March 15, 2014:
TOUR deCATUR 5K
Goals: To improve on my personal record of 25:23; to have fun running a race that I selected on short notice
When I went to sleep Friday evening, I wasn't sure that I was going to run a race, when I could just as easily run a casual training route for free. But when I awakened early on Saturday morning, I was motivated to run a competitive race that morning, as long as everything felt good after stretching. By 6:30 am I had finished breakfast, having plenty of time to fully digest before the 9:15 am start. I left the house shortly after 8:00 am, and had parked in downtown Decatur by 8:30. It took me a few minutes to find the registration area, but the same-day registration table was staffed by a few volunteers who kindly assisted me and a few other late registrants with signing up and getting our race bib.
Note to self: Now I know why advance registration is recommended. It takes much more time for the volunteers to assist with on-site registration, on top of handing out race bibs, T-shirts, and answering questions from the other registrants. My immense thanks to the volunteers for your patience and good humor! But I will resolve to register ahead of time in the future, to make it easier on me and the volunteers.
The 5K was preceded by a 1-mile fun run, with children and parents coming to the finish line on the 50-yard line of the Decatur High School football stadium. This was the first time that I had seen artificial turf on a high school playing field. Anyway the announcer was encouraging and congratulating the 1-mile runners, setting a great mood for a fun morning. (I wish that I had been involved in events like this when I was a child!)
Shortly after 9 am, the 5K runners were encouraged to move to the starting area, in the middle of Commerce Drive, looking north. I could see that this was going to be a very large field, with a mix of children and adults, especially entire families running together. I gradually worked my way forward to about 25 meters in back of the starting line, among runners who looked like they could all finish in less than 30 minutes, and with most of the field behind me. 9:15 am passed, and shortly afterwards, the pack began to move forward, and the race was on!
The first kilometer: Even with good runners ahead of me, we got off to a very slow start. This was due primarily to the large field, and no one was obviously holding up the pace. I've been warned that the Peachtree Road Race will be like this. We turned the corner at West Trinity Place, across the street from the courthouse, then a right turn at North McDonough Street. A band was playing in front of Decatur High School. Although we had both southbound lanes of the four-lane street, the field was still crowded. There were quite a few children among the runners in front of me, most of whom were running at a good pace. But one boy suddenly stopped in front of me to look back for a friend or family member, and I just managed to avoid running him down! I did not get up to full speed until turning again onto West Howard Avenue. Nonetheless I finished the first kilometer in 5:57. I was going to have to make up some speed if I would have any chance of setting a new personal record, and figured that this would be a fun run.
The second kilometer: Finally I was running at my usual pace, as we turned into the residential neighborhood on Patillo Way. But then disaster struck! The shoelaces on the right foot were flapping around. For a couple of seconds I wondered if I could run with an untied shoe, but decided (especially with other runners around) that it would be much too hazardous to continue running without retying the shoe. So reluctantly I stepped off of the street into a front yard to retie my shoe, as quickly as possible. 10 seconds lost? Definitely a fun run now. I rejoined the group as we turned onto Greenwood Circle, then following the path curving onto Ridley Lane, and a left turn onto Hibernia Avenue. At least the route had been fairly easy to this stage, without any serious uphill sections, and on occasion we passed local residents cheering on the runners from their front yards. As we passed the 1-mile mark, a volunteer was calling out times: 9:15. Disappointing, considering that I was trying to achieve an 8-minute mile. Fun run. I reached the end of the second kilometer at 11:21 elapsed, 5:24 for the second kilometer. At least my pace was good, even with stopping to retie the shoe.
The third kilometer: As we turned back onto West Howard Avenue, the road was noticeably uphill. I managed to put the lessons of good form running into practice, and passed quite a few runners in this section, keeping up a good pace, as I passed the mid-point of the race. The quarter-kilometer alerts indicated that I was shaving off seconds from the slow start, which was encouraging, with the average pace dropped below 5:30 per kilometer. As we turned the corner onto Drexel Avenue, the road turned gently downhill. For the first time, I had enough energy to stretch my stride and take advantage of the downhill section, without any discomfort on my toes. In fact I passed quite a few runners in this section! I practically sailed down the street, immensely enjoying myself in this stage of the race. I flew past the end of the third kilometer at 16:15 elapsed, 4:54 for the third kilometer. I think that this was probably the fastest that I had run this far into a race.
The fourth kilometer: Drexel Avenue began to level out as we reached the water station. I slowed to accept a cup, took a couple of sips and then a full mouthful of water, which I slowly swallowed while resuming my pace. We approached the two-mile marker, where a volunteer called out 17:15. So I definitely made up some time in that second mile. We turned onto Emerson Avenue, which was slightly uphill, and this time I felt the increase in elevation. A couple of runners passed me here, which motivated me to pick up my knees as we turned onto Adair Street. We made a quick turn onto West Ponce De Leon Street, then dashed onto West Trinity Place for the final stretch into downtown Decatur. Here the road turned downhill again, although I didn't feel that I was sailing as freely as I had on Drexel Avenue. Nonetheless I finished the fourth kilometer at 21:13 elapsed, 4:58 for the fourth kilometer.
Subsequently I found a video of highlights of the event. I make a very brief appearance at 3:01. I'm assuming that it's later in the race because I look a bit tired in the video:
The fifth kilometer and finish: The road began to level out and then back uphill as we approached downtown Decatur. The county courthouse was placed on top of a hill, I suppose to give the rulers a sense of their power over their subjects. I was feeling tired, but knew that I could do reasonably well if I didn't slow down. With a right turn onto North McDonough Street, the volunteers were encouraging us "Not much further!" and I could hear the announcer from the stadium. But everyone around me was also encouraged. As we turned right in front of Decatur High School, I was suddenly passed by several runners, making a strong finish by taking advantage of the downhill grade. I shook my head as they passed me, disappointed that I couldn't muster a kick of my own. But then through the gate, and onto the field! I ran as fast as I could manage past the spectators lining this final path, and as I crossed the finish line, I saw 26:10 on the clock. Practically the same time as my finish in the Dental Dash last weekend! What might I have accomplished if I did not have to stop to tie my shoe?! My official time was actually 26:09, with 4:56 elapsed for the final kilometer. That was definitely my fastest finishing kilometer ever.
Epilogue: The results were posted shortly by early afternoon (thanks sdracetiming.com!). I was pleased to see that I finished 172 out of 1278 finishers, and 6th out of 35 in my age group. This was the largest field to date for me. Although my times were similar to most of my other 5K times, I was very pleased that I did well with the later kilometers of the race. If I can strategically develop a slower start and save more energy at the beginning, so that I run a more consistent pace throughout the race, that will probably help me improve overall.
I drove out of the parking lot at the same time that the police were leaving. On the police motorcycle in front of me, a small sign attached to the rear fender read: "Smile! I could have been behind you."
Goal: To improve on my personal record of 25:23: 26:09
Goal: To have fun running a race that I selected on short notice: Achieved!