2016 Non-goals & the Needham New Year’s 5k

My goals for 2016 are to have no goals. Cliched as it is, after the last few months, just taking it a day at a time, staying healthy, staying rested and figuring out how to live with this disease is my primary goal. Turns out being rushed to the hospital and spending a week in a really uncomfortable bed while being put through a ringer of tests will put a lot of things in perspective. Initially, sitting in that drab room, it gives you a vivid awareness of that ledge out there. Of death. But now, more removed, I’ve found my perspective has shifted. The entire experience has shown me less about death and given me more an acute awareness of life.  

Of course that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop running or exercising. That would be a small death in and of itself.

So how did I spend New Year’s Day? Running a local 5k (Needham Running Club’s New Year’s 5K) and setting a new PR of course. Goals, schmoals. 

As I’ve focused more on triathlon and longer endurance events the past few years, my running PRs were a necessary casualty. Hard to set a 10k PR after swimming a mile and biking for 25 or 30. The 5k PR in particular has been vexing. It feels like it’s been stuck right at the 20:00 minute mark for a decade. I seemed to have plateaud. Every 5k I did hovered around that time but I could never get a certified 5k under 20 mins (a few times I went under but the course was obviously short – a common problem with smaller, local 5ks). At a certain point it becomes mental. 

So what changed in this race? Was it my mental outlook post-diagnosis? Maybe. More likely it was the increased amount of short runs I’ve been limited to as I returned to running. How did it all go down? I’m glad you asked.

This race was being put on by the local running club so I knew there would be plenty of fast people to latch on to near the front. Who else besides dedicated runners get up this early (actually 10 am wasn’t a bad start time) on New Year’s Day to run?! 

It was bright, sunny and cold, but not bitter on race morning. I opted for shorts and a few layers up top. Packet pickup was a little chaotic with the pre-registered line being a lot longer than day-of. One of my biggest pet peeves is when races don’t re-allocate volunteers to address line imbalances. Drives me nuts and judging by the folks around me, I’m not alone in this thought. Eventually, I got my number and swag (hot chocolate mug and ankle socks) and went back outside to warm up.

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This race was being put on by the local running club so I knew there would be plenty of fast people to latch on to near the front. Who else besides dedicated runners get up this early (actually 10 am wasn’t a bad start time) on New Year’s Day to run?! I took a spot on the left (I knew the first turn was left) up near the front but behind the obligatory, super skinny speedsters toeing the start line.

Going into the race, I did not have a PR on my mind, like a Polar Bear plunge or a Thanksgiving Turkey Trot, running a race on New Year’s had just always been on my running to-do list. The first mile was slightly uphill and I tried not to get too caught up in the early sprinters, go fast, but keep some speed in reserve. 5ks are a tough balance, you basically need to go just short of an all out sprint. Restrained abandon. I hit the first marker at 6:25. Not bad, maybe a few seconds slower than I wanted, but better too slow at this point than too fast. Save a few matches.

Mile two was basically back the way we came, so a slight downhill. The packs were now starting to spread out and I settled in with a group of 5 men and a women. The course was basically through the residential streets surrounding the local town and I was pleasantly surprised with the number of people out cheering. Even if it was difficult to hear them over my increasingly loud breathing! Most of the group intact, I think the woman dropped back a bit and one man had surged ahead a little, we hit the mile 2 marker with a 6:17 split. So a little slow the first mile, a little quick the second mile. At this point, I’ll admit the sub-20 creeped into my mind just as the lactic acid started hitting my legs.

No head, but a new 5k PR to start the year!

Mile 3 was basically flat overall, but started with a little downhill that broke up our nice pace group. It was now me and two other guys, one in front and one behind. Looking at the data afterward, my pace was all over the map this third mile, quick down the hill, slower up it, even slower making the last turn. All I remember is suffering and trying to hold on as long as I could. Having the one guy in front to chase and knowing I was being chased probably helped keep me going. The end couldn’t come soon enough. Mile 3 done in 6:23. I made the last turn and just gave it all I had. I caught the guy in front of me and crossed the line with a new PR of 19:46. Good for 27th/555 and 9th in my AG. Lots of speedy people in this race.

Not a bad way to start the year!


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