A few months ago, I saw a sign next to one of the paths I run on that was advertizing the upcoming Prodigy 5K. I decided to check it out and realized that this race was taking place only about a mile or so from our house...and there was prize money involved: $1000 for 1st place male and female, $500 for 2nd, $250 for 3rd. I thought to myself, "huh, it's close, it's likely to be a small race, maybe I have a shot? Who knows right?" Well, as it turns out I was right, it was a small race...but I had no shot.
I haven't run many races yet in my short recreational running career. We've done some charity 5Ks and I've done one club-sponsored 10K. In most local races you get a small handful of really fast runners and a bigger group of pretty fast runners. Typical 5K winners will run anything from 16:30 to 17:30 and there are usually 10-20 total runners under 20:00. This was not a typical 5K. Before the race starts I'm sizing up the competition (we all do it) and I'm seeing A LOT of club shirts...Dick Pond's Fast Track Team, Fleet Feet Chicago, etc which tells me this is going to be a fast race. In overhearing conversations, my suspicions were confirmed as I heard a couple of guys talking about running "sub-5" which I gathered was a discussion on pace.
The other surprising thing was how few people showed up for the race...it was a nearly perfect morning, mid-40s, sunny, a slight breeze but nothing major...and yet less than 100 people showed up. Even the course was something I figured would appeal to people, a nice and flat course run mostly on crushed-gravel...I mean, it doesn't get more ideal than that in my opinion. I had seen advertisements for months for this race, the weather was nice and I figured there would be the typical 500-700 people there. Knowing what I know now, I guess I'm less surprised that there wasn't a great turnout.
The gun went off and before I was 1/4 of a mile into my race, I felt like most of the pack was pulling away from me. I was doing my best to keep my pace reasonable but in feeling like I was falling back, I kept pushing.
It wasn't until mile marker 1 when I realized what kind of field this was. I passed mile 1 at 5:50, the fastest mile I've ever run in a 5K and the fastest mile I've run (period) since 9th grade. As far as I could tell, there were about 40 people ahead of me. As soon as I crossed mile marker 1, I started giving myself the pep talks. My goal coming into the race was to run it under 20:00 and I knew that if I could just hold a pace that was even 20 or 30 seconds slower than my 1st mile through the rest of the race, I would have it. Through the 2nd mile I managed to pass a few people who, like me, had gotten caught up in the fast start. I passed mile marker 2 at 12:10 and actually felt relieved that my second mile had been about 30 seconds slower than the first mile. To me, mile 2 to mile 3 is always the most brutal stretch of a 5K - you're tired and yet the finish line is just far enough away where it doesn't seem close. I'm sure I'm not alone in feeling this way.
At about mile 2.5, a girl stopped about 10 paces in front of me and lost her cookies. That was fun. It was actually kind of inspiring because it was about that time where I decided that no matter what it took out of me, I was going to push myself to the end. The final 1/3rd of a mile stretch was a straight shot to the finishing chute which, as I got closer, allowed me to see the clock. As soon as it came into focus, I saw a time in the 18s and I knew I had it.
19:14 was my official time - though it was a race that used the tags that they rip off your bib # and I'm pretty sure the clock read 19:12.
I think I let out some sort of blue-streak after I crossed the finish line and had walked away from the crowd a bit. It was kind of a blur, but I'm pretty sure I said some words that I wouldn't say around children. I was so pumped. After working for the last 6 months, I can finally say that I ran a 5K in under 20 minutes. It felt so good to achieve that time and it was a validation of all that work I had put in, the hard runs during the summer, the long runs, all the miles, it was all worth it in that moment.
I placed 39th out of 91 total runners. The overall results can be found here. The top 10 finishers all ran the race in under 16:00 - the entire top 20 was all under 17:00. 46 out of 91 (50.5%) ran the race in under 20:00. The winner, Kris Gauson, was a track star at Butler University and is attempting to qualify for the Olympics in London next summer. The 2nd place guy, Chad Ware, won the Marine Corps Marathon on Oct. 30th (2:19:16, 16 seconds short of qualifying for the Olympic trials). 4th place was Jeff Jonaitis who qualified for the Olympic Trials during the Chicago Marathon in 2009. The top 10 is littered with great runners and former All-Americans.
This is my note to self: if the prize is $1,000, or anywhere near it, for a 5K...the race is going to be very, very fast. Don't get me wrong here, it was fun to run with such great runners, but it was also sobering to realize that the winner finished almost 5 minutes before I did. Overall I'm grateful for the experience and I am excited to be at a point where I need to set a new 5K goal. Now I think the 2011 running season is pretty much over. I will continue to run for another couple of weeks and then take a 2-week break in December to re-charge. Next year's schedule will be more complete and there has even been whisperings of running in the New York Half-Marathon with Leslie, my friend Stephen and his wife Emily and a possible appearance at the Chicago Marathon next October. Stay tuned.
I would be remiss if I didn't also mention that my wife, Leslie, beat her previous PR in this race by almost 2 minutes - running it in 27:20. I'm so proud of her and how far she has come in such a short time. I see her running in the 24s before the end of next year.