There are two 5K races within 5K of my house, both run by the REACH foundation. One in Hillburn (next to Suffern), and the other across the NJ border in Mahwah (but, also next to Suffern). I've done the Hillburn 5K twice (reports here and here), but never the Mahwah race, until this past Sunday.
The Mahwah race is located in Darlington Park, home of two town lakes for swimming in the summer time and - as far I know - largely vacant the rest of the time. Having never been there, when I saw it was the location for the race, I was surprised to see it even was even big enough for a 5K. It turns out there's a lot more to the park than from what you can see from the road. However, it isn't *that* big, with the 5K course requiring two laps around the entire park.
Driving into the park on the 49ºF overcast morning, I saw that there were hills there, all gentle. Nothing to concern me. Once I was checked in, I found my coworkers (Hertz is one of the event's sponsors) and, after a quick 2/3 mile warmup jog, hung out with them until the race start - by then the sun had come out and temps were on their way to the upper 50s. All in all, a very nice day. I wore a tank top and shorts - though most others had at least long-sleeve shirts.
I set up a playlist for every 5K, and because I go so fast in these races I tend to play it very loud - so if any coworkers tried to talk to me during the race, I had no idea. But I was part of a few of us who managed to stay close together, even leapfrogging each other, such that at least 5 out of 10 of us finished within a minute or two of each other. In fact, I think every one of Hertz's participants ran sub-30! wow!
3 minutes into the race, after I've settled into an 8-minutes-per-mile pace, I was surprised to see everyone turning off the asphalt and running up a very short but steep hill and then across a grassy field. Obviously I am not intimidated by trail-running, but nobody told me this race would be off-road? Anyway, I figured that was probably a race anomaly and charged up the short hill, passing other runners like they weren't moving and catching my breath on the other side. Then, a tenth of a mile later, there was another hill just like it. A quarter later, another hill. I charged them all. And then there was actually a trail section, about a third of a mile long, complete with a couple of mud bogs and a few roots. I was breathing super-hard here, not much over a mile into the race, and worried that I wouldn't be able to sustain a sub-9 pace after a 7:55 first mile. I was running around 8:30 through there and really struggling. I recovered a bit after returning to asphalt and finishing the first lap.
It wasn't long into the second lap when I knew I was clearly redlining, and I started to lose confidence that I would be able to maintain this intensity to the end - trails or not. I tried to back off the pace a bit but for some reason I found that very difficult, probably because I get so caught up in the competition. So I figured I'd just hang on as long as possible and see what happens. At the second mile (8:15 split) I knew I was close to my limit, especially with that trail section coming up. A water stop preceded it, so I grabbed something and didn't even swallow - just swished it around and spit it out - all over my shirt. Laughing at my slobbery tendencies and enjoying the coolness of the water, I momentarily forgot my pain through the first hill and the rooty part. But the bogs came and I just had to stop. At mile 2.5, I took a walk break before the very last of the steep hills.
Taking the walk break was a risky but not uncalculated action. By the 2-mile mark it was clear that my "A" goal for the race - 25 minutes - was not in the cards, but the "C" goal of a new PR (previously 26:49) was easy if I just held it together. And if I really pushed, perhaps I could break 26. So that was on my mind when I took the walk break. I sometimes cannot get back into a groove when resuming, but fortunately, it paid off - I resumed running when we got to the asphalt with a half-mile to go, faster than ever. Passing back many of the people who flew by during my breather, my pace gradually accelerated until I was at nearly a sprint towards the end. My mile 3 split, which included the walk break, was 8:43 - but the last 0.13 miles according to my GPS watch were run at a 6:30 minute per mile pace!!
Anyway, despite missing my "A" goal (and I tend to set them so high I can't remember ever actually achieving an "A" goal), I have to say I'm pleased with this result. I feel like I'm actually starting to graduate into the higher ranks of these local races - my finish was 70th out of about 250 - but tenth in my age group (top 10!). A mere 30 seconds-per-mile faster pace (we're talking 8:18 to about 7:45 here, folks) would have put me in the top 3 and have been sufficient to win an age group medal. Holy crap!
Next up: Marine Corps Marathon, this upcoming weekend.