First, I have to give a little background to put this race in context. After the disaster that was my 2011 racing season, I went back to square one. I put in a lot of base miles through the winter, getting very consistent with very few runs of less than 9 miles (my key number to hit right around an hour of running time) and only one day off in 2012 so far. My long runs weren't what I was hoping for but weren't as weak as in 2011 and my daily consistency and volume were far improved.
One thing was lacking, though. In going back to square one, I threw out everything fast except strides that were less frequent than they should have been. I was getting faster on my daily runs, to the point that a 9 miler from work that took me over an hour was less frequent than a 9 miler from work that took me under 57 minutes. My cruising pace, needless to say, has been very solid. However, with not planning to race until at least April and possibly not until June, I was taking my time with things and I hadn't yet started developing race fitness.
Tuesday, plans changed. I woke up that morning 100% sure I wasn't going to be racing until at least late April. Between seeing the great weather forecast, realizing on my run that I needed a break from the consistent 6:30 pace, give or take, I had been throwing out on my weekday runs (and thinking a race would be a great excuse to slow down for a few days) and a few other smaller factors, I went to bed that night 90% sure I would be racing. Over the coming days, the choice was made. I'd lace up my new flats (Asics Piranha - I swear, those things feel like they weigh less than my socks) and see what my legs with no speedwork had in them.
I had this crazy idea going in that I could still run somewhere around 17 flat. After all, that's just sub-5:30 pace and I have been running all these training runs at pretty ridiculous paces. At the same time, I knew that wasn't a given. I had essentially not run more than a few miles and some strides at anything faster than about 6:00 pace. Race at sub-5:30 pace off that? Tall order. So I went to the race thinking I'll run hard, hope to see something around 17 flat but not be surprised if it's something short of that.
I did a somewhat long warmup over a good portion of the course. A few turns in there but no hills and barely any elevation change of any kind. The course is essentially about a 1/2 mile out, a loop to the east, a loop to the west, then a return to the finish over the same 1/2 mile stretch as the start. Lining up for the race, I saw a PRO runner. Great, I went north to get to a low key race where I could avoid those guys and pretty much anyone who knew me. Anyway, line up and the race is off. Pretty quickly, about 4 guys separate themselves. I want to go with, I know I have the strength to do so, but the speed just isn't there. So I settle in to 5th place and hope to see some guys fade. Through the first loop, I have my eye on two guys. As we're running that loop, I notice the guys in front of me are not running the tangents at all. Not even close. I don't know if we're supposed to stay to one side of the road but I didn't hear any instructions on that so I cautiously do at least a better job at running tangents than the guys in front of me, while not going all in. Between this and fourth place fading, I closed the gap in the first loop and was ready to make the pass in the transition between loops.
Coming off a right turn and heading toward another right turn, I swung wide and began coming up on his left shoulder. As I did this, he veered out to the left, toward the middle of the road. Had I known he was going to do this, I would have taken the inside track. Too late now, though. I can't move inside without clipping his feet. So I move out to pass on the left. As I'm passing him, he veers out a little more and we clip shoulders. I give a quick sorry and he says no problem as he puts his hand on my back, I think as a "that's okay" pat. I hope not because he needed to in order to regain his balance or anything.
Normally, I surge as going by people but I literally couldn't develop any more speed even as I wasn't feeling like I was straining. That lack of speedwork coming back to haunt me. As I set my sights on third and a "podium" position, I tried to find more speed but it just wasn't there. The rest of the race pretty much played out just like that, pulling away from fifth but not being able to find the speed to close on third or avoid his pulling away from me. Even at the finish, I couldn't muster a kick. Not even the crowd (and there was a decent one there for a relatively small town event) or the sight of the finish line and the adrenaline rush that comes with it could help me find more speed.
In the end, I finished not even breathing harder than one would expect from a tempo run. No rubber legs like one expects after a 5K. Just walking off like I just got in a good but not killer workout. No doubt my general fitness is in a great place right now but I need to work on converting that to race fitness. Do that successfully and I can't wait to see what might be possible this summer.
Final result: 4th, 17:30. Not bad for an early season 5K but obviously not where I would like to be. I think I could get quite a bit faster in short time, though, with the right work. I like where I'm at right now, all things considered. With some thoughtful work, I think I'm in position to have a good summer. Looking forward now to getting that work in so I can drop some big chunks of time off this result.