Saturday, May 24, 2008

ARR Summer 5K Series No 1 - Race Report

57F in Phoenix at the end of May is unheard of. But this morning, everyone in the Valley of the Sun awoke to cool / humid morning; 57F at my house. This time of the year, it's usually bone dry with relative humidity in the single digits and not a cloud in sight; but I'll take the cool moist air any day of the week. In fact, the gods must have been smiling, because this was also the morning of my first race since December, 2007. It's been way too long I know; however, with all the injuries, on-again/off-again training and constant traveling, I just haven't felt like racing.

My club hosts a series of 5K races around Phoenix during the summer and this morning's race was the first in the series. The race was held at Papago Park adjacent to the Phoenix Zoo; a simple out and back course run primarily along one of the many canals crisscrossing Phoenix. Of course, since the course runs along a canal, it's nearly pancake flat. So between the perfect (if not freakish) weather and an ultra-flat course, I didn't have any excuses to sit this one out. The race is also age/gender handicapped. With age/gender groups leaving en mass every 10 seconds or so. May time to leave the start line was 11:56 after gun-time. Theoretically, you get to leave with a group of people that match up your ability; however, by the rate most folks ran away from me from the start, I'm not too sure how accurate the handicaps were.

Overall, I did much better than expected. The last time I ran this course in 2005 I ran my slowest 5K on record: 25:30; well off my PR of 21:36. As slow as that race back in '05 was, my expectations for this race were actually far worse. I hadn't run 3 miles without walking in over a month and only ran 30 minutes non-stop for the first time in I don't remember how long this past Thursday ... a 30+ min 5K looked inevitable.

I drove down to Papago Park with my top up to keep the inside of my car somewhat dry (my Mustang just hates the rain) and got to the event a full hour before gun-time; that left me with plenty of time to fret about race and my pending failure. But something strange happened as I jogged around Papago Park warming up - I actually started feeling good; not great; but the sense of dread lifted. The rain stopped by the time I got to the park and the sun even struggled to come out; although it really never did.

I chatted with friends after the gun went off and finally pushed my way through the crowd milling about in the starting chute to the start line with 11:30 showing on the clock and took off immediately. Boy, it would have been all too easy to get carried away at the beginning of this race and blow up early. I started getting passed immediately within the first tenth mile, but was determined to run my own race and keep a “comfortably hard” pace. Fast enough such that I was very much aware that my heart was pounding, but not too hard to leave my lungs gasping for air. Although I was catching up with runners who left the line earlier, there continued to be a steady stream (torrent?) of very fit people running by me over the first mile. I just kept my eyes on the horizon, putting one foot in front of the other. I figured I was running somewhere around 9:00/mi and was genuinely surprised when I past the 1 mile marker at 7:33. I hadn’t run much better that 10/mi in the past 2 months.

I was still feeling pretty good, not great mind you, but the basic body part were working OK and the number of people passing me had slowed to a trickle. As my confidence increased, I started breaking up the rest of the race into little pieces. I think most of us use this technique on 30Ks, marathons and longer races, but for me, this morning, this little 5K was a marathon, so why not try what works. Mentally, I started focusing on simply reaching the turn-around point and then I’d worry about the rest of the race. Left Foot, Right Foot, Left Foot, Right Foot, repeat.

The course snaked through a narrow tunnel under McDowell Road and things got a little crowded for for a brief while, but as I came out of the tunnel and ran back up to the canal bank, I got a little burst of energy and resumed passing runners. Yeah, I know I was barely keeping up with a mediocre 10K pace, but I was still moving forward and the turn around point was coming into view; although it seemed that there were at least 500 people in front of me based on the flood of bodies running at me before I got to the turn.

Still feeling good (that’s a relative term at this point in the race) after the turn, I focused on getting back to the tunnel in one piece and passed the 2 mile marker as I entered the tunnel heading south. My watch read 15:18. Holy crap, if I didn’t blow up, I was going to break 30 minutes and might even stay under 25. I know I was muttering to myself trying to figure out if I was doing the math right. You know the feeling. You’ve been running on the edge for a couple of miles and the logical sections of your brain are starving for oxygen as your body sends every available oxygen molecule to your legs. 15+10+1=26; 15+9+1=25; 25-00:18=???? Oh to hell with it, just run.

After exiting the tunnel, the lungs started griping and I could feel the lactate starting to build up in my legs. Just needed to hang on for another 10 minutes and it would be all over. Governor Hunt’s tomb (see picture below) came into view sitting on the hill next to the start line and I knew I must be getting close the point where the race course exited the canal. From there, it was only another half mile slightly downhill to the finish line.

I turned the corner at the canal exit, powered up a little hill, got back onto the pavement heading down to the finish line and pushed hard. I took a split at the 3 mile marker, but was far from having the mental capacity to understanding any information on my watch. However, as I approached the finish line and could see the race clock, I could read 35:xx … since I crossed the start line right at 12:00, I was still under 24 minutes. 24 MINUTES. I nearly cried.

Official time: 23:53; still a long way off my PR, but much faster than I could have hoped to push my 194.5lb body through 3.1 miles. My mile splits worked out to: 7:34, 7:45, 7:45 – simply amazing

As nice as it was to get back into racing with a respectable middle-of-the-pack time, I also got a chance to talk with fellow bloggers Chad and Lisa.

Chad is the good looking guy in the white shirt ... I'm the sweaty guy in the middle. Lisa is on the right. She has been a real inspiration. I've followed her go from her first tentative steps at becoming a runner to the point now where she's participating in races at ever distance short of Marathon and has done several tri's. Her progress has been amazing. I think she hit a PR this morning, one week after completing a tri. I fully expect to be trailing her in most races in the next year or so.

For those that try to keep up with my travel schedule, I'm in southern California until Thursday. I've only got three trips planned for June; Mexicali, BC; Toronto, Ontario and Redmond, Washington. It should be a busy month.


Governor Hunt's Tomb - I think this pyramid holds the former Governor, his wife and her mother - could be wrong on the mother. This white pyramid sits up on a hill over looking the park. I've lived in Arizona for 28 years and this is the first time I've taken the time to walk up the hill and actually take a look at it.

Papago Buttes

Papago Park with Camelback MTN in the background

Saguaro cactus blooming

Pre-race photo in front of the zoo


Ewen said...

Well done Phil! You deserve to be pleased about running sub-24 considering your thread-bare training of late. Beautiful splits too... of course the maths for 5k races would be far easier if you guys had the metric system ;)

Thanks for the photos - the sweaty shirt and smiles say it all. Love the desert.

Laufenweg said...

bien hecho! le felicito! :-)

Thomas said...

I knew that the race would get you out of the slumps - both concerning running and blogging.

And not a bad race to start getting into the swing of things again.

Steve Stenzel said...

Nice job! I've done the "Oh to hell with it, just run" thing before too!!

Dusty said...

Great description, I was able to visualize it all, I remember having many races at that park. That butte (AKA hole in the rock) is also a nice place to drink a beer with fellow college runners after a long hard day. Just be careful not to fall when climbing down at night.

Hunt's tomb. Yes, it has the governor and his wife. It also has both of her parents and sister. Frightening I remember this from the education system in Maricopa county!

Great job on your time you'll be back to your speedy ways soon.

J~Mom said...

WOW! Phil what a fantastic write up!! You really described the whole race so vividly! I am SO happy that you had a great outcome as that little taste can hopefully go a long way in training! :>D You are still speedy McSpeedster!

What you said about me is so kind..I don't see dropping that much time from my 5K anytime soon BUT you know I will keep trying! And trying..and trying. :>D Someday maybe I can just hang that first mile with you.

Thank you!!! You are always so helpful!

Anne said...

Great job, Phil. It's amazing how quickly we can return to great running following a long string of injuries. What is it that they always say? Oh yeah: That which doesn't break us makes us stronger.

Sub said...

Congrats on a comeback to racing! You haven't lost that much fitness... I few weeks of solid training should get you back to where you were. Great pics as usual!

jeanne said...

wow, i'd kill for that 5k time! i guess it's all relative though. nicely done! and love the photos.

Deene said...

nice run!

Josh said...

Congrats on a great comeback!