I ran the Sewickley Unleashed 5K on May 20. The race benefits the Western PA Humane Society. I’ve volunteered and fostered for them in the past and was happy to support them through my goal race.
After my usual routine of waffling about whether to run my race in the weeks leading up to it, I registered the week of and focused on feeling positive about the race. Every morning I told myself I was looking forward to the race. Every time I thought of it, I thought that it would be a good race. This has helped me in the past and helped again since I had no major anxiety going into the race.
The other reason for being anxiety-free was that I took all pressure off myself to PR or run a certain time. My 5K PR is 29:31, which I ran in November 2014 after trying the first half of the year to go sub-30. After marathon training last fall, I felt a lot slower and couldn’t hit my training paces during winter half marathon training. When I switched to 5K training, I was working in heart rate zones instead of trying to hit specific paces. That worked great for me in training, but I had no idea what paces the training would amount to during a race. Plus, all the speedwork I did was interval-based, and I didn’t have any training at tempo pace to hold a faster pace longer. So I went into the race having no idea what pace I would run.
Instead, I had one main goal, a smaller reach goal, and a strategy.
Race Goal: Keep pushing and be comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Reach Goal: Because I have been doing short intervals in the 8-minute range, I was hoping to do at least one mile in the 8-minute range. I had no idea if this was possible since my intervals have been so short. The only time I’ve run in the 8-minute range in a race is a one-mile race when I ran 8:12.
Strategy: My strategy was to go out fast and try to get that 8-minute mile. I planned to relax my pace and go slower the second mile, then speed up again for the last mile.
The weather was perfect—59 degrees (slightly chilly) and cloudy. I should have known that it was not a competitive field when most of the runners showed up at the start line in full-length tights and either long sleeve tops or jackets! I had on my “You can’t buy love but you can rescue it / Adopt” tank from Glyder, my new green Dobby Be Free Knickers from Athleta, and a light purple bra and headband from Lulu.
The race was through the Sewickley neighborhood, a 25-minute drive from Pittsburgh. Parking was free and easy, and I got a spot close to the start/finish line. I parked, got my t-shirt (a pretty nice cotton/rayon blend), ate two Larabar Bites, then headed out for a warm-up. I ran easy for 10 minutes then did a few strides. I drank some water then got to the start line with about five minutes to spare. I had a sore throat that morning, which I initially thought was due to having the AC and fan on during the hot week. I debated carrying my own water to help my throat but figured I’d just stop at the water station.
It was a very small race with 99 finishers, so I lined up close to the start. And with a “Ready, set, go!” we were off!
Mile 1: 9:35
I put my foot on the gas and floored it from the start line. I kept up with the lead pack for the first quarter of a mile before I admitted that pace wasn’t sustainable. I looked down at my pace–the only time I did so during the race–and saw I was at an 8:06 pace. I settled into a slower pace with a few people close to me when we reached a slight incline. My Garmin stats showed that I held onto an 8-minute range pace up to a half mile. So there’s my answer—I can sustain an 8-minute pace for about a half mile in a 5K race at this point. Still, I would have had a pretty fast first mile were it not for the significant hill at the end of the mile. The course was promoted as “fast and flat,” which I should just assume really means “not that many hills.” The hill brought me to a crawl. Others were walking, and I faced the dilemma I’ve had in other 5Ks where I feel like I would be faster walking but hate the idea of walking in a 5K. I kept running, albeit very slowly.
Mile 2: 10:38
The second mile started at the top of the hill. It took me a few minutes to recover from the hill climb, and I was grateful for the downhill that followed. I let up on the gas slightly in this mile, per my strategy. At this point I was running by myself. I saw two women in front of me, and on turns I saw a few people behind me. My best 5Ks have been running in a pack of fast runners, and, unfortunately, I didn’t have that to help me in this race. Good thing I brought music to listen to! While I’d let up on the pace a bit, I was still working hard. And the race was just crawling by. At one point I looked down and saw I was at mile 1.75. Ugh! So far to go! Just hang on, I told myself. All you have to do is keep pushing.
There were one or two spectators on porches (one sweet little girl was ringing a cowbell), but other than that it was pretty quiet and lonely. Also, it was not a closed course. They had volunteers or police officers at some of the intersections to stop traffic, but not all of the intersections. So a few times I had to dodge cars, but they were polite and gave me the right of way. Also, I passed the point where there might have been a water stop planned—there were orange cones and a box marked “dump” to drop your paper cups–but no water. Ugh! There was another hill in this mile—not as significant as the first one, but noticeable.
Mile 3: 10:26
It took forever for mile 3 to come. I got a second wind and was able to pick up the pace slightly, per my strategy. I also checked in with myself multiple times, asking myself if I was giving all I could give. The answer was always yes! I knew I was not running as fast as I did in my speed workouts, but it was all I could do to hang on. The race at this point was really not fun. I was gasping, my throat was sore, and I just trying to hold on as best I could. Plus, the course had a ton of turns, and I had no idea where I was or how close the finish line was.
Finally, a woman came up beside me and said, “We’re almost there!” I assumed she meant another quarter mile or so, so I was like, Ugh, yeah right. I was trying not to look at my watch. But then I recognized the start line and knew all we had to do was turn to get to the finish line.
I saw my time as I crossed: 30:30, which was the official time since there was no timing mat at the start (only the finish). My first thought was UGH! In all my efforts to go sub-30, I’ve hit this 30-something time so many times. It shouldn’t be that hard to shave off 30 measly seconds, but it always is!
The finish line snuck up on me because my watch measured short. This rarely happens! According to my Garmin I only ran 2.96 miles–that’s really short!
After I got my breathing back to normal and got water and a banana (no medal, but it was a very no-frills race), I checked the sheet with the finish times that had been printed out. I saw, to my surprise, that I had placed third in my age group! Then I looked at my age group and realized there were three people in it. Womp womp. Still I found the humor in it and told the race director that I was excited to see I placed third but then saw there were only three people in my age group. Everyone around me laughed, and the race director said, “Hey, it’s irrelevant who comes after you!” When I got home I checked the results online and saw that there were actually seven people in my age group! Woo hoo! Granted, like I said, this was not a competitive field, but this is the first time I’ve placed so high in my age group. Because it was such a small race, only the top finishers got awards. Still, I’ll take the placement!
Because the course measured short, I felt pretty bad about my overall pace per my Garmin. Because this race was so small and bare-bones, it’s entirely possible it wasn’t a true 5K and it wasn’t just my watch. However, I reminded myself that I didn’t have a time goal, and I met my goal to just keep pushing. I also felt better about my performance when I got home and checked my Garmin data. My zone 5 heart rate (highest intensity) is 169 and above. My average heart rate for the race was 175, and my max heart rate at the end of the race was 180. So I was definitely working hard the whole race and was able to keep pushing. While I wasn’t able to run an 8-minute mile, I did meet my overall goal to keep pushing and ran according to my strategy. I’m taking that as an overall win and strong end to my 5K training!
Or is it the end? As I write this a few days later, my sore throat remains and has been joined by sneezing and a stuffy head. I felt under the weather right after my marathon, so this is the second time my body has been fighting off getting sick during a goal race. Maybe I really shouldn’t race; races apparently make me sick! Joking aside, I have been toying with the idea of trying some more 5Ks. I just hate that it was a short course. Plus, if I were feeling 100% and the course didn’t have hills, I think I could go sub-30. But I also really don’t want to do more 5Ks! Still deciding what to do….
As for the race itself, I hate to say anything bad about it because it supports a good cause. The Humane Society is an open-door shelter. What that means is that they accept all pets, including those that other shelters won’t take because they’re hard to place. They do not euthanize for space, and work hard to find homes for the pets no matter how long it takes. They’re a great organization. I do wish there had been a water stop and that the course had actually measured 3.1. But I do like the tee, and even with it not being a closed course I liked it for being a low-key, bare-bones race. And the weather was perfect–something that rarely happens on race day!