hey, I’m alright with that. It wasn’t the hard-and-fast goal for the day, but that’s as good feedback as any, and especially when I’m at about 10 months postpartum.
The thing that I haven’t been able to shake about this race is my cadence. I use a Garmin FR 220, which has an accelerometer built in, and typically on my day-to-day GA runs, including my runs with the single stroller, I routinely post around 178-183, usually about 181 on average. During the marathons that I’ve run since having this watch, I post the same, usually about 181. What’s weird to me is that on my tempo runs, when I’m running almost two minutes faster than my day-to-day pace, my cadence drops significantly, often down to the 140-150 range. In this race, it went 183-122-120 for the 2.93 miles, which leaves me wondering how, if my feet are moving faster than usual, they’re making fewer steps per minute. Have you experienced this as well? I mean, how is it that I can hit 180+ steps per minute, running 8:xx minute miles, pushing a stroller, yet also run mid-6-minute miles with nearly forty fewer steps per minute? That seems really odd to me.
Anyway – tangent – I enjoyed the race. 5Ks aren’t marathons, but they sure are fun and a nice way to spice things up. I should have run a cooldown but didn’t, in favor of talking to my new-found friend, and there really is something to be said for going out and running hard and being done in about twenty minutes’ time. I can totally understand how and why people do 5ks each weekend. I have a handful more of these short races coming up as my family and I go see our family in the midwest this summer, so now I’ll have the added benefit of racing in heat and humidity for a change. Dare I say I’m looking forward to it? I might be.