Joy and I warmed up the 4 miles from my apartment to the start, milled around for a bit, and elfed ourselves in preparation for the start. We then crammed into the start corral and immediately found ourselves about 7 rows too far back, behind several small children and people in sweatshirts...oh well. Of course, about 2 minutes before the start my Garmin decided to auto-pause, and there was no time to get the satellites back especially with so many people around, so I made the scary decision to do the race GPS-free. How bad could it be, really? It's just a 5K, and I know the course already - who cares if I have my exact mile splits? (FORESHADOWING)
Yup, I ran one of my fastest races ever wearing a damn elf hat. This is my life.
So then the gun went off, and off we went! I felt like I took the race relatively calmly, and I just tried to relax and get around people, trying to establish a position. It got up to 60 later in the day, but during the race was about 40 which was AWESOME - I spent some time the first mile thinking about how great running in the cold is. There was a master's woman ahead of me who I've seen (and finished just behind) at the last 2 5K's I've done, and I was pleasantly surprised when I passed her right around what I thought was somewhat past the 1 mile mark. I heard someone's Garmin beep and checked my watch - 6:28, OK, not bad! I was somewhat shocked at how GOOD I was feeling running at that pace, so I figured I would try to take advantage of the fact that I wasn't tied to my watch and just run by feel. There was a bit of a breeze as we headed up Mass Ave, which was slightly annoying mainly because I thought it was going to blow my hat off my head. I felt like I was running hard, but not unbearably so. Man, I thought to myself, this is SO much better than the Fall Classic! I can definitely get sub-21! Always nice to be thinking positive thoughts midway through a 5K.
We made a left turn at what I thought was around the 2-mile (apparently there were mile markers on the ground, but I never saw them), and I thought to myself, OK! This is good! 1 more mile! I didn't feel like I had really slowed down at all, which was a pleasant surprise, and I was starting to become convinced that I could get through one more mile at this pace, whatever it was. I looked down at my watch at one point and saw 16:40 - great, like 4 minutes left to run! No big deal! You got this! Well, THAT is where the fun started. We made a turn at what I assumed was close to the 3 mile mark...and I found myself staring down what appeared to be an endless street, still on course. WTF? This was about 20 minutes into the race, and I was suddenly TOTALLY demoralized. How could I possibly be running that slow? It sure didn't feel like I was running over 7 minute pace...I had been consistently passing people and hadn't been passed - I couldn't believe it. I passed the "3" mile mark at 21 something and ran into the finishing chute wondering how I could have possibly managed to run a 22:36 5K. I felt totally dead - a guy finishing near me kept looking at me and I think was trying to get me to hardcore race him to the finish, and I just didn't have anything left. So how in the hell was I supposed to make sense of the fact that I had actually just run my slowest 5K in years?
Well, that's when I started hearing the rumblings of the runners around me, and when people started pulling out their GPS watches, and when my puzzlement over my slowness turned into something different. Because that's when I learned that the course had been long...not just by a little bit, but by almost half a mile! (Official distance was 3.45 - apparently the lead pace car took us too far down the first road - and actually, props to the race director for almost immediately sending out an email about this and changing the distance in the official results). It actually took me a few minutes to grasp the meaning of this: if I had just run 22:36 for 3.5 miles....OH MY GOD WHAT WOULD MY 5K TIME HAVE BEEN??!! I did the math. And the math was like: oh hey, if this had actually been a 5K, and the finish line had been in the right spot, and you didn't have to run an extra half mile where you probably slowed down...you would have been right on the borderline of breaking 20. And let's be honest, if I had KNOWN that that were a possibility, my kick would have been a sight to behold. So for a second, I was a little bit mad that the opportunity to actually be able to put a 19:xx to my name had been taken away by the course screw up. But after that second, I was just straight up excited, because whether or not I officially ran sub 20, I clearly was capable of running sub 20 today. And that? Is completely insane to me. It was just last week that I was bemoaning the fact that I can consistently run 6:50ish 5Ks, but never faster. I've only run under 20:30 one time on the roads, and twice on the track, in my entire life - and all 3 of those times happened during peak training (and all 3 were >5 years ago). I had pretty much completely written off any hope of a 5K PR ever again. So to go out there, off no speed work, in the off season, wearing a stupid jingle bell hat, and do this?? I can't even believe it! This is probably my last race for the year, and I can't think of a better note to end on...proof that I'm faster at EVERY distance that I was 2 years ago, or even back in college, and not just the marathon. Freaking awesome. And now shooting for a 5K PR is actually back on the table!
I think there might be a lesson here. And that lesson might be, to paraphrase Tom: your watch is only there for your amusement. Stop getting tied to the numbers, and just run how you feel. But in all seriousness...what a race for my damn GPS to die. My running life is many things...but it is never, ever boring.
Winter Classic "5K" (3.45 miles)
22:36 (6:33 pace)
161/3200 OA, 14/1836 F, 9/832 F19-29