I had wanted to do a 10k race to see where I would end up these days, but had some trouble finding one in the immediate area. Still intent on doing a race, the girlfriend and I decided to do a 5k race that described itself as having a “course ideal for PRs”. With that in mind, she would focus on breaking 20 minutes and I just wanted to do better than my 18:50 from Les Foulées Joyeuses about a month and a half earlier.
This 5k is the first race in a Winter Series of four races, but will also be the only one I will take part in. The second race is the day before I leave the USA (and thus technically still on the table), the rest will be while I am back in Belgium making them rather impossible.
Different about this Winter Series is the fact that the race’s awards are based on age grading in an attempt to level the playing field. What I concluded from this is that I would possibly be able to place high in the regular time based ranking, but that I should not even consider managing top 10 in the age graded ranking.
Training and Strategy
Not much has changed compared to the 5ks I ran in October. Training still consists of base building which has now reached about 45km per week, spread out over four days. Tuesdays and Fridays are general aerobic. Thursdays are either a tempo run or general aerobic followed by strides. Sundays have a long run (for some definition of that word).
The weeks before the race had seen me have some trouble with my left leg, mostly the calf, so I had decided to throw in a recovery week with volume reduced to 80%. I decided to place this recovery week in the week of the race, figuring it could work as a sort of taper. This went somewhat OK, though the left leg still felt weird the day before the race as well as right after getting up in the morning of the race.
The goal for the race was to PR, so my strategy was built around that goal. The plan was to start out at about 3:45 per km (PR pace) and see what I had left in the tank near the end.
Mistake number one: Thinking I ever follow my race plans.
Furthermore, perusing the list of people that had signed up gave me hopes of finishing near the front of the pack. Two days before the race, the gf and I were the only people in their 20s. There was one guy aged 30, all the rest were young kids or people older than 35. Surely I could take these on. Not to mention the people that I looked up on Athlinks all seemed to have times I could definitely beat.
Mistake number two: Thinking I could keep even footing with older people just because I am younger.
Mistake number three: Thinking teenagers need not be worried about.
Mistake number four: Dismissing sign ups on the morning of the race.
Morning of the Race
Alarm set at seven, race was at nine. Had some cereal and about a litre of water till about 7:40. We drove over and arrived as planned at 8:30 for the bib pick up, a toilet break and a warm up. The warm up only ended up being about a kilometre with some strides due to time constraints. The strides had me worried as my legs did not feel right while doing them.
Mistake number five: Not enough time set aside, should have arrived earlier.
The race would be three loops around the grounds of the high school, each being just a tiny bit over one mile. One problem I saw during my warmup was the fact that the route would sometimes pass over a parking lot without taking the shortest route (a line) between entering the parking lot and exiting again. About two or three small cones were placed on the ground to indicate you should take a wider turn than the one you would take if you tried to efficiently go through it. I hoped they would at least have people in position to check nobody decided to cut off the extra ten(?) metre the bigger turn made you run.
The race director pretty randomly said “ready, go” without any time waiting for people to actually get ready. I was caught by surprise but imagine I was not alone. Off we went.
A guy in a blue shirt went to the front and I fell in behind him, immediately forgetting the worries the strides had given me. A little kid in grey sprinted a few metre out in front of us and was creating a gap, but I ignored him. No way he would keep that up the entire race anyway. After 250 metre I glanced at my watch which told me we were running just over 3:00 per km. That would never work and I had to let blue shirt go, he was just too fast. Blue shirt quickly caught up to the kid in grey, said something to him and then dropped him. I did not see him again till the finish line.
I reigned it in and tried finding a suitable pace, but had some trouble doing so. While I had definitely slowed down from the 3:00 per km, I was still running faster than I had planned in my race strategy. Slowing down also made a pack of five people catch up to me and settle in right behind me about 700 metre into the race. About 1.5km in, I realised my pacing was still a bit too fast and I tried readjusting, dropping off the front of the group. We crossed the line in 5:41 with one of the guys pointing out “Boy, we sure are going fast”. I could not agree more and around 2km, I had to let go of the back of the group. Kilometre splits at 3:26 and 3:43.
About 150 metre into the third kilometre, my pace had dropped slower than four minutes per km according to my watch. This on top of being dropped by the group just before had me slightly worried whether my entire race was falling apart. Even worse, someone else passed me and the kid in the grey shirt was still about 20 metre ahead of me.
In retrospect I probably should not have worried about it as much as I did right at that moment. The guy who passed me ended up overtaking the entire group that dropped me and finished second, he was the only one to run negative splits over the three laps out of all people in the top forty. The pace was low at the beginning of that km as there was a slight uphill. Finally, the kid seemed to, at times, take a rather liberal approach (see below) to the cone corners I mentioned before. I shouldered on, but the pace had definitely dropped. Kilometres three and four in 3:51 and 3:58. The second lap in 6:15.
In the last kilometre, I decided I should at least push out anything I had left in the tank and try to pass the kid in the process. I managed to slowly creep closer and would have caught him in the second to last corner. However, this was one of the artificial corners made by cones in a parking lot. He ignored the cones and instead ran in a straight line towards the exit of it. Not daring to make a similar manoeuvre, I took the correct turn and immediately the gap had widened considerably again. I find it a bit of a pity, but in the end do not care too much about it. I am mostly trying to beat myself in these races.
Turning into the final straight, the clock was nearing 18 minutes. I pushed out a final sprint, but as I crossed the line I knew I had just missed out on sub
- I expressed my disappointment with an emphatic “Fuck!” one step past the line. Struggled to the nearest place out of the way of others to drop myself on the ground and remained there till I regained my breath.
The official results confirm me missing out on sub 18, placing me at 18:01 and ninth to cross the line out of the 78 participants. The kid in grey managed 17:59, impressive with or without inventive corner taking. The people in the group that dropped me managed times between 17:06 and 17:41. The guy that overtook us all and managed to run negative splits ended up second in 16:58. Blue shirt, finally, was way ahead of the rest with 15:34.
Of course, as mentioned, the official ranking was to be done by age grading. This kicked me all the way down to the 26th spot with only 72.06%. Even the girlfriend, who solidly went under 20 minutes with 19:41, was only 20th with 75.02%. To make the top 10 I would have needed to beat 78.33%, which translates to beating 16:34. The age grade winner did it with 88.84% or 14:36 for me.