Race report: 18 years and counting

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

Always in our Hearts 5K

To make a long story short, I ran my first sub-17 5K in an indoor track race in La Crosse in January, 1996. Through 2012, I stopped the clock in under 17 minutes at least once every year since then.

This May, in my first race of the year, I ran a 5K in 17:04, then later found out from the guy who laid out and measured the course that it was long. He measured it at between 3.2 and 3.3 miles. Based on what he was telling me, it was at least 15 seconds long. That meant I passed through the 5K point comfortably under 17 minutes. Still, I didn’t want to keep the streak going with an asterisk. I wanted to officially stop the clock in under 17 minutes. This was my last good shot this year to do that.

Fast forward to late August and early September. I had been having some trouble with tight calves. I went to the Stout alumni meet and, on the uneven course, twisted my ankles several times. This especially did my right foot and ankle in. They were bothering me pretty badly. I managed to keep things together through a successful Al’s Run, then I shut things down as I tried to get healthy. It was a struggle to get the calves loose and the foot and ankle happy but, over the last week especially, I felt like I made great strides. Not perfect but about 99%, especially while running.

Going into race day, I didn’t know what to expect. I had basically done no real training in the past month but I was fit and running well before then. I’d gone into this race before off recovery periods and run well. My legs seem to be able to go sub-17 by memory when the course is fast and the weather is favorable. That gave me confidence in my ability to find a way under 17 minutes but how difficult would it be and how close would I cut it?

I started my warmup how I start my warmup on pretty much every race day. Feeling sore and sluggish. There is some road construction on the course so I scouted out that part especially carefully. There would be spots I’d need to step over two curbs and run through some uneven soil. I moved a construction barricade so there would be room on the other end of the construction to slip through on the paved road between the barricade and the curb, giving a better transition to the sidewalk than the alternative, stepping over another curb onto uneven soil before stepping up about 3 inches onto the sidewalk.

As the warmup continued, I began feeling better. I threw in a bit of faster running around 1.5 miles and my legs just found a rhythm. This was a good sign. If I can lock into a rhythm during a race, I’m usually set.

After a bit of a delay, the race was off. I instantly jumped into the lead and locked into a quick rhythm. Through the rough spot of the construction area and someone I believe giving me the directions for the walkers. These directions confused me for a moment before I just decided to go with the route I have known from prior years. Up to the construction barriers, shoot! Someone moved the barrier back and it’s blocking the whole road! Up over the curb and through the uneven soil to the sidewalk. Now, I settled back into the quick rhythm I had and just clicked off the distance, working hard but keeping relaxed. Through an intersection with traffic control with no problems. On to the mile mark. 5:12. What? No, that’s not right. I know I didn’t just run a 5:12. I did lock into a quick rhythm but I knew I wasn’t that fast. I could believe 5:20 because I could feel the quicker than anticipated rhythm I had settled into. I actually thought of dialing it back a bit with the fear I would pay for the fast pace later but I’ve always been a rhythm runner and breaking my rhythm is usually a mistake. I’m better fading some later than messing with my pace when I settle in and am at least in range of my target pace.

Into mile 2, the going is getting tough but I keep fighting. Now, I have a right turn coming up and I’m on the left side of the state highway. Usually, there is a police officer doing traffic control up there but I see no sign of any police presence. So I check over my shoulder, see a car approaching at a distance and take things into my own hands, crossing before that car gets too close. As I approach the turn, there is a police car on the side road, about 3 car lengths off the highway but the officer never even opens the door before I’m past. I keep pushing through the loop through a neighborhood, though I admit I could feel the effort sagging a bit. I told myself I’m at least halfway through the race now. I have to push. I have to keep it going or sub-17 is out the window. I can feel myself losing the fight but I keep close to 100% effort. Now, approaching the state highway again and I have to go straight across. Again, usually traffic control but no sign of police this time. Traffic is pretty steady with a 35 mph speed limit. I weave through a bit to shoot the gap between two northbound cars with the nearest southbound car at least 50 yards away. Not a major problem but definitely not ideal in a 5K.

Through another neighborhood and into the 2 mile mark. I know this split isn’t quite at the 2 mile mark but, when I hear 11:00, I get a bit worried. Initially, I respond by increasing the pace but I find myself within a couple hundred yards settling back into that pace I carried through much of mile 2. A good solid effort for a 5K but not on the edge. Enough for sub-17? With about a half mile to go, I tell myself screw this, I’m not letting sub-17 go without a fight and I give it everything I have. My legs don’t want to respond but I force them to respond with what they can. Through the construction area, a bit of a slowdown to handle the uneven soil but nothing too bad. Then, I just hammer my way through a few turns and into a loop around a park and into the finish. I bring it in as hard as I can and come to the final turn, just a short distance from the finish line. As I come around that final turn and into sight of the clock, I see it right around 16:50. To be honest, when I saw that, I had more a feeling of relief than anything. I was just relieved that my easing off the effort in mile 2 and early in mile 3 didn’t cost me the sub-17. I crossed the line feeling like I didn’t leave it all on the course but getting the sub-17 I was looking for.

Final result: 1st, 16:54. 18 consecutive years with a sub-17 5K. No asterisk needed. I can’t say I’m thrilled with my effort out there. I could have run faster. That said, I keep going back to one simple thing. I had one goal in this race. As long as I ran 16:59, I was going to be happy with the outcome. I made it with 5 seconds to spare. I can’t be unhappy with this result. I accomplished the goal and kept a streak I’m proud of alive.

This is likely it for me in 2013. Time to make sure the calves are well taken care of, the right foot and ankle are happy and the base for 2014 is strong enough for a 19th consecutive year under 17 minutes.

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