I'd been feeling like I'd been getting quite a bit faster lately, so I decided to test myself this week with a 5K race. I settled on the UNCC Homecoming 5K—after all, I am an alum (I got a Master's in English there about 7 years ago). The course turned out to be fairly challenging, with significant hills in every mile. It was a misty day, quite chilly, and it had been raining all day the previous day, so there were puddles all over the course.
I met fellow DARTer Mark Ippolito at the UNCC track where the race started, and we jogged a few laps before settling in at the starting line in the second row. We both had similar goals -- better than a 7-minute pace, and in a dream scenario, break 21 minutes for a 6:45 pace. We agreed to shoot for a 6:45 starting mile.
At the starting gun, everyone ran a lap around the track before heading out on the roads. Mark was about 10 yards ahead of me as we left the stadium. It seemed to me that he was running a bit faster than planned, so I wasn't worried. The first mile had rolling hills, which actually added up to a 122-foot vertical gain. Still, my Garmin logged a 6:32 mile, a little faster than planned. As usual in a race, my Garmin recorded a longer course than the actual mile markers, so I passed the official marker closer to 6:40. There was a clock at the mile marker, but it was broken. Sigh.
Mile 2 started with a quick downhill. I tried to cruise down the hill as quickly as possible and actually passed a couple of people. Then the rest of the mile was mostly uphill, and I worked on keeping good running form, with my head up, and eyes on the pavement about 5 yards ahead of me. I probably passed five or six people, but some other runners were staying close to me. Mark was still 10 to 20 yards ahead. The plan had been to run this mile in 7 minutes flat, but it was really a bigger hill than I thought it would be, a total of 140 feet of climbing, so I was happy when the Garmin gave a time of 7:13 for the mile. After combining the fast first mile and the slow second mile, I was right on my planned pace. Again, the official marker here was a little farther along, and again the timer was broken. I didn't look at my watch to see my time.
I was thinking of Mile 3 as a downhill leg, but the first third of a mile was uphill, and it wasn't a subtle climb. There was a total of 49 vertical feet of climbing in this mile. Finally we got to the downhill segment and I tried to pick up the pace. Mark was still 20 yards or so ahead, but I felt like I was slowly reeling him in. I passed a couple other runners on this section. Garmin recorded this mile as a 6:46. I don't remember passing the official Mile 3 marker. A 5K race is 3.1 miles, but my Garmin had it as 3.18, definitely within the margin of error, but still a bit frustrating, because in Garmin-land, I was on pace to run the race in 21 minutes flat. As it was, at 3.1 miles, we were running back into the stadium and still had over 100 meters to go. I was gaining on Mark, who was the only runner between me and the finish line. I heard a race volunteer say "this looks doable," so at least someone thought I could catch Mark. But as I went into an all-out sprint, Mark picked up the pace just enough to stay ahead of me as we crossed the finish line, one second apart.
My watch had me timed at 21:30 for 3.18 miles, for a 6:46 pace per mile. But officially this was a 5K race, 3.1 miles, not 3.18, so my pace was more like 6:55 per mile. This was still faster than my goal of 7-minute miles, but I didn't break 21 minutes.
Either way, 21:30 is a PR for me at the 5K distance, and the course was very hilly, so I'm quite satisfied with my finish. I'm also pleased that I was doing the passing during the final mile, instead of getting passed, as happened in my previous 5K.
The official results aren't posted yet, but I'll provide a link when they are. In the unofficial results, Mark finished 4th and I finished 5th in our age group, and we were something like 27th and 28th out of about 400 runners.
Update: Here are the results. I was 31st overall and 28th out of 189 men, with a chip time of 21:32, officially a 6:56 pace.
Epilogue: If you ever run a race and you're recording your progress on a Garmin, don't forget to reset your timer when you are done. Otherwise, you're likely to make the same mistake I did and accidentally press the start button while you're taking your jacket off. So my Garmin summary, which I'm posting below, looks a little goofy, with an extra ten seconds of me fumbling around with it 20 miles away from the actual race location. Also the elevation gain for the race is off because my house is at a different elevation from the race start. By my calculations, there was about 338 feet of elevation gain during the race, not 500 as the summary says.