Saturday, August 29, 2009

Race for the Arts 5j

I am going to apologize up front to all of those people who set personal records at the Race for the Arts 5k last night. You’re going to read this and wonder why I can’t keep my trap shut, I know. But, I am telling my race story, and it includes some facts about the course that call into question its length. I do not benefit from this at all since I set a big PR too. However, I think, as a race community, we need to recognize when something is a little too good to be true and push race organizers to at the very least give us accurate courses. We sure know how to complain when a course measures long, so I think it’s only fair to 'fess up when we suspect the course is short. To be fair, nowhere in the race literature did it say that this was a certified or accurate course, so perhaps caveat emptor applies here. I will say that I just measured the course as shown on the race map (which is also what we ran last night) using Google maps and it measured slightly long, 3.21. I will chalk up the extra .1 miles to poor mouse control and not knowing exactly where the start/finish was. I guess the only way to know is to actually use a measurer's bike and ride the course.

UPDATE: After sending a message to the Race Director, I found out that the course was certified in July. I found the certification and map on the USATF website. The map from my GPS that shows the course we ran matches the certification map. I am at a loss to explain the discrepancy.

I was feeling pretty anxious about this race all day—maybe all week. 5ks tend to do this to me (as my No Excuses Race post described in great detail). I never train for 5ks, so I am not used to the special kind of pain you feel holding the pace especially at the end of the race. I think that, if I were to do more of my workouts in the 5k pace range or faster, I would be a lot more comfortable with the feeling of battery acid snaking up through my gullet, fire burning the bottoms of my feet and what feels like Lino’s muscle stimulator machine squeezing my quads until they feel like they will seize completely. But, I am a marathoner and run 5k races for fun. Some fun.

I had no idea what to expect to run last night. This week is a recovery week, so I knew that should be a plus. I have been sleeping a lot this week and have had an amazing appetite, so my body is taking this recovery thing seriously. However, I had just completed three 95-mile weeks and a sub-3 hour marathon on Sunday. I had reason to believe my legs and body might still be recovering from all of this. I had a good Yasso 800 workout last Friday, but had no idea how or if my 2:40ish 800s translated into a fast 5k race. I decided to just go by feel and try to hang on when I felt like death was swooping in during that last mile.

The race: It was in the mid to upper 90s at the start with no wind though there was plenty of shade. It took all of 10-minutes to warm up to the point that sweat poured from my head. I decided I was warm enough at that point and just hung out until the start. It also felt humid though may not have reported this. The race is run in a park that is so green you could just as easily be in Atlanta, Gerogia with ponds everywhere, lawns and other vegetation producing water-laden air via the process of evapotranspiration. This was a jungle oasis given our parched Mediterranean clime. I was wishing I had my sling psychrometer with me to actually measure the humidity, but that would have been a little too geeky.

I had quickly eyeballed the course map and thought it was an odd configuration. There are so many races run in that park, I wondered why they didn’t pick one of the usuals. I thought maybe this was a new course that someone had recently certified. Nonetheless, I didn’t have to worry about where to go, I would follow the pack of boys racing ahead of me. We were off with the gun and I was chasing the lead girl for about 300 yards before she fell off rapidly. I had a nice group of guys to hang with for the first mile and a half. This was a nice course in the sense that there were few turns and most of them were pretty gentle. We also had the whole street to use so that made cutting the tangents easy. I hit my lap button at the first mile marker and my split was 5:31. Hmmm. My watch said I was running 5:38 pace. I thought maybe the tree cover was disrupting my GPS mojo and pressed on.

Mile 2 broke up my little pack and I started to feel burning in my feet and the air seemed to get very thick. My 2 mile split was 5:38 and again my overall pace was slower. My GPS was useless to me tonight and I was starting to feel the heat and last weekend’s marathon in my legs. I slowed even more and had not much gumption to pick it up when the Yoga Master passed me at the 3-mile mark. I didn’t even hit my split I was so done with this race. I was just hoping to still see a 17 on the clock as I rounded the corner to the finish tape. It read 17:20 and ticking. Are you kidding me? I crossed the line in 17:34 (17:32 chip time) and immediately knew there was a problem. My watch read 3.03 miles for the total distance, and I immediately began polling the other GPS-clad runners. The highest reading I got was 3.08. The median was somewhere around 3.06.

So, while I may have run 17:32 for a 5j, I am calling the distance 3.06 which roughly equates to a 17:48 for the 5k. This is still a big PR for me and makes me happy in many ways. I overcame my anxiety about the distance yet again, I pushed hard when I felt like crap at the end of the race, and I felt fine soon afterward. I felt good enough actually to complete the rest of my 10-mile workout including a final mile at marathon effort = 6:15 pace.

Congrats to everyone who braved the tough conditions last night. If you want to play this game, you might be able to convince yourself that the sweltering conditions slowed you down at least as much as the shortness of the course improved your time. Some may argue that heat and humidity don’t affect a 5k performance much, but I know that I felt like I was leaning over a boiling pot of water breathing in steam at the end of that race. The good Dr., Jack Daniels, tells me that my 17:48 5k race, run in 95 degrees (not factoring in humidity) would have been 17:37 had it been 5 degrees cooler. I would have run 17:27 if it had been 85 degrees and 16:49 if I was running in temps below 60! So, there you go.

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