Saturday, February 25, 2012

Race Recap: The JCL Good for the Heart 5K

I went into the JCL 5K with two goals: First, break 20 minutes. Second, break 19 minutes. A 19-minute 5K requires a 6:07 per mile pace, and I had done 6:01 per mile for 2.2 miles a couple weeks back, so 19 minutes definitely seemed like it should be doable. That said, my last two short road races both involved wrong turns, so I was also prepared for the worst.

Fortunately, this was a familiar course for me, since I had PRed on it last summer, completing the Streetlight 5K in 20:37. Also fortunately, my friend Bobby Aswell was at the race, and he'd be running a similar pace. Bobby takes lots of photos when he races, so here's one of me getting ready:

After watching Bobby's daughters run the fun run (his oldest was the fastest girl!), I lined up in the second row next to Bobby, who had told me before the race that he would probably be running around a 19-minute race. If I was going to break 19 minutes, I'd have to beat Bobby (on a good day, Bobby can run sub-18, but he had just run a marathon last week).

There was the usual bunch of kids who like to start out in front at these small races, a very strong-looking 30-ish man, and not many others who looked like they would be very fast. After an awkward start down a steep hill, I settled into a stride, with about 10 runners ahead of me and Bobby just behind me. Bobby and I wove through the pretenders and soon realized there were just two runners ahead of us, a very young teen, and Strong 30something.

We were nearing the end of Mile 1, running into a small headwind, so I decided to let Bobby break the wind for a while. Glancing at my watch I could see I was running about a 6-minute pace. I was breathing very heavily and my throat started to feel a little sore. The temperature was about 40 degrees, which would be perfect for a marathon, but I found myself wishing it was a bit warmer. Finally I decided it was time to pass Bobby, so I took off past him, and was relieved to hear he was breathing just as hard as I was.

We passed Mile Marker 1, and I glanced at my watch to see 5:37 flash by. Really? The marker was in a different spot than it had been last year, so I was inclined to believe it was in the wrong spot. My Garmin beeped in with my 1-mile split a little later: 6:00. That seemed more likely. Meanwhile, Strong 30something was running away with the race, but Young Teen looked like he might be catchable. We headed up the only major hill on the course, and I focused on staying strong. I glanced down at my watch and saw that I was running a 6:30 pace. Had I really slowed down that much? I tried to pick up the pace.

We reached the turnaround, with Young Teen about 10 seconds ahead of me. Bobby had dropped quite a ways back -- he said he timed the gap at the turnaround and I had a 16-second lead on him. He gave me a thumbs-up as I passed. Now I had a quarter-mile of downhill to regroup before trying to hang on for the finish. I didn't see Mile Marker 2, but when my Garmin beeped it registered a 6:20 for the second mile. If I was going to break 19 minutes, I would have to pick it up for the rest of the race.

Young Teen was maintaining his 10-second lead, but he was also looking back every 15 seconds or so. A sign of weakness? I mustered all I could but couldn't seem to close the gap on him. I was truly gasping for breath now, and my throat felt raw from the volume of cold air passing through it.

As we approached the 3-mile marker, I noticed Strong 30something standing on the side of the trail cheering us on. Had he already finished and run back to this point? It didn't seem possible.

All that was left now was the final uphill stretch. I could see that I wasn't going to catch Young Teen but I thought I might have a shot at 19 minutes. I turned the final corner. The last 100 feet or so was a steep uphill. I could see the official clock ticking 18:51, 18:52, 18:53. Would I make it? I sprinted across the line and stopped my watch. After catching my breath and congratulating Bobby, who was just behind me, I looked down at my wrist. This is what I saw:

I had done it! Or had I? This wasn't the official time; that would have to wait for the official results. After a cooldown run with Bobby we checked out the results and saw that I was clocked at 19:00 even. Bobby said he thought the timers usually rounded official results up, so we went and asked him to look up my exact time on the computer: 18:59.13. That's close enough for me; I'm calling it an 18:59, my first sub-20-minute 5K, and my first sub-19-minute 5K.

Bobby then pointed out what should have been obvious to me: Strong 30something hadn't registered for the race; that's why he had stopped at the 3 mile marker. That meant Young Teen was first, I was second, and Bobby was third overall. That's my best finish in a race, ever!

The top 3 finishers: Shad McGrew, me, and Bobby Aswell

At the awards celebration, the host made a fuss about the fact that the first-place finisher was only 14 years old. Then she said "And our second place finisher is," and looked at me, asking "can I tell?"

"Sure," I said.

"Forty-Five! It's Dave Munger." The assembled runners clapped in admiration as I picked up my award, a really nice gear bag. That settles it, I'm officially old. And fast. Better than old and slow, right?

The Garmin record of the results is below.

Although Garmin measured it as 3.07 miles, I looked up the course and found out that it was USATF-certified. So the 0.03-mile discrepancy between this race and a true 5K can be chalked up to Garmin error. So even though my Garmin splits were 6:00, 6:20, and 6:13, for an average pace of 6:11, officially my pace was 6:07, just fast enough for a sub-19-minute 5K.

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