Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Two races, two goals

Since laying down a breakthrough of a 15k PR at the beginning of the month, I've maintained base fitness for the Charlotte Marathon but focused most of my key workouts on running a fast 5k.  I've done two 5k's in October, both with very different goals, different settings, and different race strategies.
October 15: Rescue Me 5k at McAlpine Creek Park:
This race kind of fell into my lap.  My wife and I recently started fostering an adorable Pit Bull rescue through South Of The Bully rescue agency.  Rescue Me 5k was an adoption event and a fund raiser for several Pit Bull rescue agencies in the area.  It was also the first chance I would get to race on the McAlpine Creek cross country course.
Since this race was at the end of a high volume training week and my legs were still sore from a hard tempo run a few days before, I didn't have any concrete time goals.  Besides, in a XC style race, the clock doesn't seem to be as important as does your position.  So I was in it to win it, certainly not to PR.  Although, in the back of my mind, I thought I still had the legs for a sub-19.
The morning was crisp, and the day was clear.  It was good racing weather.  I lined up at the front with a few other fast looking fellas.  At the "go" shout, I strode ahead to an early lead, but only by half a stride.  By the sounds of the footfalls on the dirt path, there was a lead pack of half a dozen or so runners (including one loudly breathing dog) led by me and one other runner whom I'll just call Red Shirt.
Since McAlpine gets used so often for large college and high school XC meets and invitationals, the course has certified metric markings every 200 meters as well as permanent mile markings, which made on-the-go strategic decisions much easier.  At the first mile marker (6:00-6:01 by my clock), Red Shirt and I had pulled away from the rest of the leaders.  We could still hear them--especially the dog--but they were fading.  Red Shirt strode ahead of me, so I tucked in behind him and let him set the pace.  There was plenty of race left after all.  The course's one real hill popped up at about the halfway point, and Red Shirt charged hard up the slope in an effort to break me.  The hill sucked, and he did gain a couple more strides worth of ground, but then I could tell by his thrown back posture that his surge had cost him.  I passed him at the 2500 mark and he tucked in behind me as I motored down the slope on the back side.
Coming out from the tree line with the hill, we ran through what would be the final straightaway after we would do a different loop on the back end of the course.  Red Shirt stayed on my heels through two miles (12:11 at the second mile marker), but I heard his footfalls fade back dramatically in the next quarter mile.  By the 4000 mark, I was alone with at least 100 meters of a lead and the win seemingly locked up.  Every 200 meters, I would do the math to confirm that a sub-19 finish would be awfully close, but once I rounded the pond for the final straightaway once again, I knew I had it.  My finish time was 18:56.  Red Shirt was about 25 seconds behind me, and the third finisher was 10 seconds behind him.  I ran the race I wanted, got a satisfying win, and got some publicity for Barlowe, our foster dog.  My wife and I called that day a success!
Barlowe was my biggest cheerleader at Rescue Me 5k

Please adopt me!

October 29: Charlotte Runway 5k at Douglas Int'l Airport:
The Runway 5k was my focus race for my short but packed 5k training cycle.  My old PR of 18:20 was getting stale, and although it was on a supposedly certified course, the general consensus of that course's shortness brings the street cred of that time into question.  So, following a lead from my buddy Dave, who PR'd at Runway three years ago, I decided to give it a shot.  Not only did I want to PR, but I had lofty aspirations of going sub-18, which all sources indicated would be a bit of a reach for me.
After carpooling with Dave and Rich (who works for American Airlines and got us great parking) and meeting John A., Bryan, M., Mike M., and some other buddies there, we quickly assessed that the weather was about the best one could ask for when running a PR 5k.
With 2000+ people racing, and a start line that was a couple dozen people wide, John and I got into the front row to avoid some of the logjam.  At the start, I settled into my pace--well actually a little faster for the first 30 seconds--and focused my gaze straight ahead.  Some of the appeal to this race, aside from being outrageously fast and flat, is the opportunity to run on a closed taxiway and fairly close to an active runway.  That being said, I did not notice the huge parked aircraft or any of the air traffic around us.  I was focused straight ahead the whole time.
18 minutes for 5k is a 5:47 pace, so my goal was to hit even 5:45 splits to break that barrier.  The first mile maker came up at exactly 5:45 on my clock, but I found myself in a no-man's land, with the other 7-8 runners too far ahead to chase down, and not noticing anyone right on my heels.  I wish I could say I was dueling it out with another racer like at Rescue Me 5k, but honestly, it was just me out there holding on to that 5:45 pace...thinking about how uncomfortable it was.
I passed the second mile marker at 11:31 on my clock, making for practically even splits, but I was starting to feel the acute intensity of the burn.  Those that usually run longer distances know well (and lament) the different kind of hurt that an all-out 5k presents.  Two thoughts bolstered my resolve: (1) I was two-thirds done with what was on pace to be my fastest 5k ever, and (2) I only had to hurt for 6+ more minutes.  With those mantras repeating back-and-forth, I maintained and even quickened the pace a bit.
At 2.5 miles, I was overtaken by Franklin, to whom I finished second place at Spencer Mountain 5k a couple years ago.  Rarely does someone pass me the last mile of a 5k, but I remember Franklin being a great late stage racer, and he was just a touch faster than me.  Franklin's girlfriend Paula, who was the lead female, also strode ahead of me, but she stayed within arm's length.  Having Franklin and Paula there actually helped me accelerate on the last half mile of the course since I, like everyone, run better in a pack.
Once we rounded the hangar complex and came within sight of the finish line (still about 500 meters away), I surged with anticipation.  My watch said 16:51 the last time I looked at it, which was well before the third mile marker (which I never even remember seeing), and I guessed that a hard kick would get me across the line in under 18 minutes.  I passed Paula and bade her to pick it up with me and "do this!"  She cheered me on and tucked in behind me.  From there on out, it was one long, anaerobic sprint to a 17:44 finish (with a chip time later adjusted to 17:43).  I was sure I was going to PR this day, and halfway confident I might break 18, but 17:44 was waaaaay beyond my goal!  John also broke 18 minutes with a one second PR (17:58), and Dave broke 20 minutes with 19:46, heralding a strong post-injury return to form (Dave's recap).  Bryan PR'd with a 19:11, and Richard barely missed his sub-20 goal with a 20:05.  Fast times were had all around, and we were all beaming on our way home from the airport.
Now it's time to switch gears again and run a fast marathon in a couple of weeks...
Two thumbs up means a good day at the airport!

Here is my Strava data for both races:
Rescue Me 5k
Runway 5k

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