the luck of the irish

shamrock

When Ruby told me she wanted to run the St. Patrick’s 5k in Redondo Beach, I jumped at the chance and signed up both of us. We’ve been running Sundays for over a year and now we were going to race together. I’m right in the meat of preparing for the Chesebro Canyon Half Marathon, so I set my expectations to casual. I had no idea it would turn out to be one of my best races ever. What started out to be a fun run ended up as a massive PR and a sub-20 finish.

A week before the race, I logged over 60 miles including a hilly 19 miler. Most of my current training includes hills since Chesebro’s course runs up and down a mountain. The miles caught up with me. I received the gift of heavy legs struggled to pull myself out of bed each morning. I managed only two runs instead of my usual five or six, somehow believing that I was tapering, but wondering if I would be prepared on Sunday.

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Meanwhile daylight savings arrived, catching both of us by surprise. Race day found us grumpy and stumbling about in darkness that gave way to a  foggy and overcast morning. After parking and a quick warm up we were ready to go. Ruby and I fist-bumped and separated. I moved up to the front of the pack since I wanted to be clear of the starting crush. Somebody gave a speech. The national anthem played. Then we were off!

After so much long distance training, the race was a short intense blur. I remember a pack of kids sprinting out in front of me then falling back during the first mile. At the turn, a race volunteer yelled out our time, “6:11!” Crap, that was fifteen seconds too fast. Did I destroy my chances of a strong finish? My watch said 6:18, not much slower but closer to my goal pace of 6:25. I approached the next mile carefully- maybe too carefully. At mile two my watch beeped 6:33, too slow. I was in pacing limbo. I needed to run a strong third mile. But how strong?

I failed to realize the slightly uphill second mile contributed to my slowing. Plus it set me up for a downhill finish. In the moment, I was trying to maintain my pace through a consistent effort.  I was  unaware of any other runners. The thick fog became my ally since I could not see the remaining distance. With a half mile to go the finish line emerged from the mist and I pulled myself together for my kick. As I crossed the finish line I spied 19:38 on the clock, a minute faster than my previous best. After a dry heave or two I grabbed a cup of water and wandered back to find Ruby.

I spotted her about 200 yards from the finish and joined in for her kick. I made sure to let her finish ahead of me. After a brief recovery our post race relief kicked in and we high-fived our way to the water stand. This was when I realized that I had just crushed my PR. Now I could enjoy the post-race atmosphere and we congratulated the other runners, a leprechaun, and some faeries.

When the dust settled, my 19:38 placed me 26 out of 1166, third in my age group, and just under 6:20 per mile. Ruby also beat her PR handily.  I did not understand my results. Was my speed work for last month’s Superbowl Sunday 10K still paying dividends? I earned a shot of confidence as I train for the Chesebro Half in April and Mountains 2 Beach Marathon in May.

results_splits

With the help of my PR, I regained my appreciation and enthusiasm for the 5K. I’ve tried to play the race back in my mind but the memory is fading fast. It only took a day or two for me to ask, why not 19:00? Maybe, but for now I will enjoy my results as I set my sights toward my upcoming half and looming marathon.

 

Yuletide 5K

yuletide5k

The out and back Yuletide 5K in Manhattan Beach, CA, starts at the MB Pier and heads north along the coastline. The race is held at sunset, low tide, and right around the winter solstice. It was my first ever night race and first time running below sea level.

alexdad

I joined my son Alex who was running with his high school cross country team. When we arrived, the sun had just set, the temperature was dropping and the wind was picking up. We were ready for a festive and challenging race.

warmup

Alex found his team while I set off along the beach for a quick warm up. There was still enough daylight to see the course which was flat and much softer than the roads and trails I usually run. After breaking a sweat, I headed back and kept warm until the start.

start

The start/finish line was under the pier. It was dark when everybody- about 500 people- lined up. We belted out a verse of Jingle Bells and that was our signal to go. Off we went plunging into darkness.

The uniqueness of night racing soon asserted itself. I could not see my watch or any other runners except for those immediately around me. I was running entirely by feel without any frame of reference. I focused on my breathing and footsteps to set a fast but relaxed pace and by the first mile I felt surprisingly good.

I soon learned there were three kinds of sand. The driest was too soft for any traction while the wet sand was not firm enough to hold my weight causing me to sink a little bit. Both surfaces slowed me down considerably. Meanwhile, there was a sweet spot in between the wet and dry sand that was firmly packed and responsive. The only problem was that it was impossible to see and I needed to pick out the narrow and winding band with guesswork.

finish

As I approached the turnaround the lead runners came from the opposite direction. This was a new challenge since they were invisible until the last moment. I was toward the front of the pack and when I started back I made sure to watch out for the rest of the field. I’m happy to report that there were no collisions but the two-way traffic certainly added to the challenge.

My least favorite moment of an out and back 5K is turning and seeing the finish line in the distance. Since it was night the finish line was all I could see and it seemed impossibly far away. It was time to dig in and hold my pace. I kept going for another mile focused on my breathing and footsteps. I saved enough for a nice little kick at the end and when I could make out the finish line I cut loose.

splits

I finished with a 21:07, about 30 seconds slower than my PR. My splits were encouragingly consistent; I usually start too fast and sabotage my final mile. Oddly, I felt much stronger tonight than on my previous 5Ks so I wonder how much the sand affected my time. I finished 34th overall and 3rd in my age group, while Alex finished 19th and third in his age group. A nice ending to our 2016 season.

village runner 5K

LOGO

I celebrated 4th of July by running the Village Runner 5K in Redondo Beach, CA. Since I ran a marathon five weeks earlier I did not train for the race at all. I spent most of the month recovering and getting back into running.

vr_5K

The course is a mostly flat out-and-back that follows the Redondo Esplanade. Like most summer mornings in LA the weather was cool and overcast, perfect for running. With no training or goal time, I focused on enjoying the morning with friends and family.

group_photo

I rediscovered running in 2010 and since then I wanted to race with my wife and kid(s). The stars aligned today as Alex and Ruby lined up with me at the start. Alex is joining his high school cross-country team this fall, and Ruby has overcome a foot injury, so it was awesome watching them cross the finish line running strong.

ruby_alex

As for me, I achieved one of my running goals for 2016 and PR’ed by eight seconds. It must have been my months of marathon training coupled with absolutely no expectations that helped me set a new record. I ran at what felt like a fast tempo pace and tried to maintain a steady effort for the entire distance. When I saw my finish time I was filled with a renewed sense of confidence and realized that a sub-twenty minute 5K is possible. The race also broke me out of my post-marathon funk and I’m excited to try to knock thirty seconds off of my time.

5K_results

Looking a little closer at my splits, it is clear that my conditioning was not ideal for a 5K. I slowed by ten seconds each mile. About two and a half miles in I started suggesting to myself that it would be nice to stop and walk. But with such a short distance to the finish line I held on and dug in. My positive splits are a minor complaint and overall it was a great day for running.