February 15, 2014: 

Run the Reagan 5K 

Goal: A 5K time of 25:54 or less  

Today’s race, the 20th running of the Reagan Parkway in Gwinnett County, was one of four races this morning: a half-marathon beginning at 9:00 am, a 10K at 9:15 am, a 1-mile fun run at 10:30 am, and finally the 5K at 11:00 am.  The races supported the Gwinnett Community Clinic, which serves low-income and uninsured people in Gwinnett County.  The Reagan Parkway is a four-lane limited express highway, about 7 miles long, connecting Snellville to Duluth.  Due to ice and a little snow earlier in the week, the roadway had been closed for several days, but had been cleared of ice and snow well before the races began this morning.  The 5K route would run past the first exit (at Web Gin House Road), turnaround at the far end of the overpass, and return to the finish line, a couple of hundred meters past the starting point, so we enjoyed both a downhill start and a short downhill finish.

I had a positive feeling about my prospects for a good time in this race.  Although the course would not be level, I knew from having scouted the Parkway about a month ago that the uphill sections would not be very steep.  My personal best was 25:57 in the Phidippides 5K in December, and so my goal was to improve on that time, knowing that 25:54 had been the cutoff for starting wave C in last year’s Peachtree Road Race. 

We arrived shortly after 9:30 am, as I wanted to watch the winners of the 10K and half-marathon as they finished.  The 10K winner finished in 38:34, and the half-marathon winner at 1:15:52.  I was impressed that they were moving more quickly at the end of their races than I can run at any time of my own races!  The temperature was about 35 oF, with fairly strong winds blowing from the northwest, the direction into which we would be running the first half of the race.  Bonnie and I were well-bundled for this race, including gloves, and ChapStick (which I remembered after the Livvy’s Love 8K).  I wasn’t sure if I would wear the skullcap or the brimmed racing cap, but then discovered that the brimmed cap fit over the skullcap, so wearing both provided protection for my ears and shaded my face.

After watching the children in the 1-mile fun run, we gathered for the start of the 5K, at the top of a hill on the northwest-bound lanes of the parkway.  The mayor of Snellville made a few welcoming remarks.  I realized that we were going to begin a few minutes early, so I quickly strapped on my phone, cued up the RunHelper program, and then the starter’s pistol sounded!  The race was on!

The first kilometer:  Once again I had not worked myself quite close enough to the front of the group, but with the size of the group, it would have been difficult for me to politely move up much closer.  It took perhaps 15 seconds to reach the starting line, and then I sped up as I crossed.  It was slow going for the first minute, weaving my way around slower starters, but I quickly found my stride and a straight path ahead.  The first part of the race was a long, gradual downhill section, so I wanted to gain as much speed in the early section, while remaining cautious that the return trip would be uphill.  I passed quite a few runners, staying on a pace under 5 minutes per kilometer, although a couple of runners passed me in this early section.  Before I knew it, the alert for the first kilometer had sounded, at 4:38.  Great start!  Probably my fastest start ever. 

The second kilometer:  As I continued to run at a good pace, the road began to level, and I was feeling good, completely warmed up in my legs.  I was watching for the lead 5K runners on the return leg, but only saw slower runners, probably in the 10K or half-marathon races.  As I approached the 1 mile marker, a clock showed our progress: 7:30 as I passed the sign.  My fastest mile ever!  Shortly afterwards, the overpass came into view.  Only after I had begun up the overpass did I see the lead runners in the 5K (based on their speeds).  I could definitely feel that I was slowing down going up the overpass.  It’s amazing how easy this was in an automobile, but taking it by foot definitely required more effort.  But as I made it to the top of the overpass, I was rewarded by the two kilometer alert, at 9:32, with 4:54 min/km for the second kilometer!  I knew that if I could keep this up, I would set a personal record. 

The third kilometer:  I could not see the turnaround until cresting the overpass, but finally I spotted a cluster of people and equipment.  The turnaround was further ahead than I had expected from studying an expired USATF certification map.  I guess by advancing the start up the hill, the turnaround point was moved further down the expressway.  Although the run down the overpass was easily managed, it seemed to take a long time to reach the turnaround, but I was drawn forward by the encouraging cries that we had reached the halfway point.  The turnaround was clearly marked with cones and a fenced pathway across the median.  A couple of volunteers were exchanging hand slaps as the runners crossed the median; as I slapped their hands and made the turn onto the return road, I was energized to pick up my pace.  In fact I hardly noticed that I was going uphill on the overpass.  At the top of the overpass was a water station, to the left.  I first considered passing up the water, but then decided to take a cup.  The runner in front of me almost completely stopped as she picked up a cup and I was careful not to run into her, but darted around and grabbed a cup further down the table.  I took a small sip of cold water, didn’t manage to swallow much of it, but it felt good to wet my lips, and I dropped the cup with the rest of the water in the last garbage can.  The third kilometer alert sounded, at 14:48, 5:16 min/km for the third kilometer.  Although I had slowed down noticeably, I was still running under 5 min/km for the average pace.

The fourth kilometer:  Clearing the overpass, I was looking across the road for Bonnie, but didn’t see her at first.  I passed the 2 mile marker and clock reading 15:54 (just under an 8-minute mile!) and then I saw Bonnie across the road.  I pointed to her, but she didn’t seem to see me at first, until I shouted “Bonnie!” and waved, and then she looked up and waved.  Having passed her, I returned to focusing on my own race.  I knew that the road was gradually increasing in elevation, but it was a gentle rise and I wasn’t having too much trouble.  However three other runners caught up to me and then passed me.  I decided that if they were obviously not in the Male 50 - 54 age group, I wouldn’t worry if I was passed.  Congratulating myself on the shrewdness of this strategy, the first two were not threats: a younger man, and a young woman.  But the third was a man with some grey in his hair and he spurred me to pick up my knees to keep pace with him for a moment.  He did pull ahead but his challenge also helped me to increase my own pace.  For this effort, I was rewarded with the four kilometer alert at 19:54, 5:06 min/km for the fourth kilometer.  Wow! I actually sped up a bit, and more importantly, still on pace to finish in 25 minutes.  However I knew from experience that I probably had a little more than one kilometer to run, due to my weaving around other runners in the first kilometer.

The fifth kilometer and the finish:  I could see the top of the hill ahead, and passed the starting area across the median.  I knew that if I could keep going strongly up the rest of the hill, that I would be rewarded with a downhill finish.  The runners ahead of me had not increased their gap from me, and I resolved to keep up with their pace.  However I was starting to feel tired at this stage.  But knowing that the end was near was the motivation that I needed to continue pressing in the final meters uphill.  At the top, I realized that I had only about 300 meters to the finish, and that the road would be level or slightly downhill for the rest of the race.  Unfortunately I had trouble finding a higher gear, and if I did manage to accelerate, it felt like a minimal increase in speed.  The runners ahead of me were pulling further ahead.  Finally I saw the finish line and the clock, which was at 25 minutes and a few seconds.  I wasn’t going to break 25 minutes, but I was definitely on pace to set a new personal record.  Despite that motivation, I could not accelerate much more, and as I drew closer to the clock, I remember feeling a little disappointment as the clock ticked past 25:30.  But I continued running strong, passing through the finish gate at around 25:35.  I allowed myself a big fist pump this time, as the volunteers manning the finish line waved me forward into the cool-down area.  5:08 min/km for the last kilometer.

Epilogue:  In comparison with last Saturday’s run, I didn’t feel as exhausted.  Perhaps the Tuesday afternoon run in the park helped with my conditioning this time around.  I found a cup of Powerade, picked up a banana, and went back for a refill on Powerade.  After giving myself a couple of minutes to recover and finishing the banana, I walked to the median to watch the other runners finish, and put my phone into its regular carrying case so that I could take photographs while keeping the phone protected from an accidental drop.  After a few more minutes, I began walking up the median, until I reached Bonnie, who had been joined by a friend from WeightWatchers.  I accompanied them for most of the rest of their race, peeling off about 100 meters from the finish to run around the finish line to take photos of them crossing the line. 

When the official results were posted later in the afternoon, great news:  The official time for my bib, posted in the afternoon, was 25:23.20.  Definitely a personal record, besting my previous time by more than half a minute!  43rd out of 422 timed participants.  And then: I was 3rd out of 15 runners in the Male 50 – 54 age group!  Of course I wasn’t competing with any of the more serious runners who tackled the challenge of the half-marathon or the 10K earlier in the morning, but I was definitely excited about my time and the results. 

Goal: A 5K time of 25:54 or less: Achieved! 


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