Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Race Report: Get Lucky 5K

It's patently absurd to me to think that I once ran a 20:44 5K. It was early in May 2012, at a tiny charity race in Menlo Park, while I was training my ass off to deargodpleasefinally *FINALLY* officially break 1:40 in a legit half marathon. My 5K goal at the time was sub-21:30, and I thought maybe, if I had a really good race, I might be able to do it. Do not ask me how I ran a 20:44. I don't know. I'm pretty sure I almost died afterward.

Obviously, I wasn't shooting for anything in even the same realm as that last Saturday. I've been in physical therapy for 10.5 months. I spent January dealing with a stress fracture. I've run less than 50 miles in all of 2014, mostly in three to four minute intervals. I haven't done speed work (on my feet) since December 17.

My only goals were as follows:

  • Have some fun & celebrate being discharged from physical therapy / allowed to run without walk breaks
  • Practice good form
  • Pay attention to pain
  • Don't run through it

Which (spoiler), I'd say was all fairly well accomplished.

This race was a bit odd in that it started at 11 a.m., but since it was more of a St. Patrick's Day community event/fun run, it made sense. It also meant that I could justify an hour drive up from the city by getting Don to come with me & then spending the rest of the day wine tasting in & around Santa Rosa, since we didn't have to leave until ~9:30. (Come to think of it....Why don't more races do this???)

Festive runners stretching before the race

Ah, right. I know why. There may be a polar vortex terrorizing the rest of the country, but this weekend in wine country the highs were in the 80s. It was at least 75F by the time the gun went off.

Even though I knew this would be a small race with a fairly chill field, I had no illusions that I would be running it all-out or attempting to place. Since I have been given very strict instructions not to run more than 20-22 minutes at a time, I didn't even warm up, unless you count a bit of light jogging between packet pickup & the port-a-potties. I figured I would use the first mile as a warm up & then spend the last two just having fun, letting myself run as fast as I felt comfortable with while keeping up my form.

Well. Let's just say that I seriously, *seriously* underestimated the amount of conscious control I have over what my mind and body do when I pin a bib to my chest & then a gun goes off.

Since this was very much a family-friendly, community-oriented event, it didn't surprise me all that much when I saw moms lining up at the very front of the pack with small children and/or strollers. Ordinarily that would bug me, but the field was small enough that it was pretty easy to get around those folks in the first twenty yards or so. I wore my Garmin, but only really for recording splits, since my only plan was to run at whatever pace felt fun and happy. (Even without "RACING"-racing, I figured knowing what numbers that level of effort matched up to would give me some kind of baseline information about my fitness.)


I settled into a "WEEEEEEE RUNNING IS FUUUUUUN" type of groove pretty quickly, and after a few minutes glanced at my watch out of sheer curiosity, and saw that my pace at the moment was a cool 6:45. Oy, I found myself thinking, there is no way that is going to last. Sure enough, I pretty quickly needed to ease back, and mile 1 ticked off in 7:02.

Into the second mile, my super-cute knee socks and I began to appreciate the full sun & 75F+ temps. I got thirsty enough in that second mile that I grabbed a cup of water when I went by the station (which I almost never do in a 5K), and then very quickly after found myself remembering what it's like to race this distance, mainly the part where you can't remember why at some point you thought it sounded like a good idea.

It's cool, I told my (other) self. We're not really racing today. No need to kill yourself. Ease up all you want. Just stay comfortable.

But--and here is where it gets weird--I realized I just couldn't do it. Even knowing I was out of shape, barely not injured, and really just doing this for fun, I could not back off from at least a moderately painful pace in the middle of a 5K. It just was not going to happen. Mile 2 = 7:14.

Here is when I subject you to one of my completely unscientific theories of running & racing. I have the sense that there exists some part of my brain that, over many years of practice & trial & error, has developed a sense of what level of effort is appropriate & sustainable for racing a given distance. The actual pace varies with my fitness/training, but there does seem to be a level of effort that my body has learned to dial into pretty much automatically. Towards the end of a race, I can override it for a sprint to the finish, but otherwise, that's pretty much the pace I'll maintain barring any major catastrophes.

So going into mile 3, I think that's kind of what my body was doing. I may not be in great shape right now, but apparently the autopilot is not the type of thing that gets rusty. The down side of this was that comfort-wise, the rest of the race really, REALLY sucked, and it would have been nice if the autopilot could have toned it down for maybe half a second at some point. At one point I was like, "Dude. Seriously, chill."


"Come on, slow down a little. Just a little maybe."


"You really don't have to do this today."


Sweaty post-race victory shot, strategically staged in front of a St. Paddy's Victory Fern. Obviously.
So that was that. I definitely didn't step on the accelerator, but half a mile from the finish I decided it would probably be easier to just go with the momentum, even though I knew it was going to suck, than to wrestle the wheel away from the autopilot & slow down. I missed my mile 3 split (it was 7:13) so really had only the vaguest idea what kind of time I was in for. When I came around the last turn & saw 21:55 on the clock, I was kind of surprised and actually did muster a little bit of an extra sprint to the finish. Initially my time was listed as 22:09, but later when the official results came out with chip times, it was revised down to 22:06. I had pretty much gone into this race assuming it would be my slowest 5K race ever, and it was, but only by six seconds, which was kind of neat considering the hot weather, lack of warm-up, and knowing I could have run the last mile harder if I'd cared to.

Garmin: ??? (When you're out of practice racing, it turns out you might forget to stop your watch at the finish. By the time I looked at it, it read 34:something. Oops. :/ )

Official: 3.1 miles / 22:06 / 7:08 pace (which, if my Garmin is to be believed, means that I ran the last .1 in 37 seconds, ie 6:10 pace.)

Overall: 6/224
Women: 3/160
A/G: 3/69

Basically, I ran this race more or less at my 10K PR pace. Which...is sort of amazing to contemplate. The whole experience put me in mind of something I read recently from Lauren Fleshman (if you haven't noticed, my new pro runner crush):

    "The performance itself was semi-solid, like Jell-O, and equally satisfying....To be honest, I was never going to be competitive in the race. I hadn't done the work yet. But I knew I'd have to race again eventually, and I'd rather rip off the Band-Aid than slowly peel it back. Every runner who beat me would give me motivation."

So yeah. I had a great time and am very happy I decided to run this race, but consider me motivated. :)

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*LOGISTICAL STUFF~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Location: Rohnert Park, CA

Date: Mid March (March 15, 2014 this year)

Price: I know there was some discounted pricing on this race early-on, but I don't remember the exact numbers. It was something like $35 for the first 100 registrants, $40 until xx date, $50 after xx date. I also think that it was less for the under 16s, like maybe $25. (I know, super unhelpful. You get the gist, though.) More than I would typically pay for a 5K, but it is a charity gig, and it's hard to complain too much about money that provides weekend nutrition to grade school kids.

Deadlines/sellout factor: All the emails & Facebook posts I saw claimed that the race would absolutely, definitely sell out, but as of the night before the race, there were still spots available, and they did end up having some race day registration. It was an inaugural event, so who knows what will happen in the future.

Field Size: 224 finishers listed.

Staging: The race was held in a little shopping / event area in Rohnert Park, with the course making two big loops around it. The start/finish was near a grassy area with picnic tables & chairs, so there were plenty of space for people to hang out before & after the race. Packet pickup was inside the community event space (walked in less than half an hour before the start, and literally had to wait about ninety seconds to get my stuff); there was also a bar area inside where the post-race beers were served, with plenty of tables & chairs for relaxing. (Also, it turned out that there were real bathrooms open in the event space, which I did not know until I'd already visited the port-a-potties. No wonder there were no lines.)

The Course:

The course was two big loops around the shopping area marked off with cones. The first loop required a couple of dog-legs into the parking lots, & the second was just a straight shot all the way around. There was one little spot with a short but not insignificant up-hill, but the rest was basically flat. There was one aid station with water & Gatorade, giving the runners two chances over the course of the race. I was worried it might be tricky to tell which way to go on the two different loops, but the volunteers did a great job of directing everyone appropriately.

For my purposes & expectations, the course set-up was just fine. If I were looking for an absolutely perfect course on which to PR, I probably would not pick this one. First, the dog-legs are not ideal, and because it's more of a community fun run, the second loop did get a bit dicey with the faster runners having to negotiate clusters of dogs/strollers/kids/walkers/etc. (When I got to the aid station on my second loop, there were like 40 people basically standing all the way across the path.) But again, I really was just there to have fun, so this didn't bother me much.


The website said that there would be lots of free parking, but that donations for the charity were encouraged. However when we parked, we didn't see anyone soliciting donations, so I'm not sure what the deal was with that.


A cute hoodie & beer mug (filled with beer) for all (adult) finishers. (There were green smoothies for the under 21s.) The hoodie is more T-shirt weight than sweatshirt, but for a $50 charity race, that's pretty much what I expected. It'll be great for throwing on & lounging around post-workout.

Look, schwag! Also, our succulent collection.

Gift certificates for a local running store were awarded to male & female first place finishers in each age group (with the age groups being under 16, 16-39, & 40+).

Overall Assessment:

By & large, this race was exactly what I expected. Again more than I would normally pay for a 5K, but I really wanted to run a 5K on this date, it looked like a lot of fun, the swag was nice, and because it's put on by the Santa Rosa Marathon, I figured I could trust it to be well-run & -organized, which it was. I'd recommend it to people who were thinking of running it as long as they understood that it's a community fun run, not a srsbzns competitive road race, and didn't mind the price tag. (Also, hey, it's a charity thing, and I've spent precious little on race fees lately, so no big deal for me this time.)


  1. Congrats! So interesting to hear (read) about your inner runner effort monster. I definitely have the opposite issue as a runner -- an inner chill monster I consistently battle, even in races.

  2. Congratulations...you're just a racing machine, I'm always in awe. That must have been a nice little boost after a difficult couple of months running! Or not running, you know what I mean!

    Now...did you actually run with your hair down? You know my thoughts on this...

  3. HAH!! I DO know you're feelings and the confusion is understandable, but *definitely* definitely not. I have way too much hair for that! I put it in a bun & then wore my cap, which was a good thing because apparently I didn't do the bun tight enough because my hair came down in the last half mile or so, & the only thing that kept it out of the way was the fact that it was sticking through the hole in the back of my hat. Then my hat fell off right at the finish (and I barely caught it), which is why my hair is down in the second picture. :)

    1. In that case, I can wholeheartedly celebrate your success


  4. Nice 5k! I'm jealous of the weather, the pace and maybe the even the knee socks a little bit but only because they would make my pregnant legs look like sausage casings. I can't wait to race again. Glad the PT and recovery are going well for you!

  5. Congrats! Amazing race and only 6 seconds off your personal worst (which is 22:00??!! wow!). Your intuitive race pacing is awesome. It must come from years of experience? I'm still waiting for that kind of intuition to seep into my subconcious. ;)

    I was wondering the same thing as Cathryn re: hair. Haha.

    1. I think it must be. I think if you race a particular distance several times in a short period of time, you start to get a good feel for it. But I haven't run a 5K in nearly two years so this was surprising!

  6. Congratulations. That's an awesome time coming back from injury. Especially as you weren't expecting that it would be.

  7. a 7:08 5K after being in physical therapy off and on forever?!? Lol. I have no idea what to think. I hope you have no lingering pain from this - your report sort of sounds like something that I would have done (do a race not feeling 100% and race it all out anyways lol).

    Not sure if you follow Gracie - she also seems to have on and off injuries, but she puts up amazingly fast race times despite seemingly being in pain it seems like. Your stories both sound eerily similar to me.

    1. No lingering pain -- my legs actually felt pretty good the whole time! (Just, y'know, tired.) PT assures me that everything is totally healed; just need to be careful with time on my feet right now & increase gradually. Hence, 5K. :)

      I love Gracie! But yes, I hate that she's been injured so much, and I'm amazed at how fast she is in spite of it. The injury fairies can bite me.

  8. Congratulations! (My phone seems to have eaten my earlier comment.) That's a great time for your comeback. I love small community races, actually, and that is a lot of very nice swag for a small community charity race!