Oh...and although this is a "neighborhood race" it's no longer small. Five years ago, the race had just under 500 runners. Today there were just under 1,200!! And three runners ran the full 5K in under 15 minutes! There was no chance of me placing - even just an age group placing - in this race.
It is also the race that I have been training for a new PR. My old personal best 5K was 26:21 - from two years ago on a flat course in Downtown Washington, DC. I have been following a training plan and shooting for an 8:00/mile pace - a 24:52 5K time (or any sub-25min time!). Although I was shooting for sub-25min, I knew that any sub 26:21 - and a new PR - would be fine with me.
But...no pressure! (yeah right!)
I tried to prepare best I could for the race. Yesterday I drank plenty of water and some Gatorade, and I passed on the glass of wine (or two or three) that I normally drink with our Friday night Sabbath dinner. I even got in bed a little earlier than normal. However, I still felt sluggish when I finally got out the door this morning around 8am. Perhaps it was because I'm usually out the door by 6am on running days??? My body was still in "lounging around the house" mode?
Anyhow, I jogged up to where the starting line was and walked around the booths that were set up by the neighborhood vendors. I saw that I was going to eat well after the race - bananas from Whole Foods Market, pizza from Potomac Pizza, mac and cheese and penne from Noodles & Co., rum buns from O'Donnell's, yummmmm. How was I going to eat all of that yummy stuff at 8:30am???
I got to the starting line and had my first big decision of the morning - which "wave" do I start in? The second wave at the start was for runners keeping a 7:00 to 8:00 pace and the third wave was for runners keeping a 8:00 to 9:00 pace. I was optimistic and chose the second wave. I settled in towards the back of the wave since I was going to try to keep at an 8:00 mile pace.
Before the race started, there were some opening words from a County Councilwoman and then a neighborhood teen sang "The Star Spangled Banner". Why do I bring this up? Well, right in front of me were two deaf runners who were talking to each other - in sign language - throughout the entire National Anthem. I wasn't sure what to think of this. I mean everyone else was quiet and showing respect for the singing of our National Anthem, and although they weren't making any noise they were definitely talking to one another. Was this disrespectful? Perhaps they didn't realize that "The Star Spangled Banner" was being sung (they couldn't hear, right?), but couldn't they see everyone at attention with no one speaking anymore??
When it was time for my wave to get going, I started out trying to hit my pace. Since I had run the course before during my training, I knew where the quarter mile points were for the first two miles and I was hoping to hit them at 2:00 intervals. It didn't seem like I was running too fast - I still felt a bit sluggish - however, when I got to the first quarter mile point, my watch read 1:48. Time to slow down a bit. As I rounded the turn, I saw my wife Sherry and my two boys waiting on the side of the road to cheer me on. It's great to have fans on the race course!
I ended up finishing mile one a little faster than I had hoped - 7:44. I was also starting to breathe a little heavier. Luckily the second mile starts downhill, so I tried to coast as much as I could. I knew what was ahead - the hill that starts at about 1.75 miles in and steadily goes through about 2.5 miles. I already knew that I wasn't going to be able to run that portion at the same pace and that I was going to have to take it easy there. I just hoped that I would have enough kick after the hills to regain some of the time that I was going to lose.
As I started up the hills with a quarter of a mile left in mile 2, I brought my pace down a bit to conserve energy. I ended up hitting the mile 2 marker in 16:05 - just about on an 8:00/mile pace. However, here came the bigger hills. UGH!!!
I pushed through the hills at a bit of a slower pace - telling myself to keep on going because I knew after these hills it was either all downhill or flat to the finish. The good news was that I kept going and never stopped or got too slow. The bad news is that I didn't have a lot of "kick" left in me by the time the hills were over.
As I made the last turn for the final quarter mile or so, I knew I had a PR in the bag, however, I also figured that if I wanted the sub-25min 5K time, I would really have to dig in and kick for it. However, I just didn't have it in me at the time. I kept pushing at a strong - but not all out - pace and crossed the finish line at 26:29 clock time...which ended up being 25:17 chip time.
I must have still approached the finish line at a fast pace, because Sherry and the boys didn't see me. I didn't see them either, but I was pushing pretty hard to the end and focusing on the finish line and the clock.
25:17 is now my new 5K Personal Record!!! Over a minute better than my previous PR. Actually, two years ago, I ran a 27:23 at the Kentlands 5K race as a new PR and then turned around and ran another 5K in Downtown DC a month later where I ran a full minute faster (thus my 26:21 PR that stood for two years). So yes, the thought has crossed my mind today a few times: "I wonder how fast I could run on a flat 5K course..."
However, I don't think I'll be finding out soon. I have the Parks Half Marathon in two weeks. I have to switch gears from speed to endurance pretty quickly.