I spent most of last night relaxing. I think I realized that I was really freakin’ nervous about the race. I’ve been putting a lot of pressure on myself with this whole “break 20 minutes” thing and it’s really not necessary. Sure, the goals keep me motivated, but it’s not like the world depends on it, or there’s olympic gold on the line or anything like that.
Anyway, I found a good book and lost myself in it pretty much all night. I got to bed and fell asleep right away. I slept pretty well, occasionally waking up and tossing, but nothing too bad. I woke up a little before 6:30, had a clif bar and some orange juice, then headed out the door. I had to park pretty far away because there was a parade after the race and I didn’t want to be stuck there. I went and picked up my race packet, then walked back to the car to get rid of all but my car key and my driver’s license (I don’t have a road ID, so I always run with my drivers license in case I croak).
I still had plenty of time, so I jogged lightly for about a half mile to get the kinks out. I felt ready, but somewhat detached from everything around me. There was a 1 mile fun run just before the 5K so I timed that just for fun. Now I’m going to switch to present tense for dramatic effect…
Everyone is milling about the starting line which is not exactly where I expect it to be. I kind of duck into the crowd somewhere near the front and try to work my way into an open space where I feel comfortable. As I’m wandering around in the middle of the crowd, my back to the starting line, I hear an air horn and someone yelling “go! go! go!”. Having run the Disney marathon in January, where the start is counted down from 2 hours before the gun and the last 15 seconds are counted down with fireworks, I’m a little disconcerted at the lack of notice here. I get my bearings, somehow remember to hit “start” on my Garmin and I’m off. My previous PR was accomplished by going out unexpectedly fast and then holding on at the end. As such, my plan today is to stick with the lead pack to the 2 mile mark, then coast home on my own. Unfortunately, the lead pack has taken off while my back was to the starting line so the plan is not getting off to a great start.
I decide to try to catch the lead pack and stick with the original plan since now doesn’t seem like the time to come up with a new one. I surge forward, averaging sub four minute mile pace over the first tenth of a mile. At about a quarter mile, I’ve caught the lead pack and settle down into my planned 6:30/mile pace. Suddenly, I start to feel very nervous. I’ve never felt nervous once a race actually started, but here I am running at 6:30 pace with butterflies in my stomach. I’m straining a little, but things aren’t bad and I’m hanging on to the back of the lead pack.
As we approach the 1 mile mark, I shake off the nerves and glance at my Garmin. According to the Garmin, I completed the 1st mile in 6:02, but the actual marker is still a fair distance ahead of me. I cross the race marker as a man with a watch yells out my split of 6:35, but my Garmin reads 1.1 miles. No longer nervous, I’m now confused and starting to feel the effects of running at the back of the now strung out lead pack for a mile. I hang on for a little more before slipping into my 8:00 minute mile recovery pace briefly.
I slowly pick up the pace again, rounding a corner and passing the finish line. A few people have passed me, but now I’m maintaining about a 7:00/mile pace and keeping up with the runner in front of me. I’m starting to feel a stitch on my right side though, so I slow slightly and focus on breathing deeply. The stitch doesn’t get any worse for a while, but it’s not really getting better either. I slow more, but this has the opposite effect from what I’m looking for and the stitch flares up. I walk, raise my arms in the air and breath deeply. After about 30 seconds, it’s mostly gone and I begin picking up the pace again.
Shortly before the 2 mile mark, we make a right turn and hit what passes for a hill in St. Petersburg, Florida. It’s about a 25 foot elevation increase over the course of 4 city blocks. I pass the 2 mile mark in 15 minutes, but the stitch is back and I slow to walk again. This time, I walk up the whole hill. So many people pass me at this point, it’s not even funny. First, the lady pushing the stroller up the hill, then the 9 year old kid, then the 70 year old man. At the top of the hill, the course makes a hairpin turn and continues downhill. I start running again. No one will pass me again. I immediately pass the 70 year old guy. Then, I pass the kid, but I don’t know where the lady with the stroller has gone. I think she got in the stroller and rode it down the hill. Most people are stumbling down the hill, but my legs actually feel pretty fresh from the walking I’ve just done, so I cruise down the hill at a pretty fast pace, passing a lot of the people who passed me on the way up.
I reach the bottom of the hill wondering if the stitch will return once the elevation evens out, but it does not. With a straight line to the finish, I’m averaging about 7 minutes per mile, but the walk breaks have killed any chance of beating my old PR of 22:30 and 20 minutes have already passed, so that’s not going to happen without a time machine. I’m comfortable and moving steadily past people on my way to the finish. At the 3 mile mark, I pass another guy just as he’s passing his buddy in the crowd. As I pass the guy, his buddy yells “Come on man, kick it!”. I hear him pick it up, so I pick it up.
Before I know it, I’m in an all out sprint for the finish. This guy is on my right shoulder yelling “Come on! Come on!” Every time he cranks it up a notch, I’ve got another notch to hold him off. I thunder across the finish line just before him (My Garmin recorded my pace at 3:00 min/mile when I crossed the finish). The guys at the finish are yelling for our chips as we look like we might race straight through the shoot and out the other side. I put on the breaks and turn to give him a high five. His adrenaline obviously still pumping, he nearly takes my hand off. We both have a laugh and then let the chip removers do their work…
So, I won the mad dash for 54th place (out of about 300). My finishing time was 24:22 – a little less than 2 minutes slower than my current PR. I was 3rd out of 12 in my division. I do think the course was measured incorrectly. My finish distance according the Garmin was 3.23. I picked up 0.1 of that in the first mile. The 0.03 can be expected from weaving around people, but 0.1 in 1 mile is a lot…especially considering I added only 0.7 miles weaving over the course of 26.2 miles in the WDW marathon. Anyway, even if the course was the right length, I still wouldn’t have beaten my PR. I think I bit off more than I could chew. I was focused too much on the 20 minute mark. I think if I had gone out trying to average 7:00 min/mile, I would have pulled that off and beat my PR. There’s another 5K in four weeks. Perhaps I’ll try that strategy there.