Thursday, August 29, 2013

The sub-17:00 5k

I may or may not have broken the 17-minute barrier in high school. The old Belfast High School course here in Maine was really flat and even had some parking lot running. That was 15 or so years ago, and when I went though all my old cross-country and track and field pictures and results from my high school days at Maranacook, I apparently never kept those results. For some reason I thought I went under 17:00 minutes in that particular 5k, but without any kind of proof I guess it's impossible to know.

Enter the Breakaway 5k in Old Orchard Beach. The date was August 17th, 2013. This date also coincides with The Great Adventure Challenge, which I have done the past three years but was unable to this year because of my first family reunion in thirty years. A race every year or a reunion every thirty? Easy. The reunion was later in the day, which allowed me some time to go to Old Orchard Beach and run on a very flat, very fast 5k course. Added incentive was that my fellow cross-country coach at Gray-New Gloucester High School would be running, along with our top guy on the team. Neither of these guys had gone below 17:00 for a 5k, but both were gunning for it too. Not to mention one of my clients--Karen, of International Bay of Fundy Marathon fame--had offered to make peanut butter chocolate chunk (my weakness) cookies if I broke 17:00. Lots of reasons to run and to run fast!

In years past I have spent most of my summer preparing for The Great Adventure Challenge. Coming out of primarily strength training during the winter, I would usually start running in March. I'd run a few 5ks during the spring, then buckle down on the bike and in the gym through June and July, then start seriously running again in September when cross-country started up. However, I learned in February that the family reunion would be on the same day as The Great Adventure Challenge, so I decided then that this summer would be devoted exclusively to running and to see what I could do if I only focused on one discipline. Not to mention I had a marathon planned for June, a half marathon planned for July, and the somewhat insane goal of 31 5ks this year. So why not see what could happen with a lot of mileage?

So after months of training and averaging a modest (in the running world) 35-45 miles a week, I decided to try something a little different the week prior to the sub-17:00 attempt. Half of my runs that week were tempo or track work, and I through in a couple of double run days too. My mileage was still in the low-40's, so there was no increase there. Just a real emphasis on speed. Hey, I'd never broken 17:00 before, so why not try something different?

Race day came and I was feeling pretty good. My girlfriend (and number one fan) Tessa and I got there a little later than I had hoped, as I still needed to fight the lines and pick up my bib. After getting my bib and a free t-shirt from a grumpy old man, I set off on my warm-up. In the past I have warmed up by mixing in slow running, a few pick ups, some static stretching, and some dynamic stretching. With time running out to get to the starting line, all I did was about 10 minutes of tempo-paced running (5:55/mile pace) and some dynamic stretching. I wish there had been more time but there simply wasn't.

I got to the line, saw our coach and our runner, a few other good runners, and a whole lot of people on one little street. We were at the line, heard the whistle or horn or whatever it was (no gun), I started my Garmin, and we were off. There are occasional races where as soon as you get off the line you can tell if you have "it" or don't have "it." I immediately felt like I had "it."

My first mile clocked at 5:22. This was fast, no doubt about it. Depending on the course, I usually anticipate a first mile at 5:28-5:32. Not today. Today was different.

But then my Garmin lost its satellite connection. The only thing running on it was the stopwatch. No pace, no mileage, nothing. Uh oh.

All I could do now was run hard and go by feel. The second mile felt long (turns out it was), and according to the guy yelling out times I came through at 10:58. I tried doing a quick calculation in my head but quickly scrapped the idea because the guy I was running behind was capable of a sub-17:00. So I glued myself to him and ran entirely by feel.

As we went, the fast first mile started catching up to me. I felt myself slow a little. All I could do was focus on form and keep clinging to the guy in front of me, and fully expect my fellow coach to fly by me. Our high school guy was well ahead and on his way to a sub-17:00, by a lot.

Then we started coming up by Palace Playland. I knew the finish was in there somewhere but thought it was further off than it was, so I held onto my kick longer than I should have. When I suddenly realized where I was and where the finish was, I didn't have much room for unleashing what I had left. I heard Karen yell from the crowd "C'mon Nate!" I glanced up and saw 16:55 tick to 16:56 on the clock. I crossed 2 seconds later in 16:58. Similar to my Boston Marathon qualifying-by-9-seconds time at the Bay of Fundy International Marathon, there wasn't much room for error.

I gotta say, those cookies tasted like peanut butter, chocolate, and some pride. I can't wait to take another crack at a 16-something time in the near future.

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