WOOT WOOT WOOT!
That’s a 41 second PR over my race of 2 weeks ago which was a 22 second PR over my former best 5K time from March 2018. 63 seconds faster!
How did this come about?
Some of that improvement was surely lurking in the background. I had three decent 5K races in 2019, but no PR and they all had something kind of weird about them: first time racing indoors, a short course, 85-degree weather. My fitness has improved a lot in the past two years and at some point, that had to show up in a race result.
But I am also taking the spring season to focus on running fast at shorter distances and I think that is starting to pay off! I’ve been doing a lot more track work at faster paces, while keeping weekly mileage fairly high (at least for me, around 45 to 50 miles per week). This race was also my third 5K in the last six and a half weeks. I’m trying to learn *how* to run this distance so more practice is better.
The Old Fashioned Ten Miler and Flat 5K was a fairly late addition to my race calendar. I had wanted a race between the Run for Refugees and the Irish 5K (coming up, March 7th!) but it turns out February is a pretty dry month for racing in Connecticut, even for 5Ks. Allegro Fuerte found this race in Foxborough, Massachusetts. A little bit of a haul for me, but the name says it all! Flat courses are hard to find around here. Allegro Fuerte and I were both pretty happy with our races at Run for Refugees, but we did get stuck in traffic in the first mile. He started saying we were looking for a Double-Double PR, where we both PR’d again at the Flat 5K. Side note: If you want the perfect mix of light-hearted fun with a serious approach to racing, see if Allegro Fuerte will come with you to your next race. But be sure to invite me as well.
Between the Run for Refugees and the Flat 5K, High Power Running Mentor #1 (HPRM#1) and I exchanged a lot of texts. What can I say – we are people of many words. He favors a more aggressive racing style than Coach Mick does and I am probably somewhere in between, though perhaps I am still figuring out my own approach to racing. In any case, HPRM#1 started doing things like sending me splits from Kenenisa Bekele’s world record 5K. Which, by the way, are: 2:33.2, 2:32.2, 2:31.8, 2:30.5, and 2:29.4 by the kilometer.
What should we make of those splits? I lifted them from this article, recommending negative splitting as the optimal racing strategy:
That’s certainly conventional wisdom. And yet – my Run for Refugees 5K splits were: 7:52, 7:17, 7:04, 6:31 (for the last .1). Of course, that’s not what I intended to run, but the point is “negative splits” can mean a lot of different things. You can negative split a 5K by running 9:00, 8:00, 7:00 or by running 7:02, 7:01, 7:00. Both races count as negative splits. Both races close at a 7-minute flat pace. Obviously one race gets you a much better time. Bekele certainly negative split his world record 5K – but the difference between his fastest kilometer and his slowest is 3.8 seconds. For someone of my abilities, lacking Bekele’s surgical precision, that’s effectively an evenly split race. This was exactly HPRM#1’s point. He thought the spread in my splits was too large, and that it would have been even if I had managed my intended 7:30, 7:20, 7:10 paces. He was recommending that I start faster: A lot faster. After more back-and-forth I finally said, fine, tell me what you want me to run and I’ll do my best to execute. He eventually came back with: start at 7:10 pace and see how long you can hold it. All righty then. Yikes.
In the meantime, other race plans were falling into place. My family was staying home this time around, but Allegro Fuerte and I hoped to meet up with Badass Boomer. We did manage to say hello before our start, but she was running the Ten Miler so we missed her afterwards. The weather looked very good for racing, though I really have given weather worries over to Coach Mick and I only check to see what I’ll need to wear.
I was a little nervous talking to Coach Mick about my more aggressive race plan, but I explained what I had in mind in our pre-race phone call. He asked some questions and then said he had been doing some calculations of his own. He’d read that some people do better positive splitting 5Ks as long as their first mile isn’t more than 5-7% faster than their goal pace. He had also already calculated that if my goal pace were 7:15, then 5% faster would be about 6:55. As long as I didn’t start faster than that, the chances were good that whatever bonk happened at the end of the race would be small enough that I’d still make up for it by going faster for the first mile or two. Especially since he knows I am capable of controlling the fade at the end of race.
At this point, I became completely convinced that Coach Mick can actually read my mind.
Coach Mick was totally on board with my trying out the new approach. We also worked out that I would use slightly different words than last time. Instead of Control – All In – Fly, I would go with Commit – All In – Fly, in keeping with the new idea about starting faster. Now I just had to wait for Sunday morning to arrive. One of the delights of racing with Allegro Fuerte is the pre-race chatter. We compared race kits, contemplated the weather forecast, and chose a brunch location. I also told him I was planning to start faster, since he had said he was going to stay with me as long as he could.
Race day weather was as predicted, low 30s, overcast, a little bit of wind. I got up at 5:30am, had my usual oatmeal and coffee, packed everything up and drove the two hours (!) to the race. A long drive for sure, but I’m a huge fan of podcasts and the roads were almost empty, making for easy travel. I arrived about 8:30am, just minutes after Allegro Fuerte. With the early wake up and the longer drive, I had a banana and part of a hippie sandwich once I got to Foxborough, plus two Jet Alerts. We collected my shirt and bib (he had his already) and made a quick port-a-loo stop. I had had a couple of texts from Coach Mick and the Fabulous Femmes and I got a great pre-race pep talk from HPRM#1. I slipped on my Next%s and we got on with the business of warming up. Just like at Run for Refugees, Coach Mick had me run for 3-5 minutes at race pace as part of the warm up. That’s a great trick because the first few minutes at race pace tend to feel horrible so it gets them out of the way. A quick hello to Badass Boomer, one last port-a-loo stop, and we headed to the starting line.
Besides starting faster, HPRM#1 had made another recommendation: Change my watch over to kilometers. He gave two reasons. First, I tend to get panicky if I see a 6:xx for pace. But since I was aiming for 7:10, the instant pace feature was almost inevitably going to show 6:xx at some point. Switching to kilometers would confuse my brain a little because I wouldn’t see any 6s. And, of course, a 5K has five kilometers but only three miles, so I would get more frequent splits and be able to correct pace sooner, if necessary. A 7:10 minutes per mile pace converts to a 4:27 minutes per kilometer pace so I was aiming for that, figuring anything slower than 4:35 was too slow and anything faster than 4:20 was too fast. I was nervous at the start, but told myself to just take it one kilometer at a time. See how many I could get at around 4:27.
After our experience at Run for Refugees, Allegro Fuerte and I were quite aggressive about positioning ourselves at the start. Very near the front, maybe third row or so. The starting pistol fired and we took off! Like rockets, it turned out! Allegro was instantly 25, then 50 feet ahead of me! I felt like I was jogging and got worried that maybe I was stuck in another slow start situation. A quick glance at my watch showed I was running a 4:00 minutes per kilometer pace! I had no idea what that meant (thank goodness!) but I knew it was *much* too fast and slowed down. I could hear HPRM#1 in my head telling me to settle in, so I did. I guess I needed that “Control” idea at least as much as I needed “Commit.” Before I expected it, my watch clicked off the first kilometer: 4:27 – exactly goal pace! I took that as a good sign.
I checked in with how I was feeling and the answer was, not too terrible. This pace felt sustainable, at least for awhile longer. How much longer? I had no idea. The course is basically a small loop and then a bigger loop and we were already starting the bigger loop. My watch beeped again: 4:25. Great! Two kilometers down and both on pace!
Now we had a long straight stretch, heading north, up Baker Street. I had worried this would seem endless so I looked up the names of the cross streets so I could check them off: Bentwood St., Garfield St., Glenwood Ave. Baker Street also turned out to have some rolling hills, not exactly qualifying as “flat.” I started to feel what I describe as “5K-level-awful.” Hmmm. I had definitely been expecting this feeling and I was about halfway through the race so maybe it was right on time. But when my watch beeped, it said 4:18. Too fast. Maybe? In any case, I backed off a tad.
With just two kilometers to go, I ran along the top of the loop and turned into the last section of the course. Now the true 5K-LEVEL-AWFUL feeling hit me in earnest. Nowhere near enough air and plenty of mental darkness. I desperately wanted to walk. Surely just a few steps would be ok. I may have said out loud “No walking!” which must have been amusing to anyone who heard me. When this part of a race inevitably arrives, I just throw whatever mental tools I’ve got at it to keep going as best I can. Today it was Coach Mick’s voice again: You can run fast a lot farther than you think you can. It was HPRM#1: It won’t hurt for very long – control the fade at the end. It was FLY! But also the brunch menu of the restaurant we had picked out. It’s slightly ridiculous how often the thought of good food helps me in the final mile or two, but hey, whatever works! I thought about the final kilometer of last Tuesday’s track workout and the two 400s I had run with the Retiree. I imagined what the finish line would look like and I tried to keep up with a middle-aged guy (by which I mean, approximately my age…). Running fast felt worse and worse – I started counting but with my watch set to kilometers, I wasn’t even sure what I was counting so I just went up and down. I saw the finishing clock and it had a bunch of 2s on it, but otherwise I couldn’t really parse what it meant so I ran like hell.
Finally I crossed the line and stopped my watch: 22:20! BOOM! Actual chip time: 22:17! I was ecstatic! I was also leaning on a fence of some sort gasping: Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Over and over. That middle-aged guy I had been chasing was next to me with someone who I assume was his wife. I hoped I wasn’t ruining their moment, but I also really couldn’t stop cursing with a mixture of exhaustion and elation. The end of a race like that – it’s one of the best feelings in the entire world.
Much celebrating! We abandoned all pretense of a cool down run. Instead, we got our medals and walked to the Commons Neighborhood Eatery for brunch. A spectacular day!