Last weekend, I raced the Big South 5k in Pineville, which is one of the fastest certified 5k courses in the the Charlotte area. Ever since Umstead, the fastest I had run for 5k had been 19:26, well off of my previous PR of 18:36. I wanted to race this fast course to find out if I finally had gotten my sub-19 fitness back after months of training adjustments, building strength, and hard work. If I set a new PR, so much the better.
Big South is a huge local race. Over 1100 runners showed up, including a cadre of the fastest runners in the Charlotte area. Chief among the racehorses was Fam, who had set a state record at this same race the previous year. Other fellow Reckless Running ambassadors were Bobby Aswell and his daughter Nicole.
The course was tailor-made for fast times. The first 2k or so was a gradual uphill, followed by another 2k of refreshing downhill, and then a flat kilometer within proverbial scent of the finish line. The final 150 meters or so also was downhill. My goal was to hit 6 minutes flat for the first mile and then see what happened from there.
Usually, I find a spot in the front row of anything from 5k-half marathon, for this relatively high-profile race, I decided to sneak in about three or four rows back. As I moved forward to secure a spot, a young teen stiff-armed me and glared at me as he stepped in front of me. Seriously, kid?! Whatever. I made sure those I knew who were faster than me were in front of me, and waited for the start. The start itself was more of a stampede. I struggled with elbows and cut-offs and all manners of discombobulated foot traffic. It was all I could do to thread the needle between runners, hit the tangents, and try and find some breathing room where I could establish my pace. Once I finally got in a groove, I zeroed in on Bobby, who was hovering a dozen meters ahead of me. I worked fairly hard on that first mile and crossed the marker at 6:04. Not quite 6 flat, but still just under a sub-19 pace.
The first couple hundred meters of mile two were a continuation of the uphill trend. I kept the pressure on, passing a few people here and there, but Bobby maintained his lead. No worries, I wasn't here to race Bobby, I was here to race my own fitness. Once we crested the last of the uphill, it was "off to the races." I opened up and let myself sail down the rewarding hill, concentrating on keeping my turnover fluid and trying to goad some faster (but sustainable) paces out of my stride. I hit the mile two marker at 12:04: a perfect 6-minute-mile. I reminded myself that the second mile started uphill, and my current pace was well under 6 minutes/mile.
I felt like I had run a hard two miles, but I knew I had some gas left for the gently descending Rea Road and the flat Blakeney Shopping Center, so I visualized a mile repeat workout and imagined I was running my last rep. Without having to save anything, I could open up and embrace the pain of an all-out mile. The field was strung out, and Bobby was 10-15 seconds ahead of me with some interlopers between us. I was not likely to catch him, but I still could benefit from chasing him. I felt the heavy lungs of the hard pace, but my legs weren't getting heavy yet, so I gutted it out. I checked my watch at the third mile marker. It read 17:50; I ran the third mile in 5:46! With 0.1 miles the question wasn't if I was going to PR, but by how much I was going to PR. I poured it on for the last stretch and ran the 0.1 miles in 30 seconds (a 5:00 m/m pace). Official time: 18:20, a massive PR for a 5k! As icing on the cake, I won my age group, which surprised me given the competitiveness of the field!
Bobby finished with a pretty smoking 18:06, and Nicole ran her second fastest road 5k ever. Fam came in under 14 minutes with a 13:57 and had the overall win by nearly two minutes. After this confidence-building race, I finally feel like my old (faster) self again!
Pics to be posted later (as of 10/25)