Saturday, March 18, 2017

Three Fast 5Ks

My last three races were my 28th, 29th, and 30th races overall. (My complete race roster is here.) And all three of them were 5Ks, short and speedy races that are typically not my specialty. I'm pretty good at longer races, and the half-marathon is my favorite distance to race. I've never been particularly fast, but I can stay on my feet and maintain a decent pace for a long time (even impromptu). I still run 5Ks because they are so accessible and they can be a lot of fun. I've never finished them particularly well, and generally concentrate on the longer runs. Regardless, something happened over the course of my last three 5Ks, something I'd never have expected. I actually ran all three of them fairly well.

The 5K on the Hill in Charlottesville was a very informal race with a small pack. It was a fundraising event for a private school's baseball team, and was mostly attended by people who were there for the cause rather than people who were there to race. It might be safe to say that I was the only runner in the race who really wanted to finish well. Heck, I wanted to win. And winning is what I very nearly did. I got out front early and lead with a healthy jump on the runner in second place. But this race was set on a sprawling and informal course on the school grounds, and it wasn't well marked. So this was my chance to learn a difficult lesson: When you are the early leader of a poorly marked course, you have plenty of opportunities to zig where you should zag and end up off track. If there is no one ahead of you to follow, you have to blast through the course without making an error. I made a couple of strategic errors and ended up off the course a couple of times. By the end of the race I had run 3.75 miles during what was supposed to be a 3.1 mile race. These mistakes gave the second place runner the opportunity to take the lead. But even with the course errors and extra running, I still managed to finish in second place. Because this race was so informal, official times aren't posted anywhere on the internet. The only thing I am certain of is that I nearly won, and did not. Coming that close to winning really stung, but it did light a fire to run my next 5K as well as I could.

The next race was the Shamrock Hill 5K in Roanoke, and I went into it chomping at the bit to run well. And I actually did run it fairly well. My final time was six seconds slower than my PR for the distance, but I was very happy with my finish. I finished 19th of 227 runners, and I won my age group. According to Strava, my splits were pretty good; my third mile was 6:49, and I think this was the first time I ever ran a mile in less than seven minutes. Hearing the other members of my running club cheer when my name was read as the winner of my age group really felt good. It was a sound I wouldn't mind hearing again.

The day after Shamrock Hill, Lucky and I ran the Shamrock Run in Richmond, VA. This race was a little bit of an oddball. After the race, Strava told me I'd only run 3 miles flat rather than the 3.1 necessary to qualify as a 5K. Other runners indicated that their own GPS trackers said the same thing, and there seems to still be some confusion about the final distance. A follow-up email I received from the organizers identified the race as a three mile run rather than a 5K. The results page at the website no longer lists a distance at all (it's simply referred to as the Shamrock Run RVA). Rather than obsessing on the distance and the minutia, I decided to look for the good in my final numbers. There were 515 runners in the race, and I managed to finish 29th. Age groups weren't divided into the typical five year blocks I'm used to, but rather the ten year blocks you see sometimes at smaller and more casual races. In the end, I finished 5th of the 46 runners in the 40 to 49 year male age block. My final time would be a new PR by nine seconds if this were an official and formal 5K distance, but I'm not counting it. There is plenty of reason to believe the race was only three miles. And that's fine, it was a fun and hard fought race, and it began and ended at Hardywood Park Craft Brewery, my favorite brewery. There was plenty of tasty beer for celebration afterwards. And I had fun.

So here I am, right at the beginning of marathon training season (I hope to do two marathons this year) and I have reason to believe that I am actually capable of fast finishes in shorter races. Concentrating on speed has never been my focus, I love the long runs and like to stay on the road all morning. Nonetheless, it seems reasonable, given where I am now, that really concentrating on 5K training could lead to a few more first-in-group finishes... and, given the right conditions, maybe some general wins. No time for that now, though. My next race is the Marine Corp 17.75 in Quantico, an eleven mile race that qualifies all finishers for the Marine Corps Marathon in October. That's the only race I am concerned with at the moment.