It's been a long time since I raced - too long, in fact. I like to race at least once every 4-5 weeks, if not more frequently. There's a few reasons for this; one is that I tend to get out of practice at the very act of racing - things like packing all the right stuff to bring, finishing my warm-up at just the right time, etc, if I don't go through the routine regularly.
I also lose my familiarity with race effort (very different from workout effort) if I don't race. It's not pleasant to renew that - like ripping off a band-aid. And...the longer I wait between races, the harder it is to re-establish my ability to stay relaxed and focused while growing increasingly uncomfortable. To be a good racer.
Related to that - race effort and workout effort are two very different things to me. And when I don't race, my workouts start edging into that nether region between workout and race effort - harder than I need to run to achieve the purpose of the workout. Racing regularly encourages me to keep the workouts and the races in their separate buckets.
So...I needed to race. Only problem was - January races are very hard to find in the DC area (excepting New Years Day).
I had located a promising 5K in Maryland for today, but a bit of research established that the 5K was going to be held on a high school cross country course. So that 5K was no longer an option. I've never raced cross country in my life, and given how much trouble I have with my unstable ankles any time I verge off of pavement, I'm not inclined to give it a try at this point in my running. A bit of fun isn't worth the injury risk.
So...I went with a Park Run. The DC area has several; I chose the Anacostia Park Run because I knew the area, and was confident that this park run would have the best footing of any of the options.
My lack of practice with the process of racing was on high display this morning - stuff like almost forgetting my shoes, forgetting how much time it takes me to stretch out pre-race, etc. I left home about 15 minutes later than I had planned, and then lost another 20 minutes when I couldn't find the parking lot for the race. Lesson learned for the next time - the parking garage for the Anacostia Metro Station is about half a mile from the Anacostia Metro Station itself, and has no signs indicating where it is. GPS was completely useless, while a really nice guy in a local church parking lot was invaluable.
But...I made it there, with just barely enough time to warm-up before the race. Fortunately, since this was a park run, there was no registration and no bib to pick-up. (All I needed was my Park Run Bar Code printed out and tucked into a pocket.) So I jumped directly into my warm-up jog from my car, fitting in three miles mostly on the asphalt bike trail that the race was held on.
I noted that the trail was mostly clear of ice - just a few large chunks that would be easy to dodge. There was one fairly long puddle that spanned the width of the trail and stretched about 10 meters. But it was only about 2 inches deep, and the ground on either side was muddy and rutted - I planned to run through it during the race, rather than swerve around into the mud.
Towards the end of my warm-up, I added an 80 second bit of faster running. I followed with some drills/strides, and then lined up. Since there were no mile markers, I set my Garmin to autolap.
Park runs are informal - they're hand-timed by a volunteer, and the start/finish is marked by a small plastic marker on the ground. Just before the start, another volunteer gave us instructions - the trail was mostly clear, except for the ice chunks and puddle I had already noted. The course was an out and back, with the turn-around being where the trail ended with a small brick wall - "you can't miss it." The turnaround was not monitored - we were on our honor not to cut the course.
And then we were off.
I was happy that 5 men pulled ahead of me immediately, and even happier that most of them weren't too far ahead. I had been concerned that I might end up running by myself - not ideal, since I wanted a race, not a time trial. But that wasn't going to be the case today.
I bided my time, reminding myself to remember that they'd come back to me (that whole out-of-practice with racing thing). And most of them did. By the time we hit the turn-around, most had, with only two in front. One of those two was far enough ahead that he was out of my league - a low -17s/high 16s guy, most likely. The other was about 10 seconds ahead - with half the race still to go, that was striking distance.
Unsure exactly where to turn, I ran as close as I could to the low brick wall without tripping over it, trying to brush my shoe on it. This made it very awkward to turn around - it's far easier to turn efficiently when your marker is on the inside (a cone) not the outside. Then I headed home.
Over the second half, I let second-place-guy-in-gray haul me. I was starting to remember just how much I hated 5Ks, and also trying to forget that point even as I remembered it. I slowly made ground up on grey-guy, knocking a nice chunk off when we hit the big puddle for the second time (I splashed through, while he chose the deep mud, and the resulting time loss).
I was really starting to hurt, when I spotted a group of people just ahead, standing on the side of the trail. So...that was the finish.
A small part of me remembered that I hadn't heard my Garmin vibrate for the 3rd mile yet, but I reasoned (as much as I could with late-5K brain) that I might have missed it. Or possibly the course was short - this wasn't certified, so there it was entirely possible that it was shorter than 5K.
Whatever - that was clearly the finish, and I was very ready to be done with this rip-the-band-aid-off experience. So I kicked.
I passed grey-guy fairly easily - he didn't even try to match me, which was surprising. I pressed hard to the group of volunteers, looking for the plastic marker. Only to realize (as he passed me again at his steady hard pace) that there was no plastic marker, and these weren't the right people.
Doubled over, I'm embarrassed to say that it took me a few seconds to gather myself mentally. But I did, and started running again, restarting my watch. Almost immediately, I saw another group that had to be the finish line. As best I could, I kicked again, and ran past this second group, noting the plastic marker on the ground. And grey-guy, catching his breath. OK, this was the real finish line.
My watch splits added to 19:20, but my official time was 19:27 - so 7 seconds lost while I regrouped.
Mile 1: 6:22 (modest headwind)
Mile 2: 6:23 (awkward turn-around)
Mile 3: watch says 5:59 (modest tailwind)
last .11: watch says 0:36 seconds.
7 seconds needs to be added somewhere in the last 1.11 miles, so call mile 3 6:06. And yes, I'm a little annoyed/embarrassed/whatever that I misjudged the finish, and a lot more annoyed/embarrassed/whatever that it took me 7 seconds to pull myself back together and get running again.
Oh well - that's what rustbusters are for. And I clearly needed this race, so I'm very glad I did it.
- Temps and DP were in the high 30s - really very good weather for running fast. We did have a notable headwind/tailwind, but it wasn't awful. And I always prefer a headwind out/tailwind back over the reverse.
- The course was pretty fast also - nice and flat. Very slightly winding, but the only real turn was the pivot at the out and back. I didn't feel that the long-but-shallow water puddle or the chunks of ice were an issue either - the race was small enough that there was plenty of room to dodge.
- After the race was over, I was handed a chip by one of the volunteers. That chip marked me as third - I then handed her back the chip plus my barcode, which she scanned in, and that was it - my time was official. Easy simple efficient.
- Since my original pair of Vaporflys are approaching 200 miles now, and feeling noticeably flatter, I used this race to test them as a 5K shoe. And...I felt they worked well for this - far better than the previous times I had worn them for the 5K distance.
When I first tried them for a 5K, I felt like I could not kick or turn in them at all - that's no longer the case. They've lost much, if not all of their bounce, and feel very much like my original Takumi Sens, just with a higher heel drop and stack height. Less bounce means more maneuverability and turnover, and a much more nimble shoe. I still wouldn't want to wear them for a mile, but maybe with another 200 miles? Basically, the more I wear them, the less cushioned/bouncy they feel, and the more I like them for shorter stuff
So that's nice. If I can buy a pair, and get a good 200 miles out of them for halves/fulls, and then convert them to a great 5K-10K shoe for another 100-200 miles once the cushioning is gone, that's a very good value.
- And yes, this means that I showed up to the local park run wearing my race singlet, arm-warmers, racing boy shorts, and vaporflys (albeit pretty old ones). For me, this run, informal as it was, was still a rustbuster race, and it was important to me to treat it as a race in all aspects.