Today I ran my first 5k race in a couple years.
I’ve run a 5k in a couple triathlons this year, but after an hour of swimming and cycling, it’s a different animal, more like the last 3 miles of a half marathon than a dead-hard 3 mile run.
The 5.12k Run to Brunch is a fairly large event with a fairly small competitive field.
The name is purely fictional, as they have both 5k and 10k races and no 5.12k run, as far as I understand.
It’s a great idea, as Sunday morning public running events go.
They have both competitive (chip-timed) and non-competitive divisions.
Apparently there were about 1,600 runners, and only about 200 of them were competitors with timing chips.
The food and drinks
The big draw was the brunch afterward, with nearly 2 dozen vendors giving samples to anyone who paid for the privilege.
All told, I’d say it was worthwhile to anyone who took the opportunity to enjoy everything available.
There were 3 mixed drink bars. Tito’s offered screwdrivers, and a tequila company won my vote for best condiments and bloody marys. Beer was available.
The brunch opened at 9:30 and alcohol wasn’t served until 10:00, by state law.
While drinks weren’t available (and even thereafter), there were a few types of cinnamon roles, some sandwiches, even chicken claws! All the recipe were creative and appeared to be well-executed. Lori enjoyed herself.
Because I eat gluten and dairy free, there were few options for me. I enjoyed a cup of cold brew coffee and 2 bottles of water, then went to Tacodeli.
The brunch was not a good investment for me, but I appreciated having the option.
If I was a betting man, I’d say this kind of event is the future of most fitness-oriented events.
Increasingly running and triathlon events have private beer or drink venues for participants, though these necessarily exclude friends, family, and the general public.
Adding the food as an independent option for this running event really pushed it over the top. The fact that nearly 90% of the field didn’t choose chip timing and many people still stayed for the food indicates to me where the real draw lies for consumers.
After all, consider the alternatives in marketing and opportunity:
- Get up early, run a 5k or 10k fast, be uncomfortable, enjoy a beer afterward, while your friends and family wait for you.
- Get up a little later than required for most competitive running races. Run a 5k or 10k however you want. Enjoy cocktails and beer with creatively-prepared food from 20 different local restaurants with your friends and family.
It’s a no-brainer.
How it started
This year I chose to focus exclusively on speed development for the first time in my running career.
As I became a runner several years ago, I focused primarily on marathon preparation for 5 straight years. The last couple years I was overtrained, injured, and recovering from a surgery.
As a trained runner, an early lesson I learned is runners optimize for a distance. It’s a totally different undertaking to train for and race a 26.2 mile marathon than to run a 5k (3.1 miles).
Another lesson is we want to cross train for optimum performance. Even as we cross train in different sports, we even find that we tend to do better and be healthier athletes if we spend time at different paces and different distances. Too much focus on one sport, distance, or pace can increase our risk of overuse injuries, overtraining syndrome, and just plain boredom with the activity.
When Lori said she wasn’t interested in racing another marathon this year, even as we were planning a travel trip to Toronto to run a marathon, we changed our plans.
Without the commitment to run another marathon this year, I took the opportunity to do several “short” races this year. With my commitment to multi-sport events like triathlon, I’ve done a couple short triathlons and a couple more short swim/run events.
My coach suggested I race it aggressively, so I did.
I entered the race with a “goal” 5k pace. My coach established it with recent time trial results and other data.
This goal pace is the foundation for planning race execution.
Whereas longer races are planned with the goal of running the latter half of the race faster than the first, an aggressive 5k plan starts faster. The runner’s goal is to beat his 5k goal pace in mile 1, match the average pace in the middle mile, then conclude with a final segment as fast as the runner can manage.
If the goal race pace is chosen correctly for the runner’s fitness level and the conditions at the time of the race, the overall average pace achieved for the race will be about equal to the goal race pace.
Perhaps more accurately, if the runner is fit and conditions are good, a runner may outperform. Alternatively, maybe not.
If the goal race pace is not well-matched with the runners fitness or the day’s conditions, the runner won’t be able to hold the pace for the final mile. As I’d learned in prior races, when pace, ability, and conditions are not well-matched, the final portion of the race will be well off the goal pace.
I’m reasonably certain my goal pace is appropriate to my current level of fitness. There are several runs and other data points that corroborate it.
At the same time, the day was not ideal for optimal athletic performance. According to Garmin, the race started at 79 degrees Fahrenheit. This is about 30 degrees warmer than the 50 degree-ish temperature where best running times are most likely to occur.
I lined up just behind the runners at the front of the starting corral. I didn’t figure to be among the fastest of the fast, but I was confident I was in the right place.
Mile 1 went well. I’d chosen an aggressive 5%-or-so faster than average pace. This is explained in more detail in “The Experienced Competitive Runner Strategy” linked below. My target was 6:55 for the first mile. I came very close and a little faster, at 6:52.
The mile began flat, then turned a corner to a small rise across the 1st Street bridge. It continued on a mildly undulating false flat until the return to the bridge. While the elevation chart (visible at the Garmin link below) appears nearly dead flat, the 2 or 3 foot undulating variance across the middle of the run is quite notable while on course. The small rises are a real downer each time the runner reaches them.
I felt each of the rises in my heart and breathing rates. To avoid overdoing it, I adjusted pace a bit with each rise and fall. The undulation took its toll on energy and resolve.
The die is cast
As we ran up the bridge, the runners who’d gone out ahead of me continued to build distance, though some were still clearly visible, only 10s of feet ahead. Others were long gone in the distance by the end of mile 1.
As I reached the crest of the bridge, I heard footfalls approaching from behind. Apparently someone had started late and was moving fast to make up time. It was pretty impressive how fast the guy passed me. He must be fast!!! His very white legs and well-developed calves were notable.
Experienced runners will immediately recognize that sometimes seconds saved in the first mile could cost much more later on. That’s sort of how it went…
Hydration and Cooling
About the one mile mark, we passed the first water station. I grabbed and dropped the first cup I reached, then grabbed 2 more as soon as possible, one in each hand.
At one point I found dropped waters annoying and stressful. Sometimes I’ve had volunteers apologize for the dropped water. I’ve even felt bad they’ve taken it so personally, though I appreciate their commitment to getting it right. Any more, it’s clear it’s just a part of the dance.
I know to go for water as soon as the water stop appears, and I know to always grab 2 cups. I know to keep grabbing until I get what I need or I’ve passed the checkpoint. I’ve never gone without water on a run course. Thanks to all the volunteers who make it possible!
I dumped one cup of water over my head, enjoying the coolness of it, then took a small sip of the other and upended it over my head as well.
Experience has taught me that the cooling benefit is short-lived on a muggy morning like this one, as the water quickly warms and adds to the already insulating layer of sweat.
However, in the Texas Hill Country in a September with 16 days over 100 degrees, we have to take whatever relief we can get, no matter how short-lived.
Cat and Mouse
As mile 2 began, I approached 2 runners who’d gotten out ahead of me from the gun. One was the guy with the white legs who’d passed me crossing the bridge. I continued at the pace that felt right, and as we continued, I overtook them.
They fought being passed, however. Their footfalls were always right behind, and soon they overtook me.
Sometime around now, I passed Lori coming the other way. She’d started 10 minutes earlier than I, with the 10k runners, and she told me to catch her.
Based on her intended running pace and mine, we’d agreed before the race that was the likely outcome.
I continued at my own pace, passing the white-legged man and the woman again a few hundred yards later.
The cat wins
For those who have experience overtaking other runners while “running your own race”, you know how this ends too…
Once again, they never fell back more than a couple feet.
Soon, they passed me yet again.
However, this deep into a 5k, if they’d gone out ahead and have been running hard and I’ve overtaken them, it’s simply because my “natural” pace is faster than theirs, and they started out too fast. The more they fight it and work hard to keep up with me as I pass, the more matches they’re burning as they fight to avoid being passed.
I passed them a second time and never saw them again, though the pace became increasingly uncomfortable as I reached and passed the mid-course turn-around.
How it felt
Looking back, this is exactly how a well-paced 5k (or any longer distance) should go, where a personal record attempt is involved. If a runner stretches a bit, they’re pushing into the limits of their potential, and they’ll really feel it by 2/3 of the way into the race.
Furthermore, by 2/3 of the way into any race where the discomfort was notable, I’ve never had a great finishing time. Worse, I’ve learned to expect a horrible experience, at least as far as my memories of the event go.
While the first mile felt pretty good (as they always do), by the turnaround at about 1.5 miles, the discomfort was exquisite. I recalled my coach reminding me that the aggressive strategy will require digging deep into the mental game to find the grit to hold on in the final 2 miles.
Half way into the race, I considered how hard it felt, then I considered the possibility that I might not finish the run as a run: I could slow down and walk any time. The thought had already crossed my mind a couple times late in the first mile, when my hands went numb as they sometimes do at extreme levels of running effort.
Nonetheless, no part of me wanted to slow down and walk, or give up.
My 2nd mile pace was 7:24, or 9 seconds off my goal pace. Not bad, given the conditions and my state of mind by the middle part of this mile.
We truly can do more than we think. When we get our forebrain out of the equation, we can sometimes do even better.
A new experience
Around the 2 mile point, my breathing pace accelerated, and from there to the end of the race I have no real recollection of the experience as “feelings” or sensations. I don’t recall having any specific thoughts of good or bad, mental work or no. Maybe that’s because the grade went mildly downhill for a bit. Maybe I entered the pain cave and dissociated. I don’t recall having this experience in a race or workout, previously.
At the final water stop, about the 2 mile point, I began to pass 10k runners who’d been on the course 10 minutes before I had. Some were running slowly, others were walking, often in pairs, and sometimes even in groups of 3.
It was mildly annoying to have to modify my direction to accommodate them walking in the narrow lane. At the same time, as I look back on those moments, that annoyance may also have distracted me from my discomfort.
Over the bridge the second time, I recall passing at least one more runner, a woman who was making good time. I also recall being passed by another runner a moment later, a man who seemed to fly past me.
As I reached the final turn, about a half mile from the finish, Lori was immediately in front of me. She’d somehow been hidden outside my field of vision until then.
“Go Lori”, I said, with as much enthusiasm as one can muster when one can’t breathe, feels like breakfast was a mistake as it sits uncomfortably undigested in the stomach, and wishes the next 2 minutes was already over.
I recall very little of how I felt in the span of time between the mental games at the mid-course turnaround and the end of the race.
My pace for mile 3 was 7:57, well off the goal of 7:15.
I see in the screen shot above that my pace accelerated between the bridge and the end of the course, which is gratifying.
My pace for the final 10th mile was also 7:30, just 15 seconds off my goal of 7:15. Again, not what I wanted, but not abysmally bad, given the conditions.
|Mile 1 Pace||6:55||6:52|
|Mile 2 Pace||7:15||7:24|
|Mile 3 Pace||7:15||7:57|
|Final .1 Mile Pace||7:15||7:30|
|Average Pace||7:15 or better||7:30|
|Steps per Minute||180||189|
|Stride Length (m)||>1||1.15|
- The 220 calories of oatmeal bars I ate only 90 minutes before the start of the event was probably an error. Next time, no solid food inside of 2 hours prior to the race, and only 110 calories at that.
- In future difficult conditions, I’ll only push mile 1 by 3% rather than 4-6%, as I did today.
- My 2nd mile was 9 seconds slower than I’d wanted. However, on a warm, humid day, I’m going to consider it a win. This might also have been compounded by my first mile, which I’d paced aggressively and still beaten by 3 seconds in these difficult conditionse.
- When it feels unsustainable going into mile 2, that’s probably about right, though it also appears to be consistent with underperformance due to a miserable, slow finish.
- 5.12k Run to Brunch Race Website
- A bit about my hernia surgery and recovery
- Best temperatures for running fast
- Aggressive 5k Pacing: The “Hold on For Dear Life” Strategy
- Aggressive 5k Pacing: The “Experienced Competitive Runner” Strategy
- My Garmin data for this run