Small-town 5ks have an odd kind of charm for me. While I enjoy a big race with awesome support and goodies, little races can be a lot of fun too. Laurens is a rinky-dink little town about an hour outside of Greenville, and I can’t say there is anything truly special about the town. It’s another little place, off the grid, hit as hard as all other small towns by the current economic situation. But when you show up to these things, you can tell the people appreciate your support, and I honestly appreciate what the people do to put on events like 5k road races. The local shops donate refreshments, local law enforcement shows up en masse to ensure safety, and signs in front yards show supports for a just a handful of folks out on a cold morning’s jaunt.
After we register, I head out for my warmup on the out-and-back course, and what it reveals destroys my hopes for a fast course. The first half mile is uphill (surprise surprise), followed by a gradual climb to the turnaround. 16:45 is probably not in the cards for me today, I think, and decide that breaking 17:00 is probably a better match for my abilities on this particular course.
When the gun releases us, I find myself in a swarm of high-school kids. Two guys are immediately off the front, and I decide the most prudent course of action is to go through the mile comfortably hard, which keeps me in the midst of the young’uns. My legs feel pretty solid, and within 400m, the high schoolers are starting to drop like flies after some pretty aggressive starts. I’m working hard, but for some reason the word tempo comes to mind as I crest the hill and approach the one mile point.
“Five thirty eight, thirty nine, forty,” is what I hear as I pass the man shouting splits. Damn. No wonder I was thinking tempo…still, I’m thinking that if I pick it up slightly, I should still be okay. Within meters, I’ve passed the last of the kids, and I’m in a distant third by around 20-30s. I don’t recognize first or second but they’ve clearly come to play.
When I hit the turnaround, it’s time to move, so I make a conscious effort to really start reeling in second. Coming down the gradual decline, I feel like I’m working hard, but not at a level I can’t sustain. A thought hits me – dude, you were made to run downhill…crush this skinny little dude! I lean forward a it more and let gravity and my tree trunks do the rest. As I’m coming down, I spot Jen, who is still ascending. Man, this is cool…we exchange breathless encouragement and then she’s gone.
At the two mile, I’ve closed to within 10s of second. I see 5:30 on my Garmin. Damn! Still too slow if I want to break 17. Now my effort kicks into earnest mode. Quick math tells me that I’m currently on track for closer to 17:20, so it’s time to go if I want to break 17. Like really go.
I will #2 closer, tugging the invisible cords connecting the two of us. With a half mile to go, I’m closing hard. 20m, then 10m, now we’re even. I tuck in behind him, catching a brief respite for just a few seconds. But soon I realize I’m not going hard enough. My breathing rate has dropped from 2-1 to 2-2, which means I’ve slowed. Not good.
I make my move with 600 to go, strong off his left shoulder. I feel him try to stay with me for a couple of paces, then he’s gone.
Now it’s just me and the clock. At 3M, my Garmin says 5:15. This is going to be close, but I’m not sure how close since I can’t see the clock yet. In the last 100m, I can finally make it out and my heart drops: it’s cresting 16:40 and making a bee-line for 17. Time to drop the hammer.
It’s an all-out sprint. Arms and knees driving, leaning. As I cross the finish, the last thing I saw on the clock was 16:59, but it was just before the finish and I didn’t hit my watch. It’s going to be close, but I will have to wait for the results. I jog back up the course, and encourage Jen through the finish, then we cool down. The results are posted by the time I make it back from my cool-down:
All in all, 17:01 for second was solid. It tells me that my baseline fitness is there for 16:45. I just need to put it all together, and maybe tweak my training a tad. Other lessons: while negative splits (5:41, 5:30, 5:15) are a smart way to race, my conservative strategy in the first half of the race left me no wiggle room in the last mile. I had to run my last mile faster than I have in any of my training, and even with downhill it was no easy task. Also, that short break I took before pulling ahead of #2 probably cost me the 2-3s I needed to break 17. In retrospect, I had more than enough in the tank to simply cruise right past the guy and maintain until the finish. Finally, I need to shift my paradigm from the marathon. Marathon pacing is hard, but you don’t hit Red Line City until the last few miles. Even then, it’s more a cumulative fatigue than the gut-wrenching distress associated with 5k intensity. I need to internalize what I talked about earlier this week – it’s not about the pace feeling easy, because if it does I should be going harder.
Still, I took home 55 bucks, which makes $110 extra for clean water through Mocha Club. And let’s not forget Jen, who ran 25:50 off nothing but maintenance training and took home first in her age group! Not a bad day for the clan, I’d say…