I ran my first organized race on Saturday, the Illinois State Geological Survey’s “Earth, Wind, and Fire 5k.” It is a very convenient race as it consists of 2 laps around the main campus quad. I know, it’s only 5k, but still it was a first, and I think it will be good to write up the experience as a learning tool. I’ll say right off that I am very glad I ran a race prior to the half marathon in April, as it was certainly a learning experience! The weather was excellent for running:
I rode my bike into campus early to register, and to get my juices flowing for the event. I should mention that I was planning on really pushing hard. My hope was to make sure that at the back mile or so I would be struggling mentally. I haven’t really had that experience in my training runs so far. Registration went well, and I got my number (and a medium shirt, they were out of my size..Jordan scored a shirt I guess). I headed to my office and changed, then went out for a nice slow warmup mile.
Come race time, I made my first mistake: I put myself in the middle-front of the pack. Obviously the frontliners were there for blood, but I still was too far in front. I had a couple of friends up there, and lets just say I never say them again once the race started. The other problem being to far forward in the pack is that I ran fast from the start. Ouch. Even still when we took off, it was a wave of runners passing me from the getgo. I figured, oh I guess I’ll soon be in my pace group. Wrong, I ran the first mile at 8:46, which is a full 45 second faster than my fastest pace to date. Now, I’ll admit it felt good to realize I was setting new PRs, but reality set in after mile 1, and I intentionally had to slow myself down to make sure I could sustain for the entire race. Mile two felt better, ran a 10:01 pace but at the end of the mile I realized I set myself up for a hard pull to the end. I set my goal at 29 minutes for the full 5k, which I figured in my head meant I needed to pick it up.
So now came the mental challenge. My legs felt fine, I mean my typical training runs are now from 4-6 miles, a 5k being only 3.1 miles, my legs felt ready to go. The problem was actually my lungs. This has not been the case in any of my running this season. Perhaps I was pushing anaerobic, or my HR was near max. Not sure, but my lungs were on fire. I wasn’t having an asthma attack, so I decided to go ahead an run through it. Picked it up to a 9:00 pace (also faster than I had ever run before) and went for it. I got a full dose of my left (brain) hemishpere screaming stop, I’m hurting. I set me sights on the back of someones head 4-5 people in front and ignored my lungs. I passed a few people, and on the second to last turn I saw the rest of the pack behind me. I think that helped a lot. Since I started in the front and had everybody pass me, I felt like I was basically in last place. When I rounded the corner and saw that there was about 1/3 of the pack behind me, I got a little mental boost, that really helped me to push. And push I did. The last ~200m I took at a full sprint. I passed another 4-5 people into the chute, finishing my first 5k in 29:30.
I know it isn’t a great time, but for me it’s several things: my first true running competition, a couple of new PRs (fastest mile 8:46, fastest 5k), and a dose of reality that I am capable of competition and pushing my body. Growing up with chronic asthma, I’ve never really pushed the limits of my body. Yes I rode lots of miles on my bicycle in High School, but that is a sustained effort case. I never really push my HR way up, or if I did it was for very short stints of 30 seconds or less, to be followed by a nice break. Saturday, I held my body to account for a full 30 minutes. It was very liberating.
A couple of other observations: The race marshalls were awesome. They were always yelling encouragement, happily pushing the runners on. I knew this happens (I’ve volunteered for a few races before, Capitol 10k and Austin Marathon, and had my chance to urge racer on), but I never realized how much it actually helps. Even in this short race it was very nice to have them cheering us on. On the same note, one of my friends was also there cheering. His wife ran also (she beat me by ~30 seconds), and he caught us 3-4 times to cheers us on. Very nice, and I’ll never underestimate the role of cheering volunteers again!
On final note. U of I has recently spent $45 million on a new bell tower in the South Quad. At the start, the announcer mentioned that it would play “Chariots of Fire” to everybody’s laughter. I though he was kidding! As we started at 9, the bells chimed “Big Ben” and then immediately started in with…Chariots of Fire. Awesome. Well, sort of…carrels don’t quite put the right…er…edge to a rock song like that, but hey it was cool anyway. On the back stretch however, they were playing “Maria” from the Sound of Music…that will inspire a runner for sure!
Overall I had an amazing experience, and now I know I am on pace for a good race in the half. I will be shooting for a time of 2:45 or better, so we’ll see! Tomorrow I’ll be going on my biggest long run of 13-14 miles, then I’ll taper up to April 11 for the big event.