All week I had been thinking about the race. Envisioning the start, the middle, the finish. It's been a long time since I ran a 5k for pace, even longer since I ran one in a race. I knew I had a fast time in me, I just had to trust myself and not get intimidated by the relatively large stage. I had something to run for, to release everything that's been bottled up.
The morning didn't exactly go as planned, despite my early arrival. Rain mucked things up, but I got in a good warm up and despite the wet, I was not cold. The elements don't generally bother me -- and on a relative scale when other people crumple in the wind and rain, I excel. Mental toughness I guess.
I looked around for my dad at the start but couldn't find him -- the rose garden failing as a meeting place. I eased up towards the starting line, lost on a sea of runners. With a couple minutes to spare, KJ showed up, typical late arrival. We briefly shot the shit and got ready to rock.
The trolley bell rang and off we went. As it goes in these races, some slow people thought it would be fun to start up front so I had to weave through traffic for the first 20-30 yards. But all clear, I took off after the leaders. I looked ahead and saw a ton of people. My heart dropped a little but I kept my pace.
As the half marathon diverged and the 5k cut left, most of the leaders kept on. I was reminded that this is one of the most competitive half marathons in the area, and the fast guys come out for that one. I tucked into about 10th place as we sped past the museum. I felt strong, felt fast, but held within myself. I didn't want to get into the red too early. No time to slow down.
And from that moment on, no one passed me. I gradually picked people off, running smart. Easing up the hills and accelerating the downs, using my technical downhill ability to my advantage.
On the flats I felt smooth, gliding along through the falling rain. As we left JFK and dipped south, there weren't that many people ahead of me, but I couldn't see the leaders anymore. I knew 7th would be no problem, and eyed 6th.
My limiting factor was my lungs, not my legs. A great problem to have. I just don't do that much speed training, but all those hills have strengthened up my legs considerably. Looks like more mile repeats are in my future.
We hit the two-mile mark and the road drifted down. I took off, catching 7th with my eyes on 6th. And despite the fact that he was running fast, I still looked at him and thought there's no way I am losing to this guy. I didn't look back. 5th was in sight.
I pushed it. The 3-mile mark came into view and 5th turned around. He kept turning around all the way to the finish, but stayed just out of reach. By this time I was borderline wheezing, a dull burn emanating from my chest, slowly enveloping the rest of my body. The knowledge that I just couldn't go much faster was numbing.
The last 0.1 took forever. Probably because it was 0.2. But I didn't know that, so when I crossed the finish line at 18:06 I thought to myself, shit, 18 minutes is a FAST 5k if I couldn't even do it on this course, running that well. But when I found out that the course was actually 3.2 and I ran 3.3, that my "true" 5k pace was just over 17 and my race 5k (with added distance for not running a perfect line) was 17:30 or so, I was thrilled.
I crushed my PR and couldn't have been happier about the way I ran. I left it all out there, but ran smart. Perhaps I could have started a bit faster to keep up with the elites, but I ran within myself and can't complain about how it shook out.
The blueberry would be proud.