Friday, October 25, 2013

Big South 5k: Back To My Old Self

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)

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