The Fred Lebow 5 mile race is one of my favorite road races of the year. It honors a man that I respect and look up to – he inspired me in the first few years as I was getting started. Also, the race is traditionally the first scored race on the calendar, in early January, normally just after I’ve made a resolution to run! This race was first held in 1995, as Fred passed away in late 1994. I participated in that first race, finishing in 46:36. In fact, I’ve run it 11 out of the 15 times it has been held. Last year, I set my 5 mile PR at 41:59. With all the running and improvements I’ve had over the last year, my goal was to beat that time.
The weather was definitely on the cold side. 24 degrees when I left my apartment, but no wind. Very nice conditions considering snow was predicted earlier in the week. For winter races, number pick up is at the NYRR office, and the t-shirt pick up is at the race site. As a result, I almost forgot to pick up my shirt! Not that I would be missing much, as their “XL” size runs small, and is too small for me. Usually, I get a large and save it for my dad, which is what I eventually remembered to do this time.
I had to remind myself not to overeat for this race. Of the 10 races I ran last year, 8 were 9.3 miles or longer, with 6 half marathons and 1 full. For long races, I need to fuel up real good. But, for a 5 mile race, it is better to eat a little lighter. In the end, ate 1 plain roll, 3 oatmeal cookies and half a Cliff bar. Also had about 10 ounces of Gatorade.
In terms of my goal time, as I said, I wanted to PR, which would be better than 41:59, which I did last year, 8:24 pace. Also, I wanted to beat my fastest pace-per-mile in a race, which I set at the Salsa Blues and Shamrock 5K in 2007, an 8:14 pace. Which brings me to a point about race pace. NYRR seeds all runners in corrals based on their fastest race pace. Last year, I was paced at 8:14 all year, which typically (maybe even always?) put me in the 3000 corral. I would love to get this pace down to move up to the 2000 corral, but have been unable to do so. I was suprised to find that in 2009, I’m still seeded at the 8:14 pace. I figured this would be reset annually. Let’s assume for a moment that I didn’t run for a year and entered this race. I’d have no shot at an 8:14 pace, but would still have been seeded that way. Don’t know what NYRR plans are on this, but I think the pace-per-mile seeding should be reset each year and should be at your fastest race in the prior calendar year. I think that is pretty fair.
Anyway, stepping off the soapbox, and up to the start line!
Before the race, I did my little shin stretches, as I was afraid of my shins causing a problem after my debacle in Florida 2 weeks ago. Otherwise, I felt ready to go. Layered up in 3 shirts, 2 pants, 2 gloves, 1 pair of socks and 1 hat. Before the start, it seemed that there were not that many people in the corral at all – it seems that many people were late in lining up. I really don’t understand this. The corral system has been used for a year now, and people should know that they need to line up at least 5 minutes before, otherwise they need to go to the back of the line. I guess people don’t care? My race preparation says last bathroom stop 30 minutes before the race, bag drop off 20 minutes before the race, and at the start corral 15 minutes before. Otherwise, you get caught up in the crowds. For me, it is important to get lined up in my corral so that I don’ t have to deal with passing slower people during the race.
Anyway, at 8am, we were off! Felt good in the first mile. Was nicely keeping up with the group. While there were people passing my in the first mile, I also passed many more people than I expected. I suspect this is due to what I talked about above, where people have a strong fastest pace-per-mile, but are out of shape and have no chance to deliver on the pace. I knew that my goal pace per mile was 8:24 – that is what I need to PR. First mile came in at 8:21. Perfect, considering I was not pushing hard, and there were hills in the second half of the mile. The 5 mile course is the ‘lower loop’ of Central Park. This means we go across the 102nd St transverse and then all the way around the bottom of the park and up the east side (counter clockwise), missing the tough hills at the north end of the park.
The uphills on the west side end early in mile 2, and the 2nd mile is mostly then downhill. So, I was not suprised when I finished mile 2 in 8:09. So far, so good. Except, on the downhill at about 1.5 miles, I could feel that my right shin was tight. Not in pain, but definitely tight and at risk of being a problem. Good thing I did my stretches before the start. For me, when my shins are acting up, it is worst on downhills, and uphills help to loosen the muscle up. Unfortunately, in miles 2 and 3, there are very few uphills to be found. So, just gritted my teeth, and hoped for the best.
I did hold back a slight bit in mile 3, for two reasons. First, didn’t want to blow out my shin on the downhill, and wanted to stay in control. Second, with more than 2 miles left in the race, including cat hill, and wanting to run those 2 miles hard, I thought it prudent to hold back a little. Mile 3 was completed in 8:27. I was still ahead of PR pace! Mile 3 is also the magical distance where I usually find my shin starts to loosen up. When I have shin pain, if it stays under control to mile 3, then the muscle will loosen up and not be a problem. Thankfully, that was the case today.
Working on mile 4, I felt like I was cooking. Pace felt hard, but not all out race pace. I started getting bothered by one guy in particular that was being really annoying about passing me. He’d pass me, and then slow down. I hate that – if you are going to pass someone, then really do it. So, over the course of 1/4 mile, he passed me a couple of times and I passed him a couple of times. But, I had my secret weapon in my pocket. My strategy usually is to push up the hills and then coast on the downhills. I think this is the best strategy for conserving energy. Use minimal energy on the downhills, and push the uphill so that the time spent on the hard uphill is less. As a result, I typically get passed on the downhills and then pass a bunch of people on the uphills. I was smug in knowing that I was going to blow by him on cat hill and then not see him pass me again, as after cat hill was over, I was going to turn it up for the last mile. Finished mile 4 in 8:18. This turned out to be the case…
At this point, I knew I had the PR in hand. I felt I would only pick up the pace in the last mile, and even an 8:45 mile would be enough. However, I had the very odd sensation that I might puke. Weird, as I’ve never felt that before in a race. Not sure exactly why that happened, but I held back a little in the first half of the 5th mile. The last half mile of the race is virtually all downhill, and very fast. Picked up the pace for the last half mile, passed a bunch of people, and ended with a 8:05 mile, for a total of 41:24, beating my PR by 35 seconds! My pace-per-mile was 8:16, so just short of the 8:14 I was shooting for. My finish was 1151 out of 3224
Anyway, had a wonderful run. Great way to start the year. With all the half marathons and other long distance races, I really miss the short distance race where you can really go almost all out for the entire distance. Now that I have that out of my system, I need to focus on long runs between now and the Austin Marathon, quickly coming on 2/15. Since I screwed up my last long run, I’m a little behind the 8 ball and MUST get one in next weekend.