I woke up at about 4:00 this morning with excruciating pain in my elbow. I had injured it while gardening a weeks back, and then we got a Nintendo Wii last night, so I guess the Wii tennis was too much for it. I got out of bed around 4:30 and did some research. It pretty much fits the classic symptoms of Tennis Elbow. I iced it, had some breakfast and headed out the door. I had a 45 minute drive to the race,so I wanted to leave early.
When I got to the University of South Florida campus, the crowd was light and I was able to grab my goodie bag and timing chip pretty quickly. So, I went back to the car and dumped some of the goodie bag stuff, attached my number and chip, then took a walk to check out the course. I took a few practice jobs, and my elbow was killing me. It’s amazing how painful and elbow can be while running. I was distressed about that, but I still had a lot of time to kill, so I headed back to the car.
Meanwhile, the registration line had built up quite a bit. Last year, the race had about 1500 participants and this year, about 3000 people have shown up. They delayed the start so they could get everyone registered. Back at the car, I dug through my goodie bag and found a sample tube of Icy Hot. I massaged that into my elbow and it began to feel a little better. I lined up at the start with many other people. It was crowded and I was pretty far back from the line.
Standing in the starting corral, I squeeze as close to the front as I can, but I don’t get too far. In the tight quarters, I’m conscious of the Icy Hot odor I’m giving off and I hope I’m not bothering anyone. There are several introductions and then they sing the national anthem. The tell us to go on the air horn, but when it blows, we don’t move. Slowly, the crowd walks forward and we cross the start, roughly 20 seconds after the air horn. Some people who have run the event in the past are not used to the many elite runners who have signed up, so there are walkers near the front. The just stand still and let everyone run by. This makes things a little chaotic for awhile, but I settle into a decent pace, running up the side of the road.
There’s quite a gutter on the side of the road and I’m straddling it as I run by the initial crowd of walkers/joggers. A kid in front of me lands poorly on the edge of the gutter and completely wipes out. He limps off into the grass – a casualty of the first tenth of a mile. As I watch him with sympathy, my foot lands on the edge of the gutter and my ankle rolls, hitting the pavement. It bounces back up and I barely lose my stride. I thank my ankles for being so flexible, but not wanting to tempt fate, I drift toward the middle of the road.
I’m still in a decent crowd and it feels like I’m moving very slowly. I glance down at the Garmin to see I’ve traveled a quarter mile, my average pace is 7:15/mile, and I can’t feel my elbow anymore. Perfect. I settle into the pace and round the first corner. I can see the lead group running back toward me. There is a distinct tightly clustered pack of about 10 runners leading the way followed by a 25 yard gap and then a strung out mob of people giving chase. I break free of the crowd and I’m now in a pretty drawn out line of people with plenty of room to run. The course is flat so far, so I just maintain my pace and focus on picking the shortest line through the upcoming curves.
I approach the first water stop and drift away from the water table, taking advantage of an opening in the crowd. I pass the 1 mile mark in 7:15 and the course begins to slope slightly downward. I approach a 90 degree turn and I’m cut off by a massive body builder guy running with his shirt off, his muscles bulging. I have to slow to keep from running into him and I let him thunder down the incline ahead of me. I maintain control, lengthen my stride slightly and use the incline to rest. I can see the bottom where the course levels out for about 10 yards and then goes right into an uphill swing. The body builder is 30 yards ahead of me now, flying down the “hill” like a man out of control. He hits the bottom, cruises across the flat and then powers his way up the incline.
I hit the bottom of the hill, pull back slightly as the course flattens out, then hit the hill. I maintain my rhythm, shorten my stride and stare at the pavement. Up ahead, the body builder has slowed significantly. My shortened stride relentlessly attacks the hill, my breathing in time with mysteps: In,In ,Out,Out. In,In,Out,Out. Soon, I reach the body builder and quickly leave him behind. I reach the top of the incline and see that the course slopes back downward. I’m 1.25 miles into the race. I tell myself to run a series of fartleks to the finish. Everyone is spread out now, and each runner in front of me is now a short distance goal.
The first victim is fit looking young woman. She’s maintaining a pretty good pace. I step up my pace until I catch her, then pull back and run alongside her to recover. The next target is a 60 something guy with the poorest running form I’m ever seen. After a few more seconds, I up the pace, leave the woman behind and close the gap to the man. Despite his odd form, he scoots along at a pretty good clip and the catch takes longer than I anticipate. I do eventually catch him, and stay with him for a second or two. Up ahead, the course curves again, and I take off for the curve. I pass a guy walking with his hands above his head. That was me 4 weeks ago. I’m feeling so much better today.
Heading uphill again, I pass a few more people and the hit the 2 mile mark. My Garmin reads 14:30. Another perfect 7:15 mile. I’ll need to speed up a little over the remainder of the race if I’m going to beat my PR.
Things are pretty strung out now. Runners are basically single file with about 5-10 feet separating each. I reel in and pass a British guy in colorful Union Jack shorts, then pull up just behind another young woman. We’re on an incline now and I’m starting to feel a little winded, so I run with her for a while. We round what I think is the last corner before heading back to the start, and I pass her. Unfortunately, I’ve misjudged the finish and we round another corner. I’m a bit demoralized and my place slows slightly. She passes me again along with a tall guy who looks to be ready for a strong finish.
We’re paying for the mostly downhill 2nd mile now as we head back up to the finish. The two who have just passed me are only about 5 feet ahead of me and I try to maintain that gap over the next quarter mile. Finally, we crest the hill and the balloon arch of the starting line is visible. I quicken my pace and pass them both, closing quickly on a group of three more runners ahead.
We run under the starting arch, and then take a hard left. I take an outside line on this turn and pass the group of three, accelerating through the turn. Still accelerating, I make a hard right a see the finish line ahead. I push little harder and cross the finish line in 22:42 – 20 seconds slower than my PR. Good enough for 97th out of around 3000. I was 14th out of 55 in my age group. The body builder guy crossed the finish 10 minutes later.
Overall, it was a pretty good run. Of all the 5K races I’ve run, my pace from mile to mile was most consistent in this one. I hit the 1 and 2 mile marks almost exactly at my goal pace, but I failed to speed up in the last mile and actually lost a little time. The Florida running season is basically over now, so it’s a bit disappointing that I didn’t PR. I’ll have to try again in the fall.
I’ll be working on speedy short distances in the beginning of the summer mostly because I’ve got a lot of weekend road trips planned in May and June so the long slow runs will be more difficult to achieve. I’ll add more distance in July. My next planned race is the Walt Disney World Race for the Taste 10K in October, but it’d be nice to fit a 5K in before that.