Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Hot Chocolate 5K RR (aka the race distance that I love to hate)

It had been almost two years since I had done a 5K. It's not like I avoided the distance on purpose or anything. It's just that when I was a newer runner, I mostly did NYRR races since I got membership discounts, and they didn't offer more than two to three 5K races per year.

As I was training for NYCM, I decided to pick a race approximately one month after the marathon so that I could both have enough recovery time and capitalize on my improved fitness. NYCRuns had become a more prominent running club over the last couple of years, and when I realized that they had the Hot Chocolate 5K on December 16th, I knew that this would be the perfect opportunity to smash my PR from March 2011. 

Although the marathon was cancelled, and I didn't end up running much of November, I still hoped that I maintained at least most of my fitness from marathon training. When it came time to figure out a goal, I wasn't really sure what to aim for. Since my best 4 mile pace was 7:52, I figured that I would aim for approximately a 7:45 pace and see how that went. 

I knew that picking my race outfit would be of paramount importance. I wanted something that screamed "fast". After thinking about it for a few minutes, I settled with red shorts and the black tank top that I bought for the marathon. I had made the mistake of overdressing for my last 5K, which was held in similar weather conditions, and I didn't want history to repeat itself. 

The morning of the race, I get to Roosevelt Island really early, but it ended up being a good thing as I ran into my friend Leiba as we were getting off of the train. She & I were reverse twins that day. After picking up her race bib, we ran into my other friend, Sarah. Apparently NYCRuns recycles past bibs - Sarah was wearing one from the Brooklyn Marathon that was held less than a month before. 

Eventually, I check my bag, and of course, I'm freezing in my tank and shorts. There was a good chance of rain, but so far, it had not yet arrived other than a slight mist. We walk towards the start, and gather around the start line. A volunteer was nice enough to let me wear a spare sweater for a few minutes while we were waiting to line up. I told her that she was my new best friend for the day. 

The organizers pretty much told everyone who could run faster than a 9 minute mile to go up towards the front, and for everyone else to line up in the back. I lined up next to Leiba, and suddenly felt very nervous. But I didn't have much time to dwell on that thought - the horn went off, and instinctively, I took off. 

Not surprisingly, I probably started off the first mile way too fast. Sometime during the early part of the first mile, Leiba surged ahead of me, and I knew that I wouldn't be able to catch her without ruining my race. Instead, I made sure to use her as my "rabbit", and my goal was to not lose sight of her the entire time. A part of me wasn't surprised at that point, as I thought that she would finish way before I did.

My mile splits were slightly off, but my Garmin hit the first mile at 7:28. I knew that I wouldn't be able to maintain that pace, so I did my best to keep the pace as close to 7:45 as possible without dropping off too much. By the middle of the second mile, I was already hating myself for signing up, and at that point, it was pure race adrenaline that was getting me through this experience. 

Midway through the second mile, I managed to catch up with Leiba and pass her. I couldn't tell how far behind me she was, so instead I managed to focus in on a girl wearing pink in front of me. I had no way to know whether she was in my AG or not, but I decided to try and keep her within my sight for as long as possible. Mile two was done in 7:41, and at that point, I did my best to ensure that I wouldn't slow down even further. 

The course was altered slightly due to Hurricane damage, so some of the third mile was spent on a dirt path. Thankfully, since it wasn't raining, the course wasn't as muddy as I feared it would be. I just remember breathing very hard at this point, and counting down the tenths of a mile until I could finally stop running. I was relieved when I hit the mile three marker and that mile split was 7:47. 

I then forced myself to run the last tenth of a mile as fast as possible and ended up finishing the last 0.14 miles at a 7:02 pace. Just as I crossed the finishing line, I suddenly saw Leiba come up very quickly on my right and we ended up crossing the finish line at the exact same time. She told me afterwards that she had predicted that we would tie, and at the end, wanted to make that final surge so that could come true. We didn't know what our official times were, but we were both pretty confident that we each got sub-24

As for me? My first words to her were the following: "I hate 5Ks, and I am never doing one again!" That's not quite true however - I have signed up for the Coogan's 5K in March as a time trial for marathon training, but I know that I won't get a new PR - it's much hillier than Roosevelt Island, which is as flat as a pancake compared to Central Park. 

I eagerly waited the posting of the results. Although I knew that it was highly unlikely, a part of me hoped for an age group award. In NYRR races, I never would have stood a chance, but since this race had about 500 people, I knew that this would be my best opportunity in the near future. 

However, it was not meant to be. I was technically 6th in my age group (20-29), but the top two were overall winners. The next three people won the age group awards, while Leiba and I technically tied at 4th place with an official time of 23:55. However, since I must have beaten her by like a tenth of a second or something, I placed 4th and she placed 5th. Still, getting 4th was by far the closest I have ever come to receiving an AG award, and will probably be the closest I will get in the near future. 

Looking back at McMillan, however, I realized that according to my HM PR, I should have been able to race a 5K in 23:23. Oh well. It just goes to show you that I am still better at racing longer distances. The official results are below - I had to figure out my gender placement by counting the number of women in the race by adding up each age group. I also found a website for calculating my AG percentage. 

Previous PR: 27:26  @ 8:50mm
New PR: 23:55 @ 7:43mm
Overall Placement: 56/506
Gender Placement: 15/336
Age Place: 4/136
Age Graded Percentage: 60.32%

While I would have loved to get my first AG award, I am very happy that I finally broke my 5K PR, and got above a 60% AG for that distance. 

In hindsight, I realized that although the race itself is painful, the feeling of leaving nothing on the course can be very addicting. While I am still not in love with the distance, I can appreciate why others are obsessed with it. 

I think that NYCRuns does an amazing job of putting on races. They are well organized, and have the sense to keep races on the small side so that they course is not too overcrowded. I never felt that I was impeded from running my race in any way. I had a great time, and plan on doing more of their races in the future. 

Thanks for reading! 

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