You can't go back. Once upon a time I was a young 16 year old, running 50 seconds for the quarter, 4:20 for the mile and doing so without much training. Now, I am none of these things. At 31 I have learned to train consistently, love the long run and stay away from speed most days in favor or aerobic stimulation. When I do run speed sessions I get in tempo or 10k efforts that match the marathon and above races I mainly aim towards as goal events.
So, when a 5k does pry its way into my racing schedule I often look forward to it, the way I did the all out mile at the end of an XC season. I know that it'll be fun, relatively fast and over before I get going. These types of races feel like vacations from the patience required in a long term training program.
The course started off on a downhill slope. With my toe on the line next to a sizable group of high school runners, the starter did his thing and we were off and running. We were going to settle the age old battle of experience versus youth, strength versus speed. In half of a mile we were 4... and I was wondering just how fast these kids could run. I was already breathing a little bit and the course was flying by. What a great feeling though, just moving in such a relaxed state with a group. We reached mile 1 in 5:13 and I was just off the back of the pack.
Over the next 800 meters we stretched a little further apart. The front two were asserting themselves and leading handily, racing each other and not thinking too much about anyone else. 3rd place was just in front of me. My focus was on staying tall and relaxed. Keeping that power in the hips and the arms low was my main concern. I wanted to be light and quick... running fast and easy. The course was now climbing some and within a quarter of a mile the heels of runner #3 were getting closer to my toes. I regained composure and threw in a small surge for 2 minutes as the hill continued. I was in 3rd and confident that I had that at least. I was feeling good, but still about 200m back of the leaders.
We kept on climbing for most of mile two. Half way up the ascent I had begun to notice that every 15 seconds or so I was gaining discernible distance on the top two. I was feeling really good on this climb and all of the strength work I've been doing was giving me the confidence to keep after it. Running fast and free I kept seeing the lead shrink. We reached mile 2... 11:05; a little slow for me, but those kids were even slower and I was now within 100m. It looked like they had a separation too. The front runner was hurting a little bit from the climb as it crested, but still able to move on ahead. I focused on the slumped shoulders and cocked head of number 2... he was coming back.
Downhill finished seem nice before a race. But when you are tired, trying to run down a young runner with leg speed on the descent is a challenge. I just let the center of mass fall and did my best to float and glide. 800m to go and now second place was only steps away. he'd come all the way back and number one and just 15 seconds ahead. Maybe a little too far but I was still feeling alright. The sting was there for sure... it always is in any good anaerobic effort. What was missing was that dull ache of the marathon, the despair of wanting nothing other than to finally stop running. This was different, this was attack mode!
We made the final turn and the finish line banner was hung out there about 200m ahead. I opened up and drove for the line passing into second place. Driving and flying across the pavement I cracked the line in second place... 17:05. Not under my goal time of 16:59, but substantially faster than I have run in about 18 months... and 6 days after my unaided marathon distance run.
Here are the particulars from the perspective of the computer gadget on my wrist.
mile one 5:13 4th place
mile two 5:55 climbing 3rd place
mile 3.1 5:53 2nd place
This was a very strong run with lots of work done on the hill. My leg speed early was insufficient against these three high school 5k runners. After being dropped for about 8 minutes I made up almost everything in the second half of the run. I took home a plaque and a little speed deposit into the fitness bank which is always welcome!