Monday, December 8, 2014

"You had a bad day" -- My recap of the ACC Fan 5k

I used to watch American Idol every week (don't judge!), and whenever a contestant was eliminated during one memorable season, they had to watch a montage of their best moments on the show, played to the tune of Bad Day by Daniel Powter.

I had been steadily improving my race times this season, but finally, I had a Bad Day. It came at the ACC Fan 5k on Saturday. I had been hoping for a season's best time, something better than the 18:19 I ran at Balloonfest just over a month ago. That's a 5:53 pace, so a pretty tough time to beat. I planned to start out at a 5:45 pace, then slow to a 5:50 on hilly Mile 2, then try to maintain that pace for the flat finish.

One tricky section of a race for me has always been the start. I tend to jump out too fast at the beginning and pay for it at the finish. So, as in several other races, I lined up in the second row and tried to stay conservative and not look at my watch. Unfortunately, when I finally did look at my watch I saw that I was going too fast: A minute into the race, my pace was 5:20 per mile, 25 seconds faster than I wanted to be. I tried to ease back, but not too quickly -- I didn't want to find myself running a 6:00 pace either. By the end of the mile (by my watch) I had managed to get my pace down to 5:45, but I didn't pass the actual mile marker until 5:51. Now I needed to speed up.

Fortunately the first part of Mile 2 was downhill and I was able to get my pace down to about 5:40. In the back of my mind, however, I began to think this wasn't going to be fast enough. If each mile is 6 seconds longer than my Garmin reading, I should be banking more time than this. I should probably be hitting a 5:35 pace by my watch. But I could also tell that wasn't going to be sustainable, even on a downhill; I wasn't feeling strong enough to run any faster. What I didn't know is that this downhill wasn't going to last as long as I thought it would, because the elevation profile on the course website didn't quite match up to the real race:

Recorded (green) versus published (blue)

When I passed Mile Marker 1 I had already run about halfway down the hill. Then I was faced with a relatively steep 50-foot climb up to Mile Marker 2. About 10 seconds before I arrived there, my watch beeped with a 6:05 pace for the mile. I finally passed the marker as the timer showed 12:00, for an actual pace of 6:00 for the first two miles. I was 25 seconds slower than what I had been hoping for at this point. Worse, there was still a fair bit of climbing to do. While the elevation profile I'd seen showed the climb ending right at the mile marker, in fact there was at least another 30 feet of climbing left.

This defeated me, and I watched my pace decline to 6:50 for the mile. Really? 6:50? I was running this pace at the end of an 11-miler last weekend.  Somehow I willed myself to pick up the pace just a bit, in the name of respectability. In the end I salvaged a 6:21 for Mile 3 and limped across the finish line as the clock ticked 19:07. I walked to my car to change, then posted this race photo to Facebook:

Caption: "Dave is unhappy. Bad race today, 19:08"

Now, a 19:08 (or 19:07 officially) is a great time for a lot of people, but it's my slowest this season, and my slowest since the Bare Bones 5k in May of 2013, on a warm day when I still hadn't fully recovered from running the Boston Marathon. It's almost a minute slower than my best this season, only 6 weeks ago. So what went wrong?

I think the main thing that went wrong is that I forgot what it takes to run a really fast 5k. You have to be on the brink of exhaustion, the whole race long. I also think I probably need to do a little more work at a pace faster than race pace -- basically just throw some 200s and 400s into workouts here and there, to remind myself that I can run much faster than 5:45, so that 5:45 doesn't seem like a stretch. Finally I probably needed to do a little more research on the course if I really wanted to run it fast. I usually like to run the whole course before a race, but I got a bit of a late start and didn't have time to do that. Fortunately my next race will be on a very familiar home course: The Tightwad 5k, a free race put on by my running group on New Year's Day. Assuming I'm not out partying the night before (I'm not planning on it), I should be able to do considerably better there than I did this past weekend. I don't like having bad days, so I'm going to do everything I can to avoid another one.

Details of Saturday's race are below:

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