Saturday started bright and early as I packed the wife, kids, and dogs into the Suburban and went to pick up my friends that I'd talked into running a 5k. We left the kids at our friends' house to babysit and headed down to the Hula Hut on Lake Austin where there was already a good crowd for the festivities. I took Scout, our german shepherd, and my wife took Hunter, our golden retriever, and we headed to registration. Since I had pre-registered I had to stand in a huge line to pick up my registration packet while my wife walked right up to the late registration table, paid her fees, and went to find some shade. Scout, being a shepherd, became extremely distressed that we'd lost my wife and Hunter. He was franticly looking around for her in the crowd and kept barking and trying to find her. I never cease to be amazed at how breeding affects behavior and wonder about the implications for humans and "free will".
The morning started out cool, but sunny days in Texas don't stay that way. As the 8:45 start time came and went the temperature climbed from a comfortable 60 degrees to the mid-70s. Since ideal running temperature is 55 degrees, this wasn't good news for me. My goal was to run a sub 8:00 minute per mile pace and all of my training has been at a 7:00 minute per mile pace so I thought it was possible.
We all found a shady spot to wait for the race to start and I decided to start back in the pack since I was running with a dog and didn't want faster runners to be tripped up by us. The horn went off and my wife and I funneled into the crowd that was lazily walking to the start line in a mass of compressed humanity. As we crossed the red timing mats we heard the frantic, high pitched beeping of the timing system as it registered each of the hundreds of timing chips tied to each runner's shoe. Then I hit the play button on my mp3 player and the start buttons on my watches and took of trying to thread my way through the now running mass.
It turns out that starting in the back was a very bad idea. The pounding beat and tortured wailing of Audioslave were an appropriate background as I ran on the rocks by the side of the road and passed the packs of slower runners ahead of me. Scout stayed right by my left knee as we weaved in and out. When I had to dodge left my knee would hit him in the right shoulder and when I zigged right he'd do his best to stay with me. Around the one mile mark I dashed past my friends who had started ahead of me but didn't have a chance to say high because I was jumping up on the sidewalk to go around a the pack of runners around them.
As I passed the one mile marker I hit my stopwatch's button and realized that a button had been hit when I bumped into someone so I had no idea for the rest of the race what my actual pace was. But I've gotten pretty good at judging my pace and I was sure I was right around eight minutes. The first mile had the worst of the hills so I picked up the pace in the second mile which was pretty flat. The heart rate monitor was reading 177 and now it moved up to 180. My interval training told me that this was ok, but I've never tried to sustain that pace over this long of a distance. Most of my longer runs are done at a heart rate of about 155, marathon pace is about 158, my lactacte thresholdl is 163, and my max heart rate is 183. So 180 is pushing it.
Mile two came and went and the race started to feel much longer than any 5k I've ever run. I was now anxiously waiting to see the three mile marker as the life started to drain from my legs and my pace started to drop. I managed to keep my heart rate at 177 and finally saw the 3 mile marker. This was the sign to put on the final kick and I crossed the line with a time of 26:09.9 which is an 8:26 minute per mile pace.
In my younger days I might have been disappointed. But I ran hard under challenging conditions and it felt great to do it. I fished some water out of the ice filled bed of a pickup truck and sat on a curb while Scout plopped down in the puddle formed by the melting ice. We both enjoyed a cool drink and then walked back up the course to meet my wife and Hunter. She walked most of the 5k even though Hunter kept urging her to run. Considering that a year ago she was recovering from foot surgery for plantar fasciitis, this was a big step for her too.
Well, sorry to bore you, but if you've never run a foot race go out and do it. For $20 you get a cool t-shirt, help out a local charity, and get to celebrate being alive by running or walking with a few hundred other folks. Times don't really matter since the reward is just getting out and doing it.