February 8, 2014: 

Atlanta Track Club Hearts and Soles 5K 

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

Today’s race is the first in a trio of February races.  Next Saturday Bonnie and I will “Run the Reagan Parkway 5K” in Snellville, and the following Saturday I will take on the “Charles Harris 10K” down Lawrenceville Highway in Tucker, an event that has excellent on-line ratings and one of the last 10K qualifiers before registration for the Peachtree Road Race opens in March.  The 10K Peachtree Road Race is my major running goal for this year.  Based on my times in two December races, I now qualify for start wave D in the Peachtree Road Race, but I’m hoping that I can move up to wave C with one of the February races.  Based on last year’s standards, a 5K time of 25:54 will qualify for wave C.

Last fall, I joined the Atlanta Track Club.  The main motivation for paying the $35 annual membership fee was the guaranteed acceptance into the Peachtree Road Race on Independence Day, but they also offer free events for ATC members.  Today will be my first ATC event, the Hearts and Soles 5K, in the Panthersville neighborhood on the south side of Decatur, in the southeast quadrant of the metro Atlanta area.  The race route will begin and end on the Decatur campus of Georgia Perimeter College, with a turnaround at Cedar Grove Middle School. 

Prologue:  I arrive shortly after 7 am.  I have a little trouble finding the location in the dark, but then spot a sign for parking and see a bunch of people dressed in running clothes, and figure that I’m in the right location.  The temperature is about 40 oF, so I’m wearing the long running pants that Bonnie has given me, a ski cap, and a running jacket.  Following the other lemmings down the sidewalk, I reach the race registration and bib pick-up area.  Pinning the number onto my jacket with cold fingers is a challenge, but on the second try I manage to place it in the middle of my chest.

I’ve expected that this will be an athletic crowd, and I’m not disappointed.  Several track teams and organized running groups are present, and quite a few runners are doing some impressive stretching.  I manage a nice-looking one leg quad stretch balanced on the right leg, but can’t maintain balance when I try it standing on the left leg.  I gracefully step out of it, acting like I don’t really need to repeat that stretch after all.  I don’t want to look like I’m in my rookie year in front of the other runners.  I take a short jog around the parking lot, kicking up my knees.  It’s good to move in the cold air, and my legs feel strong.

For the past couple of months, I’ve had some pain in my left heel, probably a little plantar fasciitis.  In my last training run on the previous Saturday, my left ankle was quite sore, perhaps from protecting the heel too much, and then I had to cut short the workout when a little twinge started in the right knee.  To avoid turning either of these tweaks into a significant injury, I decided to do my best to refrain from running at all this week.  I had not been able to maintain that resolution previously, but it turned out that my schedule was so busy this week that I really couldn’t find the time to run during daylight hours.  By Saturday morning, I’m feeling pretty good, but a little concerned that my conditioning may have regressed a bit.  So today will be an important test of conditioning vs. rest.  

Around 7:45 am, runners are beginning to migrate to the starting area.  Wave B is for runners expecting to finish between 25 and 30 minutes, and will start at 8:02 am, so I resolve to begin in the middle of wave B.  Although I ran the Phidippides 5K in 25:57 in December, I haven’t run nearly as fast in recent training, so middle of the pack is probably better for me.  As I pass the runners gathering at the starting line for wave A, there is one man without a shirt.  He looks really cold, but I guess he wanted to be unique.  At 8:00 am, wave A begins the race, and a moment later we begin walking forward to the starting line.  After a pause, I check the RunHelper program on my phone to ensure that it’s cued up.  The person carrying the wave B sign moves to the left side of the road, and then we begin moving forward in earnest. 

The race has begun!

The first kilometer:  As usual in these larger races, I feel that the group is starting too slowly.  I’m jogging, definitely not running, but whenever I can, I pull my arms to my side and dash through any gaps in the slow-moving crowd.  Next time I will have the confidence to begin the race closer to the front of the wave.  The group turns left onto Clifton Springs Road.  Most runners are staying to the left of the cones to run the shortest possible distance, but several of us find that we can move more quickly if we occasionally dart to the right of the cones to pass a slower runner (or walkers! – why didn’t you start in wave C?).  The unsportsmanlike thought dissipates as we reach Wildcat Road, and the group makes a left turn.  The runners are now spread out a little bit more, and I find that I can stay to the right of the cones with the rest of the runners, without difficulty.  The road is now a gentle downhill stretch, so I pass quite a few people.  I want to take advantage of this easy section of the race, as I know that it will be uphill on the way to the finish.  The road gently curves to the right, and I’m now running at a good pace.  After the first ¼ kilometer, which took more than 90 seconds to run, I’ve now cut the time down to a 5:28 pace by the end of the first kilometer.  Good start overall, and I think that the next kilometer will be faster.

The second kilometer:  The road is now flat, and everyone around me is running at about the same pace.  I’ve warmed up and I feel that I’m in a good race, and work on diminishing the pace by at least one second with each ¼ kilometer alert.  The mile 1 marker comes up on the right, with a volunteer calling out times.  I can only hear the seconds (48, 49, 50) and wonder how many minutes.  Shortly afterwards, the lead runner passes on the return leg, with a police escort.  He is really zipping along, and has opened up at least 100 meter lead on the second place runner, followed by the third runner.  Then there is in a steady line of fast runners, as we pass the marker for the second mile of the return leg.  The volunteer calls out 11:40.  For a second I’m disappointed, as I have hoped to cover 2 kilometers in that time, and then I realize that I can shave 2 minutes from the announced time due to the wave B start.  RunHelper indicates that I have finished the second kilometer in 5:00 flat, on a 5:14 pace.  Great!  By the way, there is at least one guy in the first several dozen runners that is considerably older than me.  I’m really impressed. 

The third kilometer:  We approach the grounds of Cedar Grove Middle School to our right.  The number of runners on the return leg is now quite large.  People racing with me are calling out to their faster friends on the return leg.  I think that the turnaround will be coming soon.  But as we pass around a corner of the school building and follow the road curving to the right, the two streams of runners extend as far as I can see.  We enter a traffic circle in front of the school, probably at the main entrance, and that must be the turnaround.  But no, it’s still up ahead somewhere.  We turn right again past the next corner of the school building, and finally, there it is, the turnaround, on the back side of the school.  I’m running on the left side of the lane next to the cones, and I make a tight turn at the cone without losing much speed, as I hear a volunteer calling out encouragement “Halfway there!”  Finally, I’m on the return leg.  I’m still feeling quite good and running well, and occasionally passing people.  As we pass around the school again, I see a man with a military buzzcut about 10 meters in front of me, and I think that I may be gaining on him.  That will be impressive if I can pass a man who has done long runs in the Marines, or whatever branch of service he might be in, but then it becomes evident that he has picked up the pace a bit as we move back onto a long straight stretch of Wildcat Road.  RunHelper signals the third kilometer in 4:56, with pace at 5 minutes, 8 seconds.  That means a 25:40 finish, if I can just keep up the pace. 

The fourth kilometer:  As I leave the school building behind and back onto the straight stretch of Wildcat Road, I see a girl with a long ponytail, probably about 10 years old, running to my right.  I catch up to her and several adults in the same pack, and then pass them on the left before reaching the two mile marker.  I’m not sure but I think that the volunteer calls out a time of 17:50.  Remembering to deduct 2 minutes, that would put me at two 8-minute miles, if I heard her correctly.  There are quite a few people in the first leg heading for the school, mostly jogging but one man is race-walking.  (How ridiculously inefficient he looks!)  Shortly afterwards, we pass the one mile mark for those on the first leg.  I don’t hear the volunteer’s time, but one of the runners shouts “That’s not our time, that’s for the first group.”  I think, just subtract 4 minutes, don’t be mean, and then I snap back to focusing on my own race as the girl with the ponytail dashes past me, seemingly passing under my left elbow!  She quickly moves about 10 meters in front of me.  The slower group in the first group is now all walkers.  At the end of the walkers, there is a police escort behind an older gentleman.  He’s moving slowly but at least he’s getting out and participating.  I later learn that he is 87 years young.  I hope that I can do as well if I’m fortunate enough to reach that age.  After passing him, the road begins a gentle upwards slope.  I try to pull even with the ponytailed girl but she dashes back out ahead of me, as I hear the four kilometer signal of 5:16, overall time 20:40. 

The fifth kilometer:  I attack the hill with everything I have, but stronger runners are passing me as the road curves gently uphill and to the left.  Honestly the hill isn’t as difficult as in other races, but perhaps this is an indication of slight regression in my conditioning.  One runner has an inspirational quote on the back of his shirt, something about giving it your best effort at all times, but I can’t keep up with him for long enough to read carefully.  Then I hear someone behind me rhythmically shouting.  At first I think that he is encouraging or coaching another runner, but then he passes me on my left and I realize that he is pushing himself forward with the shouts.  I myself have let out a few involuntary gasps and grunts as I go up the hill but I can’t afford to waste energy on a loud shout.  Finally I see the police lights at the intersection with Clifton Springs Road, at the top of the hill.  I am now really tired, but there isn’t far to go.  And even though I’m out of breath, my ankles and knees all feel fine, so the decision to rest instead of run was definitely a good choice, even if my conditioning suffered a bit.  I still want to finish with a good time, and I try to get back up to speed as I turn right onto Clifton Springs Road.  Thankfully the rest of the race is flat, but I’m passed on both sides by several other runners who are also taking good advantage of the flat road for their own strong finishes.  Ponytail is still several meters in front of me and showing no signs of flagging.  With every runner that passes me, I push a little harder and faster, to keep them from opening as much of a gap on me.  There’s the 3 mile sign on the right side of the road and then the right turn into the parking lot, followed by a quick left turn to the finish line.  There’s the clock!  But I’m disappointed to see that the time ticks forward from 27:59 to 28:00.  By subtracting 2 minutes for the wave B start, I’m running at about 26 minutes overall, so probably not a personal record today.  Nonetheless I push myself as fast as I can manage for the last few meters, and see 28:09 on the clock as I cross the finish line.  I’m really tired, legs are burning with lactic acid, and I’m just trying to keep walking to gradually cool down.  That last kilometer has taken a lot out of me.  Two or three more minutes have passed before I remember to stop the RunHelper, but I see that I finished the last kilometer in 5:14 and the total elapsed time to run 5 km was 25:54.  I just wish that I had checked RunHelper immediately after crossing the line! 

Epilogue:  I slowly walk to a long table with Gatorade and water cups.  There is a crowd of people at the Gatorade end of the table so I go to the far end of the table to get a cup of water.  I really needed that.  Then there are a bunch of bags from Einstein’s Bagels, and a volunteer hands me a cheese bagel.  It’s my favorite flavor but I can hardly manage a bite.  I go back to the water table and get in line for Gatorade from the cooler, which helps more than the water did.  My heart is gradually returning to a normal rate, my strength starts to return after a few more minutes, and I’m able to enjoy the last half of the bagel.

I watch some of the other runners finishing in the 35 – 40 minute range.  There are a couple of race workers manually noting times on what looks like an adding machine, and I wonder why, when there is an electronic timing system.  Before leaving around 9 am, they are already announcing the awards for the age group winners (I’ve missed the overall winners), and I recognize a name in the 40-44 male age group.  He won this age group in the Eastside Beltline 10K in December, but only third in this race!

Official results were posted later in the evening: clock time 28:34, tag time 26:14.  Of course for me it's a great time, but not good enough to move up to wave C for the Peachtree Road Race.  I’m not sure that the clock time is correct, as I’m pretty sure that I finished no later than 28:10.  There was a delay in getting several dozen of the scores posted, including my own time as well as that of the person who actually won my age group (did he not get his medal?).  I wonder again if there was a problem with the electronic timing, and perhaps someone manually collecting bib numbers missed mine, as I was in a group with several runners finishing close together.  It turns out that the course is not USATF-certified, so I probably can’t use it as a Peachtree Road Race qualifier anyway.  Whatever the time, whether it was the reported time or 20 - 25 seconds quicker, it was a good race for me, and I feel more confident that I will do as well in the Reagan Parkway 5K next Saturday. 

Goal: A 5K time of 25:54 or less:  26:14

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