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June 11, 2011

Race Recap: Iron Horse 5k

I have never been fast.  In high school, a teammate of mine on track would refer to me as Captain Mediocre.  It was always great, because I was always above average, but never quite good enough to make the state meet.  He was a really funny guy.  Today, I sometimes refer to him as "my Newman," after the Seinfeld character.  Actually, now, we work together and coach track together, but you know, no big deal. I always used that name as a motivator...

It wasn't until I began racing that I realized speed is least in road races.  But that didn't make me not want to be faster.  This brought me to new goals after trying to lower my 1/2 marathon PR.  Ultimately, my goal this winter and spring was to work on my speed.  The first race I ever ran was a 25:00 5k (exactly 8:00/mile, and exactly 1 second slower than my own personal Newman-yes, that former teammate and co-worker, I mean you ;-) ).  It had been 4-5 years since I had even run in the 26s, and last spring and summer, my 5ks were in the 29s.  However, that all changed Labor Day weekend 2010, when I ran our XC team's time trial, and ran my 2nd fastest 5k to date. Since I was training for a half marathon in October, I thought nothing of it until the Manchester Road Race on Thanksgiving.  Having run my 2nd fastest time there (in my fifth race), I really dedicated myself to doing some speed work and not just getting in the miles, and hopefully running a (reasonably) fast 5k again.  That's part of why I stayed outside all winter, and was running 2-mile loops as fast as I could. 

The only problem was, I had always fizzled in spring 5ks.  For whatever reason, my spring 5ks have not been good.  It wasn't the crowds, as I've run in races of less than 50 and more than 5000. It wasn't the date or weather; I had run in March, April, and May.  So, in my mind it was my training.  So, I decided to forgo early races, and wait until June, and the Iron Horse.

Having already run the Iron Horse Half and 10k, this seemed like a natural progression to finally do the 5k.  What's that you say?  It should go the other way?  BAH!

As I was saying, the Iron Horse seemed like a good place to run.  The races all take place in a suburban/rural setting, in a typical New England town.  The routes are all very nice, and in most parts, there is ample shade.  The only downfall is that, being the first weekend of June in New England, the weather can be very unpredictable.  The first year (half marathon) it was in the low 80s.  Last year during the 10k, the temperatures were in the low 90s, the humidity was sky high, and we had a good rain shower about half-way through.  This year, it was a cool, crisp morning in the 60s.  That's my ideal for a run.

But I digress.  The Iron Horse: In my previous two races there, I had run the first 1-2 miles WAY too fast, and ruined my races.  The roads were mostly flat, and it was easy to get speed, especially in the rush of the early crowd.  For a 5k, that seemed perfect.

And that is exactly what happened.  For the Iron Horse, the 10k starts 15 minutes before the half and 5k.  When the half starts, it starts less than 200 meters from the 5k start.  As the half-marathoners pass the 5k start, the 5k begins (on the opposite side of a divided road).

The one downfall with the 5k is, there is no starting pad, so all times are on gun-times.  This is disappointing, because I actually crossed the starting line about 15 seconds after the gun.  Can't help it; I was fiddling with my iPod.  For those real runners that scoff at this, too bad: it motivates me, and keeps me on pace, when I want to shoot out at the start.  So, as I crossed below the red balloon arch, I started my watch as any good runner would do, and I was off.

Barreling down Iron Horse Boulevard my strides felt great.  I was hitting a good rhythm,had a full stride, and was able to dodge those runners that were running a more focused pace.  Coming out of the first turn, the half-marathon and 5k merge.  This is chaos, but I was looking forward to it.  About 50 meters later, the crowd crosses a bridge, and makes its second turn.  My goal was to be hitting that turn with the 2nd tier of runners in the half.  Their pace, in my mind, would carry me to good time.

Sure enough, as I ran through the first mile marker, the clock read watch said 7:27.  For a brief moment, panic set in.  Until I realized that my plan was coming together as if it had been planned by Col. Hannibal Smith.  With that, I calmed down, and just kept pumping my legs.

I carried that pace for about 6 more minutes, and it was pretty comfortable.  Then we hit the two little hills.  As we moved into them, I noticed that the half marathon runners were pulling away.  It was really amazing how they just carried their pace.  Still, in my mind, I justified it in the fact that these people were about half as wide as I am.  As I ran through the hills, I hit the 2 mile mark, and even though the half-marathoners were pulling away, I remember being happy because I had just run a solid 8:35 second mile (total time-16:02 on my watch).

The nice part about the hills, is, you're in the shade, and they really roll to their crest.  The nicer part was, I was able to take the next turn.  For the past two years, I've seen that sign, saying 5k turn here, only to have to run another 3 mile loop before I returned back to that point.  I was fully aware, from that turn, there was a mile left.  Though those half marathoners kept on running, and I greedily took the left.

Running right down the middle of the street, I went into a sort of trance.  First, along the river.  Secondly, to the right, back over the bridge, which is about where my breathing had reached a stage I like to refer to as controlled wheezing.  This is when my breathing sounds awful, but is actually completely under control, and just a very loud version of my regular running breathing.  As I was running over the bridge, I passed a fit looking man in a turquoise racing singlet, who gave me a dirty look as I went by.  Finally, I went back up the little hill and on to Iron Horse Boulevard.  I didn't dare sneak a glance at my watch. 

It was only a short run up the road, before I saw it.  There, in the distance, was the red balloon arch.  My iPod was pumping Young the Giant (by the way, that singer is ugly), and though my body had started to rebel, I powered towards that arch, chanting the mantra: BEAST (as in "kill the...")with each step.  To me, it felt like I was flying.  In reality, I was probably running the equivalent of a 20-second 100m dash.  Then my hopes were dashed...

It wasn't until a few feet before the arch, when I passed the 3-mile mark.  Yes, that is when the realization sank in that I had kicked it into high gear for the wrong goal.  So, as my watch ticked around 24:30, I had nothing to do, but continue. My legs were shot at that point, and that last 1/8 of a mile was a killer.  The final .125 miles was agonizing.  I was spent, and it wasn't until I was about to cross the actual finish line, seeing the gun-time clock click to 25:50, that I realized I was going to do it.

In my head, there was a mini parade.  Triumphal fanfares of trumpets echoed in my imagination.  It was really much more grand than a sweaty fatty slowly jogging across the finish line, pumping one fist as he checked the watch on his other wrist.  The final "official" time says I ran watch read 25:40.


That was my new second fastest 5k time ever.  I had just run 8:12 miles, an impossible feat just months prior to this race.  I had not run faster since my first race ever.  And in the past 5 years, that was the fastest I had ever raced.  I was, and still am, stoked.

Sure, runners that were 9, 11, and 65 finished faster than me, but who cares?!  This was a race against myself.  This was a race against both the clock and the calendar. I was the 41st male finisher, I was the 6th finisher in the 30-39 bracket (ironically, I'd have been 5th if I was 29), and most importantly, I won my weight class: #1 in the Clydesdale Division (males over 200 lbs.).  I had never been proud to be in that before, but now, I was a division winner.  I got a medal!  For one day, this fatboy ran his @$$ off, and I couldn't have a bigger smile on my face about it.

I'd also like to congratulate mMiL, because on that day, she won her age group in the 10k...and my daughter ran her first ever race, a 1/4 mile (in about 4 minutes, but hey, she's 3 1/2).

Added June 14: After I finished, I realized mMiL would probably finish her 10k in roughly ten more minutes.  So, I was waiting working my way through the chute, getting my water bottle and banana, when I hear this guy behind me telling his friend, "And this guy goes by me and he's wheezing, and I'm thinking dude, get an inhaler."  His tone was pretty rude, and I kind of felt bad for whoever he was talking about.  I turn around, and it's the guy in the turquoise singlet from the bridge, and I realize he's talking about me.  For once, I was thinking quick on my feet, and shot back through the throng of finishers waiting patiently for their water bottles, "Sorry, that's just how I sound when I'm going fast.  What was your time?"


S June 14, 2011 at 4:12 PM  

You know, Mom did tell me to call you and get the story about the race that day (not knowing there was anything else to know). That was a pretty damn fine racing story!

I'm getting incredibly nostalgic for last summer's super-slow running/walking that I did. I look forward to that in August.

C June 14, 2011 at 5:24 PM  

After writing and editing for the last 5 days, I finally posted and...and I forgot one funny part. Just added it.

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