Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Race report: Firecracker 5K, July 4, 2012

I ran the Reston Firecracker 5K this morning, finishing in a time of 19:20 by my watch (19:22 gun – I started back in the pack).  This was good enough for 11th overall female and 2nd in my age group in a very competitive field (5th and 7th went to pro runners Samia Akbar and Nikeya Green, to give some context).

This race was pretty much a last minute decision for me.  I had planned (and registered for) an “age handicapped” 4 mile race to be held on the C&O towpath.  It sounded like a lot of fun (especially since I’d get a big head start over the guys) and an easy PR (my 4 mile PR is 4 years old, and is at a slower pace than my half-marathon PR pace…).

But then bad storms hit DC last weekend, strewing tree branches all over.  As of last night, many streets were still blocked by trees.  And if streets were blocked, it was likely that the towpath hadn’t been cleared.  And then it also rained last night, meaning a muddy towpath.  The 4 miler was sounding like a lot less fun, and accompanied by a risk that I’d show to learn that the race was off altogether.  So, I reluctantly changed plans to a 5K that a lot of my teammates were running.

And that was how I ended up in Reston for the “Firecracker 5K” this morning.  Registered, did my warm-up, said hi to teammates and friends (the race ended up with a HUGE turnout, chock full of fast people). 

 As part of my warm-up, I jogged a section of the course with my teammates, noting the hills, including the long uphill drive to the finish.   I thought longingly of the FLAT 4 miler I had been planning on.  But that was irrelevant now.  I was here with the hills.  And I’d deal.

[I’ll also do an additional whine – again, I HATE 5Ks.  They hurt MORE than mile races, and for longer.  They also hurt more than longer races.  That was another reason the 4 miler was so appealing – slightly less painful.  But, the 5Ks are good for me.  So I’ll suck it up.]


The start area was completely packed when I joined, so I couldn’t get up as close to the front as I would like.  Not a big issue, as I like to go out slow (and I also didn’t realize that they were doing age group awards by gun time).  The corral was packed with kids and other runners who looked a bit unsure of what they were doing, but I thought I’d just start cautiously and let the mess sort itself out.

And then they started us, and it WAS a mess.  Elbows everywhere in the stampede, with high school kids weaving back and forth.  A large guy fell down right in front of me, and I almost tripped and fell down as well.  I dodged, and then sprinted as best I could to get myself out of the worst of the mess.  As soon as I was clear, I settled my pace, and tried to shake out the bit of oxygen debt I had given myself.  

About then, my teammate Tim caught up to me, and we ran together for a bit.  It was comforting to have someone near me that I knew was NOT going to suddenly lurch into me.  Soon after, my other teammates Greg and Nora caught up to us, and we were a pack working the up and downhills in a rhythm.

After a minute or two, I started to feel my breathing tighten, and so I backed off slightly to reestablish, letting Greg and Nora pull ahead a bit.  From then on, I just focused on staying relaxed.  My breathing was a bit of a struggle and even painful, but I resolutely concentrated on what I could control, instead of how far I had yet to go.

And that was pretty much the rest of the race.  I don’t pay attention to splits during a race, but just hit my lap at each mile marker to have the splits for later.  The first mile marker seemed to take forever, which worried me.  Between that, the discomfort in my lungs, and the fact that my teammates had gone ahead of me, I could have easily gone down a negative mental trail, decided I was having a bad race, and started pushing like crazy.

Nope.  Stopped that train.  Just relaxed, focused on the moment, and tried to breath as deep as I could.  

The final half mile of the race was a long steady climb.  Not horrible, but draining.  And then we hit the final straightaway towards the finish line.  And once again I tried to focus on cruising rather than straining, and staying patient.  Instead of staring at the finish and driving towards it, I focused resolutely on the pavement about 10 meters ahead of me, and just chilled.  Whatever.  Finish line would still be there whenever I got there.

Um yeah – these photos indicate what I look like
when I’m “chilling” on my way to the finish. 
Apparently I have some more work to do here….
Thanks to dash for the photos.

I resisted glancing at the clock until right before the finish, and noted it just crossing over to 19:20.  Neat!  I had honestly thought that 19:30 for me on this course in summer conditions would be a great result.  So coming within 5 seconds of my PR was a real thrill.   Especially since it was not a very comfortable race for me breathing wise.  

So, I’m pretty happy with this one.  And feeling REALLY good for what this race means for my fitness.  I’m unquestionably a cold weather runner, and summer heat and humidity are a real struggle for me.  Summer conditions essentially place a dropcloth over my fitness, making where I truly stand a mystery.  Races like this are a hint that I’ll see great things come fall.   If nothing else, I think this race indicates that I’ve made a big improvement in my fitness from even this spring, when I set my 10 mile and half-marathon PRs.  I’m REALLY psyched for the fall.

Splits were:
First “Mile” – 6:59 (mile was long – 1.13 according to Garmin)
Second “Mile” – 5:32 (mile was short - .94 according to Garmin)
Third mile plus last bit – 6:49 (for 1.14 according to Garmin)

So, hard to know exactly what my splits were.  And no, I don’t think the course was long – I just think the Garmin was off.  Assuming that the course was accurate, and that the 2nd mile marker was right, then I split 12:31 for the first 2 miles (6:16 pace) and 6:49 for the final 1.11 (6:08 pace).  I’ll take that.  I think if I hadn't sprinted that bit at the very beginning and just been able to build steadily the entire way, I might have run slightly better.  But this was not a badly paced race at all.

Other notes:
  • Used inhaler twice 20 minutes before. 
  •  Dowsed myself with water right before race, and dumped a cup of water over my head at the halfway point.  Made a difference.
  •  Left home at 6:10, which got me there with just enough time to register, chill, and then warm-up.
  • Just did a bit over 2 miles as a warm-up.  Normally I do 3, but it was warm enough that I didn’t need that much.
  • I do think that the race organizers took liberties in describing this course as "relatively flat and fast."  It did end up a fast race.  But I think that was due to the fact that so many fast people showed up, pulling each other to better times.  The course itself had some challenges.
  • Having now run all three of the local 5K 4th of July races, I can say that I think this one and the "Autism Speaks" in Potomac are probably equally difficult courses, while the "Let Freedom Run" 5K is harder.  [this is mental note to myself for next year].


  1. You totally killed it. Being so close to your PR in these conditions is a huge indicator that you are ready to smash some serious PRs come fall. It was great to see you twice in one day!

  2. Congrats! Sounds like you did a great job keeping "your cool" in this kinda crazy race. And in this heat - kudos!

  3. Nice running, Cris! I am glad you made the decision to run this race!

  4. Great race, I too was glad to see you had made the switch!