Perhaps I'm onto something. Take a month off from seven days-a-week training, set little in terms of expectations and go out relaxed. Earlier this year, I "swung for the fences" in my Slacker Half Marathon with a not-so-secret goal of qualifying for the New York City Marathon. I finished with a 1:29:18. Eighteen seconds short. Eighteen lousy seconds. Nevertheless, arguably the best race of the year for me. My Turkey Day 5K was the sequel; "Ten Seconds."
As I mentioned above, my last marathon was on October 20th at the Columbus Marathon. Not making excuses, but I was "just plain tired" that day and my coach and I both decided I needed a bit of a break. I went three weeks with hardly any running and started turning up the training a bit in week four. Looking at the race calendar, I wanted to race on Thanksgiving Day and perhaps one more short race to wrap up the year since I'd be starting my Boston Marathon training (as I typically do) in mid-December.
Feeling rested after the layoff, I was not on a formal training plan yet, but threw in two days a week with a bit of speed work with the Highlands Ranch Turkey Day (HRTD) 5K as my target race. In the back of my mind, I was thinking aside from my major marathons this year, I was pitching a perfect game this year (my second baseball analogy in one post...hmmm.)
Perfect season in the sense that, I'd hit the podium in every race this year (minus the marathons.) HRTD is known to bring out large crowds with families intent on getting a little exercise in before the holiday gluttony ensues. This meant over 2000 runners with plenty of misplaced dads and moms with young kids near the start line. Don't get me wrong, I love seeing little kids, dogs and strollers in a family-oriented race, but I just don't want a trampling incident near the start as it's also loaded with plenty of high school cross country runners running sub six.
Aside from the high-schoolers, Highlands Ranch is home to a lot of fast runners. I "stepped up" the couple of tune-up tempo runs in the prior two weeks with this in mind. I wanted to grab another age group award.
The morning of the race brought perfect weather. Cool temps "messed with my head." Long sleeve or short sleeve...or singlet with arm sleeves? Shorts or race tights? I went long sleeve and shorts, but wished I had a short sleeve as the temps warmed up near the race start. The HRTD "hubs" out of Shea Stadium which is a short car ride from my home. Only race faux pas, was that the stadium was locked and there was a mere five or six porto-potties for 2000 runners and fans--do the math. After a short warm-up run, I threw in a few run drills and strides to get my heart rate up. I also went for a "nature walk" as the line to the green phone booths were uber long. A "bonus" for this race was running (no pun intended) into one of my long-time blogger friends in town for the holidays, Redhead Running. Great to meet her and her husband Spike.
I had pinged my run coach a few days before the race and asked about race strategy. She suggested the above warm-up and drills, but she told me to race for fun and not worry about my time. As much as she knows me, she doesn't know me. Not worry about time? I was intent on having fun, but I didn't want my last race of the year to be a blemish on an otherwise great year.
Highlands Ranch is anything but flat. As the race took off, I settled in behind the high school kids and did my best not to be a Garmin watcher. The first portion of the race was downhill before winding through a neighborhood area with a bit of a climb. We turned up a major parkway and I hit the halfway point and only water stop. I pulled a Chevy Chase and the small cup of water hit everything but my mouth, or just enough to moisten my mouth for the second half. The rest of the 5K was again a bit "up and down," and ended with an uphill climb. I did my best to "eyeball" who I thought might be in my age group prior to the race and passed one last guy who I thought might be in my age group in the last 3/4 mile.
I didn't exactly relax at that point, but continued my "steady effort." Once I crossed the finish line, I had the typical urge to hurl. The cold air that felt great in the race felt "chunky" as I tried to cough it out. After cheering on a few runners coming in, I went looking for my brother-in-law Marc and printed off my results. I came in second in my age group with a 20:09...a mere ten seconds behind first and ten seconds away from "breaking" twenty minutes for the first time in a 5K. A new 5K PR.
My half mile pace splits: 5:55, 6:39, 6:42, 6:42, 6:19, 6:21, and 5:59 on home stretch. #theoldguyhaswheels
I finished the morning with a giant smile, a couple of cold beers, chatting with some local run friends, and grabbing my second place hardware. Yes, this 5K was no turkey.