Friday, December 9, 2011

Indie 5k: Fastest Vendor in America!

4.5 mile w/u + strides
Target: 5k race @17:25 or faster + extra
Actual: 17:22, ~10 minute rest, 5x60-90 secs. @5k pace

2.5 mile c/d

Total: 12 miles

So, having not run a 5k in many months, apparently I forgot that it essentially necessitates sprinting as hard as you can for three miles and then running even faster for the next 40 seconds. This is inherently not what one would call "fun." However, if said 5k takes place in the middle of the biggest running industry reunion of the entire year, in one of the coolest cities in the country, while most of the participants are either hung over or likely still legally inebriated from the previous night's debauchery, and costs approximately zero dollars to participate--well, that's pretty hard to pass up. And so, just like last year, Jordan and I woke up ridiculously early on the morning prior to the longest and busiest day of the entire event so we could jog over to Zilker Park and line up next to several hundred of our friends and colleagues for a good old fashioned road race. Going in, I felt confident I was fitter than last year--when I popped a 17:29 out of nowhere just a month removed from injury--but I also realized that last year's performance did not take place in the midst of a string of 90+ mile weeks. I was hoping to run faster than the 17:29 I posted then, but more than anything wanting to put forth a quality effort and hopefully add on some more substance afterward.

Lining up a good five or six rows back from the starting line, I found myself standing next to my buddy and former employer Tim Rhodes of Charlotte-based Run For Your Life. Several summers ago I engaged in a memorable 5k battle against Tim, in which I agreed to spot him two minutes and still pledged to run him down. On that day I came up literally inches short, my 16:59.5 no match for his valiant 18:59.3. Currently neither of us are in top 5k form, but we agreed that a 2:30 handicap should just about level the playing field. Customary trash talking ensued, and before I knew it another innocent bystander was invested in the outcome. Tim's friend Paul Epstein, owner of Running Wild in Pensacola, FL, leaned over and asked what I planned to run. When I responded with "somewhere in the 17:30 range," he announced his intentions to run with me. I was thrilled, hoping we could work together but also secretly hoping I could crush his spirits later in the race. (Just kidding...but seriously.) A cursory scan of the crowded starting line didn't indicate that there were any women lined up ahead of me, which was surprising. As I mentioned previously, last year my time barely cracked the top five, so I wasn't expecting this year to be much different. Speculation aside, I knew I would find out one way or the other within the next few minutes.

At 7:30, a full half hour after the expected starting time (hence the lengthy warmup), the gun finally went off. Having run the course last year I knew that after
a relatively flat opening 800 meters, we would enter the first of two figure-eight loops. This course layout meant that we would be forced to climb a short, steep, highly unpleasant uphill section not once or twice, but actually four times throughout the race. Two of these climbs would be matched by equally steep and short downhills (think heavy footfalls and pinwheeling arms), while the other two were accompanied by much more gradual descents. As we approached the first uphill, my eyes were glued on the racers ahead as I scanned for other women in the mix. I didn't see any, but found it hard to believe I was in the lead. My hoped-for racing buddy, Paul, put a solid ten meters on me in the first few minutes, but as we approached the first mile marker I found myself gaining on him slightly. My watch read 5:48 as I passed the first marker, but I found it difficult to believe I could be working so hard only to maintain such a pedestrian pace. (Note: I distinctly remember thinking the same thing last year. Either it just takes me an embarrassing amount of time to get warmed up or the first mile is actually mismarked. Naturally I choose to believe the latter. The world may never know.) Shortly thereafter I passed Paul, who hung tough by immediately latching on through the downhill. Near 2k I found myself approaching another familiar face (back?), Donny Forsyth of Charlotte Running Company. Donny is a great athlete and tough competitor, and I knew he wouldn't let me pass him without a fight. Sure enough, despite my best efforts to break away, I could hear his insistent breathing and footsteps right on my heels. I passed through two miles in 11:20 with Donny in hot pursuit.

At this point, it occurred to me that I could actually win. This might sound obvious to someone reading, but again based on past results the thought had never previously entered my consciousness. If there were another woman ahead of me then she was so far gone that I couldn't even see her, much less think about catching her, and for the first time since the race began I actually began to doubt that this hypothetical person actually existed. As I pressed uphill for the fourth and final time, finally beginning to shake
Donny, I knew that if I could just hang on for another thirty seconds I'd be home free for the final 600 meters downhill. I pushed through all the way to the line as the gun time clicked just past 17:25 (which I would learn later was actually a 17:22 chip time), pleased with the strength of my effort but still uncertain as to whether I'd actually won. Finally, after asking Jordan and several other finish line bystanders, the victory was confirmed. I hung by the finish line for a few minutes to catch my breath and to cheer/jeer Tim home as he almost outkicked the 50-year-old lady in front of him before setting off across the street with Jordan to add on a few more miles to my workout. Though my legs were shell-shocked and not a little indignant at what I'd just put them through, they finally began to respond about halfway through the pickups. I finished the workout just how I'd finished the race--feeling not exactly fast but unquestionably strong. And though I'm sure many people would dispute this, I now have a ridiculously heavy Texas-shaped trophy proclaiming that I am the "fastest vendor in America." If the hardware says so, I should probably add it to my business card.

The trophy and sweet Timex GPS watch I won


Mike Kahn said...

haha.. great race! awesome to see so many familiar faces in an out of town race. kick ass next month!

Unknown said...

so cool you saw all of Charlotte's finest. great job!