When I awoke this morning, the little issue w/ my back had improved yet again and I knew it would not interfere w/ my race at all. No, I was as close to 100% healthy as one could expect. The weather was going to be nice too - sunny and about 58-degrees for the 9 am start.
The race was at Stanford University - we were going to be running around the walkways on their campus (which is nice) and it was being run by one of their sororities. (insert your favorite joke here!)
My 15-year old son was going to be running this race w/ me. He's a Sophomore on the X-country team at HS. He ran a very tough 8 x 800m in practice on Thursday at about a 2:42 average pace, and followed that up w/ an 11-miler on Friday - so even w/ the off day Saturday this was just going to be a "fun run" for him. I figured he'd finish in about 19 minutes.
About 120 people entered the 5k. I made sure I got a good position at the start. The plan was to go out in 5:40 and then adjust depending on how I was feeling. I didn't have a specific target time as this was my first road race of any length, but I really didn't want to finish in over 18-minutes if I could help it. (5:48 per mile) Being at Stanford, there were a few college runners in the race and I repeated to myself a few times, "don't go out w/ the college kids and get sucked into their pace"
Gun goes off, or was it a whistle, or just some hung over college girl yelling "GO!!" Immediately I'm in about 15th place. I see one college kid moving much quicker than the rest of us and getting to the front very easily. After about 150 yards I'm in about 12th, quick check of the Garmin says I'm at 5:43 pace - that's fine. There are about 4-5 guys right in front of me forming a pack. After about 50-60 yards w/ them I feel like it's too slow - check the watch - 5:55, yup too slow - later boys. I make my way around the 5 of them and I can see that I'm now in 7th. Over the next half mile or so I pass a few more and am now in 4th. The first kid is way the hell out there, 2nd and 3rd are within 10 yards of each other and about 30-40 yards ahead of me. At the 0.7 mile point we make a 90-degree left turn which gives me a chance to take a quick peak behind me - no one's close - maybe 60-yards.
And at that point boys and girls, for all intents and purposes, the "racing" phase of today's event (at only the 0.7 mile mark) was over. Positions 1 thru 4 would not change the rest of the way. And in fact, none of those positions would even be challenged.
I come through the first mile in 5:43 (according to the Garmin - there are no mile markers) A few seconds slow, but w/ all this time to go, shouldn't be a problem. The goal now is to simply hold the pace - don't lose concentration on this 2nd mile and slow down. The second kid has now distanced himself from #3 who is still about 40 yards ahead of me. I try to focus on him to help me keep my pace - closing in on him doesn't seem like a smart thing to do.
At that point I hear something fall and hit the ground. As I turn and look, I see it's my car key - shit I forgot to zip up my back pocket!! Luckily there was an attendant a few yards ahead - I call out to him "hey, can you help me out - I just dropped my car key". He starts to head down the path as I yell back "thanks a lot". As I look forward again, the #3 guy is still there - whew, didn't lose much time!
I look down at my pace - 5:43. Damn this is like clockwork! Another 90-degree turn (there would be a lot of these - and it isn't pretty at the end) another quick peak back. . . . and there's nobody there. I take a second look almost in disbelief - nope nobody there at all. 5th place would eventually finish a minute and 17 seconds behind me.
The unfortunate thing I'm beginning to notice now is that I'm not racing - because there's no one for me to race. No one's behind me, the kid in front of me is 40-50 yards ahead, and I can't even see the two kids who are ahead of him. I'm totally alone here and have been for at least a mile. This is really nothing more than a fast tempo run on Stanford's campus.
I come through the second mile - 5:42. Good, I had held the pace. (just like a damn tempo run) Now what? Quick assessment of how I feel. Well, not great but compared to what you're probably supposed to feel like 2-miles into a 5k, I'd have to say pretty good. Let's try to pick up the pace. I'd love to start reeling in the #3 guy but he's picked it up too and is now probably 70-yards ahead. Damn college kids!! I have the Garmin set to auto-lap each mile so when I check out my lap-pace for mile #3 I see that my pace for the first 1/3 of this mile is now 5:38 - not bad, I'm indeed picking it up.
This is where the race goes to hell on me in a hurry! I mentioned a while back that we have a lot of 90-degree turns in this race, I think there are 12 in all. . . . but what I didn't notice when I looked over the course map prior to the race is that the last 5 of these guys are all in the last half mile or so. And they're not marked! Making things worse is that there are buildings all over the place now as we run through the campus and we're turning so frequently that I no longer have visual contact w/ the guy ahead of me. (and like I said, he's only 70-yards or so ahead so that gives you an idea how quickly we're making 90-degree turns) Also, due to the buildings, I can't locate him after he's made the turn so I'm kind of blind. Now, they do have a girl at each intersection . . . . but you'd expect them to be holding up huge arrows or something pointing you where to go. They're not. Instead, I have to call out to each girl as I approach, "which way!?" And then they point. Now I'm not now, nor was I then upset in any way at these girls. They got their butts up really early on a Sunday morning to host this thing and the proceeds went to charity - so congrats to them for doing a pretty decent job overall - these ain't the World Championships or anything. The real issue was that lost focus during this time.
So this is where I sort of blew it. I got so caught up in trying to figure out where to go that I lost focus on what I was doing. I'm simply not good enough at this point to be running a 5:38 pace after 2.5 miles of a 5k when I'm changing directions every 70-150 yards AND not concentrating on the task at hand.
Mile-3 comes in at 5:49. Shit!! I get my focus back, run the last 0.14 of a mile in 5:37 pace (after one more 90-degree turn). 0.14 you ask? Yeah - another issue - the course was long. Afterwards I went up to one of the girls and asked if this was true and she said it was - last year they measured it and it was long; and this year the course is exactly the same. How much does an extra 0.03 matter? At my pace it adds 11-seconds. Finishing time - 18:03 Man I just typed it and I already hate looking at it. (would have been 17:52 for 3.11 miles)
So my time was wrecked by two factors - one of which I had some control over (losing focus and costing me a good 10-seconds) and one was just that the course was long. The reality is the time doesn't matter - if the course were short by 0.03 instead, would I be thrilled that the clock read 17:41? Not really - it's the race I ran that matters. And my average pace even w/ the loss of focus was 5:44.8 - I can live w/ that for my first race.
So let me look at the things I did well:
#1 - I didn't go out too fast and that's one I was really worried about
#2 - I immediately recognized that I was in a group that was slightly slow and moved ahead
#3 - Nice even pace for the 2nd mile (first 2-miles: 5:43, 5:42)
#4 - correctly evaluated that I could step it up and moved to a 5:38 pace for the first 0.3 of the 3rd mile before I hit the 'maze'.
Now the things I learned:
#1 - If you haven't run the course before STUDY the map carefully! (I could have saved myself some panic if I knew how many turns there were down the stretch and I wouldn't have needed to talk to the girls had I realized that 4 of the last 5 turns were right hand turns)
#2 - Don't lose focus on what you're doing. I did such a good job keeping focus during the 2nd mile, but did a very poor job of this at the end.
#3 - EFFORT!!!! I did NOT race this close to hard enough. Litmus test - as I came through the shoot and the girl was ripping off the bottom of my bib I was having a nice pleasant chat w/ her . . . about 7-seconds after the finish!! Shouldn't I be gasping for breath about to fall down??
After thinking about why this was the case, I came up w/ a few reasons - First, I had no one to race - I was alone from 0.7 miles until the end. I think the adrenaline disappears when you're racing alone, like I said it almost turned into a tempo run kind of feel. Second, my only real goal was to finish under 18-minutes and after seemingly banking 11-seconds in the first 2-miles and then picking up the pace from there, I was sure it was already in the bag (and it would have been if the course were 3.11 miles) So I had no sense of urgency - but next time, screw it - lesson learned: when there is no sense of urgency, CREATE ONE!!
But hell, I did several things right too, and it's just the first race. If I had to do over again next weekend, I'm pretty sure I pick up 10-12 seconds from effort/focus/lack of panic over where I'm going, and of course another 10-12 seconds if the course length were correct. Where I went into this thing w/ a slight lack of confidence, I now know I can go 17:4x, hell next weekend - and knowing that gives me some kind of reference point to work around.
Being that I was the first non-Stanford student to finish, I did win my age group which netted me a nice gift bag of Pete's Coffee I think (I haven't looked yet)
What about my keys?? OK - after finishing I look down the course trying to see where my son was going to finish. I figure he'll be in any minute and we can go find the guy who "hopefully" has my key. I see someone come across - not him. Then a second person - that's him, a nice finish in 6th overall. I call out to him " hey, we need to go find someone". He says, "why to get your key?" As I was about to ask him how he knew that, he opens his hand and there it is!! Evidently he was in 5th place at the time, saw me look back, noticed the key on the ground and scooped it up on the way! Problem solved.
I may post some more thoughts on this race later, but I think I've probably bored you guys long enough. Feel free to tell me what a bozo I was for screwing up the last 0.7 - I welcome any criticism/advice you may have.