Sub-21, It Can Be Done. Just Not Today.

Yesterday's 5K featured a brutal ascent as evidenced by this elevation chart

Yesterday's 5K featured a brutal ascent as evidenced by this elevation chart

Yesterday’s Blue Points 5K was a lesson in race-day strategy.  Here’s what it taught me – know your course and react accordingly.

My goal for this particular race was to break 21:00.  I coined my motto for the race, ‘Sub-21, it can be done!’  I’d been hovering in the 21:20’s
for the last couple of races and I felt like I could drop the 20+ seconds pretty easily.  But Stonewall street had other plans for me.

The race was very crowded at the start with around 1,200 runners packed onto Mint Street in front of the Bank of America stadium.  I really wish races of more than 1,000 or so participants would institute some kind of corral system because when the gun fired, I found myself dodging A LOT of slower runners.  Don’t get me wrong, I am by no means an elite runner, but I do usually finish within the top 20% or so.  At this race, it felt like the other 80% all lined up in front of me at the start.  I felt like a running back dodging defenders, but instead of 11 of them, there was over a thousand.  I expended a lot of energy early.

But the first mile was mostly downhill so when I came through with a split of 6:15, I felt good about my chances – 6:45 per mile pace will earn you a 20:59.  So after 1 mile, I was 30 seconds ahead of schedule.

Turning left onto Kenilworth, I felt comfortable as we left the protection of the nice tree cover down Morehead and entered the sunlight.  Things quickly became much tougher.  We started the steady uphill climb on Stonewall and the sun beat down unmercifully. And yet my second mile split was 6:42 – perfect.  Two miles down and I was still 33 seconds up.

Then the wheels fell off.  I completely underestimated the brutality of the incline up Stonewall.  My pace declined precipitously, inversely proportional to the rate of ascent.  And I wasn’t the only one.  I passed several runners who were reduced to walking – a rarity at that point in a 5K.

I tried to gut it out but by the time I crossed the 3-mile mark, I had dropped to a 7:29 pace (which annoys me – I ran a half-marathon, 13.1 miles, in March at about a 7:25 pace).  The hill, the sun, the lack of a strong training base, all conspired to prevent me from reaching my goal.  I finished in a pedestrian-like 21:22, my second 21:22 out of my last three 5K races (the other, a 21:29).

The moral of the story – I probably should have gone out a little slower, saved some energy by not dodging and weaving so much.  I should have anticipated that things would get tough on Stonewall.  Maybe I could have saved up enough energy reserves to maintain a 6:45 pace through the last mile and come in under 21:00.

But you learn these things by racing often.  Maybe I learned enough to break 21:00 at the GreekFest 5K on August 29.  Allegedly, it’s flat.  Sub-21, it can be done!  Next time.

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