Running the NFAR 5k

A blurry sun-drenched start line

A blurry sun-drenched start line

As part of my marathon training, one of my goals this year was to run a 5k (3.11 mi) race in under 24 minutes. I figured that pushing myself to go faster would also make my marathon more pleasant, since I’d be spending less time on each of the training runs (they are prescribed by distance rather than time).

The San Diego Race for Autism was the first 5k that I ran, back in 2008. I like it because it is close to home, at a cool time of the year, and not too crowded. Last year was a disaster for me because I got sick the week before. I still finished it and ended with a time of 29 minutes. This year I was aiming higher.

I started training for it back in January using the FIRST training program. This is the same plan I used for the half marathon, but is adapted for the 5k distance based on advice in the book. Most of the tempo runs were ~4 miles and the long runs between 6 and 8, although for the last few weeks my marathon training also got underway so I was running 10-15 miles as a long run.

After turning in some 7 minute mile times late last year, I decided to train to run the 5k in 23 minutes instead. This would be a good stretch goal for me. The first few weeks of training were rather difficult, and I was unable to complete the interval training exactly as I was supposed to. However, things got easier as the training went on. Part of this was due to improved conditioning, and part due to losing weight (10 lbs since the beginning of the year). Going in to race day I was confident I’d be able to get close to 23 minutes.

Rounding the corner around 1.5mi

Rounding the corner around 1.5mi

The weather was OK for race day: a little cold (50 deg) and sunny (I’d rather be running when it’s overcast). The course had changed slightly this year: starting further down balboa bridge and making a longer loop through the park. I reached the start line early so I could be close to the front: avoiding the crowds and the time delay until I actually reached the starting line. I knew that to hit 23 minutes I’d need to keep up a 7:23/mi pace.

When the race begin, I felt good about the pace I was keeping. Not having one of those GPS watches I have to rely on my perceived exertion level to judge this. When I hit the 1mi marker the time was 7:11. It was on the way to mile marker 2 that I realized my mistake.

At 2.3 miles and still chugging along

At 2.3 miles and still chugging along

I was getting splitting side stitch around 1.5 miles. This seems to happen to me if I drink too much, and sure enough I had chugged 6oz of energy drink right before starting. For longer races you want to start off properly hydrated so your stomach is processing the energy drink. For a 5k, apparently, this is not as good of idea because you are running at a harder pace.

Working through the side cramps, I finished mile 2 at 14:10 (yes, faster than mile 1 for some reason) and then started to slow. I remember at that time just trying to keep up with this 10-year-old who was repeatedly sprinting ahead of me, then stopping and walking 10 feet. I was also trying to stay ahead of a 60-year-old man. It was depressing.

A few more strides to the finish

A few more strides to the finish

The course goes downhill slightly before a vicious little uphill right before the finish. I slowed a lot for the uphill and they didn’t have a time check at mile 3, so I didn’t know how close I was. Soon after, I saw the finish line and the timer that read 22:45, so I knew I had to hustle. I elevated the pace as much as I could and finished in 23:07.

The Final Race Standings

The Final Race Standings

Looking at the final race results, I was pleasantly surprised at how I did:

  • Overall: 108 out of 1808 (94th percentile)
  • Age division (M 30-34): 10 out of 104 (90th percentile)

Overall I would count this as a success. Just in November I was happy to be in the 50th percentile of my half marathon, and now I was in the 90th. I think my age group was a little bit wimpy for this one, but also I know my training is paying off. Finishing well also has me inspired to run some more 5k races after my marathon training is complete.

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