At some point last fall, some of my Inner Running Circle got started thinking about the possibility of a meet-up. We fairly quickly settled on the notion of meeting at the Armory, a famous indoor track in New York City. After some back-and-forth, we finally settled on the idea of a 5k on January 24th. The travel negotiations alone to get us all to the track at 7pm on a the appropriate Thursday were epic enough to fill an entire blog post, but I’ll spare you. The weekend included copious eating and drinking and lots of non-Armory running, but I wanted to focus here on the race itself.
Many of us had never raced a 5K on a track before though High Power Running Mentor #1 (HPRM#1) has actually raced at the Armory and was sort of the driving force behind this venture. After my disappointing New Year’s Day 5K, I was looking for some redemption, but this training cycle has had a lot of ups and downs. Despite the EPAT treatment, my foot was still hurting every run, just sometimes more and sometimes less. The stomach flu in December was a huge setback. And the Armory was weekend #2 in a series of three weekends being out of town and all the disruption to life and training that travel brings with it. Plus, 5K on an indoor track is a whole lotta laps, 25 to be exact, but who’s counting? Stay tuned for the answer to that question (Spoiler alert – it turns out, no one!).
I learned a lot about indoor track racing by talking to Coach Mick ahead of time. He said to go out at 60 seconds per lap for the first 8 laps and then speed up a little at a time. First lesson there: pacing on a track is about time per lap, not pace. Of course those are the same thing, but your watch’s GPS isn’t going to be accurate on a track and it’s for damn sure not accurate on an indoor track. That hadn’t occurred to me, to be honest, but now I knew: think about pace in terms of seconds per lap, not minutes per mile. Dead obvious to experienced track runners, which I have never claimed to be!
Once I figured out what Coach Mick was talking about, I registered his proposed time. 60 seconds per lap works out to an 8:00 min/mile pace. What? That’s more like my tempo pace, not my 5K pace. Even the terrible New Year’s Day 5k was 7:47 pace. When I asked him about this, I learned more about indoor track racing. He noted that it was going to be really exciting and I would probably go out too fast. So, he revealed, his 60 seconds/lap included the idea that I would more than likely run 58 seconds/lap instead. That’s closer to 7:40 pace. The 200m track is so tiny that every second per lap faster is more or less equivalent to 10 seconds per mile faster. There is not a lot of room for error here. 7:40 is a pretty reasonable starting pace for me to run a 5K. Coach Mick pointed out that if he told me to start at 58 seconds, but I went out in 56 seconds, I’d be at 7:20 pace, which was probably too quick. We talked about various pacing options, what my goals were for the race, best case and worst case scenarios. I decided his 60 seconds /lap was actually a quite good idea and I would aim for that.
Thursday night we gathered at the Armory with hugs and introductions all around. Many of us had never met in person so it was that lovely experience of suddenly filling in the details of your online friend with an actual physical friend. The Armory was as exciting as promised, full of gazelle-like high school girls laughing and sprinting about. We had to sign in and get our numbers – stickers to put on our right shoulders and left hips – how official! The Armory has a second floor so we ran about up there for a bit to warm up. They were running the 800 meter race first plus lots of field events and the chaos level was quite high, but fun. I felt much less nervous than I had expected and mostly just happy to be with my running friends in such an amazing location. Way too soon it was time to line up.
Right before I stepped onto the track, HPRM#1 grabbed me for a last minute piece of advice: Don’t go out too fast. I was massively relieved to hear him say this. I often talk race strategy with him ahead of time, but this time I hadn’t so he didn’t know the 60 second lap plan. I had been fretting a little that he would think I was insane for going too slowly because a lot of his message about racing over the past year has been: run harder from the gun. I assured him – I would not go out too fast.
The Armory puts your name in lights above the track so everyone can see your split times and how many laps you left to have run – it’s a total rockstar environment! We got instructions about how to negotiate moving from the outer lanes to the inner lanes of the track, they fired some sort of gun, and off we went! Whoa!
After one lap, I was in last place. Ha ha! That is not a position I am used to being in at all! Luckily I was somehow managing a pretty chill attitude about this and just figured, well, I clearly did not go out too fast. I could hear my friends cheering from the sidelines and HPRM#1 was saying something like, settle into your pace, great job! That was heartening. I had absolutely no idea how fast I was running so I started trying to get my bearings. The board had our names in lights with times but it was hard to see it. There are quite a few pictures of me like this, trying desperately to see the board!
After a few rounds, I realized I needed a new strategy. I had started my watch and remembered that I could start using the lap button to get splits that I could see. First visible split: 54 seconds. Whoops! So much for not going out too fast! That first round, where I was aiming for 60 seconds, guessing I would run 58 due to excitement? The lap where I landed in LAST place? Yeah, I was able to check later and I ran that in 52 seconds! I think that’s something like 6:40 pace – my mile PR is 6:55! So much for not going out too fast. But when I saw the 54 seconds, I knew I had better get it under control and the next lap was 56 and the one after that was 57. That pace felt “comfortable” meaning, I could keep running that fast for while without actually dying.
After that crazy first lap, I had also started passing people, which was enormously satisfying. Now I came up behind Corgi Speedster and had to decide what to do. I suspected we weren’t radically different in our fitness levels for the 5K and in any case, she has loads more experience than I do. I was feeling great, but it was early in the race and one of my main goals was to finish strong. I hung right on her shoulder as we clicked off lap after lap. 57, 57, 57. She was a freaking metronome and all I had to do was stay with her. This was fun! Our friends cheered! I waved! (Heh, sorry-not-sorry HPRM#1! I promise to ignore you next time!) Click, click, click. Then suddenly 58. Did she make a mistake or was she slowing down? Next lap, 59. That was not a mistake. Corgi Speedster was slowing and it was time to pass her. She cheered me on as I went by because she’s an amazing good sport!
Now I confronted a new dilemma. Where exactly was I in this race? 25 laps total but how many had I run? I had no idea. At some point I had seen “15” on the board next to my name and then “9” but the board was almost impossible to see and now it appeared to be malfunctioning and I couldn’t see my name at all. I was considering some kind of finishing kick but how far was I from the finish? No clue. I just kept running. Strange thoughts started to enter my head as can happen in a 5K. If no one told me to stop, would I stop? I still felt fairly good, but this needed to end at some point. Would they start the men’s race and leave me running around the track? Worse still, would my friends all run their races and just forget about me going around and around while they went off to Coogan’s to drink? Was it possible someone would turn the lights off and I would still be going around all night long? This near-delirium presents the possibility that I was doing somewhat less well than I thought I was doing. I started yelling to people to ask how many laps: The woman who seemed to be running the finish line. The guy who seemed to be a photographer. Glitter-Mom who had come to spectate. No one seemed to know. Finally I looked at elapsed time on my watch which read 26:xx and I figured I was definitely running faster than that so I must be done. My best guess is that I ran 2 extra laps, but who knows? Poor Corgi Speedster was behind me in the same situation, wondering when the hell I was going to stop because she knew I had to finish first!
Thank goodness races at the Armory are chip timed and despite my extra laps, the race folks got an official time: 23:46! Just about 1 minute 40 seconds better than my New Year’s Day 5K and only 26 seconds off my PR from last March! I was elated! Given my time off for the PF recurrence, then the flu, the near complete lack of 5K training – this was great news! North Shore Strider had unsurprisingly run a new PR and Corgi Speedster was happy with her time, especially given her crazy mileage lately. Sweaty high fives all around!
I limped around the upper circuit of seats for a bit by way of a cool down and Glitter-Mom had some weird Listerine strips of some sort from HPRM#1 that helped with the dry air. The boys were racing in separate heats so we had two more exciting 5Ks to watch, but that is their story to tell or not. Once everyone finished running, it was off to Coogan’s, a famous runner pub just a block away. I am pretty sure I had tacos. I know I had wine and some shots of tequila (I think?). I also laughed so hard my stomach hurt. Somehow we stayed up past 4am and still managed to show up and run in Central Park around 9am the following morning. At least the Big Dogs did. The Little Dogs may have enjoyed sleeping in, as is perhaps their right, and yet it is our right to give them shit about it until the end of days. Much eating and drinking and even some running rounded out the weekend. A thousand thanks to Corgi Speedster for her incredible hospitality. I left a piece of my heart at the Armory and I can’t wait to go visit it at some future meet-up.