Race report: 2018 Always in Our Hearts 5K

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      This is always my last race of the year. Typically, I’ve peaked for it and tried to blast a real fast time on this flat and fast course with competition that allows me to roll the dice and take a few chances. This year was going to be different. I pulled a calf muscle in late August and, after surviving the few races I had on the schedule at that time, shut things down for the year. I did next to no running (by my usual standard) from mid-September through mid-October. Nothing of significance even close to anything running fast.

      In addition, a few days before the race, my wife was offered tickets to a suite for the Bucks game Friday night. First game in the new arena and we’re offered free tickets to a suite? How could I say no?

      So I arrived at the race undertrained and a bit sleep deprived. This is going to go well, isn’t it? Still, I expect myself to perform here. No excuses. I’ll find a way through. I went through my normal warmup feeling decent but knowing what was coming would be a grind. My strides felt slow, no surprise.

      As race time was nearing, I was watching some clouds off to the north/northwest. The sky was pretty much black that direction and I was just hoping things were moving to the east and not to the south.

      As the race director was giving her final directions, it started raining gently. I turned to her grandson who was lined up next to me and was my main competition and said “I’m glad I have my sunglasses”. We got a little chuckle, then got ready to run.

      Just as the race started, the sky opened. A strong headwind hit us, the rain started coming down in sheets. You couldn’t have timed it better. This was an epic start. Then, about 15-20 seconds in, it felt like the rain got even harder. At that moment, I heard 3 people behind me yell “it’s hailing!” Sure enough, I look down and the front of my singlet and shorts are collecting ice pellets. Now, I really am glad I have my sunglasses. Anything to keep that out of my eyes. I’m not quite so glad to have my singlet but there’s no turning back now.

      The race director’s grandson got out well. He got a gap on me that looked pretty solid at 100 yards. I knew at this point that one of two things would happen. Either he’d come back or I wouldn’t have a chance so I just hoped he would come back. As it turns out, he did. By about 200 yards, I had caught up with him and we were running together. I gave a few half hearted surges just to test him and he instantly responded to each. It was too early for me to throw in a real surge, though, so we continued side by side for a bit.

      Fortunately, the weather was improving. It was still breezy but the rain had essentially stopped and would later completely. The wind would shift to be out of the west, which meant a headwind on the return trip, but wasn’t nearly as strong.

      At about a half mile, there are a couple of turns and he dropped back behind me. I didn’t know if this was a sign of weakness or if he was just dropping back for the turns. Once we came out and were on a long straight stretch, he tried to come up on my shoulder again. To test him, I threw in another surge. He dropped back behind me, which told me I had him in trouble. I pushed a bit and felt like I was getting a bit of a gap. Knowing I was dealing with a guy in his late teens, I didn’t want this to come down to a kick so I kept the pace up, while making sure I would have something left for later just in case.

      Up a quick but steep climb to the one street crossing (we cross it twice) and I realize traffic control hasn’t arrived yet. Fortunately, there was a gap in traffic and I got across without issue. Down the other side and I’m back into free and clear running. I cruise through the mile in an unimpressive but reasonably comfortable 6:31.

      That’s not a horrible split but it’s surely not what I want. Time to pick it up and ensure I don’t let anyone back in the race. I try to ease into a faster pace and do my best to hold it with some consistency. Not much happens until I get to the turnaround. The usual nice loop turnaround is blocked off by some work on the power lines so we’re turning around a little early on the trail, with a more sharp turn. I naavigate that fine, losing a little momentum but not more than necessary, then pick up the pace a bit and try to put on my best face to convince anyone behind me I’m running quick and strong. Second place is a bit back but not out of reach if I struggle and he hits it hard. Third is not too far behind second and the rest are coming in in a fairly steady stream.

      I cruise through the 2 mile in 6:24. Not terrible, especially given everything I’ve gone through this fall, but not great. Time to finish strong. I don’t want to leave this up to the last quarter mile. I convince myself I can make this race a progression run and set out to do so. Even with the wind in my face, I’m convinced I can make the last mile my fastest. I push into the one street crossing and, this time, a police car is there but still no traffic control. The officer is in his car, conveniently with his car perfectly blocking the trail I’m on. Fortunately again, there’s a gap in the traffic and I shoot through it and around the back of the car, then back on to the trail. Down the other side and joining the walkers who are still heading out. Fortunately, this year, the walkers took the advice to watch for runners and, for the most part, I’m getting a clear path. With about 1/2 mile to go, I turn back into the park and now I know it’s time to give everything I have, though I don’t feel like I have much.

      I finish off as well as I can with a 6:13 mile and add on a bit more to finish in 19:24 officially. Second came in about 15-20 seconds back and third was about a minute behind me.

      Honestly, I don’t have much to say about this. Obviously, the time is not what I want from my last race of the year. That said, given what I went through this fall, it’s not the end of the world. More importantly, no pain. Not in the calf or the ankle, where most of the pain from the pulled calf was being felt. That’s definitely a win.

      Now, on to 2019.

      Garmin stats: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/3104050142

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