So amidst all this running angst, I did run in a 5k this past Sunday. I waited until I had the appointment with the doc to register for it however. I thought I just better play it safe as there have been a fair number of race fees paid which have not been used over the years.
My running group was doing the Iron Girl 5k/10k as a group run and I knew it was going to be fun since the 5k course goes right around the place I run most of my weekly runs by myself. There is something to be said for a race experience jazzing up the mundane. Friday night, I had gotten an email saying over 2000 people had signed up for this event!
I knew I should not race this but knowing myself I cannot be trusted to hold back the pace by myself in a race situation. I'd be good the first mile, but then I'd start to loosen up and speed up and pass lots of people and that would fuel the competitive juices. And I'd end the last half mile in an all out sprint. This is NOT what my just back to running legs need right now so what to do?
Fortunately, I was able to hook up with a gal who was aiming for a PR (personal record) pace for her which is about my very easy pace. JS was aiming for a 9:30 pace over the 3.1 miles. Perfect! the goal for me then was to keep this pace fairly even for all three miles. I told her not to look at the watch during the race as the pace was my responsibility and she agreed.
With 2000 people, I thought it would be a mess lining up for the start but this was a well organized event. They did have pace signs and we lined up towards the front of the 9:00s. The event started on time and we were off.
Right away, we were on the heels of SJ (who sped along to a great PR as well!) but I knew SJ was going to be fast for us so I deliberately slowed us down after a first quarter mile pace at sub-9. It's pretty typical to go out too fast but you almost have to be prepared for that to clear out the crowds a bit. We really didn't weave through the crowds either so that saved some energy. After a half mile, we were pretty well settled into a 9:20 pace and I was content. JS was able to respond to my chatting but she was working. First mile: 9:20 (this is auto lap from my garmin watch) A bit fast but not unexpected considering the crowded start.
Mile 2 is where 5k's are pretty challenging for me at least. It's easy to start realizing that this pace which felt doable in mile one is starting to feel hard and yet you still have another painful mile to go. The trick is to stay with it. JS did great. At times I could hear her footfalls become heavier so this is where I started reminding her about form checks. Keep your arms moving. Try changing up your stride a bit by picking your legs up a bit more or pushing off a bit more with your toes. Always keep the arms moving and keep the shoulders relaxed. Remember the core you've been working on? Here is where it's going to work for you. Mile 2: 9:28 - perfect.
The challenge as a pacer is to keep an even pace here. I'm warmed up after a mile and will tend to speed up with the crowds and energy and just feeling good. This is where I have to be careful as a pacer to stay focused pacing responsibilities.
Mile 3 is where I start questioning whether that fast start is going to hurt us. JS started breathing much harder in here and it was very obvious how hard she was working. Her footstrike became much heavier and her arm swing lessoned. She stayed right with it as I continued the form check reminders as well as trying to give her a heads up as to what this course was going to do. It's really easy to talk too much because the natural human response to chatting is to respond verbally. When you are racing a 5k, it's hard to respond! Your breathe is needed elsewhere so I sushed her to remind her that there was no need to respond.
As we came close to mile 3, I prepped her for a faster finish. We'd been right on target for 9:30 but I knew she'd be able to sprint it out at the end. I should've looked at the course map a little better however as I wasn't expecting the little out and back and hairpin turn we did. JS had a mean ol' sprint however and I was worried I'd be able to keep up with her! the last little finish over grass was pretty difficult and she was feeling it but it didn't matter because then we were done! Mile 3: 9:11
Time: 28:55 for a 9:18 pace! Woohoo! That's a PR for JS and a very satisfying run for yours truly.
It has been quite a while since I last paced someone in a race (RPD first sub-8 5k in Dec 2006 as a matter of fact) and that is really too bad. I really find it takes discipline and confidence to pace someone successfully and I enjoy the challenge. I find it harder than going out and racing for yourself. It is more stressful setting the pace and knowing that if you are stupid, someone else will pay greatly for your mistake and it'll be your fault. The happy grin with a PR is a fantastic reward.
The other reward? After we finished, we waited at the finish line to cheer fellow running group members to their finish in particular but everybody in general. I was reminded how far I have come since I did my first 5k so many years ago. It was inspring yet again to see the huge range of people working so hard for their 3.1 miles of glory. It really did help put into perspective my running woes of late. I'm frustrated right now with how things are going but it doesn't make me any less of a runner.