UPC at Percy Sutton Harlem 5K
I mentioned in my earlier post today that I really enjoy testing myself. I spent some time talking about testing, and competition, and giving a broad definition for what a test day really is. To sum it all up: a test day happens when you break your normal training regimen long enough to prepare for a significant testing endeavor with the ultimate goal of establishing your maximum capacity for that test. I mentioned that one of the best ways to do test days is in a competition, since much of what makes test days successful is already culturally built into a competition.
The Percy Sutton Harlem 5K is the first major test day that I’ve had while I’ve been Urban Paleo Chef. I know, if I really enjoy those test days, why don’t I do them more often? Well, maybe it’s because I spend every waking moment trying to juggle my social life, my job, and my latest and greatest obsession: urbanpaleochef.com! It’s a challenging juggling act, to be sure, but after being reminded how much I love racing this weekend, I think maybe I can fit a few more in than once in 10 months…
The weather was absolutely perfect!
I have mentioned before that I love running in the rain. It’s a great feeling – to have a cooling soak naturally applied to you while you’re out there sweating out your daily frustrations. Well, while I love to run in the rain, I love to race in the crisp bright summer morning sun! Saturday morning was just as close to a perfect race day as you can ask for. At least, for a 5K. The starting temperature was mid-60’s with a very slight wind, mild humidity, and the gorgeous sunshine keeping my spirits soaring. I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day for my first race of the year, and in nearly a full year!
I had a great starting bib
One of the things that I love the most about NYRR races is that they’re seeded. You earn your starting position with your placements in previous races. What that means is: fast runners don’t have to worry about slower runners in front of them. I am all for sharing the road, and I love training with people of all abilities. There’s little more motivating than seeing someone working their butt off to change their life! But on test day, I am not interested in the least bit of outside influence interfering with my performance. It’s test day, after all. I am there for one reason, and one reason only: to see what the best possible performance I can have is. I’ve trained for this, I’ve changed my training, eating, and sleeping habits (presumably) over the past several (or more) days, and I am focused on my goal of peak performance. There’s no other reason for me to be there, on that day.
So, having seeded races really makes a difference when it comes to managing outside influences on your performance. And that’s even more appropriate for people who are on the faster side. In fact, it’s so important that some people may need to participate in some races before their test day, just to establish an appropriate starting seed for themselves. If you’re a runner, and you have the opportunity to perform your test-days in a seeded race, I highly suggest you approach it with a few other recent races under your belt (but long enough ago not to affect performance) so that your seed is as good as it can be.
This race had almost 3500 people in it, and my starting number was 525. That’s a great starting bib, and put me right in the very first seeded coral! As I discussed above, that’s just one more thing to ensure peak performance!
The race went off without a hitch!
Now that I’ve discussed all of the “prep” ideas that I have to discuss, I’ll tell you about the race…
I was early to the coral, and had the opportunity to be literally in the line-up at the starting line! I elected not to be the very front-runner for a few reasons. One: I know I’m not the fastest, nor even the 10th fastest person in the race. As it turned out, I wasn’t even in the top 100. So, while it’s really exciting to stand there on that front line, with everyone else behind you, I’m going to hold off on that a little bit until I’m actually a competitor for those coveted spots on the finishing podium. When I get near there, maybe I’ll take a position on the front of the line.
Even from where I was standing, though, I was only a few bodies back from the line, and I had the most exciting starting position I’ve ever had. I was surrounded by people that I knew were every bit as fast as me, and mots of them were probably quite a bit faster! The men’s record for the race was something in the high 13 minutes. That’s blazing fast – and way out of reach for me today! I am still trying to put together a sub-5 mile; to get a sub-14 5K, I would need to be able to string together 3 4:30 miles in a row! Possible? Certainly. Was it going to happen on Saturday? I’m perfectly comfortable being reasonable with my expectations here: that was out of reach for me by a very long shot. A second reason I stepped back is that, knowing I’m not the fastest person there, I didn’t want to be causing anyone else to have to dodge around me as they made their own best attempt at a peak performance. To paraphrase the “Golden Rule”: give the courtesy to others that you would expect to be given to you.
As the starting gun went off, I felt a surge of adrenaline spurring me to leap forward like a prize racehorse, or a cheetah. I’ve been in more races than I want to count, and far more than necessary to know that obeying this urge is counterproductive in any race longer than a mile. I held back a bit, watching the people on the front line surge ahead of me at paces that, at present, I can only dream of. It’s a heady feeling, that adrenaline. It’s more so on such a perfectly beautiful day, when you’re surrounded by some peak athletes who have trained and tapered, like you, to put together a peak performance day on that day. I reveled in the experience while I loped forward at an easy 6:30 pace.
I had told my wife at the starting line that my goal pace was 6:30. This would qualify as “bats in the belfry crazy” under most circumstances, since my seed time was a 6:53, which I had hard-won the year before in another peak-performance day. A 23 second PR is a lot for any runner; and it’s unheard of for a sub-7 mile pace. People never move their pace in leaps and bounds like that.
More importantly, though, putting together a 6:30 pace for this 5K bodes well for my “potential” to pull off the sub-5 mile I’ve been training for in a month. Perhaps it would be possible for me to have done even better on this 5K, if I’d been training for it. But this 5K is intended as a way-point in my 5-minute mile training program, and the results of this 5K are instructive on where my strengths and weaknesses are, and what things I should be trying to address over this final month of training.
It’s a tough course, and an exciting one. The race starts off with a slightly downhill straightaway, just long enough and flat enough to encourage runners to pump their legs and power through their adrenaline surges. It’s a mean way to start a race. At the end of that first straight away is a turn leading in to the first climb of the race. And it’s a long, steep climb. Any runner who let their adrenaline get the best of them will be really hurting through this climb! The climb turns out to be over half-a-mile long, with a short flat section, just long enough for the runners to think it’s over, as a break in the middle. At the end of the climb is another turn, leading to the back stretch of the 5K, right at the 1-mile marker. I finished the first mile in exactly 6:30, right on pace, but feeling the hills. My legs were strong; all the 1/4 mile sprint workouts kept my legs pumping without any burn at this point. But my lungs were pumping hard; my short sprint workouts had not well prepared me for a sustained uphill output. I knew then that my legs would not be my weak point in this race.
The back-stretch is rolling hills, with two short downhills and two short uphills, quite a few turns and some flat stretches. It’s not easy, by any stretch, but compared with the front mile, and the final mile that I knew was coming, the back stretch was unmemorable. I crossed the 2nd mile market at precisely 13 minutes. I was somewhat concerned that I wasn’t a little ahead of the clock, because the final mile is a tough one.
Beginning the final mile shortly after the 13 mile market is a long downhill, very similar in steepness and style to the front hill. It’s not the straight downhills leading to a finish that cross country runners thrive on; there are sharp turns with street corners, very short flat stretches, and more downhills. This is a leg-burning downhill, where you have to decelerate to take a corner every time you get a good rhythm going. It’s almost like a switchback downhill, except on pavement. After the downhill is a half-mile straightaway to the finish. And it felt like the longest half mile ever! My legs were starting to heat up with exertion, and my lungs were burning. I crossed the 3-mile marker at exactly 19:30. It was uncanny that I was on my 6:30 pace to the second, and if I’d had the slightest extra brain power to pay attention, I might have marveled at it.
My wife was waiting for me shortly after the 3-mile marker, and saw me coming. As you can see in the picture, my form is still somewhat together, but I’m definitely dragging a bit. The other runners around me are pulling their last bit of saved energy for a sprint to the finish; while I’m leaching my last bits of energy just to maintain pace. I saw my wife before she started yelling her encouragement; but I truly didn’t even have the energy to wave to her. I was sapped.
It’s amazing, though, what kind of an energy surge the crowd can give you. Seeing my wife warmed my heart, though I didn’t have any energy left to share that fact. But hearing her screaming “Come on baby! Kick it in! Kick! Kick!” brought to me some of the deep-down reserves that really make or break a race day. She helped me dredge up energy I didn’t even know I had, and I did. I kicked it in to the finish line. Somehow, miraculously, I managed to shave off 3 seconds from my rock-solid 6:30 pace the whole race.
I finished in 20:06. It’s a new personal record for me by 24 seconds per mile!
I can honestly say that I gave it my all. I left everything out there on the course, and held absolutely nothing back. I have some great feedback, some things that I can use to shore up those last little bits of my fitness to put together the best 1-mile I possibly can in a month. And I put out a peak performance. I used that test-day to the very best, and I couldn’t be happier with my results!
My Training Feedback:
- As I mentioned above: my legs are not the “weak link” in my running-machine. My cardiovascular system took a serious beating on this race, and I definitely need to focus a bit on making sure I can get the oxygen needed to my muscles to hold a 35-second 200 for 8 200s in a row, without resting. It’s not a track mile either; so there is terrain that will further challenge the runners.
I’ll tackle this with some hill-800 training days. I expect that a few hill-800s will be about the best training I can give my lungs to handle the output I’ll need to maintain.
- My form suffered as I lost focus and strength throughout the race. This is to be expected, to some degree. I have not been training for a 5K, at all. And this feedback isn’t really useful for my mile-training plans. It is useful if my wife and I start to pick out some other races this fall that we’ll go to; but that’s another story all together.
I won’t be prioritizing this as an issue.
- That’s it! What else could I possibly find to critique when I put together a 23/mile freakin’ second per mile PR?!?