I don’t normally write up race recaps of 5K races, but then again I don’t normally race 5ks anymore, and this one felt particularly blog-worthy. I was originally planning on running the St. Charles Children’s Home 5K on Labor Day, as I do most Labor Days. This weekend we ended up going up to Fryeburg to spend time with family, and I decided to run a local 5K on Sunday instead since it was going to be cooler weather than Monday anyway.
One thing that turned out to be a nice surprise was that my cigarette-smoking stepfather, Woody, wanted to run the race with me. He used to run track and cross country when he was in school, and occasionally will break out his sneakers to join me for an impromptu 8-miler when I go to visit my mom. He said several times that he wanted to run fast, so I told him not to worry about staying with me, and to just go for it. Secretly though I hoped he would bolt off at the start and I would end up catching him at the end.
Another cool thing about this race is that it is run entirely on the Mountain Division Trail in Fryeburg, which I love to run on whenever I come up to visit. It’s so nice to be in nature, away from traffic, but on a flat, paved bike path that is easy to run on. I was looking forward to racing on a route that I’ve run many times before, but had never raced on. I did wonder how congested the race would get on the somewhat narrow bike path though. The course was still open to the public, so I knew there could be cyclists and pedestrians on the path as well.
Woody and I got to the visitor center where the race was to start, registered quickly, and did an easy mile jog on the bike path. We had actually been for a 3 mile walk on the trail the day before, but from the opposite end of the trail. The warm up went well, jogging easy, and running a few short strides. Then we went in the visitor center to stay warm as it was only about 50 degrees at the start of the race.
This turned out to be a very small race, with only a handful of runners, and a similar number of walkers, most of whom were participating in memory of the late Gaige McCue, and to benefit suicide prevention. I didn’t know anything about Gaige, but was happy to support the charity since suicide prevention has been a huge personal cause of mine, having struggled with suicidal thoughts in the past, and having dealt with family members who have attempted suicide.
There was no chip timing, and the race started with the blast of an air horn. I started off at an 8:00 pace, and tried to slow myself down. Woody blew past me right away, following the male race leaders. I was aiming for 8:35-8:45 pace, since those were the paces I had been running in my speed work sessions this summer. With the slightly quick, downhill start, I clicked off 8:32 for my first mile.
As the path leveled out, I focused on my breathing and maintaining a steady 8:40 pace. No one was passing me, and as far as I could tell, there was only one woman ahead of me. I knew it was a small race, but I was shocked that I was basically in second place. Secretly I hoped I could reel in the female leader. Wishful thinking, but this may be the only chance I get to actually win a race, ha ha!
The paved path gently inclined over the second mile, and I focused on maintaining a steady 8:40ish pace, letting myself drift closer to 8:45 or 8:50 at times to get my breathing under control. Was I breathing too heavy? Had I gone out too fast? Had I overestimated my fitness? Woody was passing by on his return to the finish, and I ran to high-five him. By the time I reached the half way turn-around point – a large cooler filled with water bottles and a sign saying “Turn around here” – I worried that I wouldn’t be able to sustain this effort over the second half of the race.
I dismissed my doubts, and told myself to just keep running. I have been training, and knew I could hold on. I had to. By the end of the second mile, I was huffing and puffing, but gradually reeling in a few of the men ahead of me. I had a long, gradual uphill to the finish, but I tried not to focus on that too much. Woody was just ahead of me, and I focused on catching him.
It seemed like it took years to catch up to him, but eventually I did, and ran past. That’s what he gets for hammering past me at the start line, I thought. I was also really proud of him. He never runs on his own. As far as I know, the only times he has run since leaving school years ago has been with me when I came to visit. I was also a little envious of how well he did without doing all of the training that I have put in over the years. I wish running came that easily to me sometimes.
Regardless, I was ahead now, and after coming around the last bend in the bike path, I finally saw the woman ahead of me! Unfortunately for me, she was jogging towards me, clearly doing a victory lap. But the good news was, the end was in sight, and no other woman had caught me. I was going to finish second!
Still huffing, and heaving, and not sure if I could hang on, I kept my legs turning over and tried not to think about not being able to breathe. Eyes on the finish, this is your half marathon, I told myself. No, it was only a 5k, but I was trying to motivate myself in pursuit of faster half marathon times. I think it worked. l sprinted to the finish, and stopped my watch.
Really? I mean, it was the fastest 5k that I’ve run in 2 years, but I really expected to have a 26:something. What happened? Was it the cold that I have felt coming on over the past couple of days? Was it the late night partying with my family? Had I overestimated my fitness?
I don’t mean to be overly concerned with finish times, but it’s kinda the reason I’ve been beating myself up this summer in my brutal training runs. I was so sure that I would have been faster.
Ten or twenty seconds after I finished, as I’m still gasping for air, my stepfather jogged through the finish. He was literally right behind me during that last mile. It took me two years of training to get this 5k time, and he can wake up, smoke a cigarette, and jog it in like that! Smh.
Despite my initial surprise at my finish time, I was elated with this race. I had in fact finished second female overall, and probably would have been first in my age group, had there been any age group awards. I got my picture taken for the Conway Daily Sun, along with the male and female winner, and the second place male. I felt proud to be (kind of) a winner!
Later, after uploading my run to Strava, I was actually relieved to discover the 5k route was about a tenth of a mile too long. Strava clocked my time for the 5k distance at 26:48. That’s more along the lines of what I expected to do, and only 35 seconds off my official 5k PR! I knew I was right about my fitness.
I see you, sub-2 half marathon!