In April 2010 I ran a somewhat surprising 17:10 at the Zippy 5K. I wasn’t really training hard for the race and my recent 5K’s had been in the 17:20-17:40 range. I made it a goal to run sub-17 at the 2011 Zippy race, when I would be forty years old. It was a pretty ambitious goal since the only other time in my life I ran sub-17 was in 2000 when I ran my PR of 16:35 – I was twenty-nine years old. I will always remember that race because it was the Jamba Juice Banana Man 5K and they gave free Jamba Juice for a year to the top twenty-five finishers. Me and my 16:35 came in twenty-sixth.
The sub-17 goal seemed like a reasonable one to make at the time. It was a whole year until I would need to back it up. I raced well during the fall so I stayed optimistic that I could break 17 minutes. Last December I crossed over into the world of masters runners. My first three races of 2011 were all solid. But they were all just a little slower than I had run them in 2010. Did being forty add ten seconds to my time by default? I needed to drop ten seconds, not add ten seconds.
After running an 18:00 5K at the Lake Merritt Joggers & Striders Couples Relay eight weeks ago I realized it was time to actually do some training for my sub-17 goal. My savior was the Tuesday night “Spot Run” attended by many of the Pamakid Runners. For most of the runners at the Spot Run, Tuesday is a tempo run-type workout that supplements their weekend long run and their Thursday night speed workout on the track. Due to my high school track & field coaching responsibilities the Spot Run was my tempo run, my long run, and sometimes my speed workout all rolled into one hour between 6:30 P.M. and 7:30 P.M. on Tuesday. Thanks to the camaraderie of the Spot Run group I ran three mile tempos, two mile repeats, fartleks, and other workouts that improved my fitness and confidence.
I supplemented my training by going to the weight room with my track & field team once a week. I jumped on the track and ran 200’s with the kids a couple of times, and I even went out and ran 4 X 1200 meters on the track alone once. I ran a tough 3 X 1 mile workout on the Zippy course two weeks ago to prepare my legs to run 5:30’s per mile. Just as importantly I followed some of my own coaching advice – I started talking about my goal. Talking about it to my Pamakid teammates and posting about it on Facebook made me accountable for the goal.
The weekend of the race I was in the zone. I drank lots of water all day Friday and Saturday. I ran a pre-meet workout with striders on Saturday. I had pasta for dinner. I laid out my race shoes and uniform the night before. I did lots of stretching and went to bed early.
Race morning I made sure I left myself lots of time to eat before the race and to do a long warm-up. The fact that it started to rain during the warm-up didn’t bother me in the least. I kept doing what I needed to do to be ready to race.
Last year when I ran 17:10 I ran 5:37 and 5:36 for the first two miles, then surged a 5:54 for the last 1.1 miles (approximately 5:23 for the third mile and :31 for the last 0.1). My plan this year was to run an aggressive first mile and then try to be at 11:10 or faster at the two mile mark. I decided earlier this week that if I was faster than 5:28 for the first mile I would focus on just holding my position and pace during the second mile around Stow Lake. If it was slower than 5:35 I would focus on picking it up around Stow Lake. If my split was between 5:28 and 5:35, I was going to make an in the moment decision. I hit the first mile in 5:25 so I settled in and tried to keep the same place around Stow Lake. I actually slowed down a bit, but I hit the two mile mark at 11:05 so I was where I wanted to be. But now I needed to run a fast last mile like I did last year. “Run like a bat out of hell” is what I said I would do on Facebook. I wasn’t sure if I was doing it. I wasn’t moving up and passing people like I did last year. With three quarters of a mile to go, I thought about Desiree Davila and her race at last week’s Boston Marathon. “Do it like Desi did,” I said to myself. With a half mile to go Mark Hermano yelled, “This is your mile!” All this was helping me stay on pace for a sub-17.
I looked at my watch at one point and it said 15:27. I had just over ninety seconds to get in. I looked up and could see the finish line… to my oxygen deprived brain it looked about ninety seconds away. It was going to be close. I needed to speed up or I might just miss. I thought of a quote I once read in Runner’s World, “It will be over with soon, and once it’s over, you’ll own it forever.” I wanted to own a sub-17.
Inspired by some of my SHC runners like Michael Fuerte surging on the third lap of the mile to run a nine second PR in the mile, Juliana Flynn running a 2:42 800 at the end of a tough interval workout, and Carlos Flores who split 5:07 and 5:21 on his way to a 10:28 3200 meters, I started kicking for the finish line. I passed a couple runners in the final stretch and crossed the finish line.
The clock read 16:57!