The anticipation, ah the anticipation, of getting to the line for the first race of the season. Such an inspiring and self evaluating moment. The questions you ask yourself and the moment of truth as the start approaches. Did you get enough rest and food? Are you hydrated enough? How fast will you run? Can you run as fast as you want to? Are you ready? Deep breathe, then silence. "Ready! ... GO!!!"
One of my favorite parts of the racing experience is the few seconds right before the gun. The same thing happens to me just before I am about to take the stage to perform. It is also described by pitchers who can in their mind block out the sound of the crowd and only focus on the catcher's mitt. The moment when everything around me disappears and I am left only with the sound of my own breathing. It is such an extraordinary sensation and so peaceful. Then as the "Ready!" comes out of the fog, my senses click into focus and my surroundings push their way back into reality, I get ready to move. The closest feeling to performing music as I can be.
Normally, and I mean this I every sense of the word, I would have been running around during the day with all kinds of things to do. Normal everyday life, stuff that you try to minimize on a race day to conserve what little energy you have after the kids have zapped it from you. Or the commute home from work has flustered you (if the race is during the week) and you have to try to relax before the gun. Normal everyday stuff. Except right now, there is nothing normal about my life. Take the pre-race events. I had about an hour to relax on my bunk, and then I jogged 2 miles to the start of the race to warm up. Did the race, then jogged a mile and a half back to my room as a cool down. On top of that, the sun sets around 5:20 so the 6:30 race is in the dark. And I mean dark. The roads have street lamps on them, but there is so little light here that the dark is staggering. On top of that, add in the terrain, or lack there of, that would normally be an issue. Hills, or even snow piled on the side of the road. Not that there is any back home, but that would be normal for a January 5K. Plus, its January and I have never raced in January. So, normal is relative, right?
I started off in the back of the pack of about 125. Lets face it, a 5K with the only people running it being the Type A Air Force studs mixed in with a few Army grunts and some Navy dude... I don't stand a chance! Back of the pack for me. The "GO!" sounds and the herd starts moving. I was in the back on the Right side and the entire race was around a 2 block radius basically with all Left hand turns. Low and outside. As we started I could definitely see that everyone thought that they were going to run full out for the whole thing and beat everyone else, again Type A Air Force. But after about 45 seconds of this people started realizing that this particular strategy was not really going to work all that well in the end.
Being in the back, I was able to see all this unfold right in front of me. So as the groups of runners started slowing I kept my pace just to see what would happen. I should mention that I was not going for splits on this run but rather HR/effort and getting an overall time as a starting point for the year. So my goal was to keep my HR right around 175 for the duration of the race and see how I did in the end. My Garmin was set to show only HR and overall time, by the way. So as the group settled their pace down, I kept mine going. I have to say that I felt strong and my stride was comfortable. My cadence settled in just at 180/182 and I kept that up for the entire race. Because I had done a very good warm up I was able to get into the swing of things almost right off and had my HR at 168 for the first quarter and then bumped it up to 172. As I did that I could feel my legs stretching back and the floating sensation became very evident. I kept saying to myself, "OK, your doing great. Keep your legs moving. Your good and strong. Balance and let your body relax." There was one occasion that I felt that I wasn't going to finish strong if I kept going like this. It was on the second loop after I took the second turn. I had this feeling of dread, like I had completely spent everything. Then I remembered "Balance and let your body relax". I think it is the relaxing that allowed me to focus on my mechanics and keep my stride and cadence where they were. I was completely at the top end so there wasn't much more to give so I was really focusing on my body position. I think it was OK.
The race was two big loops around one part of the base. There were no hills, and not really a mention of wind. Clear skies, nice Quarter Moon, bunch of stars. It really was a pretty. The cops had closed the roads so what little traffic there was had been halted for the few moments that we all ran by. My stats:
5K - 21:45
Avg Pace - 7:05
Avg HR - 177
Max Pace - 6:04
Max HR - 187
I have to say that for the first race of the season and one that was meant purely as a benchmark, I was pretty happy that my pace was steady, and at such a high HR I was able to keep moving without too much trouble. I wonder if my next race will be similar, or back to normal.