Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Running Event Indie 5k

2 mile w/u + strides
Target: 5k race @sub-18
Actual: 17:29 (5:47, 5:38, 5:37); 5th place woman
2 mile c/d
Total: 9 miles

For those of you not familiar with The Running Event, it is essentially a giant industry trade show. Virtually every vendor you've heard of (Asics), and some you haven't (Thermajock), attend and set up display booths in a giant expo hall. When I say "every vendor," I mean everything from footwear to socks to accessories to nutrition products. If you can picture a brand that exists in your local running store, it's a safe bet that some of their sales reps and corporate office representatives are in attendance. So to whom are these vendors displaying all their wares? Again, if you picture your local running store, this is where the fun comes in for them. The Running Event is more or less an all-expense paid vacation for their owners and buyers to one of the coolest cities in the US of A. In addition to the huge expo full of products at their disposal, they can also attend several days of clinics and breakout sessions, plus several fancy dinners and a few fun extracurricular activities. One of the most popular of those extracurricular activities is the Indie 5k, a small race that is set up just for Running Event participants on Wednesday morning. Though it may be small, I would venture to say it is one of the deepest and fastest non-prize money races in existence.

When my alarm went off at 5:30 on Wednesday morning--which, unfortunately, is the latest I would be able to sleep for the entire week--I woke up and immediately began my pre-race preparations. The Indie 5k is just a fun and light-hearted event, but having hardly run a single sub-6 minute mile since my injury I was a little nervous about what I could do. I knew from past years that the course, a hilly and winding figure-eight loop through Zilker Park, was by no means easy, and I really wanted to avoid embarrassing myself if at all possible. My new coworker Keith Pierce--a 2:20 marathoner and top-3 finisher at the San Antonio Marathon this past Sunday--picked me up at 6:15, and just a few minutes later we were pulling up to the race location. I located Jordan and his co-worker Lee right away, and we immediately set out into the cool morning air for a warmup jog. Lee was just here for the freebies--the "title sponsors" like Nuun and 2XU were giving away schwag including free $50 compression socks--but Jordan also hoped to post a top time. Considering that former All-Americans like Grant Robison had won the race in previous years, Jordan wasn't too optimistic for the overall victory, but both of us harbored dreams of winning the coveted Fastest Vendor award.

We finished our warmup and started stripping down for the race, mingling and chatting with other friends and race participants. We saw Tim, Beth and Dawn from RFYL, my buddy Mike Rouse from K-Swiss, Scott Schilter from Nuun, North Carolina NB rep Mike Moran, a gaggle of Brooks peeps, Lou and Chuck from Runner's Depot in Ft. Lauderdale, and about 100 other people I knew. The Running Event is essentially a glorified high school reunion for those of us who have been in the industry for a few years, and today's race was no exception. As we lined up at the start I craned my neck to see if I could spot the ringers. Traditionally the women's race is won in a pedestrian 18:40, but I could already tell that wouldn't be the case today. For one, NB professional athlete Sarah Bowman was on the line just a few yards from me, and I knew that I had no chance against a multiple D1 All-American like her. A few other girls looked pretty speedy, though I couldn't recognize any by name.

After a rather long and drawn-out version of the National Anthem--or at least it seemed that way due to the brisk temperature--the starter sent us on our way. Immediately I felt like I was sprinting. I'm not sure if this was because of the early hour, the temperature, the fact that I've done zero speed work in the past few months, or a combination of all three. At any rate, I know that I never felt like I had a chance to settle down throughout the entire race, which is a bit of a new sensation for me. Even in short races like the 5k I usually have at least a mile where I feel calm and in control, but that wasn't the case today. Surprisingly, however, once I mentally acknowledged that this was going to hurt like hell the entire time, my mind was able to relax a bit. The first mile was a grind, as it contained the longest uphill on the entire course, but to my surprise it actually felt kind of good to be working this hard. From the gun I'd fallen firmly into fifth place, with Sarah Bowman just a few yards in front of me and several other girls leading the charge up front. For a brief moment I entertained the thought that they might come back, but by the first mile marker it became apparent that this was wishful thinking. I was slightly discouraged to see how slow my split was--rudimentary math told me 5:50s wouldn't be fast enough to break 18 minutes--but the frustration (and the approaching steep downhill) only fueled my desire to push harder.

About halfway through the course we approached the figure-eight section, which meant crossing paths with the slower folks while simultaneously trying to fight up another hill. I was struggling at this point but knew that if I could keep it together I'd have the opportunity for another steep downhill in the third mile. Seeing a 5:38 split for mile two bolstered my confidence--though I was still working as hard as before, at least my pace was reflecting the effort--and I knew that if I maintained my focus I'd have a chance to run a decent time. I was in no-man's land in terms of race competition, as Sarah Bowman et al had long since disappeared into the distance, but there were plenty of men around for me to work with. The familiar steep uphill/downhill came and went, and for a moment I rejoiced that there were no more hills on the course. A few yards later, to my chagrin, we turned again to go up the figure-eight hill. At this point I was working as hard as I could and would've no doubt fallen apart if the terrain hadn't begun to slope downward toward the finish. With less than a minute to go I could see the finish line banner looming and began to kick for home. Though tired, I felt the strongest at this point than any other in the race, which in hindsight I see as quite encouraging. I crossed the line just a tick under 17:30, ecstatic to have run such a respectable time in my first 5k race since August.

A few seconds later I spotted Jordan, aka Pancho Villa, chatting with some people from Craft and Karhu. I thought it was awesome that our GM Eric, our President Jay and our Bike VP Gilles got up early and jogged over here just to cheer for me. They had plenty of other responsibilities for the day, so to see them take time to come support me meant a lot. As it turns out, Pancho had gone out hard and finished fourth behind former Texas sub-4-minute miler Darren Brown and a few other ringers, with OK Runner friend Jerry Faulkner and my marathon wearied coworker Keith just behind. None of us were sure where our performances would stack up in their respective divisions, as the official results wouldn't be announced until tonight's dinner, but we'd no doubt represented the brands well. Now it was time to spend a few miles cooling down with friends--our OK Runner peeps Jerry and Scotty D, plus Tim Rhodes and Chris Bradle--as we all trotted back down the Town Lake trails to our respective hotels. The Indie 5k was just the beginning of yet another busy day in Austin, but there's hardly a better way to start than a nice hard run with a few hundred of your closest friends in the industry.