The 5K. For me, it’s the 100-yard dash that lasts for about 24 minutes of pure, unadulterated mental and physical pain. I generally don’t even want to do anything that feels good for more than 20 minutes without taking a break for coffee, a snack, or a nap. And if a 5K is hilly and/or I run it on a hot or humid day, it’s the ultimate form of human suffering for me, like being strapped to the table in the pit of misery. Dilly, dilly.
Today’s weather for the 8:00 a.m. race start was far from ideal, but typical for Orlando weather this time of year (70 degrees and 87% humidity). A few cruel ironies must be noted, however. As is often the case for the past several years, the weather in the week leading up to the race could not have been more ideal (lower temps and much lower humidity, yet both managed to shoot up just in time for race day, but I‘m not bitter). Second, the humidity dropped down to a mere 67% by 11:00 a.m. today with just a slight increase in temperature. I would have been much better off racing at 11:00 instead of 8:00, but enough of the wouldas, shouldas, and couldas. At least the course route was mercifully flat and blissfully free of red bricks. Better still, the course route didn’t resemble an elementary school scavenger hunt map like the Winter Park 10K. This race course was much more my kind of course — note the limited number of sharp turns and the nice gradual loop design:
But this wasn’t just a generic nice course – this was my training “stomping grounds” for the past four years. Can you say home field advantage? I know every nook and cranny of the Lake Baldwin loop. I have run here since 2014, when I trained with Track Shack’s Marathon Fest training group when I lived in the Metro West area of Orlando. Then I lived in Winter Park (2015-2017) and continued to train on this loop by driving just 10-15 minutes from my place in Winter Park to run laps around this lake for many of my weekend runs. And then I moved to Baldwin Park in July 2017 and I now live a mere half mile from this loop. I have been running this loop twice a week with my neighborhood running buddy, Steve, since August (just a few weeks after unpacking all the boxes) and also getting out on weekends as well. There have only been a few other times in my 38-year competitive running career when I was able to run a race on my home turf training route – once in my high school years in Cheshire, CT and once during the peak of my adult distance running career in the late 90’s in Hershey, PA. Both races went very well.
Home field advantage proved to be advantageous today as well. I knew exactly where I was in relation to the finish line at any given moment on this course and I knew every turn and every (minor and infrequent) change in surface or grade. As an added perk, some of my “homies” in Baldwin Park cheered me on and joined me for my triumphant last mile in this race as I unleashed a ferocious kick. Fortunately, someone captured it on video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eMhDQFLwrAA
Please forgive the retro race apparel – I’m kind of trapped in the early-to-mid 1980’s. Hopefully my competitive running career won’t be “livin’ on a prayer” for much longer as long as I continue to “run like hell” in my training and racing. So please “don’t stop believin’” in my ability to turn things around. I’m optimistic, but “only time will tell.” If you aren’t familiar with the classic 1980’s song title references in the preceding sentences, you may consider yourself officially out of touch.
This was my first 5K in two years, so I set a reasonable goal of hitting a sub-8:00 pace for the race. Since my return to competitive running in October 2017, I had turned in paces of 8:42 (UCF 5 Miler); 8:13 (Run for Love 4 Miler); 8:35 (Ortega Run 5 Miler in Jacksonville); and 8:24 (Winter Park 10K). With the aforementioned not-so-impressive paces under my belt, I knew a sub-8:00 pace for a 5K would be challenging, but attainable. And attain I did. I finished 47th of 442 runners (top 11%) in a time of 24:36 (7:56 pace).
Today’s race was strange for a few reasons. First, although I was wearing my running watch, I somehow failed to press it properly at the start and about halfway into the first mile I looked down to my horror and saw that it was not running. This would normally not be a big deal, but not in today’s tiny race. Not only were there no clocks at each mile today, but there weren’t even volunteers at each mile marker calling out mile split times (like they did back in the 1970’s). So, much to my chagrin, I had no way of knowing how I was doing in this race. I did press the button on my watch at around the half-mile mark and was able to deduce that my first mile was quite fast – my watch registered that my “first” mile (which was really the mile between .5 and 1.5) was a 7:45, which means that my actual first mile was at least 10 seconds faster than that because of the usual burst of speed in the first few tenths of the race. I was also able to deduce (did I mention that math isn’t my strong suit?) that miles 2 and 3 were in the 8:10 range, which is typical as I always struggle in the second half of the 5K – I need to work on that.
Adding to the struggle was the insanely tiny field of 442 runners. With such a small field, it’s “lonely at the top,” so to speak. There were very few runners around my pace (about 35 of them were completely out of my reach and a just a handful were slightly ahead of me or slightly behind me), which made it harder to bear down and challenge/chase runners near me as I always do in larger races to propel myself through the tougher segments of the race. Today’s race felt more like a training run with such an empty field. Overall, though, the home field advantage was a definite plus for my mental and physical game in this race.
For the past four years, my 5K outings could be fairly summarized as follows: https://getyarn.io/yarn-clip/ae982408-615b-4d1d-ab09-750affc5fd44
After each of these disappointing 5K races, I could be found looking in the mirror—bewildered, sore, and frustrated — and mumbling to myself:
I was quickly becoming competitive running’s version of a Cialis commercial, without the benefit of contrived romantic moments in the moonlight.
But not today, where I was finally able to muster my best 5K time since Feb. 2014. My time today outperformed the three efforts below that occurred during the four lackluster road racing years since February 2014 (including my year away from racing with the hip injury). I ran a 22:59 in that race in February 2014 in perfectly cool and non-humid weather on a flat course at UNF in Jacksonville. I hope to get back to that performance level by the end of 2018 and break 23:00. But first I need to break 24:00.
ORC Race Into Summer 5K – Orlando — 24:38 — June ‘16 (fast out-and-back course on flat paved trail)
Race Brook Rockin’ 5K – Orange, CT – 25:32 — June ’15
Hamden 5K – Hamden, CT – 25:36 — June ‘16
After three months of grinding and gasping in rigorous workouts with my training group this year, it’s fair to say that my competitive running mojo has been officially exhumed, and I’m hungry to chase down more personal best times on the roads like a voracious and virile running zombie for the remainder of 2018.
I am just starting to see a big step forward in my training group workouts on the track and hills. The workouts this week were best of the year for me by far. My track interval pace from Tuesday’s workout predicted a 23:30 in today’s race (but not under insanely humid conditions). On Thursday, I actually wanted more of the hill/tempo runs after running 2 x 1.2 miles at an 8:18 and 8:10 pace, but Coach Wayne insisted that I cut the workout short with my race less than two days away. Prior to Thursday, the words “more” and “hills” never appeared in the same thought bubble for me as something to seek out for fulfillment.
I would be remiss if I didn’t give a shout out to my training group buddies Manny, Eric, Denis, Don, and Tiffany for running just ahead of me, beside me, or just behind me in the past three months to help me get the most out of our challenging workouts in Track Shack’s Five and Dime training program. And a nod and fist bump are also in order for Coach Wayne for his signature laid back and supportive coaching style before, during, and after these workouts. This group has been a collegial environment in which to push myself toward racing goals in a way that wouldn’t be nearly as productive or fun slogging through it on my own. My neighborhood training buddy, Steve, ran his fastest 5K in recent memory in today’s race as well. It’s comforting and empowering to be surrounded by athletes who are moving in the right direction with their competitive running efforts.
Despite its petite size, today’s race featured a nice tech shirt and a handsome finisher’s medal (see below). As a Constitutional Law professor, I’m always pleased to see running medals that feature lady justice and our three branches of government. I plan to return to this race next year to feed off that home field advantage and deliver that sub-24:00 finish that I know I have in me. Oh, just one more parting rant in my pity party today – I’m eight months away from turning 55 and I would have placed 3rd in the 55-59 age group with my time today. Instead, as one of the old men in my age group, I was 38 seconds away from 3rd place today in the 50-54 age group. I’ll be back next April to claim my spot on the podium for the 55-59ers.
Actually, I hope to put that sub-24:00 reality on display in my next 5K race: The Cheshire Sea Dog 5K in my hometown of Cheshire, Connecticut on May 19. I’m looking forward to some more home field advantage on my high school cross country team’s stomping grounds under weather conditions that are going to be much more to my liking than what Orlando has served up for four of my last five races (humidity ranging from 87%-95%). Stay tuned as I summon some blistering New England speed from my youth for that race.