Tonight I had an unexpectedly strong performance at a race that nearly broke me, last year.
The Possum Creek 5k is a mostly flat trail race through the fields and woods of a local farm-turned-metropark, and last year I struggled hard. I had started really ramping up the miles in my training plan to get ready for my first half marathon, and some nagging injuries had started really bothering me, especially my upper spine and left hip. But as a relative novice, I was determined to push through the pain anyway, not realizing that I was making things worse. I started as strong as I could, but my hip really started to become a problem late in the race, and I was slowed to a 10+minute mile by the end, finishing the race in 30 minutes almost exactly.
This year has been different in a lot of ways, in that I’m training smarter and harder, instead of just running myself into the ground. Still, considering I had only run twice in the last month, and that I had been on my bikes for the previous two days, I was concerned about how much juice I’d have in my legs. I met up with my buddy Joe, with whom I had struggled in last year’s race, and we both agreed that we’d be happy with modest improvements over last years’ times.
I lined up in the back third of the pack, anticipating going out easy and not having the gas to do much else as the race went on. But at the gun, I was surprised how good my legs actually felt, and how little I felt like I was working. I settled into a 7-8 minute pace, using momentum to carry me over the hills and dales of the park while passing people as often as I could. About a mile in, my buddy Joe dropped off, suffering a little fatigue, but I was able to keep going. I made my mind up then to try and push the pace a little, and slowly reeled in a few more runners, including a couple I thought might be in my age group.
Right at mile 2, as I was just pulling back the last two runners I could see ahead of me, I felt my left shoe start to get loose, and looked down to see my laces flapping along with my stride. DANGIT! I ran along for another 100 meters, hoping I could just tiptoe through the rest of the race, but it was getting loose quick, and the last thing I needed was to fall and hurt myself. Stopping to tie my shoe cost me 6 or 7 positions, and after losing my rhythm, I wasn’t able to reel them back in before the finish, despite pushing the pace up to just under a 7 minute mile for a little bit.
As I came down the final stretch, I was already happy with the race, and felt like I might come in at about 26 minutes. But when I crossed the bridge and came around the last corner, the clock still read 24! The finish is a climb out of a creek bed, so I didn’t have much in the way of a sprint, but I gave it what I had left. I crossed the line in an official time of 24:23, which placed me 38th of 171 finishers overall, and 6th of 9 (?!) in my age group. I’m a little surprised at how fast my age group was, but still not unhappy with the result. Hard to be mad at going over 5 minutes faster than last year!
If I do the same race next year, I’ll have to remember to start further up the order, so I’m not tied up so much at the beginning. That, and to double-knot my shoes!