Sunday, May 4, 2014

Goodlife 5K 2014 - Race Report

With the race starting at 8, to be safe we left at 6:15 and headed downtown.  Traffic was pretty non-existent at that time on a Sunday morning, so we made great time and were at the start a little before 7.

My sister-in-law was interested in checking out a race as she started running recently, so her and my brother came along.  As we got there a little earlier than planned, we surveyed the finish area and then headed to the start and chatted for a while.  It was a bit on the cool side, but the sun was warm so as long as it was shining it was pretty comfortable.  Fortunately since they were down there, I wore an extra layer on top and could pass that off to them before the race which helped a lot.

At about 7:40 a horde of runners came around the corner, so I handed over my sweatshirt to them and headed out to warm-up.  After a short jog I did a few striders to wake up the legs then got into position.At this point the front of the start coral was already packed, but I pushed my way into a good position.  Given previous years' results, I knew an AG placement may be within reach so I had to be near the front (they are based on gun time) so I was a little more aggressive than normal. There was no seeding at all, so the crowd wasn't well organized and it was obvious the start would be messy.

A few minutes from the start a fellow lined up behind me that looked like he'd be a lot faster.  I asked him what time he was shooting for so I could let him in front if he was as fast as he looked, but he responded with an I don't know so I let it be.  He ended up winning the race, so in retrospect I should have offered anyway.  Not sure if it was a strategy thing (don't show your cards too early), but I can't see someone with an elite runner's build being terribly concerned about a bigger guy like myself.

As we approached the start, the announcer asked the usual string of questions to the crowd including who was running their first race.  Several individuals in the front row excitedly put their hands up, and there was an audible groan from the rest of the pack at the front.  People moved around a bit to get away from those stragglers, and as they shuttled us forward to the timing mats they were enveloped into the crowd.

As predicted, when the gun went off it was pretty much chaos, but about twenty of us launched out of the gate at a 2:30/km pace for the first couple hundred meters.  We managed to quickly shed the traffic, coalesce and slowed down to a 4:00 pace in perfect sync.  After that point we were in a comfortable cruise and just stuck with it.

A few seconds later several dozen over-enthusiastic runners swarmed around us, but we tightened ranks and picked every one of them off within the first kilometer as they burned themselves out.  After that point, we opened up a pretty good gap and no one else passed any of us for the remainder of the race.  It was pretty awesome how organic that little phalanx of runners worked together.  We didn't talk at all (everyone was breathing heavily and I don't think anyone could), but pretty much everyone worked in sync and knew exactly what to do and when.  Starts at 5K's are complicated animals, and it was nice to see how it works on the pointy end of the stick.  I've never been on this end of things so it was certainly a new experience.

There was a bit of an odd segment at about 400m where we were looping around a part of Ontario place.  Rather than following the road, everyone just kind of went through an active parking lot so we were weaving around cars like an obstacle course.  I kind of thought we were cutting a corner or something, but the cyclist that was leading the group (the race leaders were with us) went that way and the Garmin reported exactly 5K so it must have been the right way.  Kind of an odd way to set up a race course, but I guess someone just forgot to close down the parking lot early enough or something?

Over the next kilometer we spit a few more runners out the back and continued pulling hard toward the turnaround.  They were going at about the right pace, but after the 2K mark I was getting a bit tired and questioning whether I was going to be able to sustain this.  My heart rate monitor slipped down earlier in the race as there was a lot more upper-body movement at this speed than normal running, but manually measuring it concurred with the numbers near the start and I was running in the mid-to-high 190s (or about 96%MHR).  That's about right for a 5K, but I don't think I've ever managed to pull that level of output for this length of time so it did leave me a bit worried :(

When we got to the turnaround, the pack accelerated into the high-3:40s and given my feelings above I elected not to follow.  I stuck with the 4:00 even pacing as I didn't want to push past the redline too early.  In retrospect this was a bad decision as the reason that first half was so hard was that we were going into a headwind and that was adding a good deal of extra work.  At normal running speeds that usually wouldn't affect me this much, but going this fast it apparently added up.  I figured that out around the 4K mark, but at that point they had opened up a pretty good gap (~45sec) and I missed the opportunity to use the downhill to my advantage.  I picked it up a little to try and reel them in, but I was naturally tired at this point so there was only so much that I could muster.

As I approached the bridges that I had planned to accelerate at, I was breathing harder than I would have liked so I stuck to my current pace and just pushed through.  I'd managed to pull the gap down to about 15 seconds or so, but that was too far to try and sprint out and overtake so I went back to just focusing on the time goal.  As I saw the lead group of four runners turn the corner into the finishing chute, I picked it up a little and as I was getting really close to the time goal I punched it just after hitting the final bridge.  That last set of lights where the turn was seemed to take forever to come and I was hurting pretty bad at this point, but I was determined to make it.  I had to slow a little when turning the sharp corner, but then accelerated again to a full sprint to finish it off with the clock counting down on me making it in with just three seconds to spare.

When we made the turn into the finishing area, it was kind of a surreal experience.  As it was the same finish for the marathon it was massive, but it was almost completely devoid of people.  I came in 17th place, so there were only a few athletes there and most of the volunteers were still arriving and unpacking things.  The upside to that is that we had quite an awesome buffet of snacks fully at our disposal with no crowds to wade through like normal ;)  The few of us that had made it through chatted a bit now after spending the last twenty minutes with one another and not really being able to say a word.  Was an interesting experience compared to the normal impersonal finishing chute where you're just cattle herded through the stages and out to meet people you already know.

After talking for a little and grabbing some food and water, I headed over to meet the family.  Not sure exactly how the placement went, we walked over to the timing tent to see where they were printing out the results sheets.  Unfortunately, they weren't doing that and the only way to check that was online which seemed a bit silly.  They also had no idea whether there would be an awards ceremony as given the demographics of the individuals I ran with I was pretty sure I was somewhere in the mix.  But without any kind of confirmation it wasn't really worth standing around and waiting, so I stretched and the three of us headed out to go grab some breakfast at the Grille on the Queensway :D  On the drive over there my father called to congratulate me on winning my age group, but at that point it was too late to go back.  Either way, while it would have been kind of nice I wasn't entirely sure that they were going to do anything like that, and if so it may have been bundled in with the marathon stuff which would have required hours of standing around.

Either way, it was a pretty interesting experience overall.  I've never really been anywhere close to the front of the race like this, but it was pretty nice to get a different perspective on things.  Normally I'm used to only worrying about how I'm doing relative to the clock, but there are a lot of moving parts when you need to also concern yourself about what everyone else is doing.  I kind of enjoyed the process of watching the other runners to figure out who was going to drop back and where to position myself, as well as keeping track of passes and estimating time gaps.  The turnaround was especially fun as you can extract a lot of information about where everyone is as you make that turn.  I can also appreciate how much easier all of this would be with the age number written on the back of the calves like they do in Triathlons - it was a bit of a guessing game who in the bunch was in my age group (apparently no one, but didn't know that at the time).

With that said, I don't imagine that I'll be in this boat many more times.  A lot of the reason I placed so well in the race is that the field wasn't particularly strong.  A 20 minute 5K is fast, but in most races there are usually a handful of 15min runners and a bunch in between so it usually will be much further back in the standings.  Either way, it was exciting while it lasted and will be a good excuse to keep trying to get faster so I can replicate it when racing against full strength fields!

As for the race itself, it ended up being pretty well executed.  My only tactical error was not sticking with the group after the turnaround - doing 1K at 4:00 and then the final kilometer much faster took a lot more out of me than doing both at a slightly faster pace like they were doing.  I also had more in reserve at the end than I thought, as when I picked it up the legs felt a lot better than I figured they would.  Had the runners in front of me been a little closer and the prospect of actually overtaking them been feasible I likely would have had more resolve to tap into that and I suspect with the two of those factors combined I probably could have shaved about 20 or 30 seconds off of that time.  Either way, the point of this run was to get better acquainted with my limits and I'm a lot closer to that than I was before.  I feel a lot more confident about opening up the throttle near the end, and while the lungs were screaming at the finish the legs still felt fresh so the strength is there if I need it.

Chip Time: 19:57.3
Gun Time: 19:57.3
Age Group - 1/67
Men - 13/386 (97th percentile)
Overall - 17/991 (98th percentile)
12 seconds behind #16, 18 seconds ahead of #18