Coming in third place to myself

Cross-posted (with minor editing) from my running blog.

When I race, I have no illusions about competition. I’m a late-bloomer for running, and I’m not in the best of shape. And my gender/age group is the sweet spot for local champions – typically the winner is a man around my age. Those guys are fast!

So I just compete against myself. I try to best my previous record, or my record for that race or course.

Sunday morning I ran in my first race of the year, the Fanconi Anemia Valentine’s Day 5K.

I’ve been running every other day for a couple of months, since my last time of falling off the wagon. I’ve been working on increasing my overall distance, and in the last couple of weeks have tried to make my five-mile-plus loop my “default” run. I’m somewhat discouraged because on my training runs, I rarely average better than a 10:30-10:20 pace.

So going into today’s race, I figured I’d show up, do my best, and just use it to gauge my level of fitness for future races. No expectations. I just wanted to finish.

I did a mini-taper by running a slow 3.5 mile loop on Friday. I’ve been watching what I eat. I’ve been drinking plenty of water. Saturday I lifted some weights, mostly upper-body stuff. Got plenty of sleep the night before. Ate a cup of yogurt about an hour and a half prior to the start of the race, and a half-liter of water.

It was cold, below freezing the morning of the race, and windy, but I dressed for it; long pants, two long-sleeved technical shirts (one thin and one thicker in case I got too warm), gloves, skull cap.

The course was very flat – starting under the Morrison Bridge, heading south along the waterfront, then turn around near our beautiful expensive Tram and head back basically the same way.

When I passed the Mile 1 marker, I was astonished: 8:40?! Eight minutes and forty seconds? That can’t be right! I was pushing a little but not hard. I decided that the marker must be wrong. But I kept the same pace as long as I could.

Second mile was just around 9:00. Again, that seemed way too fast for how I felt. But, hey, keep going.

I didn’t mark the 3 mile point because I could see the finish line. I had slowed down, though, I could feel it. But with the finish line in sight I picked it up. And seeing the number 27 on the clock right next to the finish booth made my spirits soar.

My unofficial time was 28:08.56. Because I hadn’t double-checked my previous times earlier, I wasn’t sure where that fell in my overall personal records, but I knew it was near the top. I tweeted my astonishment, and my guess at this being my second-fastest.

But, actually, this is the third-fastest 5K I’ve ever run. First is the 2007 Race for the Roses at 27:30; second is the 2007 Mt. Tabor Challenge at 27:59.

Yes, only nine seconds separates my second and third best times. So close!

This is very very encouraging. Maybe all those slow miles actually do help? I’m happy, though, that my 5K times are starting to be more consistent.

My next race will be the Shamrock Run 5K. I’ll be running it in a kilt! I won’t expect to set any personal records, though; there’s far too many people to navigate around both at the start and finish. I’ll just be going out and having a good time. In a kilt.