Last year, when I set an arbitrary goal to train run a sub-19 minute 5 km race, I wondered about beating my old personal record of 18:26 that I set on 15 October 2000. That record wasn't a huge weight on my shoulders, but I hate to see past me being more capable than current me.
I have a habit when I race at 5 km. I like to start near the back, let the other runners go crazy for the first one or two kilometers, then reel them in. The good runners are still good runners. They start fast and finish fast. But the masses start fast and finish in a haze of regret. I like the psychological boost of passing them. It's the best.
In today's Good Times Series Run, I started near the front line. Completely different. I avoided the clogging that occurs at the beginning. I started faster than usual, but it was not outside of my capabilities. Starting slow so I could pass was always an excuse -- fear of burning out and slowing down like the rest of the crowd.
This time, at the 2.15 km mark, I was sitting in tenth place instead of my usual twentieth. I clicked my watch to get my split at this point. This is the high elevation mark of the race, followed by a slight downhill for 300 meters, then a slight uphill to the Oullette Bridge -- slight only to the unfatigued mind.
The inflection between the downhill and uphill is where the crowd pulls up. It's the third quarter of the race. It's time for the questions ("Why am I doing this?") and the self-diagnostics ("I think I'm more out of breath than usual.") and the self-destruction ("I can't do this.")
This is my favorite part of the race.
Here I slipped from no man's land to the group runners ahead of me. (Later one of these guys referred to me at the bar as, "That guy that always passes me at the two mile mark.")
After the Oullette Bridge, it was me and two other guys making the 270-degree turn onto the riverwalk. This section of the course is a 1 km "straightaway" -- it's mostly straight, but it has some some curves and kinks in the sidewalk that keep it from being an all out bombing run to the finish. You have to slow down for the kinks unless you want to eat the guard rails. On one hand, this messes with your brain because you can't see the finish line until the last 200 meters. On the other hand, if you know the course, you can slice the last 1 km into sections with their own personalities. If you get to know the personalities the course becomes your friend and you have an advantage.
The start of the riverwalk at Lawrence Mills is constricted, so it's difficult to pass. That's fine. When the sidewalk expanded, I dropped the guillotine on the trailing runner. I burst past him, tried to make him doubt himself that he would fall off the pace, tried to cut the race down to me and the other runner. I was doubting myself, so I needed that burst, too. On that straightaway the mind has a convincing way of asking the body to take it easy, enjoy the finish, don't exert too much, etc. You have to tie yourself to the mast and ignore it.
The remaining runner didn't give up any ground. Damn. We passed the remaining kinks in the riverwalk. 300 meters to go. And something rare happened, the moment you wait for in sports, where your mind and body gracefully, quietly do their jobs. No more translating information from lungs and legs to see what they could handle. No more convincing the conscious brain to go, go go, ignore everything, and go. Like floating. There is exertion and pain, but it is somewhere else, far away.
After the race, the guy I chased said he could hear me breathing behind me, and that he didn't know if I was going to get him. I didn't know either. I dropped it into low gear and passed him on the right. I didn't think I was going to fend him off for the whole 300 meters. Then the finish line clock came into view, and it was still showing 17:xx. It's deceptive. You're still 20 or 30 seconds away from it. You have to avoid letting up, feeling satisfied with the time you see but haven't accomplished yet.
No matter. 18:19.8, 7th overall. That's no incredible time, but I'll take it.
I'd like to be done with these 5 km races, but I know that time is the frontier. Pushing to and past the frontier is uncomfortable, to say the least. Maybe one more time to beat 18 minutes...