March 8, 2014: 

Dental Dash at Dawn 5K    

Goal: To improve on my personal record of 25:23  

I learned about this race about a month ago, when I visited my dentist for routine cleaning and checkup.  She had postcards at the front desk advertising this 5K race and fundraiser, organized by the DDD Foundation (Dentistry for the Developmentally Disabled).  In addition to supporting this important cause, I was attracted by the race route, starting and finishing in the historic Old Fourth Ward Park, circling through the Poncey-Highlands and Inman Park neighborhoods surrounding the Carter Center and Presidential Library.  As this neighborhood was also the home of Martin Luther King, the emcee noted that this was one of the few places in the world that was home to two Nobel Peace Prizes.

The start and first kilometer:  The race began promptly at 8:00 am on the sidewalk overlooking the Old Fourth Ward Park.  We quickly made it to North Avenue, and turned due east.  After crossing under the Beltline overpass, we encountered the first of four hills.  I had resolved to attack the hills strongly, and passed a few runners on the first two hills, reaching the large intersection with Freedom Parkway at the first kilometer mark.  4:57 for the first kilometer, which was exactly what I had planned.

ca. 30 seconds before the race.  I probably could have started a little closer to the line, as there are more than 24 people in front of me.  But I didn't know how well I would do over the next 26 minutes! 

The second kilometer:  Two more hills on North Avenue: I started to slow down, and at least one person that I had passed earlier went ahead of me.  He was wearing the red Eastside Beltline 10K shirt from December 2013.  But finally we reached the top of the last hill, approaching Highland Avenue at the end of the first mile.  This was the major attraction of the race: the hardest part would be at the beginning when everyone was fresh.  I had never before appreciated that Highland Avenue is truly on the high land.  We turned south at Highland Avenue, at Manuel's Tavern, a longstanding Atlanta institution famous as a meeting place for DeKalb County politicians.  As I approached Freedom Parkway for the second time, there was a fairly large gap between me and the runners ahead of me, and the police let a few cars through the intersection before stopping them again for me (Thanks!).  5:34 for the second kilometer, 10:31 elapsed.

The third kilometer:  This section entered the Inman Park neighborhood, with century-old homes lining the right side of Highland Avenue, and restaurants along the left side.  I was able to pick up some speed on this downhill section.  I felt like I was leading the pack of second tier runners, and was able to lengthen my stride to take advantage of the gentle downhill route.  We then made a sharp left turn to a steeper downhill section, where I had to slow down a bit to avoid putting all of my weight onto my toes, and after a block turned right to parallel Highland Avenue but at a lower elevation.  This proved to be the fastest stretch of my race, 4:49 for the third kilometer, and 15:20 elapsed.  Just over a 5 minute per kilometer pace, which was probably not going to be fast enough to break my personal record.

The fourth kilometer:  At the 3 km mark, the route turned onto Elizabeth Street for a short uphill stretch.  The left side of the block is now a huge construction project, replacing a 70's-style small business development.  I made good time up the hill to the intersection with Highland Avenue, with Fritti Restaurant on the right corner, one of my favorite authentic Italian pizza restaurants.  Turning left onto Highland, the route was uphill again.  As we neared Parish Restaurant, I had never realized that Parish was on a hill!  Actually it's the overpass crossing the Beltline, but Highland Avenue continued at that elevation crossing Freedom Parkway with the ever-popular Highland Bakery to the left.  (Highland Bakery prepared our wedding cake!)  I could feel footsteps behind me for some distance along Highland Avenue, even spying a shadow growing closer to me, and then catching a glimpse of the competition just a few feet behind me.  I finished the fourth kilometer in 5:44, my slowest stretch of this race, with 21:04 elapsed.

The fifth kilometer:  I had not prepared by running the race route ahead of time, and had only driven it once, the previous weekend.  In short I had not studied properly for this race, and I had not realized that all of the hills were NOT at the start!  But as we turned right onto Glen Iris Drive traveling due north, I could see a very gentle downhill stretch.  I had hoped to stay ahead of the competition here, but my competitors also benefited from the effects of gravity at least as much as I did.  I attempted to shift to a higher gear, but could hold off the competitor for only another minute, before she passed me in the first block of Glen Iris (she turned out to be the winner of the female 10-19 age group).  We reached the 3 mile mark after turning into the approach road to the park.  I could sense another runner coming up behind me, but managed to hold her off long enough to cross the finish line one second ahead of her (the winner of the female 50-59 age group).  Hopefully I didn't do anything unethical with my elbows as I reached the finish!  5:05 for the final kilometer, 26:09 official finish time!

I was a little disappointed that I didn't finish in less than 26 minutes, but it was a good and fun course, and one that I will definitely do again.  I didn't appreciate until later that there weren't many finishers in the park ahead of me, and I should have been really happy about that.  However, the organizers had a screen showing the leading times.  The best part was when I realized that I was 2nd in my age group (25th overall out of 206 finishers), and would be bringing home some hardware!  The award ceremony was held in the middle of the park, overlooking the fountain in the water-retention pond.  Participants ranged in age from 8 to 77, with the oldest runner finishing in less than 36 minutes, inspiration for all of the rest of us to keep in shape.

Goal: To improve on my personal record of 25:23:  26:09

Splits: by mile, 8:30; 7:58; 8:54.  My overall pace was 8:25 per mile.

It appears that I've plateaued.  However, when I registered last week for the Peachtree Road Race on July 4, I also signed up for the Peachtree Training program beginning in late April.  I think that another training program will help me improve.

Overall, the fastest kilometers correspond to downhill sections, so at least this time I was able to speed up a bit on the easier sections, unlike the final stage of the Charles Harris 10K.  I also managed to finish every kilometer in less than 6 minutes, consistent with my long-term goal to finish every kilometer at that minimal pace.

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