I wanted a low-key 5K to kick off my summer race season and I got it with the Race for a Home 5K in Veteran's Park, which is one of my training grounds and just 15 minutes away from home. It turned out to be even more low-key than I expected. It was organized by a Baptist church and most of the participants were members who had never run before. I paid a steep $45 registration fee, which would be spent to support missionaries in Tanzania. That's a cause that I am happy to support.
It had been a great week of training but I did not feel well staring from the previous evening. I woke up feeling decent but I had some stiffness that I could not shake. I would not pop any pills and would not do anything different than during this good week of training. Registration was a smooth process and I got started on my warm up still feeling decent. I looked around and saw very few runners who looked even semi-serious. I spotted a teenager with a Mercedes half finisher shirt and asked him what kind of time he expected to run. He said that he hoped for a sub-20. I said "Cool. I'll be running with you then." In the end, we would be 2 of the only 3 finishers under 25 minutes. I decided that this would be a glorified tempo run. If I broke 20, great, if not so what. I thought about the possibility of winning overall. That would be great but that would probably depend on the level of competition, not my performance.
This is my training ground so I knew what to expect. It was a very scenic course around a lake and then through the woods. The negatives were that it was run almost entirely on a gravel path and the surface was a bit soft in spots. Consider the difference between a cinder track and an all weather surface and that's about what you've got. Also, the hills were placed almost all from the end of Mile 2 up until about 2.6 including a very steep but not long hill around 2.5. The race would not start until 8:15 and the temp was already over 75 with sun and moderate humidity. In short, it was not the best course or environment for a fast time.
The race was started by a former Miss Alabama who had a bit of trouble with the starting gun. We were finally off on the third try. I and the teenager took off and broke away from the pack. It would be a 2 man race to finish. I just stayed in 2nd place and tried to maintain a comfortable pace. I was under 1:30 for the first quarter mile and 3:08 for the half after a slight uphill. By this point, I knew that I didn't have PR stuff but how ugly would it get at the end? Again, this was a glorified tempo but I still wanted a decent time. I was content to stay in 2nd and stayed within about 5-10 yards of the leader for most of the first half. I hit the first mile in 6:17 and got through the first 1.55 around 9:53. With the hills coming up, I pretty much knew that I would be over 20 but still felt that I had a chance of winning. We turned into the woods and headed down a steep hill, too steep to simply let gravity take you. The leader appeared to be fading a bit but I was still content to follow for I knew what was ahead. Just before the 2 Mile mark, we hit our first significant hill and I was told to go ahead, which I did. I had won races in Gym class, had been a part of winning relay teams and had a couple of age group victories to my credit. I had never crossed the finish line first overall in any competitive race. The closest that I had come was in a dual meet my senior year of high school in which I led the first 3 laps of a Mile before getting beat early in last lap and hanging on for a close third. I passed the 2 Mile just over 13 so my pace was slowing. I had hoped to drop my pursuer but was unable to do so. He was hanging right with me. At this time, I made the decision to forget about the time and simply run for the win. My strategy would be to back off a hair now then try to drop him on the steep hill. If it came down to a final sprint, I am very difficult to beat in the last tenth of a mile. Finally, we got to the steep hill and I charged up it and opened up a gap of a few yards but it was not as much as I had hoped. The course went back down and with a half mile to go, I was still in the lead but didn't feel well at all. Okay, just hang on for a little more than a quarter mile and you've got it won. This is now the latest into any race that I have ever held the lead. Now, we were through the woods and back into the sun and I was dead. My legs were stiff and sore and my stomach was cramping. I got passed with about 600 to go and could not hang on. I knew that I didn't have a kick left so I had pretty much resigned myself to 2nd place and I would have to push just to finish under 21. With 200 to go, I was about 15 yards behind with nothing left but what was happening now? I was starting to gain some ground again. The leader was in obvious pain and as I trudged by, I saw him bent over and throwing up. The race was mine now. I had stomach cramps myself but it was the other end that was the concern so I just cruised to victory in a new personal worst time of 21:06.
I'm not sure how I feel about this one. I was clearly way off form but I can't be disappointed because I won. I got a nice gold medal out of it and supported a great cause. I began feeling worse a few hours after the race so I obviously need to adjust my formula... again. ARGH! There will be other chances for a 5K PR. Maybe next weekend depending on how I feel. So, what's it like to cross the finish line first in a race? To be honest, there's really nothing magical about it. This was one of my goals growing up and it's accomplished.