I have never placed in the top 10 for my age group and unless I find a race with fewer than 50 participants I probably never will. But I like racing because it gives me an objective measurement to gauge my progress. Training runs, no matter how well intentioned or rigorously run don't put you in the same frame of mind. In the minutes before the starting gun you anticipate, concentrate, and fully invest. No matter how important the training is, it never puts me the same frame of mind.
Last Thursday was the final 5K of the summer. Monica couldn't make it so I was running solo for the first time this year. On a whim I decided to run with my MP3 player, something I've never done in a race before except for the first Jingle Bell Run 4 years ago. I usually like paying attention to the sights and sounds around me, especially when running with someone else but this was an unusual solo run so all bets were off. The start was delayed by reasons unknown for 15-20 minutes so we all had extra time to mill about and get a little extra anxiety.
I moved a bit further up in the queue than usual as the crowd was a little lighter than the previous races in the series; perhaps the earlier start and the impending darkness played into it. As the crowd surged forward I felt surprisingly good. The hip problems and general lethargy of the past month weren't present so this was a pleasant surprise for me. I started scanning the runners ahead of me and thinking "I should be faster than him or her." It's not pretty, but it often works for me. Granted, some of those people I think I should be faster then just pull away and I never see them again, but such is life.
At the one mile mark my pace was 8:11, faster than any other race we've done this summer. So, naturally I slowed down a bit but nothing was hurting and my stride was easy so I crept the pace back up. After the first mile and the out-and-back most folks settle out into a steady stream of about the same pace. I passed a few people, a few people passed me. I was tempted by the water station but decided I was going to push it a bit so I sped (ha!) by the folks getting water, crossed the bridge, and entered the home stretch.
Except it's still 1.1 miles to the finish and that section seems to go on forever. With .5 miles to go I attempted to increase my pace but that elusive gear remained elusive. Looking the data from the watch I guess I sped up a bit but just barely until the last .2 miles. Lots of folks passed me in this section, including several that I had passed between miles 1 and 2; that hurt. But with the end literally in sight and the smell of BBQ in the air I pulled it together and crossed the finish with my pride intact. My time was 25:40, around 30 seconds faster than my previous PR. It's not a huge improvement but 10 secs/mile is nothing to sneeze at. I finished 300/807 overall, 202/347 males.
Pushing 50 it's nice to see that I can still improve. There's hope for me yet, still trying to work the clutch and get the shifter into that elusive higher gear.
Garmin Track of the race