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6 November 2017

Saturday BB and I ran a 5km road race with some people from work. It was a cancer benefit race, and we ran because one of my former colleagues was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer (Stage 4, metastatic) immediately after retiring. Like, within days. It’s as terrible a diagnosis as I can imagine, and her prognosis is very poor. The team running for her raised over $17,000 to fight the disease, and I contributed a little bit of that. My fundraising total ended up being about $180.

The race itself was really good. I set a new personal record, with a time of exactly 24:00. Last winter I ran a 23:59, but that course was easily .08 miles short of a real 5km, as I wrote at the time. So I’ve never really considered that to be my personal record. Now, I have run 24:00. That’s a 7:44 pace. Three straight miles, at a sub-8 minute pace. I’m flabbergasted.

The gun went off at 0803, and I was in a crowd of densely packed people. BB and I ran it separately rather than together, as is our habit for shorter races these days. There were 901 people running the race, 402 men and 499 women. I had to weave a bit to get into clear space, and pushed hard from the start. The race was in a big park on the west side of ECC, and winds around through fields and forests. It’s a nice run.

I, of course, saw none of that. I was just pushing as hard as I could. I passed the first mile in 7:34 and was kind of amazed. That’s right about my fastest mile ever – I think I did 7:26 once – and I was worried I wouldn’t be able to hang on. But at that point I thought, it’s only two more miles. Surely I can run hard for two miles. I did ease back a tiny bit, but soon after pushed harder again.

When I’m running as hard as I can, I feel like I’m constantly accelerating. Because my body wants to slow down so much that pushing it to keep pace feels like speeding up. The second mile started with a long, very shallow but definitely detectable uphill. I could feel it sapping me, but leaned into it knowing that at the pace I was going it would be over soon. I expected to be much slower for the second mile, and so I got a shot of adrenaline and hope when I hit mile two in 7:51.

I figured that would be it for my speed. I expected to crash in the third mile. I’d been pushing really hard for more than fifteen minutes, and the third mile has some undulating hills. None very long, but steeper than before. I focused on my breathing, pushing the air all the way out of my lungs so that I could take really deep breaths, pulling in as much oxygen as I could.

My blogging friend Hollie writes regularly about how the third mile of a 5km race is all about hanging on for dear life. It really is. I’ve only run about four 5km timed races ever, but they’re a strange beast. Almost a sprint, but long enough to require strategy. If you go out full-tilt, like I did, then the final mile is going to be a masterclass in pain. Every tenth feels like a mile. Every minute feels like an hour.

My heart rate was up in the high 180s, my lungs were burning. And I was level with the finish line, and heading down hill. That was deeply demoralizing. I knew I’d have to turn around and come up to get back to the elevation of the finish. Luckily, because of a knoll as I rounded the corner, it looked worse than it was. In actuality it was probably only a total of about 25 feet descent and then ascent. But it was concentrated in a really short distance.

I was absolutely dying as I came back up that hill, but I could look straight ahead and see the looming finish line, a quarter mile away. “Two minutes,” I told myself. “You can do anything for two minutes.” I ticked through the third mile in 7:48, absolutely stunned. Not only had I maintained a sub-8 for the third mile, I’d actually sped up a tiny bit. On somewhat challenging terrain. I thought about what Hollie writes about for the end of the 5km – the “kick”.

For the last tenth of a mile (a 5km is a 3.106 mile race), you’re supposed to dig deep and give every last ounce of energy, to keep that asshole next to you who isn’t even breathing hard from passing you at the end. That’s the kick. Find whatever you have left you haven’t given away, and leave it on the road for the final tenth.

I don’t know if I have a kick. But I felt like I found something.

It’s true: the 5km feels like ten marathons when you run like hell. I tripped the wire at 24:00, exactly. I was 51st of the 402 men. I was 67th overall. That sounds impressive, but most people were walking. Nevertheless, I’m very proud of it. My watch recorded me at 24:11 for 3.13 miles – I turned it off a few moments after finishing, as I couldn’t think about anything but breathing for 10 seconds.

I sat down and gasped, seeing a couple of hardcore 20-30 something runners from work who’d finished in 20 minutes. BB finished about two minutes later, having run at about an 8:30 pace, which is her goal tempo pace right now as she trains for a fast 10km race.

I’m proud, and still feel it in my legs. We ran 10 miles at an 11-minute pace the next day as we train up for the Philadelphia half-marathon. I am pretty darned fit right now. I feel good.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. SCOTT drozda permalink
    6 November 2017 09:56

    Great stuff! Congrats!

  2. 7 November 2017 08:33

    Congrats on an excellent race! Great write up too, you captured that 5k pace feeling so well – got my heart rate raised just reading it haha 🙂

  3. 9 November 2017 06:54

    “The 5k feels like 10 marathons when you run like hell” is one of the most true statements. Great race and thank you for the shoutout!

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