Yesterday’s trip to the race expo and the fact that Ryan Hall showed up to run the 15K revealed just how big the Gasparilla classic has become. With over 8000 people lined up for the 5K, it was by far the biggest 5K I’ve ever run. Fortunately, I somehow got seeded. The little yellow background on my number allowed me to liesurely warm-up on the first quarter mile of the course while most of the runners piled into the starting area from the rear. About 10 minutes before the start, volunteers opened the barricades at the front of the starting line, allowing the seeded runners to enter the start from the front. It was a little weird milling about the start area with quite a bit of room while the rest of the runners were crammed behind another barricade. I lined up near the rear of the group of seeded runners, feeling a little like I shouldn’t be there. After the National Anthem, the barricade was opened and the rest of the field squeezed up to us.
The guy on the stage tells us there are 15 seconds to go before the start, but 15 seconds seem to go by without any kind of fireworks or noise that would indicate we should start. Suddenly, the runners toeing the line up front take off running and I guess that means the race has started. Things are quite tight through the start even up front. I cross the line and start my Garmin. We all kind of jockey for position at low speed as we run about 50 yards and then make a sharp right turn.
Things open up a bit now that we’ve made the turn and I’m able to hit a comfortable stride. The road inclines upward for the first quarter mile or so. I check my Garmin, see my pace is 5:45, feel relieved that I’m going too fast instead of too slow and tell myself to slow down. My goal is to finish in 20:39, allowing me to go up a VDOT level in the Daniels Book. As I hit the quarter mile mark and make a left turn, I’m running in the 6:20’s. I hold myself there, figuring, “What the heck, I may just break 20”.
The road inclines downward now and my legs turnover quickly. At the bottom of the incline, we reach Bayshore Blvd where the rest of the race will take place. A DJ plays tunes on a street corner as we make a sharp right onto Bayshore. I take the inside line and nearly lose an eardrum as I pass right next to the speakers. A few blocks ahead, I pass the 1 mile mark. The clock reads 6:36. My Garmin reads 6:23. I’m a bit astounded that I’m 13 seconds off the clock time, but pleased that I’m under 20 minute pace.
Things are feeling a little hard already and I’ve got time in the bank, so I slow the pace and try to relax. We’re passing the slowest 15K participants (they started hours before us) coming back at us on the other side of the road. We’ll soon make a hairpin left turn and chase them down. I glance down at the Garmin and see I’m averaging 6:45 min/mile. I speed up to catch a group in front of me.
The pace car approaches on the other side of the road with the leaders chasing it down. As I pass it, I compare the clock on the car to my Garmin. There’s only a 5 second difference. I must have misread my Garmin at the 1 mile mark. It makes sense. The elapsed time at the 1 mile mark should be very close to the current pace. 6:23 must have been my current pace as I passed the mark, but the elapsed time was actually more like 6:31. The good news is that with the top runners coming back at me on the other side of the road, I must be near the turnaround.
I make the sharp left and psych myself up for the 1.5 miles straight back up Bayshore to the finish. I see the time ticking off the 2 mile marker ahead and note that it’s already past 13 minutes. I’m definitely off the 20 minute pace. My Garmin reads 13:14 as I pass the marker. I’m a little discouraged that I’ve only got 4 seconds in the bank and I’m starting to feel some fatigue start to creep into my legs. Experience tells me that my breathing will soon begin to become more difficult. I notice my fists are clenching, so I relax my hands and let my wrists go limp. I straighten up and and relax my shoulders.
I’m passing walkers from the 15 K now and also quite a few other runners ahead of me. Somehow, my legs seem to hold the pace quite well and while the breathing is uncomfortable, it’s not like I’m totally sucking wind. When my Garmin reads 2.6 miles, I start counting down. It’s a technique I often use in my tempo runs. Generally at my tempo pace, three breaths equals 0.01 miles. Normally I don’t start this countdown until I have a quarter mile left, but I could use the distraction. It works out pretty well because I’m running faster than my tempo pace so whenever I check my progress on the Garmin, I’ve gone further than I thought.
Ahead, I see the grandstand that has been assembled for spectators on Bayshore. That basically means I can see the finish. I pass the 3 mile mark in 19:47 and feel relief that I’ve got almost a minute to finish and still get under my goal. I pull off quite a nice finishing kick. It’s not the “I’m going to finish fast” adrenaline filled type of finishing kick. It’s more like the “I want this to be over as soon as possible” type finishing kick. I pass quite a few people on my way across the finish line. My clock time is 20:28. My chip time is 20:25. So, only 3 seconds difference between the 2. So much for 13 seconds.
Overall, I finished 91st out of 8688 finishers. I was 7th out of 464 in my age group. I was a little disappointed in not making 20 minutes, but as I cooled down, I thought back to the long term plan I laid out after the Disney half marathon. The goal was always to break 20 in the second 5K of the season. In fact, I think I even said to myself that I should run this first one in “20:25 or so”. I planned to keep myself between 6:30 and 6:40 pace through the whole race. My average pace was 6:35. So, really I executed the plan to near perfection. In any case, it’s a 2:05 PR over my last 5K PR set only 6 months ago. I’ve just got to take off another 2:26 in the next 6 months – ha! As always, I’ll post pics when they’re available.